Huntington Beach, fondly referred to as “Surf City, USA,” is a sun-soaked coastal paradise that attracts visitors with its laid-back atmosphere, miles of golden sandy beaches, and a plethora of fun activities for everyone. Nestled along the picturesque shores of Southern California, this vibrant beach town has a variety of things to do in Huntington Beach that cater to both relaxation seekers and adventure enthusiasts alike.
I went to Huntington Beach with my son this spring and loved experiencing the warm sunshine (something we didn’t quite have yet in Seattle during that time of year) and the town’s welcoming, casual vibe. From strolling along the iconic pier to enjoying the local cuisine, we had the perfect Seattle weekend getaway on this California beach experience.
I’ve been to California quite a bit over the years – from exploring national parks like Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park to going wine tasting in Sonoma Valley, I know it pretty well. However, I had never actually spent a day here, with the exception of a quick stop on my LA to San Francisco road trip, so I was thrilled to spend three days in Huntington Beach this time.
There’s no shortage of what to do in Huntington Beach, and the most common response I got from people following my Instagram stories was, “Wow, you’re doing so much!” That’s because there are a ton of Huntington Beach activities, from outdoor activities (surfing!) to trying tasty local seafood. Here are some of my favorite activities that we did during our time there.
1. Ride a Bike Around Town
One of the more iconic things to do in Huntington Beach is rent a bike and join all the locals on the 10-mile bike trail that goes alongside the beach. My hotel was able to loan me a bike and my son a scooter, but I saw multiple bike rental shops by the pier.
The weekend was a more popular time to go out on the trail, and there were significantly fewer people when we went during the weekday, which was a bit better for my kid to feel comfortable. I felt like I fit right in with my little beach cruiser, and it was a fun way to start the morning.
2. Walk Around Downtown Huntington Beach
I always like walking around the area I’m staying in on the first day to acquaint myself with where I am and what’s nearby. Downtown Huntington Beach is adorable, with plenty of cute shops selling beach clothes, souvenirs, and anything else you might need.
While I always prefer to shop at local stores, it was nice that they had a CVS next to my hotel to run over and get anything I forgot, especially since I didn’t have a car. They also do have a Starbucks, which was nice one morning because we were up earlier than other coffee shops were open.
3. Take a Surf Lesson
Known as “Surf City,” it’s no surprise that the most popular thing to do in Huntington Beach is surf. While we do have surfing in Washington, it’s very different (as in much colder), so I was excited to check it out in sunny California. I loved waking up each morning and walking to the pier to see dozens of locals waiting in the water to catch a wave.
Out of the many outdoor activities I’ve been lucky enough to do in my travels around the world (such as stand-up paddleboarding in Lake Tahoe in the summer), surprisingly, I’ve never been surfing before. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I had a lesson booked with Rocky McKinnon, a legendary surfer who put me at ease with learning how to surf.
We started with some dry land training about how to get up and stand on the surfboard, and then off we went. I was thrilled that I stood up and rode not just the first but every wave into the shore. He gave me the confidence I needed to try it, and I can’t wait to go again next time I’m back.
One thing I love about his company is he does adaptive surf lessons, meaning he’s been able to help kids and adults of all different mental and physical abilities surf. I thought that it was amazing that he truly tried to make surfing accessible for everyone.
4. Indulge in Handcrafted Chocolate
One of the tastiest things to do in Huntington Beach is visiting Bella Sophia Chocolates to try out their chocolate. They have some of the most beautiful chocolate I’ve ever seen, and the owner told me it was due to his wife hand-painting each design, which is incredible.
What started as a passion project a few years ago is this successful chocolate shop with unique chocolates. My son got a golden airplane that he couldn’t believe was edible, and I had some amazing dark chocolate truffles (my favorite).
5. Have Dinner with a View
The area has dozens of restaurants with a view, but Duke’s Huntington Beach is arguably one of the best places to go for dinner. That’s because it’s one of the few restaurants that’s actually on the beach, so you’ll have great views of the pier and people walking around.
We ended up staying here for almost 2 hours, and considering my son’s only 4, that’s impressive. He couldn’t get enough of sitting by the window, watching the sunset, and seeing people riding bikes on the trail. Take my advice and call ahead to request not only a reservation but a seat by the window because that elevates the whole experience.
I also loved the Hawaiian beach house ambiance and food, such as the sauteed mac nut, herb-crusted fresh fish, and Mai Tais. This reminded us of our trip to North Shore Oahu last year, which was fun to feel like we were temporarily in Hawaii again.
6. Walk the Huntington Beach Pier
The pier is one of the most recognizable parts of the area, so it’s worth it to take a walk to the end. We ended up walking every morning and every night because we loved it so much. You’ll see people surfing and fishing in the morning and others beginning their night as the sun goes down, and it’s a free and fun thing to do in Huntington Beach.
I was surprised to find two souvenir shops on the pier, bathrooms, and a seafood restaurant at the very end (although it was closed for renovations when we were there). You’ll want to bring your camera here, especially if you’re taking sunrise or sunset pictures.
7. Attend Local Festivals
It seems like there’s always something going on in the area, so I recommend checking out any local events when looking for things to do near Huntington Beach. Originally, we had planned on going in the winter when there were tons of holiday activities going on, but due to the abnormal amount of rain they got, we switched our trip to the spring.
That ended up being better because not only did we have sun every day for our trip, but we were also able to attend the OC Cherry Blossom Festival at Central Park. This celebration of Japanese culture was fun with traditional dance, music, food, and arts and crafts. My son enjoyed a DIY snow cone truck and the face painting, so it was also very kid-friendly.
