‘Hoffy’ shows the best of Laguna Beach ... and doesn’t stop there

Bill Hoffman, a Laguna Beach resident who gives tours of his hometown talks about the Laguna Art Museum.
Bill Hoffman, a Laguna Beach resident who gives tours of his hometown and other spots under his business “Hoffy Tours,” talks about the Laguna Art Museum on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Teachers have lesson plans.

That was the life that Laguna Beach resident Bill “Hoffy” Hoffman lived for close to 40 years.

When he retired from the Capistrano Unified School District in 2012, though, Hoffman never stopped teaching.

His lesson plan nowadays is an information packet he gives out to those who attend his Hoffy Tours, including the tour itinerary, fun quizzes and information about the locale.

The classroom? Dozens of spots in Southern California might qualify. It might be a walking tour of one of several cities in Orange County, or it might be a bus tour to places like Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Joshua Tree National Park or even local cannabis dispensaries.

Bill Hoffman talks about the tide pools from Heisler Park on Tuesday in Laguna Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I did a cannabis tour the other day,” said Hoffman, 71. “People bought a bunch of product. I don’t know if it benefited them or not.”

Hoffman clearly sees the benefits to his tours, which to him showcase the best of what Golden State living has to offer. He said he’s developed 83 different tours, mostly in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. He began giving the tours in the early 1980s, then formalized the business once he retired from teaching.

His mailing list has 1,350 people on it, he said, and he’s proud of the fact that the emails are opened 60% of the time.

“I advertise on my newsletter, people sign up and I take them on adventures,” he said. “I’m a retired high school teacher, and I got bored when I retired. Golf and tennis is fun, but I needed a little bit more.”

Hoffman earned a master’s degree in urban planning from UCLA, and a doctorate in social ecology. For his master’s project, he helped designate Los Angeles’ second historic district, South Carthay in the Fairfax District.

Bill Hoffman talks about the drought-tolerant vegetation near Monument Point in Heisler Park on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“L.A. now has 41 historic districts, which is kind of cool,” he said. “I have a lot of knowledge about cities that I like to share with people.”

Sometimes his wife, Maria, herself a former math teacher in the Laguna Beach Unified School District, joins him on the tours. Hoffman said she was happy when he started Hoffy Tours, because it kept him busy.

“She said, ‘Bill, I don’t care if you make money, just don’t lose money,’” Bill Hoffman said. “That was her one bit of advice to me, and she also said, ‘Give them snacks.’ If it’s a bad tour, at least you feed them.”

Dave Bratton-Kearns, Hoffman’s business partner who lives in San Juan Capistrano, offers more consistent advice. The two met in the dorms at UC Irvine when they were 18-year-old freshmen, but Bratton-Kearns didn’t really become too involved in Hoffy Tours until five decades later, when he and his wife recently moved back to Southern California.

Bill Hoffman talks about the history of Laguna Beach and Dana Point during an abridged tour in Heisler Park on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

He called himself the detail guy of the operation, while Hoffman is more of the big-picture guy. Bratton-Kearns is the one who will sometimes make sure the calendar isn’t double-booked or that they are charging enough for the tours to at least break even.

“Bill is kind of like a Type-A personality on steroids,” Bratton-Kearns said. “Very engaging, very talkative, very bright and funny as all get out. People love listening to him talk. I chip in when I can. I’m not exactly an introvert, but compared to him, I am. We have a lot of fun doing this together.”

The biggest tour he’s led took place in the South, a tour of Savannah, Ga. and Charleston, S.C. Hoffman said that Savannah, which was designed with 24 town squares, is his favorite city.

He has plenty of dedicated tour-takers. He ran into one Tuesday, when providing an abbreviated walking tour of Laguna Beach to the Daily Pilot.

Penny Poorman is a Laguna Beach resident who Hoffman estimates has been on at least 15 of his tours. She’s looking forward to the bus tour to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino in May.

“He’s got a huge fan club, let me tell you,” Poorman said. “Huge. I love his tours, and so do my friends. We can go to L.A. and we don’t have to drive. You see things that you don’t get out to see on your own, because we’re lazy. We don’t want to drive to L.A. and get in that traffic and find a place to park. We always have a nice lunch, which is fun.”

Bill Hoffman picks a dead head from a Birds of Paradise plant at Heisler Park on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Hoffman starts the walking tour of his hometown in front of the Laguna Art Museum. He points out interesting facts about places like Heisler Park, focusing on the city’s history but also pieces by local artists like Scott and Naomi Schoenhurr, and Jorg Dubin.

Hoffman even had a heckler as he turned his attention briefly to Dana Point.

“We don’t talk about Dana Point in this city,” yelled out a man passing by. “This is Laguna.”

Hoffman just smiled.

“You’re right, but I throw in Dana Point anyway,” he said.

The smile rarely leaves his face as he continues doing something he genuinely loves. Hoffman is excited for a Sustainability Tour he will be hosting on April 20, a guided tour of 12 acres of organic crops that will feature a visit to the Tree of Life Nursery on Ortega Highway.

“I’m really lucky, I reinvented myself,” he said. “I love teaching, I love people and I love cities. It’s like a perfect combo.”

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