17 unmissable things to do in Huntington Beach, California

Last updated on October 20, 2023

On our most recent trip to California, I was hell bent on finding the perfect California beach town – a place that epitomised my idealised dream of laidback vibes, long sunny days and the roll of Pacific waves. In my mind’s eye it’s a perfect pastiche of all the California TV programmes and films I’ve ever seen – but of course, that exact dream doesn’t exist. All the PCH destinations have different perks and, as with everything, the perfect one depends on what you’re looking for at that moment in time.  

And if you’re looking for a slice of classic “woah dude” California surfing vibes, then Huntington Beach, along with Santa Cruz, should top your list. Known as Surf City (although keep that quiet if you’re in Santa Cruz!), it’s famous for its waves and the surf culture that has been built around them. The streets are even lined with a Hollywood-style Surfing Walk of Fame. 

Even if you’re not into surfing, there are still plenty of things to do in Huntington Beach. I liked it more than I’d expected to. I thought I was looking for something smaller (a little like San Clemente) or picturesque like Balboa Island, but the sweeping sands of Huntington Beach make for one of my favourite city beaches in California. Plus it was fun to experience those classic surf-style vibes.

Here’s our pick of the best things to do in Huntington Beach, including where to stay, what to eat, and fun Huntington Beach family activities too.

If you’re heading there as part of a road trip, don’t miss our full California road trip itinerary and guide to the Pacific Coast Highway.

The best things to do in Huntington Beach, CA

What’s Huntington Beach like?

Huntington Beach is definitely a bit more rough around the edges than its more refined neighbours in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. It has more of an eccentric and kooky ‘Venice Beach’ vibe, and is known for its party scene. And while the downtown has some characterful shops and restaurants, its architecture lacks the elegance and picturesque charm of places like Balboa Island and Laguna. That said, it’s a fun alternative to the OC’s generally more polished image and will suit people looking for a more laidback, down-to-earth style. 

The beaches are clean and epitomise that classic California beach life with a bustling boardwalk and sweeping sands filled with surfers, volleyball players and fire pits. But if you peer out to the ocean, you’ll see a horizon dotted by oil rigs, which somewhat dampens the scene. 

With the moniker ‘Surf City’, you know that surf culture is going to be the dominant vibe in Huntington Beach. And while on a surface level, it’s all very laid back, the local surfers are actually known to be fairly grumpy towards visitors. Bear that in mind if you’re a beginner getting in the way of their waves! 

When to visit Huntington Beach

Beach promenade at Huntington City Beach

Huntington Beach has pleasant weather throughout the year, but late spring to early fall offers the most beach-friendly temperatures.

Bear in mind that May and June are notoriously cloudy in California, so not the best time to experience those quintessential blue sunny skies. During a week on the coast in early June, we generally only had a couple of hours of sunshine per day – the rest was overcast, which wasn’t what we were expecting from a California summer! Evenings get cooler, so be sure to pack layers. 

Map of things to do in Huntington Beach

The best things to do in Huntington Beach CA

1. Go surfing

A surfer on Huntington Beach

Obviously, for a place known as Surf City USA, surfing is one of the biggest draws for visitors to Huntington Beach. It’s renowned for its consistent waves and attracts surfers from across the globe. If you’re there in August, don’t miss the annual US Open of Surfing.

If you’re a beginner surfer, there are plenty of surf schools and you won’t be lacking for inspiration from all the surfers you’ll undoubtedly see. See Surfline for the latest surfing forecast.

Some of the most popular surfing spots are:

  • The Pier – the area around Huntington Beach Pier has an almost mythical status and is wildly popular with different breaks to the north and south sides. It isn’t suitable for beginners. The pier is the perfect place to capture shots of the surfers too.
  • Bolsa Chica State Beach – a good spot for mellow and forgiving waves, making it ideal for beginners and intermediates. It’s quieter than the pier too.
  • Huntington Cliffs – popular with locals and right next to the Dog Beach. 
  • Goldenwest Street – just south of the pier, this area is known for its playful waves and forceful waters. It’s a good choice for intermediates and experienced surfers. 
  • The Wedge – this is one of the world’s most famous surf spots and has a massive shorebreak with incredibly powerful waves. Definitely only one for experienced surfers! It’s in neighbouring Newport Beach, but only about 15 minutes from Huntington Beach.

2. Hang out at the beach

Huntington City Beach

Huntington City Beach is one of our favourite city beaches in California and epitomizes the California beach life vibes the state is famous for. It’s a wide and sweeping beach with a boardwalk running the length, lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. There are also plenty of fire pits and volleyball nets. Pick a spot and spend a perfect beach day soaking up the vibes. 

