With a sand-trimmed coast, a stellar food scene and a surfing legacy, Huntington Beach – or Surf City USA – is a laid-back California bolthole.
It’s hard to believe this beach-focused city is less than an hour from Los Angeles – it moves at a pace all of its own, with days spent on the sand tailing off into evenings of alfresco dining.
Huntington Beach is fringed by 10 miles (16km) of sandy coastline, carved up into five glorious strands. Drawing surfers and sunbathers alike, each one has its own distinct character, with buzzy Huntington City Beach and its photogenic pier a perennial favourite with visitors.
Beyond the beach, waterfront hotels beckon to beach-goers with their swish spas and ocean-facing restaurants, and Disney’s theme parks are a stone’s throw away.
These are the top six things to do on a trip here.
1. Catch some waves
Surf City got its nickname for a reason. Its rich surf history and legendary swell means it’s the perfect place to make a splash, whether you’re a nervous newbie or a practiced pro. It also plays host to the Vans US Open of Surfing, the world’s largest surf competition, each summer.
Family-run Banzai Surf School operates from an unspoiled stretch of Huntington State Beach, some two miles south of the pier, and welcomes complete beginners for private or group sessions. Banzai will kit you out with a surfboard and wetsuit so all you have to worry about is riding the waves. Further north along the coast, Bolsa Chica State Beach’s gentler waters are another top spot for first-timers.
Once you’re wiped out, head to the International Surfing Museum to learn more about surf culture and gawp at the world’s largest surfboard.
2. Spend sunrise to sunset on the beach
Life in Huntington Beach centres around the coast and you could spend hours by the sea without running out of things to do.
Kick off your day with a beach yoga session with Toes on the Nose, a cool surf brand tucked away in the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa. Roll out your towel or mat, and perfect your warrior one as your guide chants mantras to the sound of the surf.
A paved trail hugs all 10 miles of the coast so afterwards, take a walk beside the beach, or rent two wheels from one of the many outfitters here.
Some 500 fire rings pepper the sands too and, once the sun has set, the coast is ablaze with bonfires. The fire rings are free to use but you’ll need to arrive early to claim yours, particularly in the summer months. To guarantee a spot, book one of Waterfront Adventures’ bonfire packages, which includes beach chairs, all the fixings for s’mores and a bonfire attendant to keep your fire crackling.
If you’re travelling with a four-legged friend, you’ll be pleased to know that the city has a dedicated dog beach too. Huntington Dog Beach is the home of the annual Surf City Surf Dog event which sees athletic pooches don their own surfboard and ride the waves.
3. Push pause at the spa
The city’s waterfront is lined with swanky hotels boasting first-rate spas so make time for a massage during your trip.
Pacific Waters Spa at the Hyatt Regency Resort is a top choice, with its Mediterranean-style decor and lengthy treatment list. Feel your stresses seep away with a sea-stone massage, then sip a drink in the serene, sun-dappled gardens.
Right next door is Drift at The Waterfront Beach Resort. The venue opened its doors earlier this year as part of an ongoing multi-million-pound expansion, and it’s a glittering addition to Huntington Beach’s spa scene. In true Surf City-style, the spa has a beachy vibe and treatments use products such as seaweed serum and sea fennel massage wax.
4. Cruise around Huntington Harbor
The most sought-after area of the city, Huntington Harbor is a tangle of waterways lined with millionaire mansions.
The neighbourhood is best explored from the water and Duffy boats plough the canals, sizing up to glittering yachts as they pass – rent yours (for a party of up to 12) from Huntington Harbor Boat Rentals. If you’re feeling more adventurous, plump for a stand-up paddleboard instead.
Huntington Harbor Boat Rentals/Facebook
Those after a taste of the high life could skip the Duffy boats and paddleboards in favour of a private charter. Prince Charters LLC offers the choice of a classic wood boat or a vintage yacht (the more pricey option) for your foray around the harbour. Safe in the hands of a licensed captain, you can sip champagne from the on-board bar and sail away by sunset.
5. Dine with views of the ocean
Huntington Beach knows how to work its seaside location and plenty of restaurants grant ocean vistas.
Head for the ocean-facing patio at Watertable and dine from a modern American menu that changes with the seasons. Summer picks include pan-seared halibut with couscous, or the teetering Watertable burger with truffle aioli. It’s a top restaurant for breakfast too, with the huevos rancheros a solid bet.
For a taste of the sea, head to Duke’s, a Hawaiian-inspired spot named after famed surfer and swimmer Duke Kahanamoku. Open for lunch and dinner, Duke’s pairs its ocean panoramas with seafood dishes such as poke tacos to seven-spice ahi.
New on the scene is Henry’s Restaurant at The Waterfront Beach Resort. Whipped up from a bounty of local produce, dishes are made entirely in house, right down to the salad dressing and the cereal at breakfast. If you can’t decide between the artfully prepared seafood dishes or the fine steaks, opt for a tasting menu paired with California wines.
6. Get your thrills at a theme park
Huntington Beach is perfectly placed for families, with Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure just 20 miles (32km) away.
In the summer months especially, it’s a breeze to hang out with Mickey and the gang, as free shuttles run to the Disney parks from the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort. The opening of the brand-new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land – Millennium Falcon and all – is another reason to make the trip.
Courtesy of Disney
Seasoned Disneyland visitors after something different should check out Knott’s Berry Farm instead. Only 15 miles (24km) away from the city, this park packs a punch with thrill rides, family-focused shows and its Old West Ghost Town area. Don’t leave without a whirl on the Ghostrider: at 118 feet (36m), it’s the tallest wooden coaster on the West Coast.
Visit surfcityusa.com for more information.
Lead image: Ken Wolter
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