Huntington Beach Has Been Reborn
The quintessential and chill OC beach town is all grown up.
Looking for something to do in the HB? Palm trees, sand, surf, hotels, spas, and the historic pier dress up the town.
Photo courtesy of Visit Huntington Beach
This is not your mother’s OC.
Orange County remains sleepily suburban at night, the kind of place where flip-flops and shorts are considered “fashion,” and you can’t shake a stick without hitting yet another megaplex or strip mall. In this endless spread of freeway-connected LA suburbs, a car is crucial.
Except … maybe not in Huntington Beach. HB, as locals call it, has long been home to surfers and volleyball players: It’s the quintessential OC beach town with its palm-trees-and-Beach-Boys glory, centered around a historic pier. It’s not cliffy, Mediterranean-esque Laguna Beach or glitzy, mall-cultured Newport Beach. But look out. Chill HB — aka Surf City, USA — is all grown up.
A slew of new, revamped, or expanded hotels line once-empty lots in one walkable mile, while restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops surround the beachfront hotels. Unfortunately, the SoCal mall mentality also arrived: An outdoor mall, Pacific City, is packed with the usual OC chain onslaught of H&Ms and Sephoras.
But restaurants and food sources generally skew local, including food hall Lot 579. Housing one of six outposts of coffee-geek haven Portola Coffee (the first real sign of third-wave coffee life in OC occurred when the original opened in Costa Mesa in 2011), Lot 579 houses German spirits, wine, and olive oil shop Vom Fass, and Burnt Crumbs, popular for hearty sandwiches such as the spaghetti grilled cheese.
With Lot 579 conveniently next door, Paséa Hotel is one of HB’s standout lodging options. Its breezy lobby and rooms are decorated in cool blues and pristine whites. Most rooms have decks, while the pool and Tanner’s treehouse bar gaze oceanward. The hotel is pet-friendly and relaxed, with a surfer vibe. On weekends, Tanner’s is party central, complete with loud DJs (ask for a room on the opposite side if you prefer silence). One of Paséa’s greatest assets is its Balinese-inspired spa Aarna, whose skilled masseuses work amid elaborate woodcarvings and a soothing garden.
For a more staid, romantic stay, the Hyatt Regency recalls classic California with Spanish tiles, white stucco, fountains, flowers, and an Old World ease. At its Watertable restaurant, Tanner Johnson crafts elegant cocktails with classic ethos and a smoked cocktail theme utilizing a light, balanced hand. Chef Manfred Lassahn’s cooking may satiate some travelers’ desire for big portions, but he also employs seasonal ingredients and contrasting flavors. Case in point: coffee-scented venison over celery-root purée, accented by balsamic caramel and a roasted pear spilling out pomegranate seeds.
At Kimpton’s hip Shorebreak resort, ready with bicycles for beach cruising, Pacific Hideaway is a tile-lined, open-air restaurant with irresistible cocktails, thanks to Casey Lyons, who weaves between Tiki-inspired and spirit-forward drinks with playful balance. Food, too, offers playful comfort, whether outrageously good chorizo queso fundido or spicy Lao sausage and crispy rice in lettuce wraps.
A standout HB restaurant has LA roots: Intimate, chic LSXO is hidden inside popular Bluegold, where chef Tin Vuong’s inspired modern Vietnamese cooking shines, spotlighting ingredients from across Asia as do his trendy Little Sister restaurants up the coast. Thoughtful service augments palms, pier, and ocean views. Reserve ahead for one of its few tables or bar seats, then fill up on generous portions of Vietnamese chao soup, pan-fried eggplant and basil, or killer spring-roll variations such as one packed with sweet potato, jicama, egg, Chinese lap cheung sausage, and shrimp, dipped in coconut peanut sauce.
Strolling the beach, which is still lined with firepits and motor homes, lets you enjoy coffee, pier walks, massages, meals, and waves with ease. Soothed by those vibrant California sunsets, you’ll feel grateful that the “new” HB is laid out in one walkable coastal mile.
If You Go
Paséa Hotel & Spa: 21080 Pacific Coast Hwy, 855-636-6371, MeritageCollection.com/pasea-hotel
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach: 21500 Pacific Coast Highway, 714-698-1234, Hyatt.com
Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort: 500 Pacific Coast Highway, 714-861-4470, ShorebreakHotel.com
LSXO: 21022-21148 Pacific Coast Highway, 714-374-0083, DineBlueGold.com/lsxo