Friday, July 13, 2012

Surf City, Here we Come!

What’s that? A knock at the door…before 9 a.m.? Pondering the farthest reaches of my brain for who could possibly be calling on me before I had barely even finished my first cup of coffee, I dislodged my kitty Freckles from my lap and made my way to the door to find the Rose standing outside.

Did I forget the time she was coming, I wondered? Or, did she even ever give me a time? Whatever the case, she was here…I was not ready…and we didn’t even have a set destination for the day. Wait here with Freckles, I told her, while I get myself ready to go. I’ll hurry, I assured her, adding that I would even forego a shower (oh, stop! I had one late yesterday), brush my teeth and throw on some clothes really quickly, and then we’d be on our way.

Some 15 or so minutes later, we were ready to go…to where, we still didn’t know. With only about three hours for exploring before we had to pick up her son, George, at school, our intended destination had to be somewhere nearby.

I suggested the Old Towne, Orange Historic District—listed on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring antiques, collectibles, art and dining—and she agreed. Once on our way north down Pacific Coast Highway, through Laguna Beach, however, I changed my mind and proposed a quick trip to the quintessential California beach community of Huntington Beach—better known as “Surf City USA,” for its abundant beaches; sunny, warm Mediterranean climate; local surfing; and casual lifestyle. (Quiksilver,, the Association of Surfing Professionals and USA Surf Team also are housed here, and the city hosts more than 30 national and international surfing championships each year as well.)

Let’s go, the Rose said, and about 15 minutes later, after driving through Newport Beach, we arrived in HB and made our way to Main Street Huntington Beach and the Huntington Beach Pier (the two areas most frequented by visitors). We grabbed a spot in the Pierside Pavilion parking garage, off Main Street (which cost us $10 for about three hours; that’s if you don’t opt to have your vehicle cleaned while you’re away). At that point, the Peach—with all of that coffee under her belt—had only one thing in mind…the nearest bathroom! After a hurried dash to find the elusive bathroom, we were then ready to explore. (*Note: Public parking also is available at Olive and Main, as well as Walnut and Main, and there is plenty of metered parking along the streets).

Named for railroad magnate Henry Huntington, who provided the city with access to the Red Car lines that used to crisscross Los Angeles and end in Long Beach, HB is situated just 15 minutes north of Laguna Beach. I admit I’ve rarely ventured down to the town, though, only once to stay overnight before I had a house in Laguna and another time to have dinner with girlfriends at the famed Duke’s restaurant (named for Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku, who is credited with popularizing surfing worldwide during the 1920’s), at the foot of the pier (below).

Other than that, I’d never actually taken the opportunity to stroll downtown Main Street (with its shops, restaurants and other sights, such as the Surfers’ Hall of Fame and Surfing Walk of Fame that line the streets (, or the pier (one of the longest recreational piers in the world at 1,853 feet), at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and 
Main Street, where visitors and locals alike fish; dine at  the two-story Ruby's Surf City Diner; shop for souvenirs; and check out the surfers and sunsets. Don’t feel like walking, like the Rose and I? Why not rent a Segway or bike and go on your way.

Evidently, the Rose and I picked a good day for our trip. It had rained the night before and was still overcast, which evidently was enough to keep the usual hordes of visitors rocking the area for its nightlife, dining and shopping somewhat at bay.

Our first pit stop was Heavenly Couture. With a sign saying, "$15 for everything in the store" (and even less for accessories), how could we resist? After a mooch (again, if you haven’t been reading, that’s the Rose’s word for look around); a lesson on the need for clothing adorned with shiny objects from the Rose (“A bit of bling is a beautiful thing," she says); and maybe a purchase or two (I’ll never tell), we again continued east down Main Street. We passed the surfer’s version of Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant (complete with surfing trophies and related memorabilia), along with a sign touting $10 all-day bike rentals, before scooting into another shop—Model Citizen—where the Rose spotted a fabulously comfy pair of sandals that she couldn’t live without (pictured below on left).

Crossing the road to make our way westward down Main Street and toward the pier, the Rose wished the Main Street Wine Company was open for business, while I thought the same upon spying the closed International Surfing Museum (, off of Olive Avenue, which includes sections on Duke Kahanamoku, surf music and art, and classic surfboards, plus a Surf Theater devoted to the first “Endless Summer movie.” Walking just around the corner, however, a 1990 mural by artist Don MacDonald on the north wall of the museum did catch my eye with its life-sized depiction of surfers in action.

Back on Main Street, I spotted the banners overhead advertising Surf City Nights. The free street fair and farmers market is held weekly, between Orange and PCH, Tuesday from 5-9 p.m., and features street acts and performances, live music, kid’s activities, sidewalk sales and restaurant samples.

We noticed it was increasingly more difficult to navigate our way down this side of the street, as it was becoming jam-packed by the minute with diners waiting to grab a spot in the outdoor seating areas of the popular Longboard Restaurant & Pub and Sugar Shack Café.

Earlier, I shared with the Rose that I had one goal in mind for the day: to find the perfect straw fedora. When we entered the Hollywood Hat Lounge, I knew my search was over! Picking through and trying on a large selection of the store’s best-selling fedoras in all colors, including black, I settled on the perfect white straw model with black band for only $15...and my quest was complete. Most everything in the store ranges from around $20 to $30, including not only fedoras but also caps, and sun and cowboy hats for men, women and children.

With my new hat in hand, the Rose and I made our way to check out the pier, passing Wahoo’s Fish Taco; food and retail vendors; and the Surfing Walk of Fame (, featuring the great surfers who have captured championships at the pier during the past 50 years.

Approaching the end of Main Street, we made our way across PCH and toward the pier, stopping off along the way at the oceanfront Pier Plaza to check out the Art-a-Faire ( Held every Friday, from noon to 7 p.m. (or sunset...whichever comes first), the event showcases more than 50 vendors selling handmade gifts and crafts, from glass sculptures to wind chimes to hats to artwork and jewelry and much more. My favorite: artist Stephanie Wirkkala’s Jewels for the Loo—hand-crafted ceramic floor bolt covers for toilets (or “toilet bling”) that cost $20 for the first pair and $15 for each additional set ( How’d she come up with the idea, I asked? “Well, I was looking around and found that no matter how expensive the toilet was, you still have those crummy bolt covers,” she said with a laugh.

Walking by the expansive beach (just a portion of HB’s 8.5-mile stretch of sand), we saw that the area already was quite peopled with sunbathers, swimmers and volleyball players at 11 a.m. We also spotted bleachers and other structures going up in preparation for the annual Nike U.S Open of Surfing (, set for July 28-Aug. 5.

At that point, we were ready to walk the pier, where we spotted surfers on both sides (want to try your hand at it? Check out Huntington Surf & Sport, for one, for daily surfboard rentals and lessons); fishermen; and, at the end...Ruby’s.

On our return trip down the pier, the Rose was sure to point out the nearby off-shore oil rigs just to make me feel at home (as I’m always fond of telling anyone within listening distance that I hail from a family who owns oil wells in Arkansas...really!). The fun windsocks and souvenirs at the pier shops also captured our imaginations.

We crossed back over PCH and returned to the car, noting that on the next trip we’d have to take a little more time and check out the nearby Huntington Beach State Park. Situated just south of the pier, the beach is a popular spot for surfing, biking, skating, surf fishing and bonfires.