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Published On: 08/09/2016
by Pepe Avila, VisitAnaheim.org

Best Beaches of Orange County

Each Orange County coastal community has their own very distinct personality, landscape, flavor, and offerings. If you only had time to visit one, here’s how I would describe each city in one word to let you decide the best destination for yourself:

The Best Beachest of Orange County pano

Seal Beach

Driving on PCH from one end of Seal Beach to the other takes just three-minutes, passing through three stoplights. Seal Beach is everything you want a SoCal surf community to be - casual and sleepy with plenty of sand and surf. Beach cruisers and drying wetsuits are outside almost all the beach bungalows and charming Main St. has mature trees lining the sidewalks giving ample shade to stroll leisurely into one mom and pop shop, café and local business after the next.

Seal Beach

Photo courtesy of Visit Anaheim

Where to Eat?

  • Nick's Deli
  • Those in the know, know about Nick’s Deli on Main Street in Seal Beach. Go for the breakfast burrito with no substitutions. There’s a huge local following with a line out the door most days.
  • Sweet Jill's Bakery
  • Using the owner Jill's grandmother’s recipes, Sweet Jill’s has perfected the cinnamon roll. You can’t walk down Main St. Seal Beach without smelling delicious wafts of Jill's desserts. They are a cult classic in the area.
  • 320 Main
  • Consistently ranking among Orange County’s best places for cocktails, 320 Main serves cutting edge and creative craft cocktails.

What to Do?

  • Stroll Main Street
  • Meander through this family-friendly street for an afternoon of window shopping, eating and enjoying.
  • California Seashell Company
  • This shop has been in business forever and is a local institution for souvenirs, shells, and home decor.
  • Eisenhower Park
  • Elevated on the street-level above the sand at the base of Seal Beach Pier, enjoy Eisenhower Park by setting up a beach chair on the grass to watch the waves roll in. Take the kids to the fenced on-the-sand playground located right below.

Huntington Beach

The go-to destination for surf lifestyle, Huntington Beach has 10 miles of uninterrupted coastline with plenty of spots to surf or just watch the pros. With the most consistent waves on the West Coast and surfing as a way of life, this is the only place that can be called Surf City USA.

Huntington Beach

Photo courtesy of Pepe Avila

Where to Eat?

  • Duke's
  • Iconic Duke’s is located on the sand next to Huntington Beach Pier. The restaurant is named after the father of international surfing, Duke Kahanamoku and honors his reputation for warm hospitality and the true spirit of Aloha.
  • Ola Mexican Kitchen
  • Ola provides almost every seat in the house an ocean view while serving up authentic Mexican comfort food with elevated South of the Border influences.
  • Sancho's Tacos
  • Just steps from the beach, head to Sancho’s Tacos for delicious tacos and burritos made fresh to order.

What to Do?

  • Pacific City
  • Situated on 31 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean is Huntington Beach’s newest shopping, dining, and lifestyle destination, Pacific City. Pacific City captures the dynamic energy of Huntington Beach’s surf culture by curating unique retail and dining that appeals to visitors from across the globe.
  • Hang on the Beach
  • Spend the day relaxing on the sand and playing in the water. Stroll along iconic Huntington Beach Pier to the very end then treat yourself to a burger, shake, and fries at 40’s-inspired diner Ruby’s. As the sun sets have a bonfire on the beach and roast marshmallows, a true SoCal pastime.
  • Surfer's Hall of Fame
  • See which of your favorite surfers have the same hand and shoe (or flip-flop) size as you at the Surfer’s Hall of Fame, located in front of Huntington Surf and Sport on Main Street.

Stay at Pasea Hotel, Hilton Waterfront, or Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach

Newport Beach

Newport Beach is where sophistication, luxury and SoCal beach lifestyle all meet to form one idyllic seaside city. Newport Beach is widely celebrated for its vibrant yachting community alongside stylish accommodations, coastal cuisine, and upscale shopping. PCH travels straight through the heart of Newport Beach, but if you blink you could miss some of the area’s most popular and pristine beaches. Balboa Peninsula and Corona del Mar beaches are accessed by traveling a very short distance off PCH.

Newport Beach

Photo courtesy of Pepe Avila

Where to Eat?

  • Restaurants at Fashion Island
  • Fashion Island has established itself not only as a destination for shopping but dining as well. Favorites include RED O, Fig & Olive, Sushi Roku, Cucina Enoteca and True Food Kitchen to name a few.
  • Bear Flag Fish Company
  • Bear Flag Fish Company specializes in the freshest seafood in town. The creation of the company started with the love of the ocean and most of all the love and the knowledge of fresh seafood. Local tip: Opt for the poke.
  • The Cannery Seafood of the Pacific - Jellyfish Lounge
  • Specializing in fresh seafood, The Cannery, located waterfront in Cannery Village, has been the social hotspot of Newport Beach for over 80 years. Snag a seat in their Jellyfish bar, or watching the boats pass by al fresco in the heated patios, to enjoy a famous Cannery “Skinny Cucumber Jalapeño Margarita” or a “Moscow Mule for Two”. If you are boating around the harbor, pick up a platter to go and enjoy from the comfort of your boat or pull right up and dock your boat at The Cannery to begin a fun and flavorful evening by the water.

What to Do?

