By Greg Aragon
One of the many great things about Southern California is that even in winter, I can still get away to a beach city and have a great time in the sun. Such was the case on my last visit to Huntington Beach.
The place is legendary around the world as one of the best surfing spots. Its waves and beaches are so awesome, it is also officially known as “Surf City.” But as I learned on my getaway, the town is more than tasty swells and beautiful white sand; it also boasts gourmet restaurants, luxury, ocean-front hotels, great shopping, and tons of California coastal charm.
My visit to Huntington Beach began when a friend and I checked into the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel (www.shorebreakhotel.com), a surfer-chic boutique hotel centrally located in the heart of downtown, across from the iconic pier. Featuring four-star touches and ocean-view guestrooms with modern furnishings, the Shorebreak makes a perfect beachfront base camp.
Our fourth-floor room came with colorful beach-inspired décor, two queen beds, large TV with two big comfy chairs, office area with desk, a fridge stocked with goodies for purchase, and a spacious bathroom with a shower big enough to wash your surfboard. The highlight of the room was the balcony which overlooked town, the Pacific Ocean and the pier.
Once acquainted with the hotel, we went exploring. Our first stop was lunch across the street at Sancho’s Tacos. Here we filled up on authentic carne asada and chicken tacos, and nachos. We then walked across Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Hwy) to lounge on the beach and poke our feet in the chilly water, and walk along the historic pier.
Stretching 1,850 feet in length, the iconic Huntington Beach Pier is one of the longest piers on the West Coast. Jetting out into the Pacific Ocean at the intersection of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, it is the picturesque heart of surf city and is naturally the most photographed spot in town.
The pier and the city came into existence together in 1904, and with help from Hawaiian surfing pioneers George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku, the landmark has become immortalized.
From the pier, we walked a block to the International Surfing Museum (www.surfingmuseum.org), where we examined historic surfboards and memorabilia and learned about some of the most famous surfers of all time such as George Freeth and Eddie Aikau. The museum also has a life-size recreation of the Silver Surfer from Marvel Comics.
Our next stop was across the street at Huntington Beach Surfboard & Bike Rentals (surfboardandbikerentals.com), where we rented a beach cruiser for the afternoon. It was a gorgeous day and the weather was perfect for a ride. With the wind at our backs, we pedaled to the beach and rode the 10-mile-long paved bike path paralleling the sand. During the trek, we passed volleyball players, sunbathers, joggers, and a drum circle.
Back at the Shorebreak Hotel, we joined other hotel guests for the complimentary Wine Hour. The nightly occasion was started by hotel founder Bill Kimpton, who wanted “a gathering place for guests to feel a sense of community and inclusion, and relax at the end of the day.” While sipping local wine, we mingled on the patio and played chess on a giant board.
After Wine Hour we walked a few blocks to BlueGold (dinebluegold.com) for a wonderful dinner, overlooking the ocean. With an open kitchen and an intimate and classy ambiance, the restaurant serves a creative, eclectic mix of California land and sea.
Our meal began with warm milk rolls, fresh from the oven, with honey butter and sea salt. With the rolls, we enjoyed a couple of bloody Mary oyster shooters with fried uni chips and a glass of champagne. For the main course, I devoured shrimp & crab ravioli with blistered winter beans and brown butter, while my friend had a succulent smoked Kurobuta pork chop with Tokyo turnips and a sweet and spicy tarragon honey sauce. For dessert, we split a peanut butter and jelly cheesecake.