Orange County Beach Vacation Strategies:
A Little Planning Now Will Really Pay Off!
If there were only a couple of beaches in Orange County it would simplify things. But what a nice problem it is to have to decide where you’ll spend your time. It will be helpful to cogitate on exactly what you’d like to achieve with your time at the beach, however long that may be.
What do you like about the beach? Laying out on the sand? Bodysurfing or boogieboarding? Walking around the beach towns and enjoying the atmosphere, smells and weather, but not necessarily going into the water? Is this primarily a beach vacation or is the beach just one of several objectives in your SoCal vacation? So do some strategic thinking with me.
First, decide if this is primarily a beach vacation or if the beach is just a small part of a trip spent at Disneyland, Knott’s, Hollywood, Universal Studios and other places. How much time do you want to spend at the beach?
Not much time for the beach?
If you only want a taste, say a part of a day to a day just to say you’ve been there, then think about if you want to be on the sand and in the water, or just want to hang out by the beach. If the latter, consider a day trip to either Balboa or Laguna Beach.
With the Fun Zone and ferry, Balboa will be more fun with kids if you’re not going in the water. Balboa is also closer to central Orange County if you’re staying near Disneyland or Knott’s. But there’s probably more for adults to do in Laguna, assuming you’re staying out of the water.
If you want to go in the water and you are traveling with kids, you might go to Huntington Beach. The concessions, showers and ample parking will simplify your life. You can take a little time by the pier and Main Street; perhaps get lunch or a snack there. If you don’t have a car, consider taking
to San Clemente. Figure a couple hours round trip and a couple of hours on the beach. There are several train stations in Orange County.
Got a Couple of days for the beach?
If you do have a couple of days for the beach, then think about whether you like the more planned environment of say Huntington or Corona del Mar or Doheny, or if you’d rather check out say Seal Beach or Newport Beach or one of the smaller beaches in Laguna where you may need to park on the street, will find few or no beach concession stands but you’ll be surrounded by a higher percentage of locals. You might try one day where it’s easy and then get more adventurous thereafter (realizing that none of the O.C. beaches are exactly Timbuktu).
If you end up spending too much time in the sun one day (don’t underestimate what the sun can do to your skin even on a cloudy day!) you could spend the next day walking in Balboa or Laguna, or checking out Seal Beach and Sunset Beach.
By the way, if you plan to visit a lot of other Southern California destinations, it might be pretty pricey since you’ll be away from the expensive beach bungalow for much of the week; in that case a hotel near, but not on, the beach might be a good compromise.
Lots of time for the beach?
If this is primarily a beach vacation, you would still do well to prioritize your objectives. Do you just want to enjoy the water and sand; perhaps trying a few different beaches? If you stay near the beach you can hit the beach in the morning and go back to the hotel pool in the afternoon.
Do you want more variety, with some days on the beach, followed by days sightseeing in Laguna or Balboa? Do you want to surf? Do you want to rent bikes and ride the length of Balboa Peninsula (riding bikes further south means a lot more hills)? What about deep sea fishing out of either Balboa or Dana Point? We point you to some of those options on our famous
Orange County Beach Activity page,
but before you jump on any activities you might want to plot out the flow of your week.
It really is easy to get a bit sunburned by a day on the sand even if you’re careful. Over the course of say 5 days you could plan on 2-3 days in the water, countered by a day of sightseeing or other activities near, but not on, the beach. If you stay in a hotel that is on or near the beach, you can spend half days on the sand and mix it up in the afternoons.
A lot of locals who live inland rent beach houses for a week or two in the summer. The rates are very high, but they’ll have the kids bring down friends and it becomes a party. If you opt for this alternative you may have to get by with less sleep, but you’re making great memories as you can go out on the beach at night to listen to the waves and feel the marine cloud layer move in. You wake up to the distant sound of the surf, grab a bagel and get out on the beach as the sun burns off the cloud layer. You can go for walks and generally make like a beach bum. There are numerous sources for beach rentals on Google. If we come up with a particularly good recommendation we’ll give it to you. There are a lot of rentals in Newport Beach, where many of the homes are actually on the sand.
A note about the marine layer…many who visit our beaches from out of the area are surprised to be under cloud cover in the morning. Hey! Where is sunny Southern California? This most often occurs in May (May Gray) and June (June Gloom), but can really occur at anytime. The locals appreciate it because we know that it will be gone by noon and then it will be HOT. So don't assume that the cool, cloudy weather you see at 8 am will remain.
It also cools off in the evening, unlike many parts of the country. So if you are planning on spending time at a fire pit in the evening, consider bringing a sweatshirt.
We finish with a final word on Laguna Beach. It is not quite as accessible to most locals as Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, but it really is a fascinating and entertaining community. Basically it has everything you’d want in an O.C. beach vacation. Good sandy beaches, tidepools and snorkeling/SCUBA opportunities, beach concessions, shops, restaurants, hotels of varying cost levels (but none of them really cheap; you get what you pay for).
If you have either a casual or serious interest in art, you must spend some time in Laguna. Throughout the year, but especially in the summer, there are many destinations oriented towards the arts. The Pageant of the Masters (where classical and modern artwork comes to life as vignettes populated by real people), Festival of Arts, Sawdust Festival and Art A Fair all provide varying levels of sophistication and emphasis. Galleries dot the downtown area and many local craftsmen live and work in town and up the canyon. The local trolley provides access to miles of beaches with different personalities. We have a good link for information on the major art events in town; when you get there, scroll down for additional local links of interest.
If you could only visit a couple of beach communities, you’d want to visit Balboa, Huntington and Laguna Beach. That’s not to take away from the northern towns or Dana Point or San Clemente but the three noted communities will give you a proper dose of Orange County beach life if you are really limited on time.
All done with Orange County beach planning and strategies? Le'ts go back to the main O.C. Beaches page.