Known as Surf City, USA, Huntington Beach is the perfect place for a beach vacation. With excellent weather all year long, there really isn’t a bad time to visit. With so many things to keep you busy while you’re in town, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. That’s why I compiled my list of the best things to do in Huntington Beach.
I was born and raised in Huntington Beach, so I have had plenty of experience showing people around the city. Whether you’re here on a family vacation, a couple’s getaway or traveling solo, there’s plenty of things to do for everyone to enjoy.
Location & Getting There
Huntington Beach is located about 30 miles south of Los Angeles in Orange County so it’s really easy to get there. I would recommend flying into either Long Beach (LGB) or Orange County (SNA) but you’ll generally find lower fares into Los Angeles (LAX). My favorite airport to fly into is Long Beach because it’s generally the least crowded and it just “feels” like California.
When booking your flights, maximize your purchase by using a credit card that gives you bonus points on travel purchases. A couple of my favorites are the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or the American Express Platinum cards.
Regardless of where you fly into, you’ll probably want to rent a car while you’re in town unless you’re planing on staying downtown the entire time. If you do rent a car, you’ll want to take a look at what I think is the easiest way to save money on car rentals.
Once you get there, I would recommend staying close to downtown. There are some fantastic hotels where you can redeem your points or there’s some fantastic vacation rentals in the area. The ambiance of Main Street is really something special. Again, be sure you use a credit card that rewards for travel purchases so you can earn as many points possible to use on your next vacation.
By The Pier – Of course, my top recommendation of things to do is to visit Huntington Beach and the Pier. My kids could easily spend several days just playing in the ocean and building sand castles. If you’re not staying downtown, there’s plenty of parking along PCH or in lots along the beach. I would recommend picking a spot close to the pier because there are plenty of amenities to enjoy close by.
Alternative Spots – If you are looking for a quieter spot to enjoy the beach at, I would move a little further north to 17th Street. This section of the beach is generally less crowded than by the pier. You can park across the street in the neighborhood for free. There’s an intersection at 17th Street where you can easily and safely cross PCH. If you have a dog, they’re allowed on the beach starting around 21st Street, so you can park here as well and just walk the rest of the way.
Local Tip – Here’s a local restaurant recommendation if you plant your umbrella down this way. If you’re looking for great Mexican food, there’s a small place called Fiesta Grill that’s walking distance from here. It’s located in a small strip center on the corner of 17th & Orange, which is about 3 small blocks inland from the beach. We use to eat here all the time when we lived by the beach. There’s also a small convenience store in the shopping center if you’re looking for a place to refill your cooler.
Bonfires – One of my favorite things to do at the beach was have a bonfire at night. There are hundreds of fire rings all along the beach that you can use for free. They’re first come, first served, so be sure to snag on earlier in the day if you’re going to have a bonfire. If you want to spoil your taste buds, fill a metal trash can with ocean water and cook corn on the cob in it over the bonfire. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Huntington Beach Pier
No visit to the beach would be complete without a walk down the Huntington Beach Pier. When you get to the end, treat yourself to an ice cream cone at Rudy’s while you enjoy the ocean breeze. The pier is a great place to watch the surfers carve up the waves. If you want to try your hand at fishing, you can fish along the pier and you don’t even need a fishing license.
Other Activities – There are a lot of things you can do down by the pier. There are several beach volleyball courts that are free to use and the city even provides volleyballs to use. One of my favorite things to do is ride a bike along the bike path that goes on for miles. There are a few places by the pier where you can rent one for a few hours or all day. They also have pedal carts to rent that are great if you have smaller children or if don’t want to sit on a bike seat for hours.
Downtown Huntington Beach is full of great restaurants and local shops to visit. If you’re looking for that perfect souvenir, there are dozens of fun shops filled with wonderfully unique items. There are also a ton of great local restaurants to enjoy. Whether you’re visiting for the day, or spending a week at the beach, there’s always something new and delicious to try.
Also, on Tuesday nights, they shut down the first few blocks on Main Street to host a farmer’s market and street fair. You can buy delicious produce as well as enjoy the various street performers and other activities going on.
Each year Hunting Beach hosts several events that are unique and fun for the whole family to enjoy. Here are a few of my favorites.
US Open of Surfing – There’s a reason Huntington Beach is the surfing capital of the world. Each year at the end of July, the world’s best surfers descend on Huntington for the world’s largest surfing competition. The event is free to attend so you’ll want to get there early because it can get extremely crowded.
The Great Pacific Airshow – Around the first weekend in October, Huntington Beach hosts the annual Great Pacific Airshow. Each year some of the world’s top aviation performers fill the skies with incredible performances. The line up for the air show will change a little each year. However, some of the past performers have included the Blue Angles, the USAF Thunderbirds and the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.
The event is free but get there early because the beach can get packed. I would recommend sitting on the south side of the pier for the best views. They VIP section is set up there so that’s where the focal point of the show is.
Beachcruiser Meet – At the end of March, dozens of classic cars flock to Main Street for this annual competition. If you love vintage cars, this is the place to be.
4th of July – Each year the city hosts an Independence Day parade that marches down the streets of downtown Huntington Beach. Filled with floats, marching bands and others, this is a great way to celebrate our Nation’s independence. Later that night, fireworks fill the sky for all to enjoy.
Surfing Lessons – You’re visiting the surfing capital of the world, so you might as well give it a shot. There are several companies that offer surfing lessons that typically last about 2 hours.
Whale Watching – Several species of whales swim up and down the coastline all year long. There are multiple companies that operate whale watching boat tours that last about 2 hours. While not exactly in Huntington Beach, shese tours typically leave out of Newport Beach, which is about 20 minutes south of Huntington.
Deep Sea Fishing – Another one of my favorite things to do is go deep sea fishing. These are usually half day or full day trips so you’ll be gone most of the day. Again, you’ll have to travel down the coast about 20 minutes to find the tour companies that operate these trips.
Bolsa Chica Wetlands – Just a few miles down PCH from Main Street is the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. You can walk along the trails and find numerous types of birds and other wildlife. If you stick around until the evening, it’s a great place to enjoy the sunset.
Most of the parking around Huntington Beach and Main Street can be found in paid lots or metered parking along the streets. Generally the lots charge $2.00 per hour with a daily maximum of $15.00. The meters also charge $2.00 per hour but you can now pay with a credit card at most of the meters. Keep in mind if you’re in town for a special event, the rates will increase on those day.
The only free parking is in the neighborhoods north of Main Street. You’ll need to get there early on the weekends or it can be very difficult to find a parking spot. Be aware, during the week there’s street sweeping on select days throughout the city. If you’re parked on the street when the sweeper comes by, they’ll issue you a parking ticket. Due to limited parking, street sweeping will also vary depending on the side of the street you’re on. There are signs posted on every street telling you when this occurs. Just be sure to check the signs before you park your car.
If you’re looking for a great beach vacation but don’t want to travel all the way to Hawaii, plan a trip to Huntington Beach. Whether it’s relaxing on the beach, shopping or trying something adventurous, there’s something for everyone. With so many things to do you’ll be happy you did. If you have any questions while you’re planning your trip, leave me a comment below and I’d be happy to help!