Orange County Beach Activities

Everybody’s Gone Fishin’, Fishin’ USA!

It just doesn’t have quite the ring of Surfin’, but O.C. offers many opportunities to anglers—surf fishin’, pier fishin’, deep-sea sport fishin’ and lake fishin’ (which we’ll talk about later). There’s a ton of other fun Orange County beach activities available to you such as whale watching, kayaking, skin diving, bicycling…

In fact, there’s no way we can do justice to all of the different companies who would love to serve you in some water-recreational manner. The intent here is to introduce you to the many options you do have, and to get you started with some contact information. Typically new windows will open, which you can close when finished to return back to the waiting arms of the Guru. We recommend that you spend some time on additional research so that you can be as well-informed as possible when you make your choices. (We’re not telling you to use anybody in particular—we don’t want anybody mad at us!)

First let’s talk a little about surfin,’ which gets top priority because of all the songs. When Kayaking gets songs in the Top 10 on the radio it can go first.


You presumably fall into one of three categories when it comes to surfing. You’re either an experience surfer, a relatively inexperienced surfer- a Gremmie, or a non-surfer who wants to learn- a Hodad. If you’d like to to learn some surf lingo, check out this web site.

For experienced surfers, there are many good beaches along the 42 miles of Orange County coastline. From the wide expanse of Huntington Beach to some of the narrow, almost private beaches in Laguna Beach, you can try a different beach every day of your vacation (unless your vacation is for like a month).

If you drove with your own board, you just need to know where to go and how to get there. First let me say that you can ask 10 great local surfers and you may get 10 very different opinions. You can check out some of the sites we recommend on our tour of O.C. beach cities; some of those have specifics related to surfing.

By the way, watch for blackball flags flying on the lifeguard stands; that means no board surfing. Check the individual beach sites or phone numbers for the latest information; this can change from summer to non-summer seasons also.

Now, if you want to go a little further into your knowledge of local surfing truth and wisdom, it might be worthwhile to spend a few clams to buy Franko’s surf map ; it’s got lots of cool details on dozens of beaches in O.C. If you are serious, buy this map before you come and you’ll be talking like a local before you have your first In’n’out Burger.

If you’re flying in, you may not want to bother checking in your board, althought that is possible if you don’t mind paying the $6,000 baggage fee to the airline. You may instead want to rent a board and wetsuit. Check out this link to Zack’s for surfing rentals in Huntington Beach ; this shop rents a bunch of items like wetsuits, boogie boards and bikes. They sell firewood but perhaps not at a rock-bottom low price. If you’re going to surf in south O.C. call Orange County Adventure Tours (949/289-9853) and ask Josh about board rentals.

Beginners: lessons can be easily arranged in Orange County, as you can imagine. In the Seal Beach area try M and M Surfing School at 714/846-7873. In Huntington Beach is the Corky Carroll Surf School (714/969-3959); Corky is a legend in the surf community as a multi-winner of top surfing awards. He also operates surf tours to Mexico and another surfing school in Costa Rica.

In southern Orange County call Orange County Adventure Tours (949/289-9853) or the Soul Surfing School in Laguna (toll free at 877/768-5773) for information on surfing lessons. They can probably get you set up with rentals also. Just south of San Clemente is the Endless Summer Surf Camp at San Onofre (949/498-7862).

One thing to keep in mind; it takes a lot of upper body strength and leg strength to paddle out, stay in control while you wait for your wave, and then paddle up to speed and do the little footwork and hop required to stand up. You will have a better experience if you can get in shape beforehand.

Certain high-end beachfront resorts offer surf butlers, where they’ll fix you up to surf—- rented surfboard, suit, wax, lessons, Gidget videos—-whatever you need butled.


One thing you need to know is that, in general, a license if required for those 16 years of age or older. You can obtain a one-day or two-day temporary license for less than $20. These shorter licenses avoid upgrade stamps related to ocean fishing. A 10-day pass is also available, but you must include an upgrade stamp, which is only a few bucks. Still, you might want to try and schedule your ocean fishing into two consecutive days. Here is the link to the California Department of Fish and Game licensing page. Fish from the pier — no license required! That’s right, you can fish from a pier without a license (but you might want to confirm this for yourself). Actually you can choose any one of 5 piers from Seal Beach down to San Clemente. One of the other three is the Newport Pier (where there is still a working dory fishing fleet that headquarters at this pier, offering daily fish specials to local restaurants and markets). The others are the Balboa Pier, a couple miles down the Peninsula from the Newport Pier, and the smallish Dana Point Harbor Pier.

You’ll see folks with lines in the water from these structures most of the time, night or day. The advantage over deep sea fishing is the reduced time and cost; you can come out to the pier for an hour or a day. You avoid the breaking surf action by going out towards the end of the pier.

Surf Fishing from Shore

This is not permitted everywhere at all times, because of the undesirable effects that come from the human swimmer/barbed fishhook interface; so check the local beaches you’re interested in. We know that Sunset Beach usually permits it, as does San Clemente in some places. Surf fishing apparently has quite an enthusiastic following; here is a website that will give you some pointers and good background information on surf fishing in Southern California. Somehow surf fishing and beach camping seem to go together like margaritas and fish tacos.

