The Guru's Orange County Beach Tips and Advice
Make the Most of Your Time at the Beach
Safety and Comfort.
- Everybody thinks they know to be careful about getting sunburned. But you’d be surprised how many forget the amazing ability of the sun to pierce through the cloud layer and torch your epidermis faster than you can say Balboa Island. Take the sun seriously, as it can ruin your vacation. Use lots of sunscreen; not that SPF8 junk, but SPF 50 on your nose and delicate areas. Especially if you have a few days to lay out at the beach or pool, take it easy on the tanning. You can tan gently even by using heavy sunblock.
- If you are hanging out by fire rings (portions of Huntington Beach, Corona del Mar in Newport Beach and Newport near the Balboa Pier among a few other places) be careful about hot coals being covered by sand. Obviously they’ll typically be inside the concrete fire rings but we’ve known of serious foot burns caused by stepping on coals in the sand. Just make sure little ones know to stay out of the pits, even if they look to have been unused for awhile.
- The beaches can cool down dramatically once the sun goes down. That’s a beautiful thing about Orange County (along with the general lack of humidity). But the ocean breeze comes up as the sun goes down so bring something to wrap around you if you’re staying into the evening. If you’re staying to enjoy fire pits (hotdogs and s’mores!!) realize that your clothes will acquire that delightful smoky aroma from the fire.
- When you arrive at the beach, look at the nearest lifeguard tower for flags. A yellow flag with a black circle is the Blackball flag; board surfing is prohibited, usually from mid-morning to mid-afternoon at several beaches. Green, Yellow and Red flags speak to the conditions of the surf and riptides. If in doubt, stop by and ask the lifeguard how tough the conditions are and what to watch out for. Nobody else will hear you ask the touristy questions and the lifeguard is paid to be of service to you.
- The beach bottom can be pretty uneven, and if it looks to be getting deeper there could still be a little plateau where the bottom rises noticeably (making the water depth much less). So don’t do a lot of diving into the water. Learn how to protect yourself, especially your neck and head, if you get caught up in a wave.
Convenience and Savings.
- Going to the beach and staying into the evening for a campfire in the fire pits is a great experience. Not all beaches have pits, and on weekends you truly need to get a pit fairly early in the morning for that evening.
- As we’ve said before, going to the beach on a weekday is best in the summertime.
- You may not have an option here, but the choice of which car you drive to the beach could be significant. At beaches like Newport, Sunset and Laguna, much of the parking is on the street. A shorter car just might fit into spaces where a Suburban will not go. So if you’re with other people who have the smaller car, consider leaving the Lincoln Continental at the hotel and squeeze into the Mini Cooper.
- A substantial percentage of beachgoers are locals, who may come for 2-4 hours in the morning and leave by early or mid-afternoon. So you might find improved parking by 3 pm or so compared to say 10 am. Consider an afternoon trip; now the wind often comes up in the afternoon so if that’s an issue for you, you’ll want to stay with the morning schedule. If you don’t feel the need for a full day on the sand, consider an afternoon visit.
- If you’re going to have a campfire, you can buy firewood at stores near the beach. But you’ll pay up for the convenience. So give a little thought to how much wood you’ll need. If you plan a serious party with a serious campfire, check the yellow pages for a firewood dealer who will sell you some bundles. Of course you need room in the trunk or in your wife’s lap for the wood. Sometimes enterprising folks will sell wood on the beach; you can’t count on this but it might be worth the extra cost to avoid hauling wood around town in your car, especially if you don’t feel the need for a major 3-alarm bonfire. You can torch hot dogs and marshmallows with a relatively small fire.
- Metal clothes hangers, cut and stretched out, make the most obvious hotdog and s’more roasting devices. These days you’ll usually find plastic hangers at the store; do not try and cook a hotdog on a plastic hanger unless you don’t plan to actually eat the hotdog. You might be able to find metal hangers at a dry cleaner shop (if they’ll sell them to you – and they’re best if unpainted; if painted, burn off the paint and wipe it off with a rag before nuking the dogs or marshmallows. If you have health concerns about eating from a hangar, wipe it with some alcohol and then rinse off thoroughly, but people tend to be a little loose about this).
Another solution would be to bring a half-dozen hangers from home. You need to be able to cut them, although a strong guy or gal can bend them back and forth a bunch of times until they break. Then you stretch them out of course. You could bring some extra hangers for use after the campfire. It’s OK to use plastic hangers for your clothes, unless you plan to hang the clothes over the bonfire.
- When you come out of the water and walk up the beach, your feet get very sandy. This can at first seem annoying. You’ll get used to it, but don’t step on your towel absent-mindedly. More importantly, if you leave them alone for awhile the skin will dry and the sand will brush off easily. So let them dry first, then wipe them off.
- Do you see the photo below? That’s a shot of some folks at Newport Beach who did not think about the fact that the tide was rising. As the tide comes in, the surf moves further up the beach incline. If you place your junk too close to the water, you’d better be ready to either move really really fast, or to get your junk wet.
- Speaking of sand, if you’ve laid out on your towel, it will get sandy. When you shake the sand from the towel, don’t just stand there and shake it like a pillow case in your back yard. You’ll instantly make several enemies.
Instead keep the sandy towel low so the wind does not blow the sand onto others. Walk away, downwind, from other people with the towel held low without looking strange. Then, making sure you are downwind from others, start gently shaking the towel low to the ground. The heaviest concentrations of sand (made wet by moisture generated by your wet swim apparel, skin or other anatomical features) will fall off right away. The lighter areas will require more shaking, so you gradually increase the amplitude of your towel shaking cycle (TSC). But there is less product (sand) to be disbursed so the heavier TSC can be performed in a more vertical configuration. When the sand concentration drops below 100 particles per square inch you can proceed to a full shaking in the wind.
Or, if the above directions seem nutty to you…just be careful and thoughtful! But do stay downwind when you shake!
- What do you need at the beach if you’re a minimalist? If you want to avoid the radio, umbrella, ice chest, chairs, etc., what do you bring? If you want to keep it simple, consider bringing a towel, sunscreen, small bottle of water or other drink, sunglasses and sandals (the beach sand can get very hot, as can the asphalt). Optional amenities could include a second towel for placing stuff out of sand, light snacks in a small bag, to-go lunch from fast food, near beaches in most cities, hat (wind will catch full brimmed hat so be careful), boogie board, fins for bodysurfing.
If you’re going to some beaches like Newport on the Peninsula, Sunset and others where their showers are further away, a small bottle of rinse water can be used to quickly rinse off the salty, sandy ocean water from your face, neck, shoulders, back and chest. It doesn’t take a lot, but you will feel less yucky with a splash of fresh water (don’t use expensive bottled water to rinse off; it’s un-American, which may not be a problem for you if you're say, Australian or Canadian).
- Be aware that the ocean water temperature is cooler in Southern California than in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. On warm summer days, the cool water feels wonderful, and is more refreshing that in those other (smaller) bodies of water But do expect a lower temperature here, probably in the 65 to 72 degree range. It gets cooler in the winter months.
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