I recently joined a group of journalists in Huntington Beach to learn more about the culture, the lifestyle and scenery, thanks to Visit Huntington Beach.
Arriving at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, I scheduled an Uber to take me to my hotel, the Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort on Pacific Coast Highway.
Located directly across the Pacific Coast Highway overlooking the Huntington Beach Pier, the hotel is in the heart of Surf City USA. Huntington Beach is appropriately called Surf City USA for the surfing lifestyle and consistent waves. Everywhere you look, surfing and the beach dominate the scenery. Here you’ll find stores with Vans, swimwear shops, surfboard shops and numerous dining options that appeal to the on-the-go crowd. This is a bustling area with people walking and popping in and out of businesses.
With 10 miles of beach, it’s no wonder Huntington Beach is home to the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, but it’s also a popular area for skateboarders and is home to the Vans “Off the Wall” Skatepark – a city block of skateboarding with a 40-foot double-kinked handrail.
The Kimpton Shorebreak is in the heart of this area and fits the lifestyle perfectly with its boutique surfer-style beachfront location and elevated California guestrooms and public spaces.
Entering the property from a busy pedestrian street, the neoprene-covered walls leading up to the lobby are oddly familiar. It took a day for me to realize the wall-covering was recycled wetsuits-turned-artistic conversation starters.
From the lobby, mild breezes flow through the open spaces from the patio and dining area where people mingle and relax.
The property recently underwent a $3 million makeover that included expanding the private dining area, décor changes to the 157 guestrooms and the addition of Pacific Hideaway, the new restaurant on the main level.
After checking in and leaving my luggage with the front desk, I strolled along the main thoroughfare to Pacific City, a shopping and dining destination where I would meet my new companions for lunch. With mild weather, blue skies and an ocean view, I took my time, stopping to watch a variety of surf vehicles (converted VW wagons and unknown older models) with racks, open windows driven by motorists in casual clothing. The manicured beach stretched to the open water and a dozen or more surfers sat on their boards in the mirror-like glass looking toward the horizon – waiting for a wave I suppose. There were no waves in sight on this morning, but no one seemed to mind. That’s Huntington Beach for you and you’ll quickly learn that waiting for a wave or talking about surfing or just being near the ocean and beach is good enough. Everyone is in a good mood here it seems. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s gorgeous.
After a quick glance at a few shops at Pacific City, our group met at Bluegold owned by Chef Tin Vuong and partner Jed Sanford. With sweeping views of the ocean, this restaurant provides a great way to relax while enjoying elegant dining while the California sun beams through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The menu uses locally-sourced ingredients from both the earth and sea, creating a style that reflects the lifestyle here.
We followed our waiters’ advice and started with milk rolls served with hazelnut honey and citrus followed by double Dutch fries with garlic confit, herbs and sauce mornay and then shared a steam kettle shellfish pot of scallops, clams, mussels, maitake, and curry, while other diners sampled roasted wild salmon, shrimp and crab ravioli and the daily fish selection and fresh oysters.
During lunch, our hosts, Jennifer Tong, director of public relations and communications with Visit Huntington Beach and Emiko Kaneoka, public relations coordinator shared highlights about the area. Janelle McKinsey, with Development Counsellors International, also joined us for lunch and tours.
Pacific City opened in 2015 on a 31-acre parcel fronting the Pacific Coast Highway. The open-air concept with lounge areas, artwork and shops pay tribute to the original name of the village now known as Huntington Beach. The retail hub features 191,000 square feet of retail, a fitness center and spa, restaurants, an artisanal market with elevated beach food and beers, while outside includes fire pits, an outdoor movie screen and life-size board checkers. Tong said many sports groups bring their teams to Pacific City to enjoy the atmosphere.
Following the tour, we headed a couple blocks down to the Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, to meet with Kamran Enayat, director of sales for the property.
The Waterfront Beach Resort is completing a $140 million expansion that includes a nine-story, 152 room, all-suites tower, a new restaurant, an ocean-view lounge, spa, pool deck and an event lawn on 3.5 acres south of the property. The existing public spaces will also be updated, including rebuilding the pool and pool deck.
