For a town as outdoorsy and active as Laguna, there has always been a dearth of truly healthy restaurants.
We have a surfeit of Mexican, Italian, pizza and burger joints, but vegetarian or raw cuisine had always been the purview of a few places like The Stand and Zinc.
Not anymore. Active Culture serves some fine vegetarian bowls. Nekter raw juices just opened, and Living Juice — a locally owned, organic alternative — is set to migrate from the farmer's market to retail on Forest Avenue.
But perhaps the biggest seismic shift will be the opening of Urth Caffe, where The Cottage used to be. This is a significant upgrade to our culinary and cafe scene, with their amazing organic teas and coffees and what the L.A. Times called "The best cafe latte in all of L.A."
They offer healthy soups, organic salads and sandwiches, plus delicious desserts, from the most decadent to low-fat and vegan selections. Perhaps they'll stay open late, put some comfy seating in, and we'll finally have that late night, alcohol free hang-out this town so desperately needs.
What else can we do to stay fitter and live longer? More community gardens, where locals could gather and cultivate their own food source, would be a good start. The South Laguna community gardeners have already demonstrated numerous benefits, including social interaction. Why not portions of Bluebird, Nita Carmen, Molton Meadows, Top of the World, Riddle and Heisler parks? Call it "Food with the View." There's already irrigation. They don't take up that much space. And neighbors would actually learn each other's names.
Transition Laguna has made a pledge to plant 100 fruit and nut trees over the year to give us more sustainable food sources. Perhaps the city can match it on public land. And how about adding a Wednesday farmer's market? Our Saturday affair is a tremendous success, with a rich array of organic produce, grass-fed meats, breads, nuts and flowers. But perishables only last so long, and a Wednesday addition would give us access to healthy, locally-sourced food all week. If we can't fit it in the city lot, why not close Forest Avenue in the morning and place it there? Palm Springs does it all the time.
A long talked-about skate park would be a healthy alternative for everyone. Lang Park would seem the logical choice.
A complete and safe bike route would be healthier for everyone, motorists included. We already have sharrows northbound on Monterey Street and Hillcrest Drive, from downtown to Crescent Bay, and they've recently been approved for Glenneyre Street as well. With a dash of paint we could add a southbound route on scenic Cliff Drive along Heisler Park, so it becomes a complete loop.
Add to that some sculptural, artistic bike racks funded by businesses and the Arts Commission, some directional signs, and you have real infrastructure for locals and visitors to ride this extraordinary route and literally smell the roses.
While we're at it, why not put some bike share kiosks around, from Act V to Heisler to Bluebird Park, just as Anaheim has recently done. What a great way to get people to leave their cars behind and easily park their bikes wherever they go. And let's finish the planned bike trail out in the Canyon on the old road. True eco warriors could then pedal safely to the Irvine train station and get anywhere by bike.
Finally, perhaps the healthiest thing we could do is convert that thinly veiled parking lot with the perpetually clogged pass-through known as Forest Avenue into a gleaming jewel of a town center known as The Forest Promenade. It's a simple equation. What has more value to the people at large, a tenuous traffic artery that backs up traffic on Coast Highway and serves a few addled motorists, or a true town center, with cafe tables spilling onto the street, attractive benches, great night lighting, and perhaps an edible landscape where our community and its visitors meet, greet and hang out? Why don't we try it with a First Friday monthly closure, except unlike the Chamber' of Commerce's effort several years ago, we eliminate the partying, bands and klieg lights.
It's a vital ingredient to a healthy community, because when people know each other, they help each other. And don't worry, the merchants will ultimately prosper. People will linger longer.
BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer at La Vida Laguna.