Finding fun and sun in Surf City USA
Combine nearly 10 miles of uninterrupted beach along the famed Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) with excellent surfing conditions, plenty of sun and a landmark pier, and you have "Surf City USA"—otherwise known as Huntington Beach.
Situated about an hour's drive south of Los Angeles, you can reach this beach town by flying into the John Wayne, Long Beach or Los Angeles airports. Embrace over 100 years of rich surf culture here with a day at the beach watching the surfers in action, get onto the board yourself for a surfing lesson and pay a visit to the Surfer's Hall of Fame.
Then keep the adventures going with a hike along the coastline, traverse the trails by horseback and explore the nearby ecological reserve (ideal for birdwatching). Enjoy some coastal cuisine where outdoor dining is king, opt for a relaxing day at the spa and rest easy at one of the many oceanside accommodations.
Here's our guide to get on board and plan a getaway to Surf City USA.
Over a century of rich surf culture
Huntington Beach's history of surfing dates back to 1914, when George Freeth was the first surfer at what is now the Huntington Beach Pier. In the 1920s, Duke Kahanamoku—known for popularizing the sport of surfing at the time—started surfing at the pier as well. Later decades brought surfer groups, surf shops, competitions and surf music.
Today, the town pays homage to this history with a Surfing Walk of Fame and the Surfers' Hall of Fame, both located on Main Street. Here you'll also find stretches of sidewalk honoring surfing greats (similar to the handprints of movie stars you'll find in Hollywood). Dive more into the history at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, which features ever-changing exhibits plus surfing memorabilia (including the world's largest surfboard, according to Guinness World Records).
But the best way to appreciate surfing is to see surfers in action or brave the waves yourself. A prime spot for surf-watching is Huntington City Beach (and you can check out their live "surf cam" for a preview of weather conditions before you go). This beach is also home to the town's landmark Huntington Beach Pier. Expect to catch the US Open of Surfing here in late summer (exact dates TBD). There's also A Great Day in the Stoke on September 14, a surfing event designed to show unity and create a safe space for all surfers.
If you're not a surfer but have always wanted to try, there's a host of surfing lessons offered throughout town. Banzai Surf School is one option that offers both private and group lessons for a variety of skill levels just a few miles south of the pier.
Beyond the beach
There's much more to try here than surfing. Test out your skills at disc golf (a sport similar to golf where players throw a disc at targets) at the Huntington Beach Disc Golf Course, an 18-hole course that offers rentals and is open to beginners.
See another side of nature in Huntington Beach by hiking the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve trails. The reserve, situated north of town, has five miles of trails through wetlands and is known as a bird-watching hot spot with almost 200 different species that reside or stop over. You can also trade in trekking for trotting with a guided horseback trail ride. Horseplay Rentals offers guided rides through the countryside, and is available to all skill levels—whether you're an equestrian or this is your first time saddling up.
You'll find event and celebrations throughout the year in Huntington Beach, including the annual Orange County Cherry Blossom Festival in spring; the Huntington Harbour Cruise of Lights in December; car shows like the longstanding Huntington Beach Concours d'Elegance; and perhaps the cutest event that is sure to put a smile on your face, the SoCal Corgi Beach Day. Held biannually in spring and fall at the Huntington Dog Beach, the celebration for these adorable dogs consists of activities like a limbo contest and a "best corgi butt contest" plus a considerable collection of corgis in attendance.
An alfresco dining oasis
Soak up the sun and ocean breeze as much as you can with the area's beloved outdoor dining options. For fine dining, Watertable offers a locally-sourced menu of eye-catching dishes and a patio with views overlooking the ocean to match. Indulge in seafood dishes like pan-seared scallops or Chilean sea bass from their dinner menu, or start your morning here with dishes like their zesty lemon-blueberry pancakes, lox and bagel or a unique beverage like their lavender honey latte.
Duke's Huntington Beach— named in honor of Kahanamoku—is located along the beach near the pier. The Hawaiian seafood restaurant offers views of the waves crashing on the beach, plus menu items like macadamia nut hummus, furikake ahi steak and a signature cocktail called Duke's Mai Tai.
There's another trail to check out in Huntington Beach, but this one isn't found in nature. Comprised of 15 craft establishments, the Surf City Barrel Trail offers the opportunity to win prizes as you visit so many of the locations. On the trail, you'll find breweries like Four Sons Brewing, featuring 20 beers on tap including a new release every week; wine bars like Main Street Wine Company, where you can try flights of red or white varieties; and distilleries like Surf City Still Works, which offer cocktail classes to help you up your at-home mixology skills.
Take a coastal retreat
Whether you're looking for a luxury resort stay or a budget-friendly hotel for the weekend, there's a range of accommodation options to choose from. And in Surf City USA, you're probably going to want to stay close enough to hear the crashing waves from your room. These downtown oceanfront options right on the PCH fit the bill.
The vintage VW bus parked in front is a clue that of the Paséa Hotel & Spa is not your typical luxury resort. Part of the exclusive Meritage Collection, this elegant hotel features a 5,800-square-foot Balinese-inspired Aarna Spa that includes a private outdoor Spa Garden with fire pits and cabanas.
The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa is located steps away from the beach, and guests have access to complimentary beach chairs and umbrellas during the day. You can also reserve a beach bonfire for a memorable way to watch the sun set over the Pacific.
The Kimpton Shorebreak Resort has been named to best-of lists by the likes of Travel + Leisure and features an enviable address less than two blocks from the pier. If you're planning a beach day, just bring a swimsuit, they have the rest: chairs, umbrellas, children's beach toys and ice chests. The hotel is also pet-friendly—with no extra fee—and close to the Huntington Dog Beach.
If you want a break from the beach, then the two lagoon-style pools at The Waterfront Beach Resort may be calling your name. This family-friendly Hilton hotel has two towers, including one that is only suites. Something else that's sweet: The sunset views from the highest beachfront rooftop lounge in Orange County at the hotel's Offshore 9 Rooftop Lounge.
Just a 10-minute walk from the pier along the PCH is the Huntington Surf Inn. This well-reviewed hotel features unique decor in every room, with themes drawing inspiration from beach and surfing culture. The inn also offers complimentary use of beach items, making your fun in the sun and sand a breeze.
If you're arriving by RV, you'll have perhaps the closest beachside stay with options like the Huntington Beach RV Campground. This ocean-side location is available from October-May, and online reservations open three months prior to arrival dates (as you might imagine, this remarkable spot is a popular one, so be sure to plan ahead.)