As with most of the OC city beaches, the Pacific Coast Highway runs alongside Huntington Beach, which means you’re never far from traffic. We were surprised by this the first time we visited the OC, but you soon get used to it. And there are also lots of oil rigs dotting the horizon.

Heading south, the city beach rolls into the three-mile long Huntington State Beach, a similarly quintessential Cali beach, and one that’s a little quieter than its neighbour. In high season, they restrict some spots from surfers, making it a good place for swimmers and bodyboarders. 

And if you have a furry friend, head to the Huntington Dog Beach. They even host an annual So Cal Corgi Beach Day!

3. Wander the Huntington Beach Pier

Huntington Beach Pier

Make sure to have a wander along the iconic Huntington Beach Pier where you get great views of the surfers and beach. It’s one of the top Huntington Beach attractions. 

There are places to eat, including what used to be a classic Ruby’s Diner at the end. This is now under changing ownership. There was a pop-up Oyster Bar for a while, but it was closed when we visited. Watch this space.

4. Explore the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

People at SeaLegs at the beach

Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this protected wetland habitat. Hike the trails, spot a variety of bird species, and enjoy the tranquillity. It’s across the road from the Bolsa Chica State Beach, which is another of Huntington’s best beaches. It has miles of pristine coastline with wide beaches and clean water. You have to pay a fee to park there.

There are a few beach bars along the Bolsa Chica boardwalk that hold special events. We went to the Reggae Sunday event at SeaLegs on the Beach, which was a really fun, laid-back affair. Lots of people were set up on the beach outside – it felt exactly how a Sunday should, and is one of the most fun things to do in Huntington Beach.

5. Bike along the beachfront

Zacks bike rental at Huntington Beach

The Huntington Beach Bike Trail, or Ocean Strand as it’s also known, is a perfect place for a bike ride. Head to Zack’s or one of the other hire shops on the beachfront and pick your choice of wheels, including tandems, cruisers and Surrey bikes. We hired a Surrey and had a great time cruising along the Huntington Beach Boardwalk. The kids loved it! 

The beach trail is about 10 miles long, running to Bolsa Chica State Beach, so makes for a perfect way to explore the area.

6. Visit the Huntington Beach Art Center

Immerse yourself in the vibrant local arts scene by exploring contemporary exhibits and engaging in art workshops at this community hub, the Huntington Beach Art Center. It features paintings, photography and video, and has lots of special events.

If you’re into art, also check out the monthly Art Walk, featuring local artists’ works displayed in galleries, studios, and businesses throughout downtown Huntington Beach.

7. Go to the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum

International Surfing Museum building at Huntington Beach

Immerse yourself in the rich surfing history of the region at the small but unique International Surfing Museum. Discover vintage surfboards, memorabilia, and exhibits that pay homage to the sport’s pioneers and legends.

Fun fact: the woman who started the museum (Natalie Kosch) comes from Canada and has never surfed in her life. She just loves the surfing vibes (sounds kind of similar to myself!).

8. Check out the Surfer’s Walk of Fame

Surfers Walk of Fame near Huntington Beach

Just round the corner from the surf museum, and across the road from the pier, is the Surfer’s Walk of Fame. Reminiscent of the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, it memoralises world-famous and local surfers in paving slabs along the street.

9. Explore Huntington Central Park

If you’re tired of the beach, head inland to Huntington Central Park, an expansive area of gardens, forest, scenic paths, picnic areas, an amphitheatre and a beautiful lake. You can even hire paddleboats on the water. There’s a brilliant adventure playground. A day at Central Park is one of the best free things to do in Huntington Beach with kids.

The park is home to the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center where you can do horseback riding lessons and guided trails.

10. Get out on the water at Huntington Harbour

Away from the main downtown area of Huntington Beach is the quiet and picturesque Huntington Harbour. Bordering Seal and Sunset beach, the harbour was built in the 1960s and has five man-made islands filled with fancy waterfront homes and surrounded by yachts. 

It’s a peaceful place for a stroll, and also a great place to get out on the water, renting a boat, paddleboard or kayak. 

11. Go whale watching

whale watching, Puerto Madryn

The Orange County coast sees an annual migration of over 20,000 grey whales. And you can also see minke whales, humpback whales, seals and many species of dolphin. There are even giant blue whales in the summer and fall! 

So whatever time of year you visit, there’s a whale-watching tour to choose from. The best place to see them from Huntington Beach is Newport Beach, which has tours including this 2-hour option. See more options from Get Your Guide below.

12. Have a bonfire on the beach

Victoria making smores on a firepit at Kimton Shorebreak

One of the most magical Huntington Beach activities is to have a classic beach bonfire on the sand. Bonfires are allowed in designated fire pits along Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach. There are over 500 in total and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis (although you can reserve some on Bolsa Chica). 

