Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, etc.

Due to COVID-19, we hadn’t been to our favorite part of the California coast, Orange County, in two years. With the pandemic receding, our search for nearby warm-weather destinations for sightseeing and sun worship recently brought us back to the Orange County coast, 360 miles and seven hours down Interstate 5.

The county has been known as “California’s Riviera” since the early 1900s, when sun worshipers and Hollywood discovered this 42-mile stretch of sunny sandy beaches offering respite to young and old, rich and poor. . We go down there in winter or early spring, to recharge our batteries after too cold days in Northern California; time to return after a long absence.

If you’re not a beach lover, the county is also home to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team, a variety of other sports teams, museums , community theaters and many more attractions, but it’s the seaside towns we’re looking for. So pack your beach clothes, hiking shoes and bikes and explore sunny Huntington Beach to Dana Point with us!

Crystal Cove State Park offers vintage cabins for rent in the hills above the beach.

Start your tour at the north end of the county, home to the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge and Hennessey’s Seal Beach, a great spot for breakfast or lunch. The Beachfront Bike Path connects to the San Gabriel River Bike Path and continues south on the Huntington Beach Bike Path.

“Surf City USA” is the nickname for Huntington Beach, with three beaches, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach, popular for volleyball, surfing, fire rings and even beach camping. sea. Just across Highway 1 are nearly 1,500 acres of Bolsa Chica wetlands, the largest saltwater marsh between Tijuana, Mexico, and Monterey Bay. The city is home to the International Surfing Museum and the Surfing Walk of Fame along Main Street. Stroll the Huntington Beach pier and watch world-class surfers to the north and south.

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The Santa Ana River separates Huntington Beach from Newport Beach; the charming Santa Ana Bike Path along the river about 25 miles inland, through cityscapes, past the Los Angeles Angels baseball stadium and the Honda Center, home of the Ducks hockey team, and to the foothills east of Los Angeles.

The old stone church of Mission San Juan Capistrano collapsed in the earthquake of 1812, killing around 20 parishioners.

Newport Beach boasts the world’s largest small marina, two pedestrian piers, the Balboa and Newport Piers, along a sandy beach and bustling bike path. Take the inexpensive Balboa Island Ferry, (pedestrians and bikes welcome) for an all-too-short trip between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula, connecting two communities of beautiful waterfront homes, shops, and restaurants.

The 1905 Balboa Lodge on the peninsula side offers harbor tours and whale watching, as well as cruises to Santa Catalina Island. The charming town of Avalon is only 26 miles away and about an hour and a half by ferry, well worth the trip if you haven’t been there. Newport offers plenty of upscale restaurants (check out an awesome favorite, the Crab Cooker on Newport Bay, casual, inexpensive, and perfect for families).

Read more:Exploring the West Coast “Ring of Fire” and other bucket list trips out west

Take a morning or afternoon walking or biking tour of Balboa Island, surrounded by a wide walkway lined with $4-6 million waterfront “cottages.” Take time for a famous Balboa Bar, ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate and topped with your favorite toppings, popular since 1945. Just beyond the Newport Beach harbor entrance is Corona Del Mar State Beach, one of the most popular beaches along this sunny stretch.

The Balboa Island Ferry connects the Balboa Peninsula to Balboa Island in Newport Beach.

A favorite destination at the south end of Newport Beach is Crystal Cove State Park, running three miles along the Pacific, with beautiful hiking trails along above the ocean. In the park, Crystal Cove’s old beachfront preserves renovated cabins, renting from $170 to mid-$200 a night.

Plan a sunset meal at Beachcomber’s Restaurant, anchored at Crystal Cove, and visit the small nearby museum which tells the story of the many movies filmed here in the 1930s to 1980s, including ‘Beaches’ with Bette Midler, ‘Herbie the Love Bug,” “Treasure Island,” “Son of Tarzan” and many more. The park also offers the Moro Campground on a bluff overlooking the ocean, a great deal if you can reserve a spot.

Heading south on Route 1, Laguna Beach is the next upscale town, offering additional beaches, as well as the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse. Across from the quaint downtown, filled with shops, restaurants, and boutiques, is Main Beach Park, perfect for people-watching. Las Brisas Restaurant on a cliff overlooking the city is a fine dining option.

The southernmost town is Dana Point and Harbor, popularized by Richard Henry Dana who wrote the 1840 masterpiece “Two Years Before the Mast”. featuring the Spirit of Dana Point, a 1770s privateer replica used during the American Revolution (unfortunately the historic brig Pilgrim sank in 2020; the Institute is working on a replacement).

Inland, a few miles from Dana Point, is historic San Juan Capistrano. It is centered around the San Juan Capistrano mission, founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1776 (visit the old mission courtyard with flora dating back around 200 years) and the huge stone church, which s collapsed in an earthquake in 1812, killing around 20 Sunday parishioners. Just across the train tracks from the mission is the historic district of Los Rios, with 30 homes dating back to 1794, a truly magical and historic walking experience. California’s oldest residential neighborhood, three of the original 30 mission adobes still stand.

For more information: Dana Point, visitdanapoint.com; Huntington Beach, surfcityusa.com; Laguna Beach, visit lagunabeach.com; Newport Beach, newportbeach.com; Orange County Visitors Association, visittheoc.com.

Dana Point beach, wild in winter, just north of the Ocean Institute.

Contact Tim at [email protected]; bon voyage in your world!

Wiley C. Thompson