This is a work in progress – data was taken from the sources below* which may include inaccuracies.  Links are provided as sources when available.  This chronology will continually be researched for accuracy.  Please CONTACT US if you have any additional information or correctioNS.


If one of the greatest aspects of Laguna Beach is its spectacular coastline, coves, caves, beaches, marine life, canyons, lakes, plants, trees, animals, hills and geology, then a full appreciation must start long before man arrived.

Prehistoric: Coastline - Some evidence shows that, Laguna’s unique coastline was formed 10 million years ago, with beaches rising to the top of the hills (now Badlands Park) and hills falling to the coves (now 20 of them) making a haven for marine life and a picturesque masterpiece at the very edge of the continent.  

Sedimentary rock dates from the late Eocene to the Pliocene ages.  The Ice Age cut the canyons.  Bones of prehistoric era animals remain.  Our greatest treasures are the hills, coves, canyons, beaches, and ocean as a unique setting drawing residents, artists, and tourists here in awe.  

Rocks in Laguna Beach date back 65 million years ago.

Ten-million-year old shark teeth were found in Laguna Canyon.

8000 BC TO 1846: THE INDIANS

8,000 to 12,500 years ago: Paleoindian period.  Some evidence suggests that Orange County's first inhabitants came here around 8,000 years ago.  A portion of a female skull, dubbed the Laguna Woman”, possibly 8,000 to 17,000 years old, one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, was found on St. Ann’s Drive in 1933. 

Pre-settlement era:   Migrant Indians usually depended upon the fresh water, game, and marine life for survival.  Remnants of these villages were seen by the early homesteaders.

1542:  European exploration of the area –  Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the coast for Spain.  Sir Francis Drake explored the area for England in 1579.  

1769: Survey  Gaspar de Portola (Spanish) led an expedition on a route that closely to what became El Camino Real and Highway 101, which included the overland route from San Diego across Aliso Creek and on to San Francisco.  

1776: Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded by Saint Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest.  

1818: Pirates  Hippolyte de Bouchard, a French Argentine sailor plundered San Juan Capistrano and earned the reputation of "California’s only pirate" of those days.  Legend says he buried booty in the Laguna coast...

1821: Mexico gains independence from Spain.  The New Mexican government distributed more than 500 land grants to prominent families, using maps called disenos that roughly marked each grant's boundaries.  This informal system of documentation would open the door to legal challenges by Americans.

1833: Rancho, Cattle, Russians, Aleut  Capistrano Mission was secularized and the government granted large grants of land called ranchos.  Laguna was one of the few parcels of coastal land in Southern California never included in any Mexican land grant, which was very important later in attracting homesteaders.  Cattle roamed Laguna as part of the hide and tallow industry, which Henry Dana’s ship received for trade with New England in 1836.  Russian fur trading ships brought Aleut natives who used kayaks to hunt sea otters in Laguna’s coves to extinction.

1841: Laguna Lakes – Mexican map showed lakes as the only spring-fed lakes in present Orange County.

1842:  Juan Avila was given a land grant for the area "Rancho Niguel."  This area included the area south of Aliso Creek to Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, and Laguna Hills.  The grant was re-established for Juan Avila after California's statehood through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  He retained ownership of the land until he sold it in 1865.  

1848: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the peace treaty between United States and Mexico that ended the Mexican-American War was signed.

1847 TO 1879: THE SETTLERS

1847: Mormon Battalion at Aliso Creek – Many of the early settlers of Laguna Beach had roots in the Mormon faith.  It all started with the Mormon Battalion of 500 U.S. soldiers who marched a record 2,000 miles and camped up Aliso Creek (near where the Thurstons later got their water – historical marker now there) while securing forts at San Diego and Los Angeles as part of the transition from Mexican State to California Republic to statehood.  Those who remained in the area, those who later settled San Bernardino (another 500), and those who returned to Utah may have influenced the early Mormon (and RLDS) settlers to locate here.  Some of the soldiers bore the same last names as the early Mormon settlers. 

