By Richard Carroll
The mighty Pacific Ocean has left its mark on Huntington Beach with an ebb and flow that has enthralled not only surfers and spectators from throughout the world but also those who love the unspoiled treasure of 10 miles of glorious public beachfront. A free-spirited, eternally young city, Huntington Beach offers an eclectic mix of leisure activities reflecting California whimsy at its best and hosts dozens of high-spirited festivals highlighted by the annual U.S. Open of Surfing. The Open is the world's largest surf competition and lifestyle festival, attracting thousands of visitors during the summer to watch some of the world's best surfers challenge the ever-changing waves that roll in on the south side of the pier.
The name says it all: Surf City USA. Now a small city with the outward show and street movement of an active sports town where everyone seems to know who had breakfast with whom and where, Huntington Beach was founded in 1909, though the historic Huntington Beach pier popped up a few years earlier. Extending into the ocean an incredible 1,850 feet from the intersection of Main and Pacific Coast Highway, it stands as one of the longest piers on the West Coast with an appearance and charm that flawlessly fits the city. A submarine lookout post during World War II, the pier has tolerated a few facelifts throughout the years and remains a long-lasting Huntington Beach personality.
The weather and constant surf is exceptional year-round, making this a superior family-friendly outdoor destination where shorts and flip-flops are ever the uniform of the day. Visitors of all ages can challenge the ocean to learn the art of surfing or take stand-up paddle-boarding instructions from windswept, sun-dappled surfers who have spent most of their life atop a surfboard.
The lively al fresco life can include a game of beach volleyball, a visit to the "Off the Wall" Skate Park, a stroll along the beach during the lingering glow of sunset, the beach bonfire rings that light up the night and a plate of fish tacos for dinner at Wahoo's, a Huntington Beach favorite.
A timeless California beach city with an animated, walkable downtown, Huntington Beach is home to the first and only Surfing Walk of Fame, which begins next to Jack's Surfboards on Main Street and extends to the pier, displaying plaques engraved in the sidewalk honoring surfers with astonishing skills.
In keeping with the city's personality, nearby is the remarkable Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, which opened in 1987 in a restored 1932 art deco building. This lively spot provides visitors with a colorful, feel-good look at the world of surfing and is a must-see on the Huntington Beach visit list. The museum expands and clarifies a visit to a city where it seems everyone has a surfboard tucked under his (or her!) arm and a sprig of seaweed between his toes.
In addition to one of the largest public beaches in California, Huntington Beach has nine parks, including Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a skillfully preserved 1,300-acre protected coastal estuary and wetland with coastal dunes, hiking trails, a freshwater marsh, open water and one of the best locations along this coast for birdwatching. Some 200 avian species have been seen here as flocks migrate between North and South America along the Pacific Flyaway Corridor. A short 10-minute drive from downtown, the reserve offers free tours by knowledgeable guides, and binoculars are a bonus. Allow two hours if you're exploring the hiking trails, which are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Back in town, there's a great view from the OffShore 9 Rooftop Lounge at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort on the ninth floor atop the Twin Dolphin Tower. From the outdoor deck unobstructed vistas extend up and down the stunning Huntington Beach coast and out across a mesmerizing ocean. The OffShore 9 menu offers organic farm-fresh cuisine and skillfully created cocktails.
The midsized AAA Four-Diamond Hilton property will welcome your pet like a Hollywood celebrity (even if he growls) with a pet-friendly room, service menu and pet beds, while the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel also has a dog-friendly restaurant and menu as well as a nightly wine reception from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. for guests and their pets.
Outdoor dogs play all day and enjoy the fresh sea air at the off-the-leash dog beach located along the bluffs with a natural barrier to busy Pacific Coast Highway. But among the most unusual events of the year is the dog surfing competition at the annual September Surf City Surf Dog Competition, which features canines who would rather surf than play in the sand and know how to ride the waves and stay dry. It's a wonderful day of extraordinary entertainment and an important fundraiser, too.
Top Dog Barkery in Pacific City is a shopping and dining complex selling packaged treats, chew sticks and more for the family pup, while on Main Street Gallagher's has a full "canine cuisine" menu. Another favorite dining choice, dogs or not, is the Sugar Shack Cafe on Main Street - a good place to meet up with the Huntington Beach crowd.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: www.surfcityusa.com
Richard Carroll is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Huntington Beach, California, has long been known as Surf City USA. Photo courtesy of Halina Kubalski.