Huntington Beach: 10 Things You’ve Got to Do in Surf City USA

I’d been eager to explore Huntington Beach for some time, so as I began to craft an itinerary for our road trip in Southern California, I knew that “Surf City USA” had to be a stop along the way.

We stayed in an oceanfront room at The Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel in Huntington Beach.  It’s just across the street from the beach and less than a 10-minute walk to the Huntington Beach Pier. The hotel offers a shuttle into town, but we opted to walk since it really was close.

Our suite was in the new Twin Dolphin Tower that interestingly required two elevators. By the second day, however, I found a staircase that enabled us to bypass the elevator from the lobby to the first floor. The re-route also took us past a giant red “Wish You Were Here” chair.

The Waterfront Beach Resort offers loads of family-friendly amenities, like rental bikes, coin laundry, a lively restaurant, a hot tub, and a heated pool with a waterslide and poolside menu service (nachos, burgers, cocktails). Note that the waterslide closes at 6 pm, so get there early to get in as many splashdowns as possible.

We were there mid-week, but during the summer, weekends are loads of fun by the pool. Three times a day, recreation staff hosts games for the kids. You’ll also want to keep your eyes open for caricature artists, glitter tattoos, wacky balloons, a steel drummer, and a poolside DJ. On Friday and Saturday nights, a fire and dance presentation wows guests 15 minutes before sunset.

There’s a cabana area at the pool that’s available for day rentals and comes with a butler service. The hotel also offers two options for beach bonfires. There’s a dedicated sandy area adjacent to the pool that guests can reserve (for a fee) with their own personal fire pit. Or, guests can rent a wagon with all their bonfire needs to take to the beach. Simply check in with the concierge.

When it was time to retire at the end of the fun day, it was nice to do so in a suite with two queen beds in one room and a sectional sofa in the second room that opened up into a bed. There was plenty of space for the four of us to move around without stepping on each other. We also had a delightful balcony that was just right for watching the sunset.

If you’ve got Huntington Beach on your mind, book a room at The Waterfront Beach Resort, then add these 10 bucket list must-do’s to your list for a stay filled with loads of family fun. Enjoy.

1. Go Fishing from the Pier. It’s free to fish from the Huntington Beach Pier. As in, no fishing license required. Go early in the morning or closer to dusk for best results. You can rent poles and buy bait right on the pier at a small bait and tackle shop called Let’s Go Fishing. As a bonus, you can watch surfers catching the waves down below the pier.

2. Take a Surfing Lesson. When in Surf City USA, it’s a must to book a surfing lesson. It’s a good idea to reserve a lesson in advance, but I was able to book a last-minute lesson with Clint Carroll Surf School. Prices vary across surf schools and depending on whether you book a private or group lesson, but I was able to get a 90-minute lesson for my two kids for $200.

3. See the World’s Largest Surfboard. Head to the International Surfing Museum just a few blocks from the pier to see the world’s largest surfboard on display just outside the museum. Inside, watch a short film on the making of the surfboard and the quest to earn world record status for “most people riding a surfboard at once” (they did it with 66 people in 2015).

4. Walk the Surfing Walk of Fame. On the way from the pier to the International Surfing Museum, stay head down so you don’t miss the plaques in the sidewalk marking surfing notables and legends. Each August, new inductees are added to the Surfing Walk of Fame for their contributions to the sport and culture.

5. Bike Along the Huntington Beach Bike Trail. Rent a cruiser bike just off the beach and ride along the 10-mile paved Huntington Beach Bike Trail. We rented bikes for maybe $8/hour just steps from the pier. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and a good workout that I felt earned us each a soft serve ice cream cone (even at $4 a pop).

6. Have a Beach Bonfire. There are more than 500 fire rings (they’re actually squares) in Huntington Beach. Spending time with friends and family at an evening bonfire is a popular activity, especially on weekends. Shacks by the beach sell firewood and s’mores kits. Our hotel also offered a Beach Blast Wagon that included all the bonfire necessities, including blankets.

7. Go to Huntington Dog Beach. Just north of the main strip in Huntington Beach is Huntington Dog Beach, an awesome section of beach where the dogs run free. We didn’t have a dog with us but went on our own to watch the dogs splash and play before heading on to our next destination.

8. Grab a Bite at Pacific City. In late-2015, a brand new retail and restaurant complex opened up just south of the pier called Pacific City. More than a dozen trendy restaurant options, including Ola Mexican Kitchen and Old Crow Smokehouse, are located at Pacific City, many with outdoor seating options. You’ll also find shops like Tommy Bahama and Molly Brown’s Swimwear.

9. Explore the International Surfing Museum. After you ooh and ahh at the world’s largest surfboard, walk around the International Surfing Museum to learn more about the sport, check out famous surfboards, and read newspaper articles on surfing legends. In 2020, surfing will be a medal-earning sport in the Summer Olympics, so this museum is a must to prepare to watch.

 10. Eat at Ruby’s Diner. If you like burgers, fries, and milkshakes, then it’s worth a walk to the end of the pier to Ruby’s Diner. Bring a hat and a jacket because the wait times can be lengthy at this popular restaurant and it’s pretty windy so far out on the water. It’s also a great spot for watching a colorful sunset at the end of a fun day.

Eager to explore more of Orange County with your kids? Check out The Travelling Mom for the scoop on what to do and where to eat, even where to shop, across the OC. From beach combing in Laguna Beach to boating in Newport Beach, Orange County is a haven for family-friendly fun. 

Disclaimer: My kids and I were hosted by Visit Huntington Beach and Visit California. However, I was not compensated for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.