So be sure to get some marshmallows and enjoy some s’mores as you watch the sun setting. If you want it done for you, head to Huntington Beach House or stay at one of the resorts that has fire pits. We stayed at the Kimpton Shorebreak, which did nightly fire pits and s’mores (pictured above).

13. Go to the Reptile Zoo

The Reptile Zoo has over 100 exotic species of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids from around the world. There are opportunities to get hands-on with the animals, and the staff are full of fun facts about all the creatures. It’s a fun and unique thing to do in Huntington Beach with kids.

14. Go to a Surf City Night

Live performance at Huntigton Beach downtown

On Tuesday nights, head downtown for Surf City Nights, a community street fair and farmers market with live music, local artisans, fresh produce and kids’ games. Local shops and restaurants also get involved, spilling onto the streets. It’s on in the summer from 5-9 pm and until 8pm in winter.

15. Shop and dine at Pacific City

Pacific City Huntington Beach at night

Pacific City is a kind of open-air mall right next to the beach with loads of shops and restaurants. If you’re keen to shop, this is a good place for it, and there are also lots of good dining options. We loved the burgers at the American Dream, and the whole place had a fun atmosphere in the evenings with good views of the beach and sunset. 

The downtown area is also good for some Huntington Beach shopping, especially for surf clothing and goods.

16. Visit Newland House Museum

To learn about local history, visit Newland House Museum, which used to belong to Huntington Beach pioneers and community leaders William and Mary Newland. They raised a family of 10 children there! Its opening hours are sparse (currently, the first and third weekends of the month from 12-4 pm, so check the website before you visit). 

17. Do a scavenger hunt

This fun self-guided scavenger hunt, which you can download onto your phone, is a cool way to explore Huntington Beach and learn about the local history.

Things to do with kids in Huntington Beach

If you’re visiting Huntington Beach with kids like we did, the main draw is definitely the beach, which is ideal for family days out and playing in the sand. There’s a really cool inclusive playground on the sand, just north of the pier, which our kids loved. 

We hired a Surrey bike from Zack’s, which the kids also loved. Zack’s also has kids’ bikes and little bike trailers.

Steve with Otis and Arlo at Huntington Adaptive Playground

When you’re done with the sand, head to Huntington Central Park for the adventure playground and plenty of space to run around and play games. You could even go horseriding or rent a paddleboat.

Otis at SeaLegs in Huntington Beach

Older kids might love to try a surfing lesson or go whale watching for an experience they’ll never forget. 

S’mores on the beach is an easy win that the whole family will love. I never tire of a s’mores night!

And remember, Huntington Beach is only a 30-minute drive from Disneyland!

Where to eat in Huntington Beach

We enjoyed the relaxed dining scene in Huntington Beach, especially the little cafes frequented by surfers. Here are a few favourites:

Sugar Shack Cafe

Inside Sugar Shack, a diner-style cafe in Huntington Beach

The Sugar Shack is the place to go for breakfast – a fun family-run diner-style cafe known for its generous portions and classic, surfer style. It’s great for kids too.

The American Dream

Arlo eating mac and cheese at American Dream, a restaurant in Huntington Beach

The American Dream in Pacific City is a great place for burgers and is super family-friendly. We loved sitting there in the evening while the sun went down. It’s slightly elevated above the PCH, so you almost feel like you’re on the beach.

Pacific Hideaway

Chairs and tables at The Pacific Hideaway, a trendy restaurant in Huntington Beach

The Pacific Hideaway is a trendy restaurant located in the equally hip Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel. Go there for globally-inspired dishes and craft cocktails. The balcony has good views of the pier.

Duke’s Huntington Beach

Named after legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, this beachfront eatery serves up Hawaiian-inspired cuisine and offers breathtaking sunset views.

Bonetree Distillery 

Try local whiskeys and learn about the distilling process at Bonetree Distillery

The Donuttery

The Donuttery, a donut place in Huntington

A 5-minute drive from downtown is The Donuttery, where they have all sorts of flavoured donuts, including baked a fried styles.

Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream

Victoria eating an ice cream from Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream

We loved the selection at Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream where the smallest ice cream you can get is still two scoops. It’s right across from the pier, so perfect for picking up a cone to enjoy on the beach.

Old World Village

The Old World Village collection of shops and restaurants has been designed to look like a European village and is famous for its wild Oktoberfest celebrations from September-November. 

Where to stay in Huntington Beach

We stayed at the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel, which is a hip option near the Huntington Beach Pier. It has cool features like an LP library and record players in the rooms, fire pits with nightly s’mores, beach equipment on loan, a pac man game in the foyer, and different snacks throughout the day. They even had cold brew on tap. 

