Nicknamed Surf City USA, this beach town is an A-list getaway even for those who don’t know how to “hang ten.”
Before I begin, I’ll preface with saying that you’ll likely fall madly in love with Huntington Beach and want to relocate to the Orange County (OC) beach community. This SoCal hot spot isn’t the clichéd, swanky, OC town. While it is pristine, well-kept, and totally cool, it’s also comfortable, welcoming, and family-friendly. Offering the most authentic surf lifestyle coupled with ten miles of uninterrupted coastline, Huntington Beach boasts a wide variety of outdoor activities, boutique shopping, unbeatable dining, and lots of good old-fashion fun. With the most consistent waves on the West Coast and surfing as a way of life, I think that this is the only place that can truly be called Surf City USA.
What to do?
Of course, you’ll likely want to begin at the beach - an enormous stretch of soft, clean sand and welcoming waves for play. Seriously, you could spend all day at the beach, but budget your time wisely to experience the entire area.
First, walk the Huntington Beach Pier. Opened in 1904, it's one of the longest recreational piers on the West Coast. This is a good way to start your trip, as you soak in the sights and feel the ocean breeze. At the end, grab a milkshake at Ruby’s Diner before heading back.
Love to bike? Jack’s Beach Concession (21291 Pacific Coast Hwy.) offers surrey rentals, allowing visitors to cruise the beach bike path. Depending on how long you want to pedal, you can ride all the way to Newport Beach, taking in a sightseeing paradise along the way. There are 4-person and double surreys to accommodate families of all sizes; other bikes available too. Cost: $25/hour.
KidTripster Tip: If it’s a particularly windy day, you may want to pass on the bike rental. Pedaling can be tough, especially when your surrey is packed with kids.
Probably one of the most unique and memorable Huntington Beach offerings is renting a Duffy boat at Huntington Harbor Boat Rentals (16732 Pacific Coast Hwy.). The boat rental facility is 10-minute drive from the hub of Huntington Beach, conveniently located on Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach. Upon arrival, you’ll sign a few papers, put the kids in life jackets, and board your personal Duffy, an oversized, super comfortable, electric boat with a top shade and optional windows. The staff quickly taught us how to steer and then set us free to cruise the harbor. My boys, ages 2 and 3, loved it, to say the least; each took turns driving the boat with parent supervision and doing a few “Duffy donuts” in the open water. And the best part for me? Drooling over the multi-million-dollar harborfront mansions that lined the waterway. Cost: starts at $129/2-hour cruise.
KidTripster Tip: Pack a lunch! The Duffy boat comes equipped with a table, perfect for picnicking at sea. And don’t forget your camera!
KidTripster Tip: You also can rent paddleboards and kayaks, if you have older kids who prefer to get around on their own steam.
Next, if shopping is in your blood, you can explore Pacific City (21010 Pacific Coast Hwy.), an easy walk from downtown Huntington Beach. With unobstructed beach views, the area’s newest shopping and dining district is a pristine retail hub featuring patio dining, outdoor movie nights, and sitting areas to take a breather. In addition, you can easily window shop on Main Street, the area’s downtown drag offering a mix of contemporary women’s clothing boutiques, surf shops, and beach stores.
Want to watch the pros surf in Surf City, USA? You can do it just about anywhere along the beach. And if you’re planning an extended stay, there are surf camps available for older kids, or you can have a one-time lesson at more than a half dozen surf centers in Huntington Beach. And don’t miss the Surfers’ Hall of Fame (intersection of Main & Pacific Coast Hwy.), where legendary surfing names, handprints, and footprints are immortalized in the sidewalk.
End your day with a bonfire, complete with s’mores fixings, at one of the many fire pits along the beach.
Where to eat?
I promise that your family won’t go hungry in Huntington Beach.
Let’s start with breakfast. Do like the locals and dine at Sugar Shack Cafe (213 Main St). This family-owned gem is known as a surfer hangout, so you never know what surfing pro may be sitting at the table next to you. Sit inside or opt for the outdoor patio.
For lunch, a few options:
If you want a nice, relaxing, and ultra scenic experience, definitely dine at Duke’s (317 Pacific Coast Hwy). Flaunting endless ocean views, this local hot spot offers a Hawaiian vibe and the freshest seafood and steak. I got the mahi-mahi tacos… amazing! (Oh, and there’s mac and cheese on the kids’ menu for kids like mine, who are obnoxiously picky.) Make sure to request a table along the window for prime wave watching.
KidTripster Tip: I don’t care how stuffed you are, get dessert! The Kimo’s Original Hula Pie is incredible! And one slice is huge! It consists of a chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, toasted macadamia nuts, and whipped cream. Thank me later.
If you want a to-go lunch for the beach or Duffy boat, head to Sessions West Coast Deli (414 Pacific Coast Hwy.). This high-quality deli is a favorite among locals, surfers, skaters, and beachgoers. The vibe is totally SoCal, as is the menu, offering healthy wraps in addition to make-your-own sandwiches.
For dinner, take your pick from the many Huntington Beach restaurants lining Main Street and beyond. If you’re craving Mexican, check out Ola Mexican Kitchen (21040 Pacific Coast Hwy.), a contemporary eatery located at Pacific City. It’s located on the second level, making for picturesque beach views, so request a window seat.
KidTripster Tip: Book a reservation to coincide with sunset!
For families with older (and quieter) kids, opt for dinner at Cucina Alessa (520 Main St.), an intimate Italian eatery showcasing homemade pasta and local, organic ingredients. Chef and owner Alessandro Pirozzi is a traditional Italian chef whose culinary education began at home in the kitchen with his grandmother. You can taste his culture in every bite.
Where to stay?
The Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel (500 Pacific Coast Hwy.) in downtown Huntington Beach recently completed a $3-million makeover that includes expanded private dining, major décor upgrades to its 157 rooms, and a new restaurant, Pacific Hideaway. This boutique beachfront base camp is situated just steps from the Huntington Beach Pier. You’ll feel instantly at home in this California oasis, featuring a surfer vibe, open-air lobby (with plush seating and games for kids), fire pits, and more.
“This is the most beautiful room ever,” exclaimed my 3-year old as we opened the door to our oceanfront room. You can’t beat the views, fresh air, and oversized balcony, equipped with lounge chairs. The rooms are spacious, and the beds are comfy. The best part: it’s convenient to both the beach and downtown. Rooms start at $229/night.
KidTripster Tip: Parents, get this! The hotel offers a complimentary wine hour, so cheers!
KidTripster Tip: The hotel offers complimentary beach chairs and towels, so no need to pack your own. And if the kids are missing their pet, ask to borrow a loaner goldfish, offered through the hotel’s Guppy Love program!
If you’re flying, the best bet is to fly into John Wayne Airport, which is 35 miles south of Los Angeles, and rent a car. With no traffic, the drive to Huntington Beach is only 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can fly into LAX and make the hour drive to the coast.