Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 22, 2010

My (2010) 36 Hours in Huntington Beach: Surf City, USA

Sunset in the home of the endless summer, Surf City, USA (Jerry Garrett Photo)

(My original story on this subject appeared in The New York Times Travel section on November 18, 2005. The Times has since updated it, on July 19, 2009, with new hotels, and some different suggestions. Here is my original, with updates to businesses that have since opened or closed, plus even more to see, do & buy.)


The Jan & Dean hit denoted Surf City's locale

HUNTINGTON BEACH was not specifically on Dean Torrence‘s mind when he and the late Jan Berry recorded their 1963 hit “Surf City.” But Mr. Torrence, the Dean of the pop music duo Jan & Dean, is among those who help promote the city as “Surf City USA”.

HB's new official logo

Huntington’s wide, white beaches, with a series of shallow sandbars that gradually drop off into the blue Pacific, help shape ocean swells into some of the most consistently surfable sets of waves anywhere in the world. Combine that with a practically ideal year-round climate, eight and a half miles of uninterrupted public coastline and 67 parks, all in a city of about 200,000, and you’ve got a recipe for the proverbial “Endless Summer”.


1) Twilight Tour

Sunset & oil platforms

Watch the sun plunk into the Pacific as you orient yourself to the coastline on the eight-and-a-half-mile beachside path (comprising most of Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach). Start and stop anywhere along it, but Surf City’s epicenter is probably where the Pacific Coast Highway (just call it PCH) intersects with Main Street and the city’s historic pier. The path is paved concrete and plenty wide enough for walkers, joggers, bicyclists and in-line skaters all to share. Blades and bikes, including locally made fat-tire beach cruisers, are widely available for rent. Friday afternoons also feature a pierside crafts and farmers’ market. Dine or drink pierside at Duke’s (714-374-6446; try huli huli chicken, $16.95 – yeah this is the same Duke’s as in Hawaii), but Pacific panoramas are better across the highway at Spark Woodfire Grill (300 PCH; 714-960-0996; fall-off-the-bones baby back ribs, $18 – half rack).

Sunset + sea + surf music = 1 romantic evening at Huntington City Beach

8 p.m.
2) Dessert in the Dunes

Roast marshmallows and ‘smores at one of the city’s more than 600 beachside fire pits. Most are clustered south of the pier, or north at Bolsa Chica beach. Guess how many campfires you’ll see along PCH; on a recent Indian summer night, 36 was the winning answer. The beaches close at 10 p.m.


7 a.m.
3) Hot Rod Dawn

Cars, donuts & coffee

From about 6 to 9 every Saturday morning, hundreds of street rods, beach cruisers, woodies and surf wagons gather at the corner of Magnolia Street and Adams Avenue for the free Donut Derelicts Car Show. Among the tire-kickers, a sharp-eyed car nut might spot a real designer for Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai or Kia, all with American headquarters nearby. (In the 2005 story, I recommended Zubie’s Dry Dock for breakfast, but they are only open for that on Sunday now; Zubie’s is still a good bet for lunch and dinner, and for staggering portions at ridiculously cheap prices. Check out Zubie’s cool aquariums and the 100-foot-long mural depicting five decades of local history.

9 a.m.
4) Boogie Call

The Duke

Surf’s up! It’s the prime time to hit the beach, before the prevailing afternoon winds turn surf to chop. The most fitting spot is adjacent to the pier, where, in the 1920’s, the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, is said to have introduced the sport to the mainland. In 1959, it was the site of the first national surfing championships, now known as the U.S. Open of Surfing (still held here each summer). His statue stands amidst the Surfers’ Hall of Fame

Surfers' Hall of Fame

– Hollywood-style hand- and foot-prints of famed surfers, such as world champ Kelly Slater, at the corner of PCH and Main. The Surfing Walk of Fame is across the street.

Bring your own board or rent a longboard, shorty or boogie or skim board at one of many surf shops for around $25 or less a day. Wetsuits can be rented, and swimsuits are sold at dozens of shops nearby. Surf lessons are easily available. For those who merely like to watch, the pier provides a magnificent vantage point. As heavily surfed as this section of coastline is, there is always world-class board work to watch.

Rush hour in Surf City

2 p.m.
5) Shutting Down the Oil

Huntington Beach in the 1920s

Just across PCH from popular Bolsa Chica beach is a 1,200-acre wetlands containing an ecological preserve where $120 million is being spent on one of the state’s largest environmental restoration projects. Several miles of trails and displays show how Huntington Beach is still trying to repair the ecological damage left by its 20th century oil boom. More than 100 years ago, tidal wetlands were closed off from the sea and roads were built across them for a duck-hunting club. In the 1920’s, oil companies installed hundreds of bobbing grasshopperlike wells, which are now being capped and the equipment and pipelines removed. Much of the area now has been restored to something resembling its original state.

5 p.m.
6) Kalifornia Kitsch

Kitsch on sale

Retail therapy can be had on the four-block gantlet of stores on Main Street at PCH, where shops sell surf boards and more. Load up on souvenirs and beach kitsch at the California Greetings store (301 Main Street, 714-960-1688): hula girl lamps, strings of flamingo lights, and signed Dean Torrence prints.(Editor’s Note: CG closed 5/2010, R.I.P.) Look for monkey-themed items similar to those by Paul Frank, another favorite son. Huntington Beach is also corporate headquarters to Quiksilver, HSS and other beach apparel companies. Hey, dude, remember: H.B. is in the O.C.

