I took a three-day trip to Huntington Beach in November 2017. During the weekend, I had the chance to sample all the amazing experience this seaside town has to offer. From surfing and spa time to indulgent meals and champaign on the water… if you’re planning a three-day trip to Huntington Beach, here’s everything you need to see, do, eat, and where to stay.
Why Visit Huntington Beach
Looking to get away from the city? I feel ya – since I moved to San Francisco, I’ve craved SoCal sunny days and beach time. When it came time to plan Mr. V’s annual birthday trip, a trip to Huntington Beach seemed perfect.
Huntington Beach is located south of Los Angeles – and experiences almost year-round sun with 281 days of sunlight per year. It’s also known as Surf City USA, because of the great surf options and a long history of surfing along this stretch of the Pacific coast. Turns out there are also some insanely great restaurants, some fun outdoor activities, and a few romantic spots where one can spend a weekend celebrating any special occasion with your favorite travel partner (or just treat yo self if solo travel is your jam!).
Where to Stay for a 3-Day Trip to Huntington Beach
There are several hotel options in Huntington Beach, as well as vacation rentals (like this surfer-chic one right near the water). With all the options I recommend the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. This beautiful property (pictured below) is right along the beach and the property has several great spots you’ll visit throughout the trip anyway.
Another option is the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel, located a few blocks from where Highway 1 meets Main Street. Kimpton Hotels are always a great place to stay; the Shorebreak has great common spaces and the Pacific Hideaway restaurant (where you’ll eat on Day 1 anyway!).
Friday: Arrival & A Walk on the Beach
Even on a short trip, you can pack a lot in. From the moment you arrive in Huntington Beach, immerse yourself in the unique experiences HB has to offer: surfing, delicious food, and access to miles of sandy beaches.
Midday: Arrive in Surf City, USA
It’s a quick 45-minute drive from Los Angeles to Huntington Beach. In our PT Cruiser rental, wound along the highways and past palm trees toward the beach.
Once you arrive, it’s a perfect time for lunch! Pacific City is a complex of shops (including surf shops) and restaurants along the waterfront in Huntington Beach, and there are plenty of options.
I had lunch at American Dream, which has delicious craft beer and tasty sandwiches way better than any roadside snacks you might find en route. You can sit with a view of the water, order a few craft beers, and watch traffic cruise down Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway), then dig into a burger, short rib grilled cheese, or a buffalo fried chicken sandwich.
Afternoon: Surf History 101
I personally love to learn the history of each place I visit, and the best part is that Huntington Beach has a really fascinating history… of surfing!
Two must-stop spots for the afternoon are the International Surfing Museum and the Surfing Walk of Fame. Here you can learn about the Father of Surfing, legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, also known as “The Duke,” who stands over the Walk of Fame and who is memorialized in the museum along with posters and hand/footprints of other honored surfers.
One last view you can’t miss is the Huntington Beach surfboard, mounted outside the International Surfing Museum. This massive, 42-foot-long board helped Huntington Beach snag a Guinness World Record when 66 people caught a wave together on this giant board. Not to mention it is the world’s largest surfboard. Pictured above, Mr. V gives you a sense of scale for how big the board is!
Evening: Sunset & Dinner
As the day winds to a close, make your way toward Huntington Beach Pier. This is a popular sunset spot (and you’ll see lots of photographers set up if the sunset looks nice!), and you can walk along the beach or the pier as the sun goes down.
Once the sunset show is over, now is a great time to head to Pacific Hideaway for dinner. This restaurant is open-air on nice nights, with a fun fusion of Latin American, Asian, and Californian foods and flavors. They also have a stunning cocktail menu full of creative options – both of the cocktails pictured below do not feature illicit substances, but used fire and herbal ingredients to channel Fear & Loathing in drink form.
Mr. V and I also celebrated his birthday here. We opted for a couple of items on the finger food menu, including the Lao Sausage Lettuce Wraps and Grilled Beef Salad, as well as dessert. (The menu rotates seasonally, so a few of the dishes pictured above are no longer on the menu.)
Resources for Friday/Day 1:
- Admission to the International Surfing Museum is $3, and the museum is open 12-5pm every day but Mondays.
- It’s free to visit the Surfers’ Walk of Fame!
- You don’t need a reservation for Pacific Hideaway, but it doesn’t hurt. On a nice night, ask for a table out on the patio.
Saturday: Surf, Spa & Sunset on the Water
Not to go too heavy on alliterations, but what better day than Saturday to spend a day doing activities that start with “S?” This is a jam-packed day from sunrise past sunset and honestly, full of activities and dishes I still remember fondly from my own trip.
Morning: Surf Lessons After Sunrise
If you visit Huntington Beach, the home of the U.S. Open of Surfing and you don’t go surfing, I personally feel as if you’re missing the point. The best part is that you don’t have to be a pro surfer to catch a few waves – there are plenty of places you can rent equipment if you already know how to surf or take surf lessons if you don’t.
