24 Hours in Surf City USA: Huntington Beach, California

Also known as “Surf City USA”, Huntington Beach sits along a straight stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, with the Pacific Ocean seeming to stretch on forever; this section of the beach iconic for the concrete pier that stretches out into the Ocean, and the great food, drink and lifestyle options that accompany it. One of the best destinations in Orange County, you’ll find it just north of Newport Beach and south of Long Beach.

Getting to Huntington Beach

The nearest Greyhound (Bus) / Amtrak (Train) station is Santa Ana, and it’s a 30 minute drive from the beach. The John Wayne Airport is a similar distance, too. You can fly into San Diego or Los Angeles Airports (LAX) alternatively – with LAX the only direct flight from Australia. If you’re driving you can do it in about 90 minutes from LAX or 2 hours from San Diego. Public transport options will take 2-3 hours from LAX or 3-4 hours from San Diego. Though if you combine trains with Uber/Lyft you can cut down on that time, and the train is your most efficient mode of transport… if and when it runs on time. I flew into San Diego and then the train took about 2 hours – though taking an express Greyhound back, with no stops, actually ended up taking less time. So it’s pretty painless! And both offer power at your seats and (usually) free wi-fi.

My Accommodation: Paséa Hotel and Spa

Opening in June 2016, and sitting next to the beach and the Pacific City complex, almost all of the 250 rooms at Paséa Hotel & Spa have ocean views, and my room was no exception, looking north up the coast towards Long Beach and the Huntington Beach Pier. From the rooftop “Treehouse Lounge” at the hotel’s in house bar and restaurant Tanner’s, to the giant screen on the side of the building (which complements a massive screen you’ll find in the adjacent shopping complex), this is a luxury hotel that feels inspired by the Las Vegas experience as much as it is designed to be a beach retreat.

That beach theme runs throughout the whole hotel, from the surfboard styled room key which is pictured at the top of the article, to the design of the room – where beach colours accentuate the fact you can hear the surf from your bed. Heading out onto your balcony, you can sit and look out to the beach and also over the top of the hotel’s Treehouse Lounge – which looked like it was a great time.

And then there’s that outdoor pool and spa, which are pretty damn nice too.

The rooms themselves come with resort style experiences, with a bottle of red Trinitas Wine ready for your enjoyment in your room, bottles of water (an extra cost though if you want a bottle of Fuji), chocolates left for you during turndown service, Keurig coffee and tea, surfboard storage, a “Beach Butler Service”, and Pasea thongs/flip flops which you can take home with you. The room also comes with two sets of comfortable robes, that aren’t for yours to take home, but definitely to enjoy while you’re a guest at the hotel – and they come complete with hoods, which is a little bit nice.

There’s a lounge chair, a work space and plenty of room in the cupboard for you to hang your clothes. And you can set your room to your desired lighting arrangement via buttons at the front door, be it “mood lighting”, “night lighting” or “all lighting”. The room isn’t perfectly sound proof, but this seems mainly designed so you can hear the waves outside. And any nearby noise is limited at most. I had a great night’s sleep. Indeed, the King bed was very comfortable, and being able to pair my phone to the massive smart TV that sits on the wall opposite you, wasn’t a bad addition – nor was the free wi-fi.

Living your best life 

A lot of the best activities in Huntington Beach were at the nearby Hyatt Regency, which was about a 5 minute walk down the PCH from the Paséa. Basically, you’ll want to walk until you hit the below street bridge.

The Pacific Waters Spa is hidden in the hotel and offers a range of treatments. I enjoyed a 50 minute Swedish style massage which incorporated hot stones, a lot of oil and a good mix of pressure. Before and after the massage you’re able to use the spa facilities, so make sure to get there half an hour early to get comfortable. They provide sandals and a robe, and there’s a steam room, showers – including a rain shower – a whirlpool, and a relaxation area. You’ll also find snacks and drinks, including water, tea and coffee.

Also at the hotel you’ll find Toes on the Nose where you can get a surf lesson, rent anything you need for the beach, set up for some yoga or even rent a bike. It’s also a great souvenir shop, and is filled with everything a surfer could possibly need. I enjoyed a private hour long surf lesson, where I caught a few waves and exhausted myself. The water is still pretty chilly in May, so thankfully they provided a wetsuit for the day.

