If you are looking for underrated beach towns in California, check out the wide array of things to do in Seal Beach!
California’s beach towns are famous all over the world. A lot of visitors come to our shores in search of the lifestyle and vibe that is presented in TV shows and movies.
On the contrary, residents and connoisseurs of the area miss the authenticity many towns had before the booming age of travel. It has been said that ‘Old California’ does not exist anymore near big population centers.
But, I digress. I have found my slice of ‘Old California’ not that far from Los Angeles.
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Seal Beach, the northernmost city in Orange County, is that piece of peacefulness that stands out from other beach towns I have visited in Southern California.
Seal Beach was originally known as Anaheim Landing because it was the boat landing and seaside recreation area of the nearby city (which is inland). There was even an amusement park which operated before Disneyland. In the 20th century, the area was known as Bay City and it was finally incorporated as Seal Beach in 1915.
With about 24,000 residents, this city seems to be out of the radar of tourists. Even people who have been raised or live in Southern California for a long time seem to ignore its existence.
How to Reach Seal Beach
Seal Beach is within easy reach from airports in the area. The Long Beach (Los Angeles County) airport is located 6 miles from town (20 minutes’ drive). The John Wayne Airport (Orange County) is located about 20 miles away (25 minutes’ drive).
Los Angeles International airport is located 38 miles from Seal Beach. This is half an hour with traffic, but it can take more than an hour when traffic is at its heaviest.
Read my article about Driving in Los Angeles if you need to get familiarized with the area’s traffic.
Where to Park in Seal Beach
There is plenty of free parking on the city’s streets. Now, if you choose this parking option, pay attention to time restrictions. Most spots have a 1 or 2-hour limit.
Public lots (next to the pier and a the end of 1st Street) allow you to park for a longer period of time. You pay according to the time spent on site. These lots allow you to pay (and extend your time) from your phone (you need to download the application though).
Beach Town Gear
As I spend a lot of time on beach towns, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car. Here is an idea of what I take to the beach.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip. I am partial to the Tevas brand. >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
- Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Towels – This is the accessory I always forget about. WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast. >Buy a Turkish towel here
- Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
- Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary. Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light. The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable. >Buy this nice beach blanket here
- Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand. I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag. >Take a look at my cooler here
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag. >These dry bag is awesome
- Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag. Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets). >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips. Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
Things to Do in Seal Beach
Good luck trying to find ‘things to do’ in town in huge websites like TripAdvisor. You are not going to find much. Should that worry you? Not really.
Seal Beach hasn’t been overtaken by commercialism and crowds. This is a place to walk, visit some fun stores, have a good meal, and spend a couple of hours at the beach. All of that is going to happen at a paused speed.
People are not going to be bumping into you and you are going to feel like you have the entire place to yourself. If you are not after relaxation, quietness, and genuineness, maybe this not the correct place for you.
If you are into discovering quaint, new places, keep reading, I have tons of ideas for things to do in Seal Beach.
Stroll Old Town
Like many cities in California, Seal Beach has an Old Town surrounded by modern development. Main Street in Old Town is the place you want to explore. This street is not that long, but I believe it has enough interesting businesses to keep visitors busy for hours.
A stroll around Main Street will reveal a lot of interesting and unique stores. In here, you can find antique, home décor, clothing, toy, surf, and pet stores. When I visited, I had way too much fun looking at old postcards, vintage jewelry, and coastal-themed decorations.
As you can imagine, cute images of seals are displayed all over town.
Hunt for Treasures at Vintage Stores
I love Joanne’s Antiques because the store has a great variety of jeweler. I am partial to their turquoise rings and cuffs. But, it is not only jewelry, they have in stock a varied selection of belts, watches, toys, inkwells, Venetian glass, and fine crystal.
On a similar line, there are tons to see at Alamitos Antiques, a store furnished with several chandeliers and display chests. They carry a wide range of retro and vintage items (coins, badges, stamps). It is also a good place to find ornaments for seasonal events.
Learn to Appreciate Shells
Yes, you read that. I am referring to seashells!
The California Shell Company is a super cool store with a huge selection of seashells, sea life, fish figurines, nautical décor, signs, sea glass, wind chimes and stationery.
The things in the store are ridiculously beautiful. It was a bit mind-blowing to discover the gems offered by the ocean.
