A Stroke of ‘Genius’ at the 80th Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach

Models recreate a classical painting at the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.

When you mingle some of the most alluring hideaways on the California coastline with “The Genius,” the title chosen for the 2012 Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, the combination is as mesmerizing as the pageant’s lavish living art displays. Just what is “living art,” you ask?

Each summer, the Laguna Festival of Arts puts on performances in the Irvine Bowl, an outdoor amphitheater, in which real people pose in incredibly accurate portrayals of famous works of art. This summer’s 80th Pageant of the Masters carries the theme of “The Genius.” It will depict living art recreations ranging from the Italian Renaissance to recreations of the modern masters. This historic homage to art covers the gamut of American, French, British, Italian, Dutch and Polish masters. Each of the 90-minute shows, running from July 7 to Aug. 31, will be accompanied with a professional orchestra, original score, live narration, intricate sets and first-class lighting.

The big production takes the audience on a delightful visual journey. The program’s first act reflects a theme of astronomy “starring” the Griffith Observatory Murals by Hugo Ball followed by the second act’s “The Night Caf/” by Vincent van Gogh. When the sun sets, starlight illuminates the stage for an earthy, natural atmosphere.

The best way to immerse yourself in this larger-than-life feast of art is to stay awhile. One idyllic spot to hang your hat for a few days is the barely two-year-old Retreat in Laguna, a private enclave of eight ocean-front villas (with appropriate names such as Villa D’arte, Villa Da Vinci and the Piazza D’Stella) shoehorned into a prime postage stamp of real estate located right on the beach. It is not just a place to sleep, though. The Retreat’s concierge can customize your stay. Chef Mark Parianno from the Savannah Chophouse is on hand to prepare a three-course dinner in your villa, while the Retreat also arranges appointments at the Therapy & Wellness Institute in Laguna for soft tissue massage or other treatments based on specific needs.

Upon arrival guests might find a bottle of organic wine (Pinot Grigio Sicilia made with organic grapes) and artwork from the famous, local Wyland Galleries, which supports the protection of the world’s oceans and waterways. The Retreat’s Wyland package offers a low tide walk for two and a private tour of the Wyland Gallery among other add-ons. Each villa features the work of Laguna artists such as Shane Townley and Steve Lustig’s Asana Art, and boasts living areas facing the ocean and a gourmet kitchen. Rates for the one-bedroom villas range from $1,588 with a three-night minimum. Check www.theretreatinlaguna.com for more info.

If your appetite for art isn’t quenched by now, the Sawdust Art Festival, founded in 1966, takes place from June 24 to Aug. 28 and features more than 200 local artists. It is close to the Festival of Arts, and together the two festivals make Laguna Canyon Road a haven for art fans. And there’s more; if you have time visit the Laguna Art Museum, where more than 3,500 works of American artists from the 19th century to today focus on California art. More info can be found at www. Lagunabeachinfo.com.

Pamela Price contributes to Forbes.com