The resort includes 437 guest rooms and 48,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. Meeting options include space with ocean views and terrace access and the latest audio-visual technology and catering services.
Guest never have to leave the resort since dining, cabana rentals, retail space and meeting rooms are all located on the property.
Upstairs on the ninth floor of the Waterfront Beach Resort’s new tower, the group enjoyed panoramic views from Orange County’s highest rooftop at Offshore 9, a lounge that features small plates and handcrafted cocktails, high-end wines and champagne by the glass. We learned more about Huntington Beach from John Ehlenfeldt, executive vice president of sales and administration, Matt Tibbetts, regional sales executive and John Todora, regional sales executive with Visit Huntington Beach.
After watching the sunset, we headed to SeaSalt Woodfire Grill to enjoy the “farm-to-fire” menu. Recently named one of Orange County’s 21 hottest restaurants by Eater LA, SeaSalt is owned by Alicia Whitney and Alexander Dale, the owners of other well-known dining establishments in the area. More about that later.
What you’ll first notice about SeaSalt is the smoky aroma that beckons diners. From the large firepit outside to the interior with dark walls and butcher drawings, this restaurant promises a barbecuing experience that harkens back to the days 180 years ago when ranchers in the Santa Maria Valley held feasts over hot coals of native red oak. By combining the history of the vaqueros’ meals and the fire pits of Huntington Beach, this is a dining experience I won’t soon forget. By land or by sea, the vegetables, seafood, beef, pork and fowl were a big hit with our party.
After a long day of touring and eating, I returned to the Kimpton Shorebreak. My room overlooking the Pacific included a living area with wet bar, mini-fridge, a sofa, lamp, television and workstation with a beachfront balcony. The living area was separated from the bedroom and bath providing a way to separate work from sleep.
This property feels like a place you might stay when visiting friends at the beach – and your friends have great taste. Large showers, extra deep soaking tubs, 55-inch flat screens, animal print robes and amenities to keep guests happy when they aren’t in their rooms, such as beach cruisers, surfboard lockers, nightly fireside S’mores, a 40-foot wide bouldering wall, a record library and coffee/tea in the morning.
And since Surf City USA is all about surfing, and is home to the WSL U.S. Open of Surfing each July, you’ll always find surfing on the public area T.V., whether it’s a live event or pre-recorded.
The next morning, we toured the hotel including meeting space, exercise area, interior courtyard and other spaces before having breakfast at Pacific Hideaway, the newly opened dining space at the property. With a cool morning breeze blowing through the open doors, the menu features Latin American and Asian flavors in an amped up surf hangout.
After breakfast, we made our way to Bolsa Chica State Beach, just south of Huntington Beach. Bolsa Chica extends three miles from Huntington Beach to Sunset Beach and includes the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The area is popular with surfers, campers and fishermen.
The State-owned beach is also home to four new gourmet concession areas, including SeaLegs at the Beach, the sister restaurant to the award-winning SeaLegs Wine Bar.
SeaLegs at the beach is a one-acre beach club with a wine bar and lounge. Alicia Whitney, the owner of SeaSalt also created this restaurant along with the idea for the three others along this stretch of coast, including SeaSalt Beachside Burger, Pacific Kitchen and Beach City Provisions.
SeaLegs is a popular spot for concerts, festivals and is used for off-site and private events and features comfortable seating, picnic tables and restrooms.
After learning more about SeaLegs, we traveled to Huntington Harbor Boat Rentals for a Duffy boat ride. For those who don’t have a boat, these electric boats provide an ideal way to tour the harbor and glimpse the homes that line the waterways. Look for Huntington Harbor Boat Rentals on Facebook.
After spending a couple hours on the water, we headed back to town to tour the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa with Kay Cochran and Angel Tassone. This oceanfront resort recently completed renovations to all of its guest rooms, adding illuminated bathroom mirrors, 65-inch flat screen TVs and updating the décor in the 514 rooms. Rooms and suites feature balconies overlooking Huntington Beach with furnished patios and private firepits on the patio level. The property offers a residential Mediterranean feeling throughout, including in the pool area, that was also renovated and features luxury cabanas. With three pool areas, a children’s water playground with three slides and three oversized hot tubs, the pool areas are a popular place to relax.
