Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Laguna Beach, CA – On a Shoestring

One of the reasons Mark and I have been house sitting for over a year is so we can live “for free”, taking care of people’s home and pets, while they are away. For us, it is a perfect exchange, with quite a few perks, one of which is the variety of places we get to live in. We don’t seek out super desirable locations and make the destination our highlight as many other sitters do, but prefer longer term sits and weekend explorations in each area we find ourselves in. The United States has interesting parks, beaches and cities everywhere!

On the most beautiful day during our three-week sit in Costa Mesa, Southern California, we put on shorts and flip-flops and headed for the beach; Laguna Beach to be precise. This is the name of a town we instantly liked upon arrival. The atmosphere is relaxed, people are very friendly, the shoreline is abuzz with activity and the surroundings are pretty and well-cared for. The beaches and coves are attractive, dogs are allowed wherever we wanted to go and there is some quirkiness to the area.

Mark and I are “on a budget”, and have always been. This doesn’t mean that we count every dime and keep a tight ship at all times with spending limitations for each category. No, we operate differently. We don’t really have an exact budget, we are just used to spending as little as possible, weighing options when it comes to “frivolous” activities or items. What this also means is that we try to enjoy destinations on the cheap. Sometimes, the game is on to not spend anything at all, apart from the fuel to get there, like that time at the Victorian Christmas in Nevada City, or this day in Laguna Beach. And, yes, you can still have fun on a shoestring; it can be quiet satisfying, actually. 🙂

I realize that one of the attractions on a day trip is going out for lunch, dinner or a drink. Our experience is that in popular places, food and drinks are very expensive and often disappointing. We usually pack our own sandwich lunch and water (drinking fountains are prominent in the US) and have a picnic in a park or on the beach. On this particular Sunday, we had a massive brunch at home before we left and carried snacks for us and our temporary dog Jaxx. Viewpoints are the ideal place to enjoy these nibbles.

What about parking, you ask? Research online told us that there is a parking lot in Laguna Beach with a certain number of free spots on weekends, outside the summer season. I am talking about Lot #11 (at the corner of Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue) and spots 300-422. Arriving relatively early might be necessary to secure one of these freebies. We pulled in around 10am and most spaces were still empty. If you miss out on them, the cost to park is only $3 for the whole day. It is less than a ten-minute walk to the waterfront from here. There are free weekend trolleys if you decide to park further out. No dogs are allowed on the rides.

Mark and I like the outdoors and enjoy long walks. Laguna Beach delivered. We followed the coastline for hours, over the boardwalk, on meandering paths with gorgeous views, through well-maintained (sculpture) parks and past attractive neighborhoods. Sometimes, we wandered on the beaches and discovered picturesque coves, and once, I dipped my toes in the icy water. Seven-month-old Jaxx had no idea what to make of those foamy things that kept coming and going, only that they tasted salty. We had no expectations about Laguna Beach and were pleasantly surprised with what we found: an oasis for day trippers and their dogs!

Do you prepare a lot before going on a day trip? Which – previously unknown to you – destination have you been pleasantly surprised with?


  1. This looks like a fabulous location! There is no doubt it takes work and a building up of your house sitting portfolio to land such a spot. Good for the two of you I say!

    • It has been nice in Southern California, but on Monday, we are heading up again for a short stint in Oakland and then the wine region for two months. 🙂 In the future, we are hoping to secure prime destination sits. Competition is fierce for those!

  2. It looks like a beautiful place and it is great that it is so dog friendly!☺🐾🐾

    • Even in California, some places are much less dog-friendly than others. When it comes to patios, beaches, but also to town centers and sidewalks! We try not to frequent those. 🙂

  3. Sounds like a great gig to explore an area with beautiful weather.

    • The weather has been all right here, but very foggy and much cooler than I anticipated, Ingrid. Maybe we should head to the Texan Gulf Coast next winter? 🙂

  4. Watching dogs be unsure of the ocean is very funny! Unfortunately, I can be a bit scatter brained and leave without things. We’ll get in the dinghy, get to shore and then I’ll realize I need shoes and a dog leash and water and money….I need a departure checklist!

