In Huntington Beach, Calif., -- the self-dubbed "Surf City,
like to say that "surfing is more than just a sport -- it's a religion." And
indeed, between the "International
the "Surfer's Hall of Fame," the "Surfing Walk of Fame" (think Grauman's
Chinese Theater without the footprints), and seemingly non-stop surfable waves, you can't miss the surfing vibe in this beachfront
community. But if surfing isn't your thing, you'll still find much to recommend
The historic Huntington Beach Pier is more than just a surfing landmark. Yes,
it was here that the fabled Hawaiian Father of Surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, liked to launch his board. And yes, you'll find
surfers almost any day and time of the week surfing both north (for gentler
waves and more introductory surfing) and south (bigger waves and a higher
caliber of surfer, typically) of the pier. But the pier is also home to both
serious and casual fishermen (bait shop on site and cleaning stations
provided), a 1950s-themed diner, and a kite shop. It's also the place to see
and be seen, to stroll its 1,800-foot length and
people-watch. You might even catch some street theater (although I'd avoid the
guy who hammers a giant nail up his nose -- ouch!) The Pier is open daily from 5
a.m. until midnight and there is no charge to access it.
How about more than eight contiguous miles of beach? The four beaches that
stretch the length of the city's coastline (Huntington
Beach, Bolsa Chica State
Beach, and Dog
Beach) comprise the longest stretch of
uninterrupted beachfront on the Pacific
Coast. While the city has
tourist amenities and commercial development galore just across the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH),
the beachfront itself is sandy, expansive, and virtually free from development.
Festivals and competitions of various types take place here regularly, from
volleyball tournaments to the X-games. And scores of volleyball nets are in
place on the sand on both the north and south sides of the Pier for a casual
pick-up game. Hundreds of concrete fire rings are also provided along the beach
for cookouts, s'more-making, and cool-weather
ambience. Other activities encouraged along the beach or its adjacent walkway
include boogie boarding, kayaking, skateboarding, bicycling, in-line
skating, and, of course, swimming. The Pier has a lifeguard tower that is
manned 365 days a year.
If you walk from the base of the Pier across the PCH, you'll be on Main Street, the heart of the community's
hip retail district. The southeast corner of the intersection is occupied by
"Huntington Surf and Sport," which is also home to the "Surfer's Hall of Fame,"
while the sidewalk on the northeast corner is where the granite plaques of the
Surfer's Walk of Fame are embedded, with their annual honorees in the
categories of local heroes, surf legends, Women of the Year, and other surfing
But it's not all about surfing. Trendy clothiers, electronics retailers,
galleries, salons, restaurants, and watering holes line the first few blocks of Main. Cuisine choices range from Mexican to Hawaiian,
Italian to sushi, vegetarian to steakhouse. Take a yoga class, get a piercing,
try a new wine or a locally brewed beer -- why not all of the above, not
necessarily in that order?
At the base of the Pier, on the west side of PCH and just across from the
Surfer's Walk of Fame, arts and crafts booths and trendy retailers are
frequently assembled in a sort of street fair on weekends. Whether you're in
the market for a hand-painted T-shirt, gourmet pet treats, bath salts, or fine
art, you're likely to find something appealing here.
And if you're lucky enough to be in town on a Tuesday, "Surf City Nights" is
a combination street fair and farmer's market that takes place year-round.
Designed primarily for locals, as a community-building respite from the weekend
tourist throngs, this weekly event shuts down several blocks of main street for live music, street performers, craft booths,
produce stands, retailers, and food vendors. There is no admission charge, and
all ages are welcome.
Sally O'Neal is a West Coast travel writer who has never set foot on a
surfboard, but doesn't mind being photographed holding one. She enjoys a good
jog along the beach and a sunset cocktail whenever she visits Surf City.