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Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Huntington Beach, California

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Huntington Beach

Peter’s radio show is coming to you from the Hilton Waterfront Resort in Huntington Beach, California, aka “Surf City, USA.” Known for its excellent surfing conditions, California sunshine and laid-back vibe, this seaside city is the kind of vacation destination that makes you never want to return home. Keep reading to find out what makes the locals keep hanging around.

Chris Epting, local historian and author of 16 travel/history books, including Huntington Beach, Then & Now and James Dean Died Here

Did you know we turned 100 this year? And Huntington Beach, despite a population that’s just over 200,000, in many ways still feels like a classic little California beach town. It’s got its haunts, secret spots, historic remnants—and more than 8 miles of spectacular, uninterrupted beach.

By all means go for that walk on the pier to watch the surfers—there has been a pier there since the early 1900s—and if you want to surf in HB just check the Southside Surf Report.

But everyone checks out the famous pier. To really get inside the city, you need to explore and start living like a local. This is my perfect gastronomic day in Surf City, USA:Sugar Shack

Start with breakfast at Michele’s Sugar Shack Café. It’s been on Main Street since the late 1960s and it’s a cozy little place with big portions that locals swear by. It’s open all day but is famous for the first meal of the day and the coffee is spectacular.

My other breakfast spot is Alice’s In The Park (in Central Park) which features the best cinnamon rolls on this planet (or any other) along with breakfast in a living-room setting (and buy a bag of food to feed the ducks outside). But hurry: Alice is hanging up her apron on Labor Day 2010.

For lunch, it’s all about shrimp tacos at The Secret Spot. I found this place on Warner Avenue by accident and have never looked back. It’s sort of hidden in a little mall, and boasts an organic, laid back, beach-hippie vibe and some of the best smoothies on earth (along with freshly squeezed juices, killer sandwiches, burritos, and lots more). EAT HERE!

Want to learn more about California cuisine? Check out our Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Sonoma County

TK BurgersDinner should be rib-eye steak sandwiches at T.K. Burgers. Sure, they get voted Best Burgers in both Orange County and Los Angeles, and the burgers are amazing—but the rib eye with everything on it, onion rings and a ice tea as the sun sets out past the pier … it’s a slice of SoCal heaven—on a roll.

As far as where to walk off those meals…

I start every day I’m in town with an early morning walk in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, around the 1 ½ mile loop trail. Surrounded by egrets, terns, pelicans crashing into the water for fish, and many other wetlands creatures, this is a peaceful, beautiful place that still boasts an amazing ocean view. It’s also my favorite place to take pictures in Huntington Beach.

Along the Pacific Coast Highway is our famous Dog Beach, a full mile of sand that draws dogs (and owners) from all over Southern California. Just how dog friendly is Huntington Beach? After they frolic in the surf and sand, take your mutt to the Park Bench Café in nearby Central Park, where they have a Canine Cuisine menu featuring a dozen doggie dishes. And since you’ll be there, take time to explore Central Park—you may not believe the beach is just a few minutes away as you wander in the woods. And don’t miss the Shipley Nature Center.Jail

Check out our Beach Travel section for more great getaways.

Here are some of the quirkier historic sites in Huntington Beach—not found on any maps as of yet …

At 217 Main Street you’ll find the oldest structure in town: a 1904 building that today is the Longboard Restaurant and Pub. But go back in the alley behind the restaurant and there you will find some red brick structures. These were the first jail cells in Huntington Beach. These historic structures were built back in 1914 for the police station that was located just next door (where a nail salon stands today). Located just off Main Street, these cells were strategically placed to handle the flow from the bars along the main drag leading to the pier. And notice the one stand-alone jail cell, adjacent to the row of brick cells? This is where the rowdiest offenders spent the night, in isolation.

At the park on Summit Drive between Edwards and Golden West Street, you’ll find a granite boulder with a plaque on it denoting a special part of Huntington Beach’s history. The date was May 24, 1920, and the oil strike made near this site would forever change Huntington City. Almost overnight, the population began doubling, tripling, over and over again, as the city was besieged with folks seeking a fortune and oil companies looking to replicate the success of the Standard Oil Company of California. On that date, we became an oil town.

TombstoneThe Wright Stuff is my single favorite site in Surf City. Just what is the point of the black, granite tombstone at Springdale Street and Warner Avenue, in the bushes behind the Arco station? Its text reads in part: “In recognition of Lloyd Wright’s 94-foot-high sign tower that was to have been erected on this spot.” Lloyd Wright (a.k.a. Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.)—son of arguably our country’s most famous architect, and designer of the Hollywood Bowl and Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes, among other Southern California treasures—designed both the shopping center and the adjoining Arco station.

As for the tower, it was shouted down by locals who protested the idea of a 94-foot behemoth in their neighborhood. The tombstone was placed as a 500-pound, permanent proclamation of victory of the People’s will over art.

Now, if you’re ready to relax after all of this good food, walking and history, you can go hang at the beach (and pay your respects to the surfing gods at the Duke Kahanamoku statue at Pacific Coast Highway and Main—right by the Surfing Walk of Fame). Or better, rent a kayak along PCH and cruise the gentle waters of Huntington Harbour.

There’s plenty more action where that came from. Check out our Adventure & Sports Travel section.

Gary Sahagen, Board of Directors, International Surf Museum and Huntington Beach Longboard Crew

The pier walk is a great way to start the morning (coffee helps when it’s cold out). The best surfing conditions are generallyBirds in Huntington Beach in October and November. Walk to the location after the main lifeguard tower, and both the south side and north side offer great surf shows for spectators. On days when the Santa Ana winds are blowing, the sunset is especially nice.

These are some of my favorite local activities, all within a short bike ride from one another:

Don’t miss Surf City Nights, which takes place on Main Street every Tuesday between 5 p.m. and 9.m. With exhibits, live music, farmers markets, and restaurant specials, you’ll find most of the locals out and about.

I’m on the board of the International Surfing Museum on Olive Street, and it’s worth a visit. The museum is a real throwback to the classic period featuring Endless Summer memories, and features the coveted Surfing Hall of Fame.. Come in any afternoon as the admission is free.

The Huntington Beach Frisbee Golf Course (aka the Disc Golf Course) is not for beginners, but it’s a lot of fun. The course is in Central Park, across from the main library on Goldenwest Street and next to the Equestrian Center. Frisbee golf is free, but you do have to bring your own Frisbee.

The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center is a cool experience if you are into volunteering for a few hours. The center can hold up to 400 birds and mammals, and offers emergency care to up to 1,000 creatures, and is always looking for a helping hand. It’s a great way to get close to the natural environment.

Want to lend a helping hand? Find even more opportunities in our Volunteer Vacations section.

Courtney Conlogue, 17-year-old women’s champion of the U.S. Open of Surfing

Huntington BeachJust walking along Main Street is a great local experience, especially as you wander in and out of the various shops. For a along the main street is great and going into all the shops. The new Strand area, a new 3-acre commercial development downtown, has some excellent shopping as well.

Just outside of Huntington Surf & Sport is a sidewalk shop that sells bracelets and necklaces, which I check it out all the time to see what’s new. Grab a cup of coffee or tea at Java Point, which is located inside the surf shop, and then take a walk down the pier to check out the surf.

Although it’s a go-to spot for tourists, the pier really is a great place to hang out, watch the surfers, and take spectacular action photos. If you want to catch some waves yourself, I generally surf all along the coast, as there are several sandbars all along the coastline that offer up some good surf-able waves.

For more information, visit www.surfcityusa.com

Photo credits: Chris Epting. Visit Chris on the Web at www.chrisepting.com.

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