The other day I was watching MasterChef, the program where several home cooks put to test their skills in a series of nerve racking tests (if you don’t know what I am talking about, click here for more information). For this particular episode, the participants, divided in two teams, were in charge of feeding fish tacos to more than a hundred hungry surfers.
The setting? A strand of sand meters away from the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach, California. Other than feeling envious because of the impressive cooking setting with the pier as the background, I felt puzzled, even a little bit angry, when nobody was able to tell the nickname of the city. I can understand the puzzled faces of contestants who don’t live in California. However, there was this chick bragging about her Southern Californian roots and killer fish taco preparation skills. She wasn’t able to identify what makes this town famous either (I knew her team was going to lose the challenge and, in fact, they did).
So, remember the next line if you want to be known as a Southern California erudite (and impress your friends, family and strangers who may watch you competing on TV).
Huntington Beach is known as “Surf City USA.” This designation should not be taken lightly. For years, the city has disputed the nickname with archrival Santa Cruz. Plus, it has monster swells, a surfing walk of fame (a la Hollywood) and an International Surfing Museum to add accolades to its boast.
The best vibe in the city is felt around Main Street which culminates in a long pier famous for having a lifeguard tower at one end and a turquoise / red roundhouse (home of Ruby’s Diner) at the other.
This is probably the city in Southern California where the pull towards a beach culture is most heavily noticed. Most stores specializing on surfboards, wet suits and beach apparel have a big presence in town. Racks of clothes are always taking space on the sidewalk while young people browse in the hopes of getting a good deal.
Events such as marathons, car shows and volleyball tours are held throughout the year as a consequence of the good weather. In terms of sports, Huntington Beach has a well-maintained boardwalk path for bike riding or skating, strong winds for kite surfing and consistent waves for surfing.
Surf City Nights
The best day of the week to visit Huntington Beach is Tuesday. First, fish tacos (and other tasting dishes) are on sale that day. Second, the community inspired event, Surf City Nights is held in the first three blocks from Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
A carnival atmosphere is created since more than 90 vendors and performers offer fruits, vegetables, crafts, entertainment, prepared food, kid rides and more. I am wary of similar events claiming to provide variety and fun. But Surf City Nights delivers on its promises and I can say it is tons of fun.
Ideas for a Day in Huntington Beach
You can base yourself for the day around Main Street and the pier (Huntington City Beach). Around there, you can sunbath, rent a bike, walk the pier, eat in one of the open air eateries on Main Street, have a Ruby’s shake and, of course, surf.
If you are visiting a Tuesday, make sure to stay to get a sample of what Surf City Nights is all about. The event is held from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. If you want to visit only the event, get there early to grab a good parking spot. There are numerous public parking garages but it is possible to find free parking on the streets two or three block from the beach. Also, it is a good idea to go early if you want to eat from one of the food court vendors. They start to sell before 5:00 p.m. when there are still few people around.
Another possibility is to secure a spot at Bolsa Chica State Beach (north of the pier) or Huntington State Beach (south of the pier). These beaches are home of a rarity in Southern California, bonfire rings. Again, if you want to stay after sunset relaxing in front of a fire, you need to get to the beach early (especially during summer). The rings are in high demand. Go prepared since the temperature drops to the low 60s at night (and the wind makes it worse).
If you spend the day at Huntington State Beach, it is possible to pedal to Newport Beach and check the vibe there.
As you see Huntington Beach has a lot to offer. Visit for a great day in contact with the sun and sand. And please, make us proud. Remember, “Surf City USA.”
Have you visited Huntington Beach?