1871: First permanent settlers (*6, *7, *8, *9) – Thurston family – George Thurston and his family arrived in Aliso Canyon from Utah to farm what is now Aliso Creek Golf Course.  While residing in Utah, George Thurston and his wife withdrew from the Mormon Church. (*4)  He took over the temporary homestead of Eugene Salter.  His son, Joseph Smith (later “S.”) Thurston lived in Laguna Beach for all of his life.  He sold melons and vegetables in the village.  Later, he was a real estate investor and early supporter of the Presbyterian Church in the village.  Thurston Middle School was named after his wife, Marie, a teacher.  He died in 1957.  

1873: Village Homesteaders (*6, *7, *8) – Most settlers of the initial twenty years were encouraged by the Homestead Act and Timber Culture Act giving them up to 160 acres if 40 acres were planted with trees.  John Damron homesteaded the central part of Laguna Beach.  He sold it to C. Rawson who sold it to George Rogers who subdivided it.  Later his old “ranch home” was replaced by the City Hall.  Andrew W. Thompson (1876) and William Brooks (1876) were also early homesteaders.  Brooks went on to become a deputy sheriff and the first blacksmith and postmaster in the area.

1880 TO 1899: THE VILLAGE

1880: The first unofficial greeter (*8) – Joe Lucas arrived from Portugal.  He greeted stagecoach visitors from Santa Ana and El Toro carrying a trident fishing spear as if he were Neptune.  Old Joe Lucas stayed in Laguna beach for for 28 years and died in 1908.  

1883: RLDS (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) chapel school house (*6) – It was built as a meeting house and a school near El Toro and Canyon Road.  It was moved several times to serve as a school and chapel for Catholics and the Little Church by the Sea.  The school house is sometimes referred to as the "Mormon School House."

1880s: Oldest homes – Three of Laguna’s oldest homes remaining today were built in the 1880s:  154 Pearl St. (1883), 411 Arroyo Chico (1884), and (1897– Cope House) 412 Glenneyre Street.

1886: Emma Schooner – Former whaling vessel laid anchor at Woods Cove to transport barley hay to San Diego for stagecoach horses.  Later it was wrecked at Arch Beach during a storm.  Later the Arch Beach Hotel was built.

1887: Pier (*6) – It was built at Arch Beach for the Emma Schooner.  Over the years, two other piers came and went at Main Beach and a fourth at Aliso Pier – the latest to go from storms in 1998. 

1888: Subdivision (*8) – A stagecoach line via Laguna Canyon connected with the railroad at Irvine Old Town.  

1888: Founding of the city – Rogers subdivided the village.  It was considered as the city’s founding date.

1889: County (*8) – County of Orange was formed.  

1888-1890: Economic Crash (*6, *7) – Real estate bust caused many early settlers to move away.  Some even took their buildings with them.   

1895: Laguna Beach Hotel and Isch General Store (*6, *7) – Inland visitors came to escape the heat.

1900 TO 1909: THE ARTISTS

1903:  Art Colony (*6, *7, 8) – Artist Norman St. Clair arrived, the first of many painters who would form Laguna’s “Art Colony”.  Other early artists include William Wendt, Frank Cuprien, and Edgar Payne.  

1904:  Laguna Beach (*7) – Official name was changed from Las Lagonas.

1908: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – Famous song was written by longtime resident Jack Norworth.

1910 TO 1919: THE MOVIES  

1912:  Water – North Laguna piped water from the canyon pumps and advertised itself as “the tract with water.”  Other areas used barrels to transport water from wells in the canyon or cisterns to store rain water.  

1913:  Lumber, Dancehall, Sea Life (*8) – Joe Jahraus founded Laguna Beach Lumber on Forest Avenue in French Normandy style.  Fred MacMurray played saxophone in a dance hall on Main Beach.  A campsite costs thirty cents a night.  Pomona College Marine Laboratory was built across from Main Beach to study sea life and was later was used to study snakes until 1944.  Tent city along Broadway was mostly for visitors from Riverside and North Laguna for those from Santa Ana.  