The only problem is you have to pay a compulsory amenity fee for all these perks, which is on top of your room rate. We don’t have this type of fee in the UK, so I was surprised when it was added at check-in. You can’t opt out, so I feel as though it should just be included in the room rate. That said, it was a fun and convenient place to stay, and we especially loved the common areas. It is pricey though.

Other popular places to stay in Huntington Beach include:

The Waterfront Beach Resort, A Hilton Hotel. This family-friendly resort has an outdoor pool with water slides, two restaurants, and a rooftop bar. They also offer great activities and live entertainment.

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Paséa Hotel & Spa is a lovely 4-star hotel on the beachfront. It offers comfortable chic rooms with ocean views, an outdoor pool and a sun terrace. By staying in this hotel, you can also unwind in its spa.

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SpringHill Suites by Marriott Huntington Beach Orange County is a 3-star hotel with spacious and modern rooms. Some of its facilities include a shared lounge, a terrace and bar and parking on site.

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Huntington Surf Inn is perfect for anyone who loves surfing and everything about surf. The rooms are comfortable and decorated with surfing elements. It also has a great location, right next to the beach.

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Sonesta Select Huntington Beach Fountain Valley has fantastic family rooms with all the amenities you might need. Although it isn’t next to the beach, it is only a 10-minute drive. This accommodation has an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant and a gym.

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Things to do near Huntington Beach

A frozen banana shop at Balboa island

Huntington Beach is well located for visiting the rest of Orange County, including Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente. You could easily base yourself there and take day trips to the other towns. And it’s also a popular base for Disneyland, which is just a 30-minute drive away (see our guide to how to get the most out of Disneyland with little kids). 

Some of our favourite nearby activities include:

  • Crystal Cove State Park, an historic area where movies like Beaches were filmed.
  • La Jolla, an elegant part of San Diego, just north of the city
  • The arty town of Laguna Beach and its many galleries and boutiques
  • The charming Balboa Island where you absolutely must eat a frozen banana!

For bigger cities, it’s less than an hour to Los Angeles, and about 1 hour 20 minutes to San Diego. You could do it as part of a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, or an epic California road trip like our one.

Huntington Beach FAQs

Is it worth visiting Huntington Beach?

Huntington Beach, CA is definitely worth visiting, whether you’re into surfing or not. It’s a perfect place to experience California’s laidback beach vibes, and there are plenty of things to do for all ages, from hiking to cycling to simply watching the sunset with a beach fire.

Which is better, Huntington or Newport Beach?

All of the OC beach towns have different pros and cons. We love the beach at Huntington Beach more than Newport, but Newport is better known for its water activities. Huntington is definitely the more laid-back option, whereas Newport is more fancy (remember those kids in The OC TV show? It was accurate!).

How do you spend a day at Huntington Beach?

The best way to spend a day at Huntington Beach is to hit the beach. Hire a bike and ride along the beachfront, exploring the City Beach, State Beach and Bolsa Chica. Start the day with breakfast at the Sugar Shack, and come nighttime, make a campfire and watch the sunset with some s’mores.

Is Huntington Beach known for anything special?

Huntington Beach, CA is known as Surf City, USA. It’s famed for its consistent waves, suitable for all different abilities and its thriving surf culture.

What are the free things to do in Huntington Beach?

Hanging out on the beach or at Huntington Central Park are definitely the best free things to do in Huntington Beach. Take advantage of that pleasant California weather and make the most of the outdoors. It’s an easy place to save money.

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Our California travel guides

We also have detailed guides to loads of California destinations that can help you plan even more. They’ll especially suit you if you’re a bit like us, keen on discovering the creative side of a destination and in pursuit of all the best cafes, ice creams, doughnuts, bookshops, murals and beauty spots. And we have lots of family guides if you’re travelling with kids.

Road trips: California Road Trip | Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip

Handpicked travel guides: Laguna Beach | Mendocino |San ClementeSan Diego  | Santa Barbara  | Santa Cruz|Shasta Cascade and Redding Sonoma |Tuolumne County Yolo County

California family travel guides: California with kidsLos Angeles with kids | Sacramento with kidsSan Diego with kids | San Francisco with kids

California accommodation guides: Joshua Tree Airbnb | Laguna Beach Airbnb | Hip Palm Springs Hotels | Palm Springs Airbnb | Palm Springs VRBO | San Diego Airbnb | Santa Cruz Airbnb | Santa Barbara Airbnb |Santa Monica Airbnb | Sonoma Airbnb | Venice Beach AirbnbHip San Francisco Hotels

California attraction guides: How to get the most out of Disneyland with toddlers | The ultimate guide to Universal Studios with babies and toddlers

If you’re heading elsewhere in the USA or even worldwide, see more of our family travel tips here.

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