Fill your World with Colorful Flowers
There is a garden in the middle of Old Town!
Brita’s Old Town Gardens offers fresh flowers, plants, succulents, gardening supplies, and ornaments. I know this a store but you can take a stroll even if you are interested in buying. But, who knows, you may feel persuaded to take something home.
I see Petals and Pop as a flower boutique. They design arrangements for weddings, birthdays, showers and other special events. They prefer to create with seasonal blooms. That allows them to have something different week after week. You got to see the pieces of art they create!
Ride or Rent a Bike
Bikes seem to be local’s favorite transportation mode. I have seen so many people cruising around Central and Ocean Avenues.
If you stay on Central Avenue and continue on Marina Drive, you are going to cross the San Gabriel River and hit the Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. There are plenty of bike trails to ride and places to check in there.
If you prefer, you can ride south to the Surfside area.
Main Street Cyclery is the place to go if you do not have your own wheels. Rentals start at $5 and they come with a helmet, basket, and lock.
Get your Creativity Flowing at the Town’s Galleries
For original pieces of art, prints and framed photography you can visit the following:
- The Dankha Gallery
- Old Town Seal Beach Gallery
- Art Images
- Harvey Girl’s Gallery
- Musee 16
These places features paintings and dozens of photos captured around the area.
Visit the Red Car Museum
On Electric Avenue, where the railroad tracks used to run, there is the Red Car Museum which features a restored Pacific Electric Railway Red Car. The Red Car trolley tracks once passed through Seal Beach going south to the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach.
The museum (inside the car) displays photographs of early Seal Beach, seashells and Indian artifacts collected locally. It is open on the second and fourth Saturdays from Noon to 3 p.m.
Make the Foodie Inside you Happy
No, this is not the restaurant section (not yet!). Foodies will be happy to learn about some specialty stores in town.
Angelo’s Italian Deli offers sandwiches, pasta, salads and other Italian dishes. The neat thing is that they also have a room stocked with all sorts of products imported from Italy. There are a lot of yummy goods you do not find in regular supermarkets. It is easy to spend more than 30 minutes looking through the selection of goods. I personally love to take my time on places like this.
The Temecula Olive Oil Company has a shop in town. They offer olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dipping oils tastings. If you haven’t done this before, this is a cool spot to try it.
Check Out the Pier
Well, we cannot have a quintessential California town without a pier. The one in Seal Beach is the second-longest wooden pier in the state.
As in other parts of the state, the pier here is used for fishing and recreational purposes. It is customary to observe the sunset from the pier (you can see Long Beach from here) or take a peaceful walk after dinner.
Have Fun at One of the Beaches
The city has 1.5 miles of beach. That is quite enough to relax on the fine sand or take a dip on the ocean.
The main beach in the city is located on both sides of the pier. This is the preferred beach in the area because it is close to the town’s amenities. The water here is calmer than in other areas because the sand is located between two jetties (that function as breakwaters).
The beach offers restrooms, showers, a children’s playground, volleyball courts, and a nearby grassy park.
If you prefer to keep things more intimate, you can visit the northernmost part of the beach, at the end of 1st Street, next to the mouth of the San Gabriel River. In there, you have the option to bathe in the ocean or the river (which has some sandy shores too).
Yet another option is to visit the Surfside Beach in the southernmost part of the city.
Visit a Historic Surf Store
If you are driving around Orange County, it will not take you long to notice a triangular sticker in the back of many cars.
At closer inspection, you are going to notice they pay homage to Harbor Surfboards, a historic surf store that has been in business for more than 60 years.
Those 60 years make this Seal Beach classic the oldest surfboard manufacturer operating daily in the same location. You can shop for their famous boards, apparel, and accessories at their store (329 Main Street).
Read More: Best Places to Surf in California
Take a Surfing Lesson
Since we are talking about surfing, I need to ask you a question: have you surfed in California yet?
If you have not even gotten the basic, I recommend enrolling in one of the classes offered by M&M Surfing School. They are pros at what they do and offers classes suitable for all ages. You can sign for private or group classes.
This is an excellent activity to experience with the entire family.
Take a Walk in the Park
If you want to stretch your legs a bit or take a break from the beach, you can count on the city’s park to help you achieve those goals.
