Laguna Niguel gets a bit of a bad rap from youngsters who say the beach-adjacent town is, like, totally boring. But if you like bland, that’s not such a terrible description, right? Young adults tend to shy away from this area for two reasons: they’re too poor to afford it, and it seems like there’s a citywide bedtime of roughly 9 p.m. But those attributes just make it all the more attractive to middle-aged ballers who are too exhausted commuting at least 30 minutes each way to work to bother with the shenanigans of bars and nightlife. Locals like their daytime activities, which include family-friendly pursuits of hiking, biking, shopping and yoga, while equestrian fans take advantage of dozens of snaking horse trails that cover the city.
Of course, proximity to the beach is the major reason Laguna Niguel enjoys such high property values and desirable characterization, so surfing, swimming, kayaking and boating are as major attractions as the many parks, playing fields and open spaces.
It’s not cheap. The city even seems to have mostly evaded the housing crisis that vanquished so many other California areas. But, you will get some sweet amenities for the price, and not just the vistas. Homes are fairly new here, with the majority sporting hardwood floors, swimming pools, updated appliances and multi-car garages. Some properties can be pretty cramped, but with all that wide-open natural space in Laguna Niguel—over one third of the city is intentionally undeveloped—it shouldn’t be overly disappointing you can tap your neighbor’s window from your bedroom in some communities. One thing to remember, however: this is not a mecca of rentals. There is only about 4-5% vacancy rate, and premier apartments are rare birds.
Apartment rentals aren’t nonexistent, but there are limited options and it requires serious research to find a winner. Plus, expect to pay up to $1500 a month for a one bedroom, which seems an unlikely choice considering the family-friendly and long-commute makeup of this area. There is a sizable accumulation of work-from-home types here, so apartments and rental condos are still the most sensible and budget-friendly housing in the city, and they include some of the best features and trappings of real (luxury) homes.
Realistically though, you’re bringing a spouse and 2.5 kids, so even a spacious condo seems tortuous with tottering toddlers, and if you arrive with Fido, reach for the stars and opt for a lush green yard. Most gardening services—a must-have if you want to be a real part of the community—include doggie curb service. Yep, maintenance will pick up pooch poo. Money does so many cool things.
One more note on homes: communities often have gated entrances and exits. Some are guarded and others are not. While this is a great safety feature, it will cost you several more shiny pennies to enjoy and ultimately may prove more an inconvenience than asset, as it’s little more than unnecessary frippery in such a low-crime location.
In two words: a lot. The cost of living is mind-bogglingly elevated here, from the cost of food to the associated fees of required personal transportation to the clothing allowance you’ll need to fit in. It’s almost 84% higher than the rest of the country. Ouch. But then, most residents boast a median family income of over 150 big ones a year, so why not splash out a little on some beach views and uniformed sentinels?
Just as important to research as prices is geology. It’s not for impromptu quizzes on the nature of crystals, it’s because California has an occasional problem with these little things called earthquakes. Also, though the weather is fair and the temperature nearly always ideal, those winter showers bring floods. Those floods bring landslides. Investigate the geological history of your chosen neighborhood before committing to a long-term lease spanning the wet season.
Commutes are long, and that’s just to the freeway on-ramp. Depending on where you settle in Laguna Niguel, you’re either just a hop, skip and a jump away from rush hour traffic on the I-5 or a slow slog to a toll road stuck behind everyone else foolish, patient or desperate enough for ocean views to live on the southwest end of LN.
About that toll road: the 73 Highway is as commonly used as the public 5 in Laguna Niguel, but it can cost almost five dollars per use, depending on how far you need to travel. It only runs from Mission Viejo to Huntington Beach, and when it dumps you in HB you have all the daily exhibits of road rage on the 405 with which to contend. There’s a silver lining, of course—there’s rarely traffic regardless of the time of day.
Los Angeles and New York have neighborhoods, but Laguna Niguel has communities. They’re planned, so many “neighborhoods” include community pools, fitness centers and other neato family-friendly attractions, but they don’t involve shops. South Orange County likes to keep its inhabitants separate and safe from its retail. All the same, well-known communities include Bear Brand Ranch, Ocean Ranch, Rancho Niguel, Niguel West and San Joaquin Hills. Here is a breakdown of the most popular spots.
San Joaquin Hills: Boasting guarded gates and 910 homes, SJH is the largest ‘hood in the city system. Single-family homes pepper the northern portion of Laguna Niguel, making the commute generally easy to both the 5 and 73. Several subdivisions within the community offer a variety of square footage, pricing and amenities. The last ticky-tacky box was completed in 2006. $$$
Kite Hill:Closer to the 73 than the 5, this community sits in the middle of Laguna Niguel and is filled with doctors. No gates here, just tons of recreational facilities, like tennis courts, swimming pools and picnic benches, among other inviting bonuses. It’s bordered by Aliso Viejo and is a moderately priced location, considering what moderate means here. $$
Niguel West:Older than the other neighborhoods, Niguel West is actually broken into two sections, Niguel West 1 and Niguel West 2 (construction companies aren’t known for their talent for naming, apparently). It has 101 homes built in the ‘70s and ‘80s and renters should beware of geological issues. Try to skip in favor of better nabes or head to the condos instead.** $**
Bear Brand Ranch: Close to the ocean and tucked away from anything not cast from gold, Bear Brand has roughly 275 homes with jaw-dropping views and A-List prices. You can’t begin to consider borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor for less than a few million here, but there are some condo options. Spacious houses with extreme luxury mean very, very few rentals. Hopefully you know someone. $$$$$
Laguna Niguel is an alluring option for affluent families with a penchant for sea and canyon views, HOAs, hiking trails and sleepy gated communities. If you have Jedi-like patience with traffic (or you work from home) and Nicolas Cage’s fondness for pricey real estate, you can’t do better than the undeniably awesome luxury of Laguna Niguel when it comes to putting down roots.
Families and fitness addicts have left great reviews of Windridge Apartments in Laguna Niguel! Residents tout the building's private playground, expansive pool, onsite tennis courts, and gym as reasons for loving where they live.