1914:  Movies – “False Colors” was filmed here, with many other later films including Robinson Crusoe and movies with Shirley Temple (‘36 Captain January), Errol Flynn (‘35 Captain Blood), Betty Davis, Mary Pickford, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Rudolph Valentino, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Harold Lloyd, etc., and later with local high school students in “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” reality television show in 2004.  First radio was broadcasted from a log cabin (later radio station 1949-51 and in 2013 (93.5FM.)  

1914:  Temple Hills – It overlooked the village.  Joseph Thurston bought the large tract overlooking the village and named it for “inspiration and spiritual strength.”  It is the highest point in the city.

1915:  Newspaper; Gate, Electricity – Laguna Life began publishing and became the Laguna News-Post in 1967.  Electric power for village came from a gas motor on Broadway.  The Canyon road was paved.  35 artists were in town.  Gate hung and remains at Forest and Coast Highway, “This gate hangs well and hinders none, refresh and rest, then travel on.”  

1917:  Chamber of Commerce (*6, *7, *8) – It was established at the corner of Park and Coast Highway.  E. E. Jahraus was the first president.  Cottage Restaurant was built.  

1918:  Art Association; White House (*7, *8, *9) – It was founded by local artists.  Later it became the Laguna Art Museum.  Plein-air painting became a distinctive Laguna style similar to that of French impressionists.  White House Restaurant opened and remains today as the oldest restaurant in Orange County still operating.

1920 TO 1929: THE HIGHWAY

1920:  Population – 363

1920:  Playhouse – It was founded, built and dedicated on Ocean Street.  Later it was moved to Broadway.  It is the oldest, continually running theater on the West Coast.  

1921:  Peace Pipe Pageant – It raised money for the art museum. 

1923:  Coastal defense – Laguna Canyon Road and parts of Coast Highway were paved with heavily reinforced concrete to permit transport of coastal defense artillery.  

1923:  Rumrunners – Rumrunners used many secluded coves to evade federal agents during Prohibition.  Their boats had trap doors to get rid of evidence if necessary.

1925:  School – Laguna’s school had an enrollment of 150 pupils.  It was located in what later became the Veterans Memorial Community Center.  

1926:  Coast Highway – Movie stars, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. attended the ribbon-cutting dedication as a Coast Highway opened from Newport to Dana Point.  The couple had a rustic hideaway in Irvine Cove.

1926: Piped water  Residents bought “duck hunting” land supposedly in Huntington Beach Santa Ana River basin to drill wells to bring piped water into the village to replace wells and cisterns throughout the canyon and village.  Cabrillo Ballroom on Main Beach opened.

1926: Private Tower – Sixty foot picturesque Norman tower was built at a Victorian beach home as a staircase down the cliff to the beach and then made cement tide pool below.  

1927:  Cityhood – It was the first incorporated city in South Orange County.  Residents pushed or incorporation of “lagunatics” were concerned about the anticipated influx of visitors with the completion of Coast Highway.  

1927:  Airstrips – Famed aviatrix Florence ‘Pancho’ Barnes builds a private airstrip between Coast Highway and the bluff top along what is now McKnight Drive.  At least one pilot misjudged his landing and dribbled off the bluff into the water.  Another airstrip was at upper Three Arch Bay.   

1928:  Presbyterian Church – It was built in the village.  Garden Club was formed.  

1929:  Fire Station – It was designed by Aubrey St. Clair, son of artist Norman St. Clair.

1929:  La Casa Del Camino – Grand Opening was January 26, 1929.   Heralded as "Laguna's first modern hostelry."  Early room rates were $2 to $3.50 per night.  Article in Laguna Beach Independent

1930 TO 1939: THE FESTIVAL

1930:  Population – 1981

1930:  Hotel Laguna – Originally had a grand neon sign on top of the hotel (removed due to ordinance in 1996.)  In the early years, it became a favorite hideaway for many of the famous.  70 rooms replaced former hotel on same site built in 1895.  