Deep-sea Fishing

There are several companies operating pleasure fishing boats out of Huntington Harbor, Newport Harbor and Dana Point. You’re likely to have the choice of a half-day boat (that is the first half, starting at o:dark thirty in the morning), a full-day boat or an overnight excursion. Longer trips may take you south towards San Diego or even below the Mexican border.

One advantage to deep-sea fishing in Southern California over Hawaii is that it’s typically less humid, and the sun is not as intense. Since you can’t usually jump in the water to cool off, spending many hours on a fishing boat in the Hawaiian sun and humidity (and heat) can really wear you out).

We want to give you the names of four well-known fishing and tour companies and a couple of good web sites. First the names and phone numbers. In Newport Harbor are Newport Landing (949/675-0550) and Davey’s Locker (949/673-1434). Call Captain Dave’s Dolphin Safari (949/488-2828) or Dana Wharf Sportfishing in Dana Point Harbor (949/496-5794). Click here for some links to charter companies. A second web site with a tremendous number of activities at the beach and throughout Orange County

Whale Watching Tours

Where there’s deep-sea fishing (Huntington Harbor, Newport Harbor, Dana Point Harbor), there’s whale watching and harbor/coastal boat touring. We really do get some great days of whale watching, and even if you see no whales or dolphins, it ends up being a great time out on the water. Gives you a whole new perspective on the coastline.

Although not cheap, a half-day of deep-sea fishing or whale watching on a commercial boat can add a great deal of interest to your Orange County beach vacation. Check out the links provided above for deep-sea fishing; those same companies tend to offer the other tours as well.


There is nothing better than getting a seal level view of the harbors and beaches. And one of the best ways to do that is to rent a kayak for part of a day. Rent out of Huntington Harbor and Sunset Beach and explore the harbor and adjacent Anaheim Bay. There you’ll be face-to-face with wallabies, kiwis, boa constrictors and leeches (not really, but there are some really cool local critters so bring your binoculars and a camera—protected of course from the potential overturning event). These companies will also rent you canoes and Duffy electric boats.

You can rent out of Newport Harbor and Newport Dunes Resort and also down at Laguna Beach and Dana Point Harbor. If you are adventurous you can kayak along the rocks and cliffs around Laguna but watch out for the ocean swells; they turn into waves against the rocks, you know.

Actually, Laguna Beach probably offers some of the most interesting kayak opportunities, with the cliffs and numerous small beaches, but it might be worth joining a tour such as is offered by La Vida Laguna (who also offer surfing lessons and other environmental recreational activities).

If you paddle around the harbors, you’ll get up close and personal with some killer yachts and beautiful ocean-or bay-front homes. (By the way, there are other rental companies in O.C.; we’ve tried to get you started on your research, but there are a lot of businesses in and around the beach communities that offer rentals, tours and other activities. We can’t cover them all so check out the beach city web sites we’ve given you and even check the yellow pages online.)

Boat Rentals

From paddleboats to personal watercraft to powerboats to sailboats to Duffy electric cruiser boats, you can find it at one of the Orange County marinas or harbors. For rental contacts, check the sources provided just above for kayak rentals.

The largest harbor is at Newport Beach, where you can rent for an hour or a day, hanging out with the bigger vessels in the main channel or in the smaller inlets. Newport Dunes has the smaller boat rentals. Up at Peter’s Landing at Huntington Harbor are additional rental options, as there are at Dana Point Harbor.

Skin Diving

The best snorkeling and SCUBA diving is found from Corona del Mar and south. CDM and Laguna have a number of good places where you can see rocky reefs if you’re diving, and tidepools if you’re on the shore. In fact, except for some piers and rock jettys, there’s not much to see at the northern beaches.

Do not disturb the tidepools, which unfortunately would be more interesting if fewer 1However, if you go out and away from the sand beach a little ways (carefully of course) the water clears up some. If you really want clear water, consider a deep-sea dive from a dive boat (check the fishing/tour companies linked above) or get over to Catalina Island, in Los Angeles county. There are dive shops around the county and you might get a better price for rentals and air. Check the online yellow pages for a city near your hotel.

Bike Riding

Here again, you have a lot of great choices. You can cruise around downtown Seal Beach, or ride several miles through Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach and its three beaches (connected by a very nice bike trail), all the way to Newport Beach. You can ride the Balboa Peninsula or take the beautiful trails through the Newport Back Bay wildlife refuge. This is mostly pretty level. (If you are in better shape, you can take on the hills of Laguna Beach but that is probably not for most of us.)

Some of the bicycle trails are best handled with multi-speed touring bikes, especially if you’re riding south of Newport. You can have fun around Huntington, Balboa or San Clemente with the single-speed cruisers and some of them look really retro and cool.

But folks, there’s a reason that they invented gears for bicycles and it makes a big difference when the terrain is not completely level. Some of the best information we found on bike rentals and bike trails for Southern California is at this link ; be sure to check out the information for other parts of Southern California!