  • Newport Harbor
  • No trip to Newport Beach is complete without a visit to Newport Harbor. Rent your own easy-to-navigate duffy boat, stand up paddle board or kayak, go on a tour or simply admire its beauty from the shoreline. Newport Harbor is the largest small yacht harbor on the West Coast.
  • Balboa Peninsula
  • Veering off of PCH lands you on Balboa Peninsula, a stretch of land with Newport Harbor on one side and the Pacific on the other. Stretching from the jetty, past two piers, most of the beaches are known by the number of the street nearby (28th St. and etc.). Ride historic Balboa Ferry from Balboa Peninsula to Balboa Island, eat a famous balboa bar and ride the ferris wheel all in the “Fun Zone.”
  • Balboa Island
  • A one-of-a-kind treasure, Balboa Island can be explored on foot, bike or by car. Balboa Island’s Marine Avenue is home to chic coastal shops featuring unique nautical designs, stylish beach fashions, art and jewelry.

Stay at Island Hotel Newport Beach, Crystal Cove Cottages, or Balboa Bay Resort

Interested in exploring the Pacific Coast Highway?

PCH Guidebook Page

Order the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide

A graphical guide to exploring the coast from Vancouver, BC to San Diego, CA

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Get the digital copy

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach was established as an artists' colony in the early 1900’s, and much of its artistic past has remained in the present. There are more than 75 art galleries today and is home to many celebrated art festivals. In addition to its art scene, this bohemian-meets-affluent city also has more beachfront hotels than any other city in California and 20,000 acres of wilderness perfect for hiking and biking. Quaint, walkable downtown pours right into more than 30 scalloped beach coves along PCH, all with public access.

Laguna Beach

Photo courtesy of Visit Anaheim

Where to Eat?

  • Nick's Laguna Beach
  • Classic American comfort food, bar snacks and unique cocktails make this restaurant a local favorite.
  • The Deck on Laguna
  • The Deck has live music Monday through Thursday – timed perfectly with the sunset. It’s the perfect addition to the lapping ocean waves on Laguna Beach.
  • Broadway by Amar Santana
  • This is Bravo’s Top Chef contestant Amar Santana’s fine dining restaurant, which offers his version of Modern Cuisine of The Americas using top quality ingredients.

What to Do?

  • First Thursdays Art Walk
  • This free event celebrates the diverse cultural art scene of Laguna Beach by viewing galleries around town and meeting the artists with hors d’oeuvres receptions from 6-9 p.m. Complimentary trolley service and free admission to Laguna Art Museum.
  • Tide Pooling
  • Laguna Beach is a protected state marine reserve with tide pools to explore. Sea life that might be spotted includes hermit and shore crabs, sea anemones, sea stars and even lobsters. Popular Beaches for tide pooling include Crescent Bay, Shaw’s Cove, Picnic Beach, Rockpile, Bird Rock, Moss Point and Treasure Island.
  • The Pageant of the Masters
  • A ninety-minute stage show of “living pictures” – incredibly accurate art re-creations of classical and contemporary works with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces. The pageant runs nightly from July 7th through August 31st on the Festival of Arts grounds.

Stay at Montage Laguna Beach, The Inn at Laguna Beach, or Surf & Sand Resort

Detour to Anaheim

One of the most popular destinations in the United States, Anaheim is just 30 minutes from the coastal cities of Orange County.

Disneyland

Where to Eat?

  • Anaheim Packing House
  • The historic Anaheim Packing House is the Sunkist’s former citrus packing house, originally built in 1919. Now, the two level architectural marvel features a large central atrium with communal dining surrounded by two dozen innovative food purveyors. Enjoy a variety of cuisine, from flavorful international cuisine and down-home American fare to artisan coffee and handcrafted desserts.
  • Pour Vida Latin Flavor
  • Executive Chef Jimmy Martinez recently opened up his first restaurant on Anaheim’s historic Center St. Promenade. The concept is all about handmade tacos, crafting in-house tortillas one for the land, sea and garden with the freshest ingredients possible.
  • The RANCH Restaurant & Saloon
  • The Ranch Restaurant features true American regional cuisine, cooking from scratch with the finest ingredients possible; every dish captures the rustic style of wine country. After dinner, head guests can head over to the saloon, to quench their thirst while they enjoy local country bands and line dancing.

What to Do?

  • Disneyland Resort
  • A place that needs no introduction, Disneyland Resort is the happiest place on earth for all ages to build memories for a lifetime.
  • Center St. Promenade
  • The historical center of commerce for Anaheim at the turn of the century, Center St. Promenade is now experiencing a modern revival with quaintly curated shops, artisan-inspired eateries and other neighborly services.
  • Brewery Tour
  • Anaheim’s craft brewery scene is booming with ten open now and more to come. Los Angeles Magazine hailed Anaheim as “Winning the SoCal Craft Beer Game.”

Stay at Disneyland Hotel, Grand Legacy at The Park, or Great Wolf Lodge

What's your favorite Orange County destination? Leave a comment below to share your experience!

Pepe Avila

Pepe Avila is Visit Anaheim’s Tourism Director, promoting tourism to Anaheim, Garden Grove and the greater Orange County. A local industry expert for nearly 15 years, Pepe travels around the world educating the tourism industry on what makes Anaheim and Orange County the ultimate vacation destination. In his free time, he enjoys painting and photography, particularly shooting landscape around Orange County beach cities.

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