Where on earth is Huntington Beach, I hear you say?!
This laid-back surfy town with oil rigs dotted along the ocean is in California’s Orange County – along with Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. But unlike its tourist-heavy theme parks (a safe half-hour driving distance away) it is very cruisy, edged with palm trees and spread with a wide sandy beach.
The shopping is very beachy and cool-dude. But we did find a couple of nice shops (Forever 21!) However, you don’t come to Huntington Beach to shop. You come to drink cocktails in the sun, to surf on the impossibly long beach that stretches forever, to browse the Friday afternoon Farmers and Craft market, to hang with your friends and to stare at the surfers and beach volleyballers.
The best place to stay is the very hip four-star Shorebreak Hotel. It’s new and on the beach. Well across the road. There’s not much on the beach except lifeguard huts and volleyball nets. The Shorebreak’s Zimzala restaurant was basking in the afterglow of winning the 2011 Golden Foodie Award for its Happy Hour when I was there. But aside from the divine cocktail we sipped with the delightful Carla, director of sales, the hotel offers a free wine hour at 5pm for guests.
And speaking of guests, they welcome pooches too. In fact so welcoming are they that they have a special play area for your handbag puppy or your bull mastiff with an odorised lawn so they can do their business outside on the 2nd floor – with the smokers. The day we were there Travel Channel was filming two celebrity dogs inhouse – one a teeny Chihuahua-looking thing and the other a Mastiff who could quite possibly have gobbled the yappy little hor’s deurve without even realising.
Shorebreak is a Joie de Vivre hotel. That means it’s stylish, funky and one-of-a-kind. It has surf movies projected on the wall in the lobby and photos set in sand on every door. There is an outdoor courtyard for sunning, drinking and at nights they are known to host s’mores parties around their fire pits. You can park your surf board in the downstairs lobby and wander around in your bare feet, but you’ll also feel just as at home in a slinky little number for those cocktails.
Jump to Shorebreak Hotel here >>>
Things to do in Huntington Beach:
Eat s’mores around a fire on the beach For those of you who don’t know what this is – the Shorebreak can arrange it, or you can go down to one of the fire pits on the beach and DIY. A s’more is short for Some More – and more you will want, trust me. It consists of 3 ingredients: Graham Crackers (kind of bran, biscuity, sweet crackers. Digestives are a good substitute), a bar of chocolate and a bag of marshmallows. Know where we’re going with this? That’s right, you toast the marshmallows till they are just about dripping, slam them onto the chocolate, which you have set on your cracker, smoush another cracker on top and voila. A melty chocolate treat that is gooey and oh-so-American.
Segway ride I am now sporting a T-shirt that says ‘I had segs on the beach’. And indeed I did. Segway Jesus, aka Gino with long flowing hair, and owner Jack, gave us a ten-minute lesson in the carpark after we’d watched a five-minute video. I figured it couldn’t be THAT hard, although the stick figure on the vid had a few accidents which left me a little tentative. But after learning that the driving is all about the weight on your feet due to the highly sophisticated computer that I was standing on, we set off. Posing unnaturally for pics is what Gino likes to get his riders to do – hence a few “work-it-girl” hands on hip poses from me. Cringe. We trundled down the streets, weaved around the Saturday brunchers and shoppers, stopped at the lights and balanced on our two wheels. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually a doddle. A slight challenge presented itself when riding down the hill to the beach – leaning back is not the same as sticking your bum out and putting more weight on your heels. Note to self. The tide was in so we only spent a few minutes on the soft sand, before heading up the hill to the boardwalk and threaded our way through a craft market – without running over any old ladies. A fun way to spend 90 minutes – and we got to keep a CD of pics of our hipster poses (none of which will appear here). Jump to HB Segway Tours here >>>
Where to eat:
Duke’s on the beach (now this is actually built on the beach) at the foot of the pier. It’s famous for seafood and sunset views – try and get a table by the window. Their menu is delicious – we shared crab and macadamia nut wontons for $7.95 and a Caesar salad for $6.95, then followed it with an amazing parmesan and herb crusted fish of the day, with panko, mac nuts, lemon and capers for around $30. I’m going to try and make this at home (perhaps just not as fancy). Jump to Duke’s here >>>
Fred’s for great Mexican with a busy vibe and beachfront views – and a margarita in a glass the size of a bowl. I love Mexican, but I’ve learned to ask the waitress what’s the best dish on the night. That way you mix it up a little, get her/his fave and try something new. We started with a bowl of complimentary tortillas and salsa which almost ruined our appetite, we gutsed them so fast. Then shared the carnitas – chunks of spicy marinated pork with guacamole, black beans and salsa served with soft flour tortillas and shrimp enchiladas. Sadly there was no room for the wicked churros. Jump to Fred’s Mexican Cafe here >>>
Secret beauty treatment:
Now you won’t find this ‘must-do’ on any other Huntington Beach travel guide… If you want a California girl look, then you’ll be delighted to find that Botox over here can be as low as US$9 per unit. You’ll be even more delighted to find that one of the best clinics is a hop skip and jump from Huntington Beach, at Sunset Beach. Go and meet Erin at DermFx who will jab your face faster than you can say clostridium botulinum and leave you with a few tiny pin pricks in your forehead to “make a softer you”. Let’s just say, I left delighted… Jump here for Dermfx, Sunset Beach >>>
Read Megan’s 5-day itinerary and drive the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Francisco >>>