1931:  Heisler Building (provincial revival influenced style) was built across the street from Hotel Laguna.  Commercial use has included Rason's Drug Store, Jolly Roger, doctor's office, Tommy Bahama, and Skyloft.  Howard Heisler, developer of the building, was an important real estate entrepreneur in the early days of Laguna.  Along with L.C. McKnight, he acquired most of the land which now compromises north Laguna from the Irvine Company and subdivided it in 1906 under the name Laguna Cliffs.  This was the first tract in Laguna to have water directly piped to each lot, quite an achievement for its time. This building on South Coast Highway is an important testimony to the memory of an important Laguna pioneer, H.G. Heisler.  Laguna Beach City Historical Resources Inventory

1931: Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club began in Heisler Park.

1932:  Lighthouse – The circular Mediterranean revival style sewage tower was built along with the venting “lighthouse” tower on the hillside in typical artsy style.  

1932:  Festival of the Arts – To lure the crowds here after the 1932 L.A. Olympics, the first and second Festival of the Arts was presented on El Paseo next to the Hotel Laguna and tableaux vivants were included, giving birth to the Pageant of the Masters with Roy Ropp as the “Father of the Pageant.”  The first tableau, “Mona Lisa”, appeared for three years running.  The third year was on Ocean Avenue by the museum.  “The Last Supper” at Pageant of the Masters was presented for the first time which continued as an attraction ever since.  The Pottery Shack started.  It got a permanent location in Laguna Canyon in 1941.  An “Olympic Village” was developed up Bluebird Canyon with two room homes transported from the Los Angeles Olympic Village, with streets named after 1932 Olympics U.S. medal winners.  

1933:  Battleship – The battleship U.S.S. Colorado anchored off Laguna Beach for liberty call.  Acord’s Market opened.  St. Francis by the Sea chapel was built 17 x 60 feet, the smallest cathedral in the world.  

1933: Public Art – Oldest “public art,” “Boy and Dog” was placed in Jahraus Park.  It would later exceed 80 artworks, one of the largest in the country for a city of our size. 

1934:  Laguna Beach High School began and was first in a new wing adjacent to the elementary school. 

1935:  Jack Benny played his violin at the Festival of the Arts.  (*8)

John Steinbeck – .  High school was built.  Movie theater opened.  John Steinbeck wrote “Tortilla Flats” while living here. 

1937:  Lifeguard tower moved to Main Beach – The tower was originally part of Union Oil Gas Station at Broadway and Coast Highway.

1938: First Official Greeter – Eiler Larsen was born in 1890 in Denmark, settled in Laguna at age 52, and spent much of his time waving at folks from his spot across from the White House restaurant at Coast Highway near Main Beach.  He was cast as Judas in the Pageant of the Masters from 1938-1940.  He died in 1975 at age 84.  His footprints lay in the sidewalk near where he often stood and a  statute  of Eiler Larsen remains at the Pottery Shack at Coast Highway and Brooks Street.  

1938:  President Roosevelt – His motorcade drove by throngs of waving citizens by the White House Restaurant, ironically.  Victor Hugo (Las Brisas Restaurant) was built on Main Beach.  

1939:  Flood – A tropical storm flooded much of the county and destroyed Laguna’s historic pier.  

1939: Treasure Island trailer park expanded from 30 to 200 trailers.  By 1947, up to 6,000 trailers per year would stop at Treasure Island.  By 1997, all residents were cleared.  

1940 TO 1949: THE WAR

1940:  Population  4,460

1941:  World War II – The bombing of Pearl Harbor brought widespread fear of invasion.  Japanese farming families from Emerald Bay were interned.  Armed Coast Guardsmen with dogs patrolled the beaches and bluffs.  A local unit of the Observer Corps was formed to track aircraft along the coastline and stayed active until about 1958.  The wartime blackout lasted four years.  The Hotel Laguna became quarters for El Toro’s Marine officers, some of whom decide to make their home in Laguna after the war.  The Pageant of the Masters closed for the duration.

1944:  Government – New Council/Manager government was started with non-elected rotating mayor from the council.  

