An ever-present surf culture is evident in every storefront, statue, and attitude.

Located in Orange County, California, and just a 45-minute drive from Los Angeles, Huntington Beach is home not only to some of the best waves in the world, but also breathtaking ocean views, stunning beachside hotels and the chance to revel in the laidback California surf lifestyle.

The city’s centre is located on bustling Main Street, and features beachwear shops, souvenir stands, casual restaurants, and nightlife hotspot bars and lounges.

Walking down Main Street, and crossing the Pacific Coast Highway, there are a few steps that lead to the busy boardwalk, and the Huntington Beach Pier, which is the longest concrete municipal pier in California, extending 1,853 feet into the Pacific Ocean.

We made one of our first stops at the unimposing yet International Surf Museum, where the statue of  “surf god” Duke Kahanamoku smiles out at visitors, and is revered by all the surfers in town.

The museum curator (who assured us that he surfs every single day, as many do in this area) led us around to the many exhibits, which chronicled the history of surfing.

The showpiece is a scale model collection of boards, which covers 100+ years of surf history, and details the changes in design and structure of surfboards, beginning with the traditional hardwood boards of Hawaii to the balsa and foam boards of today.

There are rotating exhibits throughout the museum, and they include surf photography, surf art, and of course surf music.

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence (better known as Jan & Dean) sold more than 20 million records between 1960 and 1966, and their gold record is proudly displayed here. Their hits include Surf City, Little Old Lady from Pasadena, Deadman’s Curve, and Sidewalk Surfin’.

As well, you can see Dick Dale’s vintage 1954 California electric guitar, which was recently restored and is on display. Dick and this guitar were featured in Marilyn Monroe’s 1960s movie, Let’s Make Love.

The camera used to film The Endless Summer (the 1960s film credited with launching the surf movie genre) is also on display at the museum, and the film itself is often playing on loop. Parts of the movie were filmed in Orange County, which makes it a local favourite.

The recent release of the popular Soul Surfer film, which tells the story of the courageous young surfer Bethany Hamilton, (who lost an arm in a shark attack), has sparked a renewed interest in the sport for the new generation, according to our guide.

The shining life-sized Silver Surfer (from the Fantastic Four comic and movie series) caught my son’s attention immediately, glistening in the front window, and got him itching to try out the sport.

Armed with information about the history of the sport of surfing, the next logical step was to head down to the beach and watch the surfers tackle these famous waves.

As we walked through town, we passed many stereotypical “surfer dudes”, strolling along with their surf boards tucked comfortably under their arms, moving at a typical laid back California pace. The opposite of the heart pounding manoeuvring we witnessed out in the water.

The boardwalk along this stretch of the Pacific Ocean is full of surfers, families, ice cream stands, bladers, skateboarders and cyclists. We hopped on to our retro-style bikes and rode back along to the stretch of sand outside the beautiful Huntington Beach Hyatt Hotel.

Believing that surfing is a participatory sport, not just an observatory one, my nine year old son Nicholas and I suited up in our tip to toe wetsuits, which was scary enough, and found ourselves laying on our boards on the beach, listening to our instructor, Charlos, from the Toes on the Nose surf shop.  “Just remember. When you stand up, keep your knees bent. Otherwise something awful will happen.”

Without putting too much thought into what that could entail, we learned the basics of paddling, jumping, and discovering that we both rode “Goofy” (natural given our proximity to Disneyland in Anaheim), and Nic whispered what I was thinking…that our instructor sounded just like Crush from the movie Finding Nemo. A side note: In case you were wondering, even in California, even on this gorgeous beach…the Pacific Ocean is very cold.

I discovered this as we both attempted to straddle, kneel up, swing a foot around and ultimately stand on our boards. In theory. The athleticism required to ride a surfboard is significant, but as amateurs we enjoyed the sand, the surf, and the feeling of riding a wave…if only for a foot or two.

Huntington Beach is only one of many gorgeous beach towns in Orange County, which boasts 42 miles of coastline, between Los Angeles and San Diego, and includes Anaheim, Laguna Beach, and Catalina Island.  Besides surfing, Orange County is home to sailing, kayaking, beach volleyball,
as well as an endless array of beachside dining. GL


This article first appeared in The Good Life and can be found at this link:

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