Are you a Monterey maven? A Portland pro? With the new Get Outta Town feature, the PAMP newsletter is seeking travel tips for your favorite family-friendly day trips and vacation destinations. Help your fellow members take some of the guesswork out of getting away with the kids, and meet your volunteer commitment at the same time! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
For the inaugural article in the series, Kelsey Combellick presents:
An Orange County Beach Trip
Overview: Just outside Los Angeles County (about 45 miles south) and close to beach communities such as Seal Beach and Newport Beach, Huntington Beach is a great location for a beach getaway. It offers easy access to a long stretch of beach that is not rocky and offers a safe swimming environment for kids. The city is also a good base camp for traveling along the coast or visiting Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, which are about 30 minutes away. In addition, Surf City USA itself has some good activities for families, including its Duck-a-Thon, Fourth of July fireworks and Surf City Nights.
The weather is generally nice year-round with cooler temperatures in winter but still lots of sun. In late July/early August, the annual surf competition takes over the town and beaches. Although this might be fun for older children, it’s very, very crowded, so I would avoid this time of year.
Travel tips: If you have young children, drive at night. It’s 395 miles from Palo Alto to Huntington Beach, about a 7-hour drive. The benefit of driving is that you have your car (and car seats) to get around. We recently left after work on a weekday and were able to soar down with few stops as our daughter slept most of the drive. We also evaded Los Angeles traffic, which is often hit and miss even during “noncommute” hours. To get through Los Angeles during regular weekday hours (and by this I mean between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.), you have to plan carefully, use Sigalert and learn that the 5 and 405 freeways aren’t the only game in town. If you end up in LA between 3 and 7 p.m., be prepared for a long drive even in the carpool lane.
Once in Orange County, there is also a toll road (73) that gets you from Newport Beach/Costa Mesa to Mission Viejo without getting into the “Y” traffic—the intersection of 5 South and 405 South in Irvine. I highly recommend taking this road over the alternative, and it works on the Fast Pass system.
For making the trip home, we always take 101. It affords us ample opportunities to stop when our daughter is awake. On State Street in Santa Barbara, there is a Whole Foods a few blocks off the freeway for convenient snack-time shopping. In San Luis Obispo, you can stop at the mission for a brief walk around the grounds. It is in downtown near plenty of places to grab a bite and even do a little shopping. If you want to keep driving and stop later in the trip, exit Highway 46/24th St in Paso Robles to get gas or grab a coffee at Starbucks or lunch at the taqueria next door. From here we can usually make it the next three hours home without stopping again.
Interstate 5 is always an option, and a quicker one, but with a toddler we enjoy the drive home much more by taking the coastal route.
For families, we recommend the Hyatt. The property has many benefits over the others:
- a bridge to the beach for super-easy access to the 4-mile stretch of white sand
- a wonderful spa for mom and/or dad to take a break.
- a variety of room options, restaurants and shops
- proximity to Main Street. It is close enough to take a cab/drive a short distance but far enough to avoid the noise. Main Street has a lot of restaurants and surf shops. The pier is at the intersection of Main Street and the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH, Highway 1), and it offers local fairs and restaurants as well.
Where to eat in Huntington Beach: We like the Shorebreak Hotel’s restaurant. However, the restrooms are not designed for families with young children. It’s a great place for couples, events and cocktail gatherings. Family-friendly restaurants on Main Street include The Sugar Shack (breakfast), Luggatti’s (Italian; a little loud but large portions and good food), El Ranchito (Mexican food) and Sandy’s Beach Grill (California cuisine) and Duke’s (upscale Hawaiian). These last two are at the pier and offer ocean views.
What to do: If you choose to venture away from your hotel’s beach, there are great options including Bolsa Chica State Beach, which is a little north of Huntington Beach. The beach and facilities are plenty and clean. We brought a pop-up tent, food, blankets and beach toys and were alone at noon on a Friday (I think school was in session). The state parking fee is $10 per car. Across from the beach are the Bolsa Chica Wetlands where you can bird-watch and take a walk. There is a free parking lot for the wetlands.
Going south into Newport Beach is also an option; however, the summers get insanely busy with beach cruisers, tourists and local college students on break. Parking can be nightmarish, so either go early (people are not out before 10 a.m.) or rent bikes from one of the Huntington Beach vendors located on the beach bike path.
There are also great family spots as you head farther south on PCH. Crystal Cove State Park has long trails along the cliffs that offer ample opportunities to head down to the beach. Some of the inclines are steep, so wear comfortable or grippy shoes, especially if a stroller or child weights you down. The park also offers renovated bungalows for rent (book six months in advance; they’re difficult to secure). Even if you can’t stay overnight, you can at least enjoy a snack or cocktail at The Beachcomber Café, which is on the beach. It has a sister ice cream shack accessible via stairs or from PCH.
Continuing south through Laguna Beach, you will reach the Treasure Island Tidepools. The Montage Resort & Spa (the high-end hotel that is right above the pools) provides a docent to guide you during low tide and busy weekends and holidays. Parking is available in a very small lot at Wesley Drive. If you are arriving later in the day, we recommend parking in the lot across from the Montage where there is an Albertson’s. You can pick up a picnic lunch and walk to the beach.
Miscellaneous: For the Family Medical Officers out there: There are some high-quality hospitals in the area including Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo and Mission Hospital Laguna Beach. Mission Hospital and Children’s Hospital in Orange County (CHOC) provide excellent pediatric services.
Kelsey Combellick is a working mom who loves travel, cooking, wine and her family. Email her at email@example.com