1946:  Bushard’s Pharmacy – Well known drugstore started.  First postwar pageant was presented.

1947:  Junior Art Festival – Showcased over 300 works of art by students from war times to present.

1948:  New Water Source – Water piped from Colorado River and the Northern California. 

1948:  Surf and Sand Hotel – It was later expanded to 165 rooms.  It was used by media during the Nixon years while he was at Casa Pacific in San Clemente.  

1949:  Snow – Laguna Beach received one inch of snow.

1950 TO 1959: THE SURFERS

1950:  Population  6600

1950:  Surfing – Hobie Alter started his surfboard business.  Brook Street surf classic soon followed.  Skim boarding at Victoria Beach dated back to the 20s.  Beach Boys later mentioned Laguna Beach in one of their surfing songs and later a concert at Three Arch Bay.  

1952: Nixon – He gave a speech in front of City Hall by the old Peppertree as he campaigned as Vice President with Eisenhower.

1953:  City Hall – Fittingly, City Hall was built on the site of the first home in the village, the Rogers “old ranch house” and what had more recently been the Women’s Club, with promises to maintain and preserve the large pepper tree in front of City Hall that had been there since the beginning.  It is still there.

1959:  Hospital – The South Coast Community Hospital, now Mission Medical Center, accepted its first patient.

1960 TO 1969: MAIN BEACH

1960:  Population – 9,268

1962:  Laguna Beach College of Art and Design – It was founded. 

1967:  Sawdust Festival and Laguna Art-A-Fair each held their first shows. 

1967: Patriot’s Day Parade – The first parade was held. 

Counter-culture members of “Brotherhood of Eternal Love” with Timothy Leary moved here.  

1968: Main Beach Park – On October 29, 1968, the city of Laguna Beach purchased 1,000 feet of beach frontage purchased from various property owners, an area known since as Main Beach Park.  The cost was recorded at $3,135,000.  All structures were removed and the park was later dedicated in 1974.  This was a major event opening up the village directly to the beach.   
Historical Society Newsletter from April 2008 containing more information on the purchase of Main Beach Park

1968: Dr. Timothy Leary was arrested in Laguna by Neil Purcell, 

1970 TO 1979: THE HIPPIES

1970:  Population – 14,550

1970:  Hippies – Worldwide attention was on tens of thousands of the Flower Power Hippie Generation attending a free, week long open air rock concert in Laguna Canyon by El Toro Road (“Woodstock West”).  The gathering was peaceful.  In the 60s and 70s, Hippies and Hare Krishna adherents were common sights in the village.  

1971:  Height Limit – It was set by the City Council at 50 feet.  This was a major accomplishment to maintain the “village” feeling.

1974: June 22.  Main Beach Park, "Window to the Sea" was dedicated.
Main Beach Park Dedication Ceremonies program: The Chronicle of Laguna's Window-to-the-Sea

1975:  Animal Shelter – 80% of animals are reunited with owners within a few days.

1977:  Students – 3,129 students were enrolled at five schools.

1977:  El Nino flood – A subtropical cloudburst dumped over eight inches of rain in a few hours in the early morning hours, generating flashfloods and landslides.  Many homes and businesses were flooded, and several feet of muddy water raged through downtown streets.  It was the heaviest rainstorm storm ever recorded in Orange County.

1978:  Landslide – The western part of Bluebird Canyon landslide destroyed 24 homes.
Department of Conservation: California Geological Survey
Count of Orange-Robert Sydnor

1980 TO 1989: THE GAYS

1980:  Population – 17,858

1981:  Historic Resources – A list was compiled of pre-1940s buildings to give tax benefit per the Mills Act for its preservation.

1982: The Gays – Robert Gentry was elected as mayor and was the first openly gay public official elected in Southern California.  Many gays lived here.  It became known as a gay-friendly place to live and visit.  Restaurants and businesses specifically serving them have decreased over the years since.  

1986:  Laguna Art Museum – Reopened after a two year renovation, increasing its space to 20,000 square feet. 

1986:  Public Art – It was made a requirement of business construction. 

