Shopping Trips

Art gallery window in Laguna BeachCalifornia shopping is a real art

ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – The setting was impressive: Pacific Ocean, sweeping golf course and dramatic porte-cochere entrance – amid “The O.C.” (moniker for the tony area made popular by the television drama of the same name).

I arrived not to surf, hit the links or luxuriate – but to shop for art.

“Welcome,” greeted the young woman at St. Regis Monarch resort’s reception. She stood beneath an impressive still life painting of California’s fruit and flora (most notably succulent oranges and brilliant red poppies) that ran the length of the front desk. The Kevin Sloan piece dominated my attention.

“Ah, you enjoy art,” she surmised. “Then don’t miss our Dale Chihuly glass art. It’s in the lobby rotunda.”

Knowing that the artisan is one of the world’s premier glass craftsmen, I was impressed.

And though the hotel was in Dana Point – I was in heaven.

This art-abundant arrival set the pace for my planned immersion in nearby Laguna Beach, a committed artist colony.

In preparation for my independent art walk I solicited the advice of an expert – gallery owner Harvey Lim of the Art Junction in Whistler, B.C. – whose tips for novice buyers were simple:

Laguna’s collection of galleries are in three main areas: Pacific Coast Highway south of Main Beach, Forest Avenue (central downtown) and Pacific Coast Highway north of Main Beach (called Gallery Row).

I began exploring South Laguna’s galleries with a stop at Wyland Galleries, featuring work of the noted marine artist (it’s easily recognized by the outdoor marine wall mural).

Aviation Arts Gallery showcased aviation and space pieces. A framed collage of Chuck Yeager collectibles signed by the famous test pilot was $495 (all prices U.S.).

In Pacific Edge Gallery, known for its John Lennon art, my favorite was a serigraph entitled Double Fantasy of John and Yoko enjoying a traditional meal in Japan ($1,075).

A stroll down Forest Ave. was reminiscent of a Thomas Kincaid painting. I made several stops along the street straight out of the ‘50s – including George’s Original Art Glass and Diane Debilzan Gallery. Art for the Soul showcased “funk” art, like a brightly painted whimsical baby cradle ($1,750).

Energized by the wealth of discoveries, I hiked Pacific Coast Highway’s hill to Gallery Row and spotted Peggi Kroll’s contemporary beach scene paintings in Whitney Gallery.

At day’s end I was more confident of my art awareness and captivated by talent – warranting a celebration. Last stop: St. Regis Monarch’s Aqua restaurant for tableside “000” Beluga caviar service and chilled vodka ($250). “Cheers.”

View of coast from Laguna Beach gallery window