    • The amount of times we turned the dinghy around before we actually went to shore!!! Mostly, it was to double-check whether we closed all the windows. Often, we forgot things that we were too lazy to return for, like bug spray or sunscreen. (You think you’d not forget these things anymore after years on the tropics.) But, we always, always had to head back for my camera when I forgot it. 🙂

  5. I totally agree that you can have great adventures on a shoestring…and quite often they are even more satisfying than expensive, commercial ones. Thanks for sharing — the beach looks beautiful!
    BTW – Do you only do house-sitting in the US?

    • It has become such a habit for us to enjoy day trips without spending (much) money… We are open to house sits in Canada (over the summer) and Mexico (over the winter) and the Caribbean as well. We find it easy to drive everywhere in our car (and being able to transport all of our belongings), refrain from having to buy expensive plane tickets and find that there is so much to see and do in these countries (and we need some kind of stability and decent time zones in regards of our business) that we are happily house sitting in North America now and in the immediate future. 🙂

  6. I really don’t prepare as much for day trips as I should. I like your idea of a packing a picnic lunch. I know a lot of people enjoy going out for meals, but we’re really not big fans of it.

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

    • I hear you. I know exactly what I want to take, but sometimes those preparations seem to take forever, especially preparing lunch. 🙂 I always seem to forget one thing, usually my knee brace. While it requires a little bit of work and delays our departure, we do enjoy eating our lunches in a nice spot outside, whenever we get hungry.

  7. Laguna Beach is so beautiful. I haven’t been there recently, but used to go every year for the Laguna Beach Arts Festival. I think it would make a great day trip for my husband and me before the summer crowds arrive – I’d love to explore the coastline like you did. I like the idea of taking our own lunch. We usually end up eating at some casual cafe or burger joint, which is often disappointing… and expensive.

    • I saw some publicity for the Beach Arts Festival when we drove through again a few days ago, Janis. That looks like a fun time. Yes! I highly recommend a sunny day at Laguna Beach, to walk the whole shoreline. You could combine it with something else around that area and make it a weekend trip. Although, I think it must only be about an hour drive from where you live. Ideally, you do go before the summer crowds arrive – cheaper and more pleasant. Don’t forget to bring your lunch. 🙂

  8. So glad you got to visit the beach during the California winter! Your photos are fantastic and show the joy you and Mark experienced as you visited the area! I’m sure Jaxx loved all the attention, too! With our new pup, we’ve put day trips on hold for a couple of months! It will be nice to stay home and enjoy the new deck when the rain finally stops! 🙂

    • Your deck is the perfect place to hang out with your pups (and hummingbird) on a sunny day, Terri. We are so looking forward to spring and warmer weather to do exactly that at the houses we are staying at. All seem to have a really nice porch. 🙂 While we are not beach people, we do enjoy sunny walks along the waterfront and Laguna Beach was perfect for that. A much better vibe than Newport Beach or Corona Del Mar if you ask us!

  9. You guys travel and explore like we do – on a shoestring. There’s a lot you can see out and about that doesn’t cost a dime. We often try to bring our own snacks, lunch etc to avoid the temptation and cost of eating out.

    • You of all people do know how to travel and live cheaply as well, Ellen. Thing is that not a lot of people realize that it is possible to see the world on a tight budget, or they are used to just buy/eat/do whatever they want and feel like, without realizing the cost. Which does add up. This is all fine and enjoyable, I’m sure, just not the way we can/want to live. 🙂

  10. Laguna Beach looks beautiful. Great pictures.

  11. Haven’t done much day tripping lately, but yes – I usually prepare a ton. Thanks for the lovely, warm, and gorgeous photos – really appreciating them on this snowy New England Sunday! 🙂

    • Guess what, Traci… the cold winters in New England are exactly why Mark and I drove across the country to house and pet sit on the West Coast. After one winter in New England last year, we couldn’t deal with another one. Our bodies like to be warm and the sun in a blue sky lifts my spirits every single time! Although, winter skies can be beautiful and crisp as well, it makes us cold (plus, we don’t have the right clothes) and therefor uncomfortable.

  12. I also love this part of California’s coastline…so splendid. Finding a local market which provides bread, cheese, wine, and fresh vegetables is also a great way for me to spend little and live (or at least) eat like royalty. By the way, your host dog in this post is adorable looking!