The property features 110,000 square feet of meeting space indoors and outdoors and the Hyatt Regency also offers one of the largest ballrooms on the West Coast. The Pacific Waters Spa features the same Spanish-style design in 20,000 feet of space. The resort also includes Camp Hyatt for children ages 3012 and a beach bonfire package that includes beach chairs, blankets, hot chocolate and s’mores.
And finally, Watertable, the signature restaurant at the resort is an indulgence featuring American cuisine inspired by coastal California. With seasonal menus paired with vintage wines, craft brews, artisanal cocktails and infused waters. Cathy Scott, marketing manager at the Hyatt Regency treated our group to a communal farmhouse meal in an intimate alcove.
It is possible that our group enjoyed one of everything on the menu as plates of appetizers, entrees, desserts and glasses of wine and hand-crafted cocktails filled our table throughout the evening. We particularly enjoyed Holy smoke – a signature cocktail featuring peppercorn infused grey goose, fresh grapefruit and lemon juice that arrives under glass and smoking.
For more casual dining at the resort, try Pete’s Sunset Grille’s famous fish tacos; Tower 15 Pizzeria named for the lifeguard station across from the resort. The property also offers Surf City Grocers, which features a variety of California wines, Starbucks drinks and other items.
After an enjoyable dinner and lively conversation with Cathy and the group, we took the boardwalk over PCH for bonfires compliments of the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa. Camp chairs, blankets, hot chocolate and a variety of marshmallows, chocolates, caramels and graham crackers were waiting and our concierge prepared the fire and told us more about the area.
All beaches in the area close at 10 p.m. so we headed back to our respective hotels for the final night of our tour.
Breakfast at the rooftop Tanner’s Huntington Beach at the Pasea Hotel & Spa provided a cool breeze and bright blue skies to wake us with the smells of the woodfire grill and a sampling of breakfast items, coffees and juices. Both modern and vintage farmhouse chic, this rooftop dining spot provides the same amazing Pacific Ocean views and a laid-back vibe that reminds you that you’re somewhere special. We sampled the cinnamon bun served in a cast iron pan, then chose our own dishes from the menu that included avocado toast, classic breakfast items, burritos and saag chicken apple sausage.
The Pasea Hotel & Spa mimics the colors of the beaches and ocean in color and feeling. With 250 guestrooms and suites, almost all with ocean views and balconies provide a relaxing retreat for guests and the Pasea Penthouse was named one of “OC’s Best Penthouse Suites” by Nobleman Magazine, includes 1,900 square feet of space with two private balconies with 180 degrees of oceanfront viewing. A living room with sleeper sofa, luxe glass fireplace and an ample bathroom with a free-standing tub for two and separate rain shower and a second powder bath give the feeling of being home awayfrom home. The Penthouse also includes a full kitchen with a bar and bar stools, a locally hand-painted guitar and the unit is controlled by an Intelity ICE App for lighting and temperature control.
The resort also features the Aarna, a Balinese-inspired spa, pools with ocean views, fire pits, cabanas, an outdoor bar and whirlpool; a 24-hour fitness center; a Treehouse Lounge overlooking the Pacific Ocean and bike cruisers for use during the stay.
With 11 meeting rooms with more than 34,000 square feet of space, the property attracts a variety of events and meetings can overspill to the lawn through the meeting area for outdoor events, according to Teresa Karcher, sales manager at Pasea Hotel & Spa. With chef-designed menus, full audio-visual amenities the staff accommodates
If you like clear, sunny days, cool, breezy nights, ocean breezes, bonfires, incredible food and nice people, check out Huntington Beach. You’ll know why the people here say they are “Livin’ the dream.” #SurfCityUSA
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Visit Huntington Beach and was provided with dining, hotel and transportation for this site visit. The opinions expressed in my writing are my own.