If a city is cultured and broad-shouldered, it welcomes a little criticism. A savvy city knows that nothing should be taken for granted because life does not stand still.
Laguna Beach, however, has become complacent about some things. Flush with tourist dollars, or just because of prime location, a few businesses don't even try anymore.
Privately, locals tell their friends what places to avoid. But perhaps it's time to call out the sacred cows.
Here is my list of the 10 most overrated things in Laguna Beach. I realize people may vehemently disagree with these, but I guarantee you this: You have your own secret list, whether you admit it publicly or not.
Don't get me wrong. I love Laguna Beach. I live here and don't see myself leaving. But I just think we can do better.
10. Beach restaurants: There are three adjacent to Main Beach that are just awful. It boggles my mind that they survive. Everyone I know shuns them. Imagine how many tourists leave Laguna thinking: Great beaches, not-so-great food. It's our glaring culinary black eye.
9. Main Beach and beach amenities: I never take my boys to Main Beach because I don't want them inhaling secondhand crack. I am deeply sympathetic to homeless issues but not to rampant drug use in broad daylight. So I go to other Laguna beaches (Pearl Street or Victoria Beach), but they have no restrooms. In fact, there are no real amenities to speak of. We are OK with that because we can walk home from the beach, but if we really expect world-class beach status, an occasional restroom might be nice.
8. Emerald Bay: A friend of mine asked, "Can't Newport just have them?" I have to agree. I'm over the long line of contractors trying to get in every morning, clogging Coast Highway. I'm over the whining. Unincorporated areas — Coto de Caza, Rossmoor, Ladera Ranch — are always annoying.
7. Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park access: What is up with the parking lots closing at 5 p.m.? A gate that closes automatically when cars leave after hours seems like such a simple thing.
6. Summer trolleys: I like the idea of the trolleys, but have you ever really tried to ride them in the summer? It's impossible. Forget trying to get to a movie downtown on time. Forget trying to make anything on time. They are stuck in traffic like everything else. You are better off walking.
5. Fishing ban: Scientists can crow about the improvement of sea life — that's great. But I still think lawmakers made a mistake by not allowing a kid to fish with his dad on the weekend. I never catch anything anyway, so what is the real harm?
4. Downtown: The area has two predictable cycles: daytime shopping and nighttime restaurants. That's about it. The downtown is not a real downtown. It has very few residences and no artist lofts or all-night diners. It could be so much more, but the city refuses to loosen the zoning laws. We don't want high-rises. We just want some dynamic, interesting life after 8 p.m.
3. Nightlife: Laguna has boozy bars, we know, that play music and whatnot. But it has no real dance club. The closest is Bounce, but that's not for everyone. Laguna used to dance, but apparently everyone has become old and crotchety.
2. Art: With a few notable exceptions, the art scene in Laguna Beach is stale. You have to know where to go — and what to avoid. It is stunning to me that downtown galleries sell Thomas Kinkade. That is unforgivable.
1. Fun: Laguna Beach has lost some of its fun factor. Sure, we still make our own personal fun, but the rest seems forced. As a city, we ignore the haggard edges of town, the exhaust, clamor and din. We cling to something that is slipping away.
It's our reputation. We are not the shiny, precious jewel we once were.
We have become overrated. We can admit it and try to improve, or maintain our arrogance and just see what happens.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.