Sunset over greenspace and homes in Laguna Woods Village

Both Laguna Woods Village and Leisure World Seal Beach are prime 55+ communities in Orange County.

Among the leading active adult communities in Orange County, California are the original and first - Leisure World Seal Beach - and the largest – Laguna Woods Village. Both were developed by Ross Cortese and his Rossmoor company more than a half-century ago.

Today, Leisure World Seal Beach is home to more than 6,000 units, with 9,000 residents, who live along the coast of the west county. Laguna Woods Village is double that size in both units and residents, who reside inland on a mostly hilly stretch of the south county. The Village adopted its current name after separation from the Cortese family and the formation of the city of Laguna Woods.

As two of the most popular active adult destinations in the country, we offer prospective residents some guidance in comparing and contrasting the choice of lifestyles at Leisure World and the Village.

Cost Comparisons

The relative cost of living in these two communities can be a significant factor to consider. Similar properties can be found at similar purchase prices in both communities, and financing can be found at market rates. Financing for cooperative apartments (coops) in Laguna Woods Village is available at a slight premium over conventional loans, while Leisure World coop purchases must be for cash.

There is, however, a cost of living detail that differs by a lot -- homeowner' association (HOA) fees. HOA fees are substantial in both communities because they fund not just maintenance, landscaping, and the like.

They also support extremely costly amenities such as bus services and a fleet of buses, multiple golf and other recreational venues, arts and crafts facilities, and around the clock security and guarded gates, all of which result in multi-million dollar operating and development budgets.

At each community, every homeowner pays close to the same monthly HOA fees whether they're residing in a small coop worth $100k, or in a large, single-family home worth more than a $1 million. The monthly fees are in the $350 to $400 range at Leisure World -- $600 to $650 range at Laguna Woods Village (depending on certain amenities in some buildings such as elevators, laundry rooms, etc.). That computes to a more than 50% premium in HOA costs at Laguna Woods Village over Leisure World.

Incidentally, to ensure that you are able to pay your HOA assessments, each community requires disclosure of income and assets by prospective residents, and the Village's requirements exceed Leisure World's.

Contrasting Amenities

Green and tee in between trees in Laguna Woods Village

If you're hoping to play a lot of golf, The Village is for you. If not, save some money in Leisure World Seal Beach.

The contrast in HOA fees between Leisure World and Laguna Woods Village are a function of the amenities offered by each community, and the differences in perks can be decisive for many prospective residents.

Recreation such as golf, swimming, indoor and outdoor games, as well as arts and crafts facilities, and a variety of social clubs, can be found at both communities. But there are significant differences in the details.

Golf, for example, at Leisure World means one nine-hole course. The Village has a pro-level course with 27-holes laid out in alternating circuits, as well as a separate nine-hole course. Swimming is offered at one pool at Leisure World while there are five at The Village. Similarly, more classes, studios and game courts are found in Laguna Woods Village.

A couple of other significant difference in amenities exist, too. Leisure World has an on-site health care center. The Village does not. The Village hosts horse stables where owners can board their mounts and novices can learn to ride. Leisure World does not.

Both communities provide a daily bus service with multiple routes covering the community, with stops at nearby shopping, financial and medical facilities. The Village buses also connect with OC public transit at a county terminal. And, only the Village also offers a Plan-a-Ride program for service by reservation.

Setting and Climate

Visitors to Southern California tend to see a monotonous sameness to the climate and landscape and scoff at suggestions otherwise. But even these two locales, so close in so many other ways, demonstrate distinct differences season to season, year in, year out.

Leisure World is situated on an open coastal plain -- along the San Gabriel River -- about two miles upstream (when it's flowing in wet years) from the river mouth on the Pacific. The protected Bolsa Chica wetlands are just to the south.

For much of the year, night and early morning hours bring in the marine layer of low clouds, fog and moisture that keep the coast damp and cool until midday when the sun and heat burns it off. Proximity to the ocean keeps temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler than a few miles inland in the summer, and in the winter, keeps nightime temps milder than inland.

Laguna Woods Village, while only 10 to 12 miles from the beach, is different. The low coastal hills of south Orange County tend to insulate the community from the marine influence. Winter nights can be colder than the coast, summer daytime temps are closer to hotter inland norms, and drier, as Santa Ana winds blow down nearby canyons from the desert.

Location and Quality of Life

The different locales of these two communities can be a consideration when it comes to the relative quality of outside activities and services.

Leisure World is on the western edge of Orange County, adjacent to Los Angeles County, and among its neighbors are the cities of Long Beach, Cerritos and Seal Beach. Long Beach in particular is a far more urban environment than the smaller suburban towns of Orange County, with a more diverse range of attractions and quality of life.

Laguna Woods Village is situated in the southern reaches of the county, surrounded by newer suburbs, and adjacent to master-planned city of Irvine and the upscale resort communities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.

The quality of shopping, commercial and financial services, medical facilities, the arts and entertainment, all reflect the character of the regions which respectively host Leisure World Seal Beach and Laguna Woods Village.

In sum, how you rank these comparisons and contrasts in your lifestyle inventory may help determine the right active adult community for you.