HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—On a glorious stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, just south of Los Angeles, lie the beaches of Orange County. Lined with palm trees gently swept by salty breezes, small communities are scattered here, each with its own distinctive character and vibe.
In Huntington Beach, which lies smack dab in the middle of the O.C. with 10 miles of uninterrupted beaches, surf culture is visible everywhere—perhaps nowhere as much as around the confluence of downtown and the Huntington Beach pier, which is so long it seems to jut right out into the sunset.
From the pier, look below and at any given time, you’ll see surfers plying the waters. Every year, more than 50 surfing competitions take place here, including the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, taking place this year from July 29 to Aug. 6.
Surf culture has sprouted such a panoply of lifestyle amenities around it—from fashion to indoor fitness—that you can regularly find merchandise riding on its popularity. Recently, a surf-themed wine-in-a-can brand landed in my inbox. But none of those material trappings can replace the sun, sand, and salt that come with actually heading out to a bona fide California surf town.
Relaxing and Dining
If you’re one to rise early, you’ll doubtlessly cross paths with men and women carrying surfboards to catch a wave before work. For a hearty breakfast burrito or taco (a must while in Southern California), head on over to Sancho’s Tacos; either will hold you up for a morning surf session. For a lighter breakfast, a refreshing açai bowl from The Coffee Corner and Acai is delicious.
In the afternoon, head over to Pacific City, a new shopping and dining complex, home to a food hall with unique artisanal food and drink, such as Aussie meat pies from Pie Not; champagne at the flower shop and champagne bar Petals and Pop; or a Spaghetti Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Burnt Crumbs.
More shopping can be found on Main Street, with many of the shops devoted to surf fashion. As you stroll, you’ll eventually see a bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian father of modern surfing, gracing the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. It overlooks the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, which showcases the hand and foot imprints of surfing greats. The first iteration in 2002 included Laird Hamilton and Kelly Slater; this year’s inductees are Bethany Hamilton and Mick Fanning. Place your own hands and feet in those imprints and perhaps some of their surfing skills will be passed on to you.
In the evening, head over to restaurateur Alicia Whitney’s stylish Sea Legs Wine Bar, where any of the 4,000 bottles in its wine selection could accompany the Brussels Bombs (mirin-glazed Brussels sprouts flash-fried and topped with red pepper flakes) or short ribs braised in Chianti over creamy polenta.
When nighttime beckons, head to rooftop bars such as the Bungalow Bar or the Treehouse Lounge at Tanner’s, located along the Pacific Coast Highway. Better yet, you can make s’mores around one of 500 fire rings scattered throughout the city’s beaches.
Should you try surfing, there are a couple of things to know. One, look for a school that will pick a spot appropriate to both your level and the weather conditions that day.
And two, surfing will make you realize you have muscles in places heretofore unacknowledged. I gave surfing a try and found the euphoria of catching waves exhilarating.
Only hours later, my back started killing me; the driver’s seat became something of a torture chair. After I sent a text to my instructor, he shot back, “Find a jacuzzi if you can!”
And that’s where your hotel comes in. While staying at the beautiful oceanside Paséa Hotel, I hobbled down to the serene Balinese-inspired Aarna Spa. As far as I could tell, when it opened last year, it managed to snag some of the best massage therapists around. The adept hands and tranquil environs eased my back into a state of calm.
Just as with most anything in Huntington Beach, all roads lead back to relaxation.
Gone to the Dogs
It’s not just humans who surf here. In September, you’ll find pooches donning suits and hitting the waves at the Surf City Surf Dog competition. This year’s will be held on Sept. 24.
Of Huntington Beach’s five beaches, one is dog-friendly: the Huntington Dog Beach. Three times a year, it also hosts the So Cal Corgi Beach Day, which dubs itself “the biggest corgi PAWTY in the UNIVERSE,” with costume contests and corgi limbo contests. Last fall’s meet-up was attended by 850 corgis. The next Corgi Beach Day in Huntington Beach will be held on Oct. 28.
For visiting dogs, various hotels cater to the canine set, such as Paséa, presided over by its French bulldog concierge, Lago.
This trip was arranged by Visit California. For more information, see SurfCityUSA.com