Close to Old Town, you have the following options: Eisenhower Park (across the pier), Marina Community Park, and Electric Avenue Median Park.
On the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), you can visit Gum Grove Park and Bluebell Park.
Walk or Cycle the San Gabriel River Trail
The San Gabriel River Trail has a length of 36 miles and it goes from Azusa to Seal Beach. It is an urban trail passing through several natural features and allowing to see birds and small mammals.
About 4 miles of the trail run along Seal Beach. These are good news for those who like to ride bikes or get a bit of exercise. You can access the trail from the end of 1st Street (there is a parking lot there).
Tour the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge
Since this refuge is located within a Naval Weapons Station, access is limited to escorted tours help the last Saturday of every month. Reservations can be done through the Friends of Seal Beach NWR.
Tours will give you insight into the bird, mammal, amphibian and plant species who call the refuge home.
Go on a Food Tour
Do not get fooled by the size of Seal Beach! This town has some fantastic eats.
I know how difficult it is to fit in all the places you want to eat at when visiting a place. A food tour is a perfect solution to try several eateries in a small amount of time.
Seal Beach Food Tours offers a 3-hour tour, with 7 stops, from Thursday to Saturday. The company has excellent reviews. You should give them a try!
Seal Beach Restaurants
For such a small town, Seal Beach has a relatively large selection of places to eat. Here are my recommendations for the best places to eat in town.
The most important meal of the day can be enjoyed at the following spots:
- Old Town Cafe
- Country Cafe
- Crema Cafe
- Nick’s Deli
These places are good for breakfast but can be visited at other times during the day.
Lunch / Dinner
One of the top-ranked (and resident’s favorite) place to eat is Walt’s Wharf. They specialize in seafood prepared over an open oak fire. People also rave about their grilled artichokes and caramelized salmon.
The Hangout Restaurant is another place that seems to be full every time I stop by the town. They serve dishes such as fried chicken, beef brisket, fish & chips and grilled salmon. Plus, the views of the water from the restaurant are hard to beat!
For heavenly dishes (I get hungry just thinking about this place), go to 320 Main. I have tried their lobster fried rice and the short rib grilled cheese. I just cannot explain the flavors. You have to try them by yourself.
The city has gotten several fun eateries in recent years. I enjoy visiting Beach Burgers, Beachwood BBQ and Seal Beach Grill (opened recently).
The food from Thai on Main is also exquisite. The grilled meat skewers and the short ribs served with lime/chili sauce do not disappoint.
Cafes and Ice Cream
If you have a sweet tooth, do not worry, you have plenty of choices in Seal Beach. Check out the following:
- Javatinis Espresso
- Bogart’s Coffee House
- Cold Stone Creamery
- Paradis Ice Cream
For cinnamon rolls, stop by Sweet Jill’s Bakery.
I had so much fun writing this post. Hope you find it useful when planning a visit to beautiful Seal Beach!
Travel Planning Resources
Book a Hotel: Booking.com is my go-to place to book accommodations. It is hard to beat them when it comes to prices. Plus, once you achieve the Genius level, you will be entitled to discounts. HotelsCombined is another great alternative (if you want to compare prices).
Vacation Homes: Vrbo allows you to book houses, condos, cottages, and cabins.
Short-Term Car Rentals: Zipcar, a car-sharing service, allows you to rent a car for a period of minutes, hours, or day. After renting with an app, you proceed to pick up the car in a designated spot. In this way, you avoid going to a rental office and filling tons of paperwork.
Airport Parking: Airport Parking Reservations allows you to find the parking lot with the lowest price. Park Sleep Fly specializes in packages including hotel (the day before or after the trip), parking, and shuttle to the airport.
Insurance: Travelex offers policies covering trip cancellation/interruption, medical assistance, evacuation, and 24/7 assistance. They tend to pay claims faster than the industry standard.
Day Tours: GetYourGuide has an extensive offering of day tours or day trips. As an independent traveler, I book day tours to get insight into a destination or do fun activities.
More of Orange County
More California Beach Towns
Redondo Beach Pier: What to Do, See and Eat (Los Angeles County)
Things to do in Solana Beach (San Diego County)
Things to do in Morro Bay (San Luis Obispo County)
Enjoyable Things to do in Carpinteria (Santa Barbara)
Have you been to Seal Beach? What are your recommendations?
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