7 p.m.
7) Dinner at the Diners

The O.C.’s best burger? It’s said to be at T.K. (The Kind) Burger

Surf albums inside!

– an eclectic dive (110 PCH, 714-960-3238; burger basket under $5, with a mountain of fries). (This place has the best collection of original surf band 33-rpm LP covers, stapled to its walls, doors and ceiling.)

Not adventurous enough? Try the danger diner: Ruby’s Diner (1 Main Street, 714-969-7829), at the end of the 1,850-foot pier, where four previous restaurants fell into the sea. Calm your nerves with plateloads of comfort food. Then toast the night away at one of the many beach bars hanging over or spilling out onto madcap Main Street.


9 a.m.
8) Hangover Heaven


Michele’s Sugar Shack (213½ Main Street, 714-536-0355) is a popular sidewalk cafe known for not only its hearty breakfasts but also its extensive display of surfing memorabilia, photographs of events in local surfing history and inspirational messages selected by its inspired owners, Tim and Michele Turner. More than 50 choices under $10.

11 a.m.
9) Culture Schlock

Just out Michele’s back patio door is a tiny Art Deco treat, the International Surfing Museum (411 Olive Avenue, 714-960-3483). There is also a permanent collection of “historic” ukeleles, such as above.

An Art Deco gem

The museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through March, noon to 5 other days (closed Tuesday and Wednesday in the winter months).

10) Last Call

One parting stop at the ocean for surfing, swimming or just strolling the beachfront. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there at low tide, when the surf is glassy, the sets endless and the breaks long and slow. If you’re still not loaded up with enough souvenirs, try Golden West College Swap Meet (714-898-7927), at Golden West Street and Edinger Avenue, for acres of local and ethnic goodies at near-giveaway prices. It’s your last chance to go home with proof that when it comes to Surf City USA, you’ve been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.

Y'all come back now!

The Basics

Huntington Beach is within 30 minutes of both Long Beach Airport and John Wayne Airport, and just 45 minutes from Los Angeles International. You will probably want a rental car, though you can reach Huntington Beach on the Super Shuttle van (800-258-3826; about $20 to $40 a person depending on airport).

There are no beachfront hotels in Huntington Beach, no matter what their names imply. They are all across the Pacific Coast Highway, albeit with unobstructed ocean views. The choices are more limited than you might imagine, though, considering the eight-mile shoreline.

The largest is the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa (21500 Pacific Coast Highway, 714-698-1234), which has its own bridge to the beach. Its 460 rooms are $285 to $360; 57 suites go to $3,500. Almost next door is the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort (21100 Pacific Coast Highway, 714-845-8000), with 290 rooms and suites at $179 to $374.

The Best Western Huntington Beach Inn (800 Pacific Coast Highway, 714-536-7500) has 50 rooms at $139 to $289, and the Sun ‘n Sands (1102 Pacific Coast Highway, 714-536-2543) has 17 rooms at $69 to $269.

The newest accommodation in town is the Shorebreak Hotel (500 Pacific Coast Highway; 714-861-4470). Rates start around $200; ask for specials.


  1. […] original post here: My new (2010) 36 Hours in Surf City, U.S.A. Share and […]

  2. Thanks the author for article. The main thing do not forget about users, and continue in the same spirit.

  3. […] Continued here: My (2010) 36 Hours in Huntington Beach: Surf City, USA […]

  4. Hi there, I couldn’t find any way to email you, and so I really hope that you see this comment. I have a website covering ladies wetsuits, and thought you would like to swap links with me. I have entered my email address if you choose to get in contact. Thank you.

  5. Hello Mr. Garrett, I absolutely love your Surf City Sunset photo. I have a very good friend who is originally from Huntington Beach but has since relocated to South Carolina. He has a son on the way and is hoping to instill his love of surfing even though he is 3000 miles from the Pacific. On their honeymoon, he and his bride came for a visit and they dined at Ruby’s on the pier. Your photo would be a perfect addition to their nursery. I was wondering if I may have your permission to have a print made of this shot so I can send it as a special gift for little Anthony? Thank you so much, Mary

    • You certainly may have my permission, Mary. And thanks so much for visiting my blog, and taking the time to write with such kind words.

  6. […] source  7. Nightly Fireworks at Downtown Disney –  Anaheim So you’re in town but don’t want to have to have to take out a second mortgage to afford Disneyland tickets?  Well how about free access to their fireworks display?  Every night of the week there is a brilliant fireworks display at the Disneyland castle that can be clearly viewed from Downtown Disney.  Parking is free for the first 3 hours, up to 5 hours if you validate at one of their participating restaurants, and you can stroll through the shops as you enjoy free live music in several spots throughout the complex.  There are beautiful fountains, and sidewalk exhibits as well.  So much Disney fun, for FREE! 8.  Centennial Farms – Costa Mesa Located at the OC Fairgrounds, this year round farm gives you a fair like atmosphere, for free!  There is a fully functioning farm, barns, tractors, livestock (pigs, chickens, goats, and more).  There is a lot to be learned as each pen has a sign chock full of information on each animal.  It’s an incredible experience, and did I mention it costs zero dollars?  That goes for parking too! […]

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