Huntington Beach is perhaps best known for its surfing today, but before that sport existed, settlers were flocking to the area for wealthy deposits of oil. Nearly all of this oil has since been depleted, and the area’s economy is now focused mainly on tourism. Having a consistent climate not unlike that of nearby Los Angeles, the waters surrounding the shore are notorious for their yearlong excellent surf, aided by the nearby Catalina Island and other weather phenomenon. Here are ten things to do in Huntington Beach.
10. Surfing Lessons
What better thing to do in “Surf City USA” than to learn the sport that gives this town its namesake? Surfriders Academy has one of the highest-rated surfing lesson programs in the area, and they specialize in first-time surfers. The Academy will loan you a broad board and a wetsuit and teach you the very basics on the land before you even get in the water but will have you riding a wave in no time. Contact Marcus to book a surf lesson any day of the week. Private lessons are $120 for 90 minutes, and $90 per person for group lessons.
9. Sunset Gondola
Gondolas are small boats that have been in use for centuries to navigate the canals of Venice, Italy, with just enough room for a small handful of people and the gondolier. Sunset Gondola offers gondola rides on the other side of the world from Venice, in the harbor. Tours do not only take place at sunset; it is recommended that visitors consider booking on a clear night as well. Whenever you decide to book, it is a wonderfully romantic experience for couples, with the calm water of the harbor carrying you along.
8. Huntington Beach Wetlands
If you’re looking for a real change of scenery from the sand dunes and palm trees, a visit to the local wetlands is in order. Also known as the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, these wetlands have been recently restored to best serve the local wildlife that thrives in the salty marshes. Featuring four separate marshes and an educational wildlife center, the conservatory sprawls over 118 acres running along the coast. There are plenty of hiking trails and the wetlands are a perfect location for bird watching.
7. Aquarium of the Pacific
Although technically closer to Long Beach, this aquarium is worth the 45-minute drive from downtown. The largest aquarium in southern California, and the fourth most-attended aquarium in the world, this institution was founded in 1998 and grew quickly to become the behemoth it is today. Along with over 10,000 animals, the aquarium also offers a 4D theatre, educational programs for kids, and the exploration of nearly 20 different habitats. With the purchase of a general admission ticket (starting at $29 per adult), a family can receive discounts with the simultaneous purchase of several available tours.
6. Huntington Beach Pier
One of the longest piers on the west coast, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Huntington Beach, the pier extends over 1,800 feet into the ocean and is the icon of the area. Predating the city itself, the pier has been rebuilt a few times after some strong storms in the 80s, but is now open the public daily from 5AM to midnight. Visitors can take a free leisurely stroll during a sunset, or try their hand catching halibut or their friends by renting a fishing pole and bait from the Let’s Go Fishing rental store. Can be crowded on weekends.
5. International Surfing Museum
It is hard to go very far or long in Huntington Beach without hearing about or seeing someone surfing. Having existed in the United States ever since 1914, surfing exploded once soldiers returned from the Pacific after WWI. At the International Surfing Museum, visitors can learn more about the rich history of the fun sport, as well as catch some live bands playing nearby roughly once a month. The museum is closed on Mondays and has semi-irregular hours, so be sure to check their website. Admission is only $2 per person.
4. Bella Terra
Bella Terra is a large, semi-outdoor shopping mall located inland from the shore, with over 65 restaurants and retail stores surround a beautiful plaza lush with greenery. Whether you are looking to cool off for a few hours in the 20-theatre cinema, or you’d rather look for that perfect souvenir, this massive open-air mall has got you covered. Often there will be live entertainment in the main plaza. There is additionally a monthly ‘kids club’ that offers activities for youth that always have a rotating theme!
3. Day Trip to Los Angeles
There is no doubt that the pull of the large and infamous city to north will be nagging at you during your entire stay, so why not give in to it? Los Angeles is a quick 60 to 90 minute drive from Huntington Beach, and well worth the trip. You can read the concrete stars of Hollywood Blvd, while the iconic Hollywood sign looms above you in hikable Griffith Park. Stop at one of the many taco trucks and grab a burrito. Head over to Venice and soak up the sun as well as the particularly unique culture. Just be sure to leave enough time to get back or to make some alternative lodging plans!
2. Old World Village
Bringing a flavor of European culture to Southern California ever since the 1970’s, Old World is a cozy area featuring a world-class European restaurant serving excellent brauts, Belgian beers, and plenty of other traditional dishes. Old World Village is also particularly well known for its Oktoberfest celebrations, which occur annually. Additionally, the complex holds brunches, farmers markets, a German bakery and deli, and plenty of other attractions, including the very entertaining Dachshund races.
1. US Open of Surfing
This surfing competition is certainly the largest tourist attraction in Huntington Beach and is equally integral to the area’s history. As the largest surfing competition in the world, the US Open of Surfing takes advantage of the unique surf created by the water’s flow around the off-shore island of Catalina. Being held since 1959, the competition is a serious boon to the area’s economy. If you are planning on visiting the city any time around this competition, be prepared for crowds, but also to have a blast.
It isn’t hard to imagine spending all of your vacation here without ever leaving the waterside: Huntington Beach is the quintessential California coastline in appearance and climate. But it won’t take long once venturing inland to realize that the city has plenty more to offer than just great waves. With beautiful natural areas abound, and locals that are more than happy to help you find your next favorite destination, you’ll never be at a loss for places to visit in Huntington Beach.