8. Make One-of-a-Kind Silk Scarves
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I visited Mayu Silk Art, but this was definitely one of the best things to do in Huntington Beach with kids. We learned how to “water marble,” which was essentially putting different colored paint drops in the water in various patterns. I chose a blue ocean-themed one, while my son did a rainbow theme.
Once we were satisfied with our colors, we mixed them up with rakes and sticks to make unique designs. A blank scarf was then set down in the painting design, and after taking a few minutes to fully absorb it, the owner lifted it up, and our design flawlessly transferred over onto it.
I’ll be honest – I’m usually terrible at art, but this was such a fun experience that I enjoyed it and felt successful. Plus, you get to take the scarf home and show off your work to everyone.
9. Explore the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
About 10 minutes north of downtown is a huge wetland area with over five miles of walking trails. If you’re a bird lover, you’ll definitely want to visit this reserve, as it’s in the migration path for hundreds of birds. While I don’t know my birds too well, seeing different ones hanging out, “chatting,” and catching their food was fun.
It’s also a really peaceful place to get away from the busy city and relax on a walk. This is the largest saltwater marsh on the California coast, so it’s worth checking out during your visit.
10. Visit the Huntington Beach Farmers Market
We happened to get to Huntington Beach right when the Sunday art fair was going on, so we headed over to see what it was about. I always love supporting local vendors when possible, and this fair was no exception, as they had some beautiful items for sale.
However, the farmers market on Main Street only takes place on Tuesday evenings. You can buy fresh flowers, honey, gourmet spices, bread and other baked goods, as well as unique handcrafted items.
11. Shop at Pacific City
If you’re the type that loves to go on vacation to go shopping, Pacific City has you covered. This outdoor mall has many different stores, including bigger stores like Sephora and H&M, which is nice in case you forgot something. They also have a Drybar if you feel like having your hair done for your trip here.
There are also numerous boutique stores I enjoyed browsing through, such as Open Market OC, San Lorenzo Bikinis, and Brandy Melville. When you’re done, you’ll be surrounded by plenty of places to eat, such as Ola Mexican Kitchen for margaritas and Mexican food or Bear Flag Fish Co. for local seafood.
12. Watch the Sunset
If you’re looking for a free thing to do in Huntington Beach, just head to any part of the beach to watch the sunset go down. My favorite spot was from the Huntington Beach Pier, as you can see for miles in either direction down the beach. However, we also enjoyed watching the sunset from beachfront restaurants, so if you can time it right, that’s a fun experience.
You can check the sunrise and sunset times before you go so you don’t miss them. Be sure to bring your camera as well as a tripod and remote for the clearest photos. It’s also the perfect stop if you’re on a Seattle to San Diego road trip.
13. Play on a Pirate Ship Playground
Traveling with kids means I’m always looking for ways to get their energy out. You’d think my son would be tired enough after all our fun activities, yet he still had energy at the end of the day. That’s why I was thrilled to find the Huntington Beach All Inclusive Playground within walking distance of our hotel, which is easily one of the best things to do in Huntington Beach with kids.
It was a very clean playground that was right next to the beach and had various obstacles to climb and slides to go down, all with a pirate-ship theme. I love that it’s all-inclusive, so it’s easy for kids of all abilities to access it, and that it has a rubber mat floor instead of bark chips or sand. We ended up going here multiple times because it was so convenient.
14. Cool Off With a Treat
All that running around gets you a bit warm, but luckily there are plenty of places to go when you need a cold treat. We discovered Popbar at Pacific City the first day we were there, and my son loved picking his popsicle flavor and then picking what toppings to put on it.
We both indulged in an ice cream cone the next day at Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream, which has been around since 1945 and has dozens of flavors to choose from (I got s’mores, and he got cotton candy). It’s conveniently right across from the pier, and the line that formed showed just how popular the place is.
Where to Eat in Huntington Beach
There are so many amazing places to eat in Huntington Beach, but here are some of the ones that I loved the most.
- Bear Flag Fish Co. – quick and delicious seafood options (I got the fish tacos) with a view of the ocean
- Sessions West Coast Deli – an incredibly Instagrammable place with a full espresso bar, breakfast sandwiches, and lunch options
- Calico Fish House – a newer restaurant away from the beach that has chowder, fish sandwiches, and more
- Ola Mexican Kitchen – amazing Mexican food (I recommend the cheese enchiladas), margaritas, and has a view of the beach
Where to Stay in Huntington Beach
We stayed at the Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, and I couldn’t have asked for a better location. It’s right across the street from the beach, so we could walk over there in a matter of minutes multiple times a day and easily visit stores and restaurants in the surrounding downtown area.
It was named one of the “Top 500 Hotels in the World” by Travel + Leisure in 2022, and I can easily see why. The whole vibe was surfer-chic, they had complimentary beer and wine at happy hour every evening at 5 PM, games like pinball and foosball in the lobby, and fire pits for s’mores each night.
We loved the balcony in our room, and I was thrilled they had a white noise machine available (important for me when traveling, especially with a little one). I also had fun renting a scooter and bike to explore the beach one morning. The staff was also just very helpful – I accidentally forgot my contact solution and didn’t realize it until late at night, and they were quickly able to provide me with some, which I greatly appreciated.
They also have Pacific Hideaway, which is a delicious restaurant and bar on site that’s available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had breakfast here on our last morning (avocado toast for me, pancakes and berries for him) and loved it.
These are only a few of the many things to do in Huntington Beach, but you’ll enjoy your trip no matter what you decide to do in this beautiful location!