Where to eat and drink in Huntington Beach

Tanner’s, within the Paséa Hotel & Spa, serves up an excellent breakfast menu, with classic like oatmeal, eggs with bacon and hash browns, lemon ricotta pancakes, avocado toast and eggs benedict amongst their menu. And everything – with the exception of the steak and eggs – is $16 or less. I went for one of the more regionally specific dishes, however – a breakfast burrito enchilada. Covered in Salsa Roja and melted Queso Fresco, inside your find scrambled eggs with crispy bacon, sausage, corn salsa, potatoes and avocado. It was made for me (a glutton to say the least), and was a great way to start the day.

Next door to the hotel is Lot 579, Orange County’s only waterfront food hall – which they describe as an “artisnal community featuring homegrown food vendors and other merchants”. It opened in 2016 around the same time as the Paséa Hotel & Spa, and feels inspired by other food halls in the O.C. region, like the Anaheim Packing District (which is highly worth a visit too). It’s all part of the Pacific City shopping and dining complex – which itself only opened in 2015. You can tell this particular strip of Huntington Beach, just south of the pier, has undergone pretty recent gentrification and expansion, with this complex at the heart of it.

Here you’ll find an Aussie style bakery called pie-not,a Vietnamese Street food place, Hans’ Homemade ice cream and more. The hall leads through to the Pacific City’s outdoor mall with H&M and a bunch of the usual suspects. As well as that big screen I mentioned earlier, that I could see from my hotel room.

For lunch, you can check out Bear Flag Fish Co., which sits as the anchor for Lot 579. It’s one of three locations in the Orange County area for its casual dining, fresh seafood fare. Anyone I spoke to said that the Poke was the highlight of their menu, and they sell it buy the pound. So I couldn’t say no to that!

I got half a pound of Ahi Tuna and Salmon Poke, some tortilla chips to dip it into, and a side of clam chowder. And even with a drink it was under $20. And good lord was it delicious. Seafood lovers need to mark this down as your “must eat” for a good lunch at Huntington Beach.

I heard the tacos were good there as well, but I saved that appetite for dinner, at Ola Mexican Kitchen, which sits on Level 2 of Pacific City, just above the Sephora. Here I was, without question, treated to one of the best Mexican meals I’ve ever had. I seem to always have this in Orange County – the quality of the cuisine in this region is exquisite.

Shortly after sitting down, with a seat against the window watching the sun set, warm crispy tortilla chips were brought out with salsa and ice cold water. I couldn’t help but order some Queso Fundido too, which was accompanied by homemade flour tortillas which are so out of this world good you wonder why you’ve ever bothered to eat anywhere else. I’m told they make them as you order them, and they certainly taste that fresh. The melted Chihuahua Cheese was accompanied by sauteed chorizo and pico de gallo, and served fresh out of the oven. Crispy on the top, and filled with warm, melted goodness underneath. Just cover me in this stuff. It’s that good.

While the corn tortillas come standard for their tacos – some with blue corn – you can also request any of the tacos in the flour, which I highly recommend. I tried their two most popular choices, the Baja Fish, served lightly battered with chili-lime aioli, tequila citris slaw and Cotija Cheese – a cow’s milk hard cheese from Mexico that is next to impossible to find in Australia and honestly one of the reasons our Mexican food is so average. Squeeze on a bit of lemon, and a little bit of extra hot sauce for taste, and you’ve got yourself a damn perfect fish taco.

The Carne Asada taco meanwhile, was served on a blue corn tortilla, with the medium rare skirt steak melting in your mouth as you enjoyed the accompanying queso fresco, chile de arbol and avocado salsa. The tortilla was phenomenal, though the flour tortilla still takes the proverbial cake. Speaking of, their dessert menu is pretty excellent – with four options for $8 or less. I got the Churros with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, expecting a small plate, but it came in a massive sundae bowl, covered in whipped cream and raspberries. I guess I forgot that this is AMERICA and they don’t do things by halves here. Thankfully I had some tequila to wash it all down (and their tequila and margarita menu is excellent).

Suffice it to say, the dish defeated me, and I wasted little time in running away to my incredibly comfortable bed back at Paséa for a great sleep before heading off the next morning. It was a brief but excellent treat for the body and soul, and proof that you only need a day away to keep the travel bug at bay.

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All prices in US$ and were correct at the original time of printing. Part of the Meritage Collection, the Paséa Hotel & Spa is located at 21080 Pacific Coast Highway. More details can be found HERE. Located within the Hyatt Regency, more details about the Pacific Waters Spa are HERE, and for more details about Toes on the Nose, head HERE.

Hotel, meals and activities provided courtesy of Visit Huntington Beach.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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