Located on the Hyatt Regency property, Toes on the Nose is a great surf shop that offers lessons no matter your surfing experience or skills. Mr. V and I were set up to take a two-hour lesson – after 90 minutes paddling out and catching pretty big beginner-sized swells, we were wiped!
Learning to surf has been one of my 40 Before 40 goals, so I enjoyed getting a second chance to get out and catch a few waves. At one point, I got knocked down hard and decided to take a break, so Mr. V went out and learned how to surf too! Although I won’t become a famous surfer, it’s an experience I’m glad I had!
Midday: Relax at the Spa
After a morning on the water enjoying Surf City USA’s namesake activity on some of the best beaches in the United States, grab a quick juice at Surf City Grocers (across the courtyard from Toes on the Nose on the Hyatt Regency property) so you won’t get too hungry before lunch later in the day.
It’s a short walk across the property to the Pacific Waters Spa, where you’ll work out all the soreness from a hard morning’s surf. Oh wait, it’s just me who was pummelled by the waves?!
Photos: Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa
At Pacific Waters, Mr. V and I enjoyed a couples massage, followed by relaxing in one of the outdoor areas, and (separately) a deliciously relaxing aromatherapy shower. Even if spas aren’t your thing, an afternoon of indulgence and relaxation is a good follow-up from working out – whether you’re traveling solo or as a couple.
Late Lunch: Light & Fresh Fuel
By early afternoon, you’ve worked out on the waves and recouped in the spa… now it’s time for food! I recommend making the short walk along the beach to Ola Mexican Kitchen. Located in the same complex as American Dream (Friday Midday), next door I recommend opting for a margarita and Ola’s popular tacos. (I had carnitas and chicken tinga; Mr. V had fish and shrimp.)
No matter which tacos you choose, you can sit and watch the waves, then take a walk along the beach until the sun starts to go down.
Evening: Sunset Gondola Ride
Want to know the most romantic moments I’ve had in the past year of my relationship? A sunset gondola ride in Huntington Harbor with champagne!
You’ll need to drive (or take an Uber) the six miles from downtown Huntington Beach to the marina, where you can meet your gondolier and board the boat. The gondolier will then push out into the waterways for a one-hour gondola ride. You’ll pass huge waterfront estates, massive yachts, and even get serenaded under a bridge where the Italian lyrics echo and soar.
Late Night: Dinner & Drinks
You might remember that dinner at Watertable was one of my top meals from 2017. This fine-dining restaurant is located on the Hyatt Regency property and is a perfect way to spend the late hours of the night before turning in to your room. I’m admittedly a bit late sharing the details of that meal, and what made it so special, but I’ll do my best to share them now.
Watertable exceeded my expectations in so many ways, from the amazing service we experienced to every single dish and dessert that came to the table. We tried so much, from my mezcal cocktail to the Scotch egg and fig salad, the burger and filet mignon to the three desserts we tried (#3dessertdinner)…
Every step of the meal was perfect, and it was one of the most intimate and romantic meals Mr. V and I have enjoyed together. If you’re looking for a romantic dinner or celebrating a special occasion, Watertable is the place in Huntington Beach.
Resources for Saturday/Day 2:
- A couples massage at Pacific Waters Spa starts from $185. You can see the full list of treatments on their website.
- A 60-minute Sunset Gondola ride starts at $80. See more on their website.
- Get a reservation for Watertable and ask to sit outside if the weather is nice; the ambiance is way more intimate!
Sunday: Brunch & Bon Voyage
On your last day in Huntington Beach, it’s mostly a day of recovery from all of yesterday’s fun. Wake up at your leisure, wander or revisit favorite spots from the previous two days, then head home with a full belly and heart full of memories.
Morning: Diner Breakfast Done Right
You might think that diner breakfast is only good in the Midwest or rural areas, but Mamas on 39 proves that theory wrong. This popular place is a local’s breakfast spot and is frequented by visitors too, meaning you may have to wait for a table. It’s worth the wait for literally heart-stopping breakfast options like huge scrambles, chicken and waffles, and blueberry pancakes.
You know it’s a good place when the menu has an ? icon on certain items they classify as “Widow Maker” dishes.
Mid-Morning: A Walk on the Pier & Beach
After breakfast, you may need to walk it off a bit before heading home. Head back to the beach for a walk in the surf, or take another stroll along the Pier which happens to be one of the longest piers on the West Coast.
While walking, be sure to stop and admire the ocean view while surfers catch waves along both sides of the piers. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to surf in Huntington Beach – and cheer on the surfers too!
With that, it’s time to make your way back home. You can extend the way home by driving up Highway 1 to Los Angeles instead of taking the major interstates and highways before you make it to Los Angeles Intl Airport.
Huntington Beach gives you some pretty memorable souvenirs: shoes full of sand, a bit of a tan, and understanding a lot more about surfing and surf history. What more can you want from a California weekend beach trip?