A cool California breeze compelled our family to inch closer to the beach bonfire warming our chilly toes. The sun was setting on the ocean just behind the pier we had walked on just hours before. We were enjoying after-dinner s’mores on the beach. My delighted five year old was licking the sticky remnants of marshmallows and chocolate oozing out from the graham crackers off her fingers. It was a perfectly blissful way to end our family visit to Huntington Beach, California.
Southern California is one of our favourite family destinations; a short three hour flight from Calgary makes it an easy trip with young kids in tow. I hadn’t had a chance to visit Huntington Beach before and this getaway was all about experiencing Surf City USA, a name commonly used for the area. It is considered the surf capital of California and if you spend just one afternoon strolling through town, you’ll quickly see why it has earned its namesake.
When we first drove into Huntington Beach, a teenager zipped down the boardwalk on a skateboard, surfboard tucked under one arm, headed to the find the day’s best waves along the 10 mile stretch of beach. Surfboard carrier attachments are a common accessory on beach cruiser bikes, the primary mode of transportation in the town.
The coastline was dotted with surfers and we enjoyed watching a surfing competition running the weekend we visited. We watched from the shoreline then walked along the pier to get another perspective. Given that we live in an area where the most impressive bodies of water are rivers and lakes, seeing the teen surfers twist, spin and occasionally execute epic bails in the waves, was a big thrill for us.
Every beach town in SoCal seems to have its very own personality and Huntington Beach holds all the charm of a laid-back California surfer vibe and is a great spot to stay in if you are visiting the Southern California area.
How to get there:
Huntington Beach is a 15 minute drive from the Santa Ana airport in Orange County and 45 minutes from the Los Angeles airport. There are direct flights to Los Angeles from Calgary but we opted for a flight to Santa Ana via Vancouver because of how close the airport is to Orange County. Their on-site car rentals are a big bonus. Both Los Angeles and San Diego airports require a shuttle to get to their off-site rental locations.
Where to Stay:
Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa
Three waterslides, a games room, daily fish feedings at the koi pond and Fun Zone pool activities make the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa a top kid pick in Huntington Beach. Pool-side fires, the oversized hot tubs and top quality child care in the Hyatt kids club make this hotel a favourite for parents.
The Hyatt Regency is a gorgeous resort-style hotel decked out in Mediterranean decor complete with restaurants, on-site bike rentals and surf lessons, as well as a shop where you can purchase necessary survival items for a family holiday including Starbucks coffee for your daily caffeine fix, s’mores kits to enjoy around the poolside fire pits and of course some wine to unwind at the end of a day on your balcony overlooking the stunning gardens.
The resort is huge, with over 500 rooms, but still feels cozy because the hotel is split into sections of interest. The spa area features a koi pond, a cozy fireside room with couches and nearby spa grotto with three different hot tubs separated by lush greenery. After a fun day of pool play and waterslide fun at Slyders Water Playground, we liked to unwind in this quieter area of the hotel. In addition to the spa grotto and Slyders Water Playground, there is also an oversized main pool with firepits, a hot tub and plenty of places to lounge.
The Hyatt Regency is within driving distance to great dining and shopping in the OC. The beach is right across the street and the Hyatt Regency has a bridge over the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway. It’s also an easy bike ride along the wide boardwalk from the hotel to Main Street, the hub for shopping and dining in HB.
Where to Eat:
Ask anyone in Huntington Beach where to find the best breakfast in town and they won’t hesitate: The Sugar Shack, of course. The Sugar Shack has been a Huntington Beach fixture since 1967. You’ll find a mix of locals, tourists and surfers fueling up before hitting the waves. Bottomless $1.00 coffee, a huge kid’s meal for $5, their price point is the best anywhere. Try their signature Keppler’s Breakfast Special, an egg topped english muffin with sliced avocado, bacon, tomato and hollandaise sauce. www.hbsugarshack.com
Named after Duke Kahanamoku, known to be the Father of Modern Surfing, this Hawaiian themed atmosphere is located right on the beach with an impressive view of the ocean. If Duke’s is full, you can check out the chic, California cuisine, Sandy’s Beach Grill, located below and literally on the sand. www.dukeshuntington.com
A fast food chain that blends Brazilian, Mexican and Asian fare started as an independent restaurant in Costa Mesa California and they now have franchised locations all over California. The food is fresh and inexpensive, Our family of four left feeling satisfied for under $30.00. www.wahoos.com
Let me repeat that. Waffle. Sandwiches. You won’t find boring, standard sandwich bread here. Choose between savoury Belgian Waffle for lunch or sweet for a treat. Try their real Wisconsin frozen custard, a rich and creamy ice cream dessert. Bruxie Waffle Sandwiches is located just one block off Main Street. http://bruxie.com
What to Do:
Go for a bike ride along the boardwalk
Rent bikes and go for a bike ride along the beach. There is an 8.5 mile paved pathway along the beach and a number of bike rental locations in town. You can event rent a six-seater at Waterfront Adventures. If you are a guest at the Hyatt Regency, the on-site Toes on the Nose rental shop offers a two-for-one deal for hotel guests on beach cruiser bikes complete with a baby seat attachment.
Take a break from the beach and go for a walk in Central Park. We enjoyed people watching the bird watchers and their clever tactics to entice birds to land right in their line of vision. Imagine ten cameras circling a thin pole with a treat for a curious bird to snack on followed by a flurry of flashes triggered by a motion sensor. It’s quite the set up and the park is full of bird watchers and photographers.
Central Park is also a popular spot for dog walking en-masse and grabbing a bite at the local restaurant, the Park Bench Cafe which offers a dog treat menu for your pooch. Although closed while we visited, Central Park is home to the infamous Adventure Playground where kids of all ages will have some good old fashioned fun in the mud. Adventure Playground has a $3.00 a child charge (adults are free) and cash only is accepted during their June 23 – August 20th, 2015 season.
Make some S’Mores
The Hyatt Regency has several fire pits located around their expansive property by the pools and in their courtyard. You can pick up a s’mores kit at the onsite grocery store or at the front desk and the concierge can set you up with beach chairs if you’d like to take your s’mores party to the beach.
There are fire pits dotted along the beach all the way down beach along the hotel and beyond. Five hundred of them to be exact. These are free to use on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don’t like the idea of lugging chairs, firewood and bags of supplies to the beach or risking not getting a spot during busy times, you can book a beach concierge at Waterfront Adventures. Their staff will reserve your spot, provide chairs and provide all the fixings including drinks. Starting a fire in windy beach conditions can be tricky, so Waterfront Adventures takes care of that for you too so you can tuck in right away without the hassle. www.waterfrontresort.com/wa
Only 30 minutes from Disneyland makes Huntington Beach a great spot to stay if you want to have the best of both worlds: theme park fun and beachside holiday. Disneyland is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Disneyland opened it’s doors on July 17th, 1965 and will be celebrating their Diamond Anniversary in a true Disney Magical fashion including three new exciting evening shows.The Hyatt Regency offers a complimentary shuttle to Disneyland from May 23rd until Labour Day weekends for hotel guests.
For more great ideas of family fun things to see and do in Huntington Beach, be sure to visit www.surfcityusa.com.