A Hare Krishna procession walked by a gallery in Laguna Beach in January 1970. (Slim Aarons/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

LSD, free love, and bulldozers: Laguna Beach’s ‘Christmas Happening’

Laguna Beach began the 1960s as a sleepy arts colony. As the hippie counterculture arose, the city’s gorgeous setting and dirt-cheap beach living made it a natural hub for the movement. Hare Krishnas moved into town. Gay people found sanctuary. Art and drugs abounded.

Then, on Christmas Day of 1970, the city hosted what was billed as Southern California’s answer to Woodstock.

Originally planned for the beach, the “Christmas Happening” was moved to a canyon just beyond the edge of town after officials grew alarmed by the potential for chaos. “Be a witness to the birth of the New Age,” a poster read. Rumors spread that Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead would show. (They didn’t).

A view from the stage at the “Christmas Happening” in Laguna Canyon in 1970.
Mark Chamberlain

Roughly 25,000 flower children arrived from as far as Kansas and Illinois, setting up camp in Laguna Canyon. The food, the music, and the love were all free. At one point an evangelical drug-dispensing group, “Brotherhood of Eternal Love,” flew a plane overhead and dropped hundreds of Christmas cards affixed with LSD tabs in the only documented psychedelic airdrop in history.

With cold weather and dwindling food, people began to disperse by Day Two. But about 1,500 others stayed, apparently envisioning the canyon as a new living space.

After three days, city officials had had enough. More than 400 police officers swept in, forced the lingerers onto buses, and used bulldozers to bury everything left behind. Nearby homeowners cheered.

The event, alas, failed to usher in world peace. But to many participants, it was the greatest Christmas of their lives. Soon after, the City Council enacted a 2,500-person limit on single-group gatherings, ensuring no more “happenings” would ever happen again. Yet the spirit of those days still echoes in Laguna Beach, a place that has remained a haven for the arts — just without the affordable living.

See some great photos of Laguna Beach in the 1960s: KCET

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