1987:  South Laguna (5,000 residents) annexation with Laguna Beach.  Laguna Niguel lost its attempt in the race to annex.  

1989:  Historical Society – It was founded.


1990:  Population – 23,170.  The big increase was mostly from the South Laguna annexation.  

1991:  Green Belt – Laguna citizens voted 4:1 to tax themselves to acquire land for the future.  Laguna Coast Wilderness Park protected through efforts by bookstore owner Jim Dilley since 1978.  Laguna was unique with 22,000 acres surrounding it.

1992:  Dog Park – The park in Laguna Beach was the first dog park in Orange County.

1993:  Fire – Arson-set fire swept the canyons and hilltops of Laguna, leaving 366 families without homes.

1993:  Goats – 600 goats were used as part of fuel reduction and vegetation management to current date with herders mostly from Peru.  State marine reserve was legislated. 

1995:  Wyland Galleries – It was built with “the wailing wall” facing Hotel Laguna.

1996-02-07:  High School Awards – Laguna Beach High School received its first Distinguished School honor.  Coastline Pilot article

1997:  Flooding and Landslides

1997:  Plein Air Painter’s Festival – Landscape painters' easels are set up along the coastline every year.


2000:  Population  23,727

2002:  Festival Fight – Festival of the Arts/Pageant of the Masters ended in a fight with the city for renewed support and lease, as San Clemente tried to move the location there.  They signed a new 40-year lease to keep it in Laguna Beach.  Restoration of kelp fields by California Coast Keeper annual “kelpfest” is celebrated every April.  

2003:  World Class Destination – The Montage Hotels and Resorts opened at the former Treasure Island property, with a park and public access trail along the coast.  Four other 5-star resorts are on Laguna’s borders as a testament to its unique world-class beauty (more than any island in Hawaii.) 

2003:  Farmers Market started.

2005:  Landslide in Bluebird Canyon 

2008:  Sister City – Menton France, and in 2012 San Jose del Cabo, Mexico became sister city.  City became a “transition city” to promote local food production.


2010:  Population  22,723.  Population decreased during decade.

2010:  Homeless Shelter – Opened in Laguna Canyon.  Churches and groups donate meals.  

2012:  Marine Reserve (Blue Belt) – Legislation extends reserve from Irvine Cove to Treasure Island Beach.  Essentially Laguna Beach is surrounded on land and sea with green and blue belt preserves.  There are three miles of Crystal Cove State Park to the north with Salt Creek Beach and its watershed to the south.  Few cities in the world are so protected, as if it were a beautiful pearl protected in a shell.  

2012:  Mayor Kelly Boyd – Kelly Boyd became mayor.  He was the great grandchild (through Marie Thurston) of Laguna’s first settlers, George and Sarah Thurston.  We now have come full circle.  

Now: Over 300,000 visitors now see the world famous Pageant of the Masters each year.  More than five million people visit Laguna each year.  There is seven miles of coastline, with 20 unique coves and beaches.  

2014 Population – 24,300 

Future:  What nature has created here we have treasured, protected and shared.  We proudly honor our past and with great anticipation embrace our future.


  1. Laguna Beach of Early Days, Joseph S. Thurston, 1947
  2. Pioneer Days in Laguna Beach, Merle and Mabel Ramsey, 1967
  3. The First 100 Years in Laguna Beach 1876-1976, Merle and Mabel Ramsey
  4. History of Orange County, California with Biographical Sketches, by Samuel Armor, 1921
  5. A Short History of Laguna Beach and South Laguna, Karen Wilson Turnbull, 1992
  6. Laguna Woman – The First American, by Steve Turnbull, 2003
  7. History of Laguna Canyon, Belinda Blacketer, 2001
  8. Laguna Beach Timeline, Gene Felder
  9. A Laguna Beach Chronology, Charles Quilter and Jim Rue, 1999
  10. Laguna Beach, Wikipedia
  11. Laguna Beach- Then and Now, Gene Felder, 2013
  12. Loving Laguna, Skip Hellewell, 2013, LA Times Review