Southern Calidornia vacation planning

Huntington Beach California

Huntington Beach Overview
by Regina Hinrichs

Welcome to “Surf City, USA.” It’s not just a song by Jan & Dean, there really is such a place and it’s Huntington Beach, CA. When you head to the beach, you’ll understand the nickname. We visited on a weekday in October, and there were easily 20 surfers in pursuit of the perfect wave. Everywhere we went, there were wetsuit clad surfers around.

After checking into our hotel, we headed into town. The first thing that we did was stroll out onto the Huntington Beach pier. There’s nothing better than being in the California sun watching the Pacific Ocean and surfers below. Next thing you know, you’re humming Beach Boys tunes.

The beach itself seems endless. Miles long with a paved path reaching from Sunset to Newport Beach, and averaging 100 feet wide, finding a spot to catch some rays is easy. We didn’t think to bring our bikinis or Speedos (which is a very good thing) and found the best spot to simply enjoy the spectacular view. To the right of the pier is a beautiful terrace where you can sit and watch the waves.

Let’s face it; if you’re headed here, packing your surfboard/bike/volleyball/rollerblades isn’t easy. They rarely fit in the overhead or under the seat and then there’s that whole luggage weight limit issue.  You can rent what you need from Zack’s by the pier, Huntington Surf and Sport, Toes on the Nose, Dwight’s or Wheel Fun Rentals. You can also schedule a surfing lesson if this is your first time on a board.

What really sets Huntington Beach apart is that they allow fires. There are close to 600 fire rings on the beach that are available on a first come/first served basis. I know “if you think packing a Schwinn is rough, how do you expect me to bring a cord of wood?” I don’t. Beach concessionaires and the local supermarkets sell firewood. You’ll be toasting marshmallows before you know it.

We lucked out on our visit. Every Friday local artisans display their wares by the pier. On the third weekend of the month, they’re there Friday thru Sunday. They had some of the best, most unique items that you’d ever want as a memento of your trip.

I don’t know about you, but being at the beach makes me hungry.  Main Street opposite the pier has a ton of dining choices, including the familiar IHOP and Starbucks. We were intrigued by the consistent crowd at one spot, the Sugar Shack. We had the absolute best breakfast here, and the prices were incredibly low. It’s no wonder that it’s a favorite among the locals. It serves breakfast and lunch from 6:00am to 4:00pm and dinner on Wednesdays only when it’s open till 8:00pm.

At lunchtime, we split up. Two of us went to the Huntington Beach Beer Company which had fantastic views of the beach as well as great microbrews. Again, reasonable prices and the food was delish. My companions went to Fred’s Mexican Café and enjoyed a meal at their window side table. There’s no shortage of restaurants and clubs. Just ask a surfer for recommendations and you can’t go wrong.

Beach (check), food, (check), there’s one important thing missing, shopping. If you insist on getting a surfboard, there is a UPS store to ship it home. For easier to pack purchases, there’s the Cottage By the Sea gift shop. American Apparel, Cat Walk, The Closet, Diamond and American Vintage Clothing boutiques feature trendy and vintage fashions.

5 Points Plaza has more familiar names such as Bath & Body Works, Chico’s, Pier 1, Old Navy, Gap, Trader Joe’s, Van’s and Tilly’s. (I never heard of that last one either, but my credit card is familiar with the rest.)The Huntington Beach Surf Shop and Jack’s Surfboards offer swim wear and popular lines by Billabong and Roxy. All of this is right on Main Street. With even more shopping spots further a short trip away; it’s a shopper’s paradise.

By the way, be sure to look down as you stroll along Main Street. Hollywood has its Walk of Fame, Huntington has the handprints, signatures and footprints of famous surfers immortalized at the Surfer’s Hall of Fame on the corner of Main and the Pacific Coast Highway. You can’t miss it as it’s overseen by a statue of surfing great Duke Kahanamoku. If you want to learn more about this sport, you can visit the International Surfing Museum.

If your interests lean towards more natural venues, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a must see. Nearly 200 species of birds visit this 330 acre sanctuary. It’s also the largest remaining salt marsh in California and is home to an amazing variety of marine life including sharks, rays, horn snails and crabs. If you want to travel a bit, the Aquarium of the Pacific is only 16 miles away.

From January thru March, you can head to nearby Balboa and book a Whale Watching excursion to see the California Gray Whales pass by during their annual migration. This is also where you can book a trip “28 Miles Across the Sea” where “Catalina Island is A-Waiting for Me.” Accessible only by boat or plane, this legendary destination is an easy day trip.

Theater lovers can choose from three regional venues, the Huntington Beach Playhouse, Orange County Performing Arts Center and the South Coast Repertory Theater.

My kids needed SPF 1000 when we went to the beach, so spending an entire day in the ocean wasn’t the best plan. If your family has the same problem, or if you just want something else to do, there are fun destinations close by. The “Balboa Fun Zone” is only 8 miles away and is one of California’s oldest amusement parks. “Knott’s Berry Farm” is a mere 14 miles away with “Soak City USA” next door. The “Block at Orange” is just 15 miles away and has a Dave & Buster’s and Van’s Skate Park. Arrowhead Pond, home of the Mighty Ducks and Angel Stadium, home of the Anaheim Angels is only 17 miles away if you want to catch a game. Of course, there are life’s simpler pleasures such as buying a kite from the great shop on the Huntington pier and seeing how high it can fly.

As you can see, Huntington Beach is much more than sand and surf. You can swim, skate, surf, sightsee, shop and snack. Most of all, you can smile as you sit back and congratulate yourself for picking such an amazing destination to visit.

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