    • Jaxx – although trouble sometimes at 7 month old – is indeed quite adorable! 🙂 I like the idea of buying lunch in a local grocery store as well and we often turn to this when traveling/vacationing, which we rarely seem to do these days… I did buy a piece of Brie and French baguette at Trader Joe’s recently, and truly enjoyed it as an appetizer with a tasty glass of wine. Evenings like that were the highlights during our sailing years in French territory. 🙂

  13. Looks like a really nice place. 🙂 We’re not big spenders either, Liesbet, though for very different reasons. In the Algarve we can eat cheaply (or expensively, but we seldom do 🙂 ) and we eat out quite a bit, but then it’s my treat for feeding us year round.

    • What are the reasons you keep a tight spending ship, Jo? I’m curious. Yes, the main reason we usually eat out is to give the chef and the dish washer a break – fun and enjoyable for both of us. We tend to go out to dinner instead of lunch when feeling for a splurge. 🙂 In really cheap countries, like in Central America or Southeast Asia, we (I) ate out much more often. As long as the food we find in restaurants is healthy enough, we might opt for that again when traveling in the future.

      • I’m on a UK pension and Mick only earns sporadically, Liesbet, so our resources are quite naturally stretched.

        • Same here, Jo. I practically have no income, apart from the rare article I sell for peanuts, and Mark makes a bit more than minimum wage for working incredibly much… 🙁 But, it is our choice to not become a part of the rat race and work from home, almost anywhere (with a “decent” time zone)…

  14. Though we don’t live too far from Laguna Beach, my wife and I have been there very few times. It is beautiful though. We haven’t taken a day trip in a while but we’ve been considering one. I’ve been thinking about a drive around Salton Sea. The place sounds so strange and surreal that it’s kind of up my line of interest, but I’m not sure how much my wife would like it.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    • I highly recommend a day trip to Laguna Beach, before it gets too crowded in the summer, Arlee. Actually on sunny days, we have seen heaps of people there already. If you come early enough, it seems to be most enjoyable. We really loved our walk along the shoreline and the coves. Not sure where Salton Sea is. Will look it up right now. We have left the area again and are now back in Northern California for house sits throughout April. And, who knows what’s next? 🙂

    • Wow. Salton Sea looks really interesting and big! That would be a cool adventure. I wonder whether you can float in it like the Dead Sea…

      • From what I’ve heard about the Sea it’s so polluted that I’m not sure I’d want to go in the water to find out. If you check on YouTube there are some interesting documentaries about the Salton Sea area as well as some just random videos.

        It’s supposedly a great place for bird watching. Also a place for watching some unique people.

        Arlee Bird
        Tossing It Out

  15. We haven’t day tripped in years, though we do drive up the canyons near our home often. One location that surprised us was our trip to South Dakota. I expected a rather average experience, but was blown away by the beauty.

  16. Traveling on a shoestring budget makes it much more enjoyable. Who wants to return home to massive credit card debt. 🙂
    Your photos are fabulous, Liesbet. ‘m new to you blog,,,I want your job! Is your home base in New England?

    • Being from Belgium, I am (luckily) not aware of credit card dept, nor any dept, really. I was shocked to learn about everyone’s student loans here in the US… Certainly a way to rope you into a life of work, being part of the economy and paying off dept before you even become an adult. And, the credit card dept is a result of a lifestyle based on consumerism, I think.

      Thanks for the compliment, Jill. I actually don’t have a job. The house and pet sitting throughout the country is a fair, money-less exchange between providing care for homes and pets, while living rent-free. And, my “day job” consists of writing while not getting paid for it. 🙂 We don’t have a home per se, but our “base” and residence is at the in-laws in Newburyport, MA, where we plan a visit again in May.

  17. Sounds wonderful! I try to plan day trips like that – with food and/or snacks packed for everyone. Sometimes, we still splurge on food, but it is usually planned – like if we know we really like a particular inexpensive burger place on the way there or back (not necessarily at the main location).

    • When you plan a lunch or dinner out, it is part of the day of activities and something to enjoy and look forward to. We sometimes do this as well, but it remains a splurge, a highlight of the day. We also find that taking our own lunch provides us with more flexibility, since you can basically sit down and eat on any bench or grassy spot, whenever hunger strikes. 🙂

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