Here Comes Summer, Part II: Los Angeles to La Jolla

At first glance, Los Angeles seems to be such a huge megalopolis that the chances of encountering natural beauty are nearly nil, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, by escaping LA's traffic-clogged freeways to take what the locals call "surface streets," you will discover both a great deal of natural beauty and man-made charm.

Newport Beach and Balboa Island lie less than 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles, yet these charming summer communities have the feel of a New England summer resort. Car ferries make the three-minute trip from Newport to Balboa in endless procession throughout the summer, and Balboa can actually be reached by a bridge from its "backside," but still Balboa somehow retains the charm of a resort island, complete with high-class eateries and laid-back bars.

From Newport, it's just a quick hop down Pacific Coast Highway to Laguna Beach, which looks down from high ocean cliffs onto great beaches below. There, art galleries exist side-by-side with surf shops in a quintessential California juxtaposition. Once a hideaway for the Hollywood stars of another era, Laguna is now figuratively closer to the mainstream than ever, but it still retains its allure. Main Beach Park is a popular summer gathering place for sunbathing, watersports, and beach volleyball. From the park south, art gallery after art gallery beckons, and a great watering hole is the bar in the popular Surf and Sand Hotel.

South of Laguna are Dana Point, named after Two Years Before the Mast author Richard Henry Dana, and San Juan Capistrano, where the swallows return every spring. Dana Point offers an attractive pleasure-boat harbor surrounded by "view" restaurants, while San Juan Capistrano is a more historical destination that is home to the venerable Mission San Juan Capistrano founded by Father Junipero Serra.

After clearing the Camp Pendleton Marine base, which occupies what would otherwise be prime coastal real estate, Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Del Mar beckon. Carlsbad is small-town America personified with one exception -- it contains some of the best beach frontage on the West Coast. Encinitas now incorporates what used to be the four individual towns of Leucadia, Olivenhain, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and old Encinitas. Each has its own flavor, and each offers its beautiful, "secret" beaches that are largely unused by non-locals.

Del Mar, of course, is much more well-known. Like Laguna Beach, it owes some of its fame to Old Hollywood, whose stars founded and frequented its famous horse racing track. More exclusive than its neighbors to the immediate north, it still retains its own small-town flavor, and it, too, offers stunning beaches to those visitors who seek them out.

Just a short drive from Del Mar, La Jolla also has an air of laidback snootiness that can only be found in California. It's a place where penniless beach bums whose only goal in life is to surf every day mix seamlessly with the moneyed set. La Jolla Cove is a picture postcard of a beach that happens to be within a short walk of the village's attractive downtown area, where you can find all the luxurious shops and exquisite eateries your credit card can bear. Enjoy!