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Thank you for your write up of Laguna Art Museum!
-- Marnie Farmer, Director of Communications at Laguna Art Museum

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Art in Public Places, Laguna Beach

Location: Throughout Laguna Beach
When: Any time
Cost: Free!
For ages: All

Marble floors and gilded frames be what they may, but art galleries have their place right in the great outdoors in Orange County – and it’s a great way for you and your kids to enjoy art in a casual, comfortable (and downright fun) setting.

OC houses two of the largest public art displays in the country – one in Brea and one in Laguna Beach. Laguna’s program boasts more than 50 pieces since it began its “Art in Public Places” program in 1986. The program works with each new commercial or industrial development worth more than $225,000 donating 1 percent of the project’s total value toward the installation of original artwork or toward a fund used for future artworks designed by the city. The collection now ranges from stone-encrusted grotto benches to steel whale tales poking up through park grass.

So what’s the best way to view it?

Put on some sunscreen and wide-brimmed hat and swing by the Laguna Beach visitors bureau (252 Broadway), where you can pick up a free colored map and brochure. … (In addition to the visitors bureau, maps can be picked up at city’s hall’s Community Services Department, 505 Forest Avenue, or online at the Web site at the Public Art section.)

You can begin your art tour at the bureau itself, which has several pieces right around the downtown area (with, of course, plenty of gallery-hopping, shopping, and ice-cream-licking along the way). Or you can combine the north Laguna walk with a ride on the city’s free transit trolley to see some of the pieces in south Laguna as well.

In the downtown area, mingled among the shops and ice cream parlors, you can easily find Carolyn Reynolds’ “The Chambered Nautilus” bench on Forest Avenue. Reynolds’ bench is part of a series of artist-designed benches – a collection growing by about one a year since 1998. The Chambered Nautilus is a whimsical concrete-and-glass piece that, according to the legend outlined on a plaque, will make “all of your travel wishes come true” if you touch the pearl in the center. …

If you only have a short time for viewing, concentrate your efforts across the street in Heisler Park, where you can take in seven sculptures and works of art all at once, as well as two more in Jahraus Park across the street. Along Heisler Park’s paths, art- and nature-lovers alike will enjoy the “Rock Pile Carve” bench by George Stone, a unique concrete-and-stainless-steel structure that reflects the artists’ own experiences surfing at Rock Pile, located just south of the bench’s overlook. The shape of the bench encourages enthusiasts to step up on top – not only check out the surf below but to enjoy views of Catalina as well.

On a pathway leading from Heisler Park to downtown, renowned artist Louis Longi has created a whimsical bench called “Support” (one look at the bench and the name will become clear!). This is the first public-art installation for the artist, who now has many across the country.

Other must-sees throughout Laguna are the bronze pieces in front of Vons on North Coast Highway by artist DeL’Esprie, who captured child’s play in the life-size figurines of “Chasing Butterflies” and “Airplane Ride.”

“Interlude” by Peter Busby is another crowd favorite, located in Alta Laguna Park on Alta Laguna Boulevard. The work showcases five web-like steel whale tails disappearing into a sea of grass across the park. Additional marine-life sculptures include Wyland’s “Synchronicity” dolphins in front of his south gallery at 509 S. Coast Highway and the “Laguna Kelpbeds” sea lions by Terry Thornsley, located at the Physicians Center West building at 31852 S. Coast Highway.

For a truly whimsical treat, take a drive to Nita Carmen Park on St. Ann’s Drive to see Leonard Glasser’s painted steel “Sunbathers.” One is sitting under a tree (trying to get a little shade!) while the other is lying on her stomach taking in the rays. They’re sure to leave you smiling.

Other, newer pieces are “The People’s Council” by Linda Brunker at 505 Forest Avenue (outside city hall); “Rotating” by Jon Seeman, on loan from the Festival of Arts, at 375 Broadway; “Green Man with Red Birds” by Julia Klemek, in Village Green Park in south Laguna; and “Another Beautiful Day in Paradise” by Helam Bovenizer and Valerie Gorrell outside the Orange County Library Laguna Beach branch.

You and your kids can take pictures of each of the pieces to discuss at home, have a “bench series” where you take pictures of each other on the numerous art benches throughout the city, or plan an art scavenger hunt by searching out certain pieces on the map.

Artist bench in front of the Sawdust Festival, Laguna Beach

It’s a truly unique way to enjoy art.

Where to park: There’s metered street parking throughout Laguna, along Pacific Coast Highway, and along the canyon roads. Parking gets pretty crazy on summer weekends. Weekdays and off season times are a little easier. During the summer, you can park anywhere and take the Laguna trolley throughout Laguna for free.

What to bring: Cash for parking. Sunscreen and hats; bottled water. Strollers for little ones. Ice cream and refreshments are available throughout Laguna.

For more information: 949-497-0722 (Arts Commission) or the Laguna Beach City website.

Which of Laguna’s public art pieces is your favorite?

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