The main reason to come to the west edge of Orange County is to hit the beach. The good news is that the coast of the O.C. is rife with wide, flat, sandy beaches. The bad news is that the beaches still get crowded in the summer. If you want a prime spot, come early in the morning and try to avoid having to park a car if you possibly can.
Huntington City Beach (Pacific Coast Hwy. from Beach Blvd. to Seapoint St., daily 5 a.m.–10 p.m.) runs the length of the south end of town, petering out as the oil industry gets going at the north end. This famous beach hosts major sporting events such as the X Games and the U.S. Open of Surfing & Beach Games. But even the average beachgoer can enjoy all sorts of activities on a daily basis, since Huntington City Beach includes a cement walkway for biking, inline skating, jogging, and walking.
On the sand, get up a game of Frisbee or take advantage of the beach volleyball courts. Out in the water, catch a wave at the famous Huntington surf break or make use of prevailing winds for a thrilling kite-surfing run. Non-riders can boogie-board, bodysurf, and skim board closer to the shore.
Anglers and lovers prefer the Huntington Beach Pier, which leads out over the water. While dogs aren’t allowed on the main portion of Huntington City Beach, the beach offers a dog-friendly section at the north end where dogs can be let off-leash, and you’ll even see the occasional surfer riding tandem with a four-legged friend.
This beach offers plenty of services and amenities. In high season, lifeguards keep watch over surfers and swimmers. A number of concessions stands make their homes along Huntington City Beach, so you can buy drinks and snacks, or rent a wetsuit and surfboard. Buildings with restrooms and outdoor showers also rise from the sand at regular intervals, though lines do form during the most crowded summer weekends and holidays.
Most visitors to the O.C. coast want to stay as close to the beaches as they can. You can have your beachfront room at the Sun ’N Sands Motel (1102 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, 714/536-2543, www.sunnsands.com, $143–300). At this tiny place (17 rooms total) you can expect standard motel room decor in your king or double-queen guest room, plus an adequate private bathroom, a TV with movie channels, and Wi-Fi access.
But the main attraction lies across the treacherous Pacific Coast Highway: long, sweet Huntington Beach. Please be careful crossing the highway to get to the sand. Find a traffic light and a crosswalk rather than risking life and limb for the minor convenience of jaywalking.
For a quick bite to eat, stop off at the Bodhi Tree Café (501 Main St., Huntington Beach, 714/969-9500, daily 10 a.m.–9 p.m., $5–15) for vegetarian soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Sugar Shack Café (213 Main St., Huntington Beach, 714/536-0355, Thurs.–Tues. 6 a.m.–4 p.m., Wed. 6 a.m.–8 p.m., $20) is a great place for breakfast.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition