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A Tour of Seaside Bars

Where to play and stay on the Southern California Coast

Newport Beach is known for its myriad water sports.

Newport Beach is known for its myriad water sports.

Looking for a warm-weather getaway? Our tour of SoCal seaside bars and the area around them starts in Huntington Beach, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles and just a 35-minute drive from both LAX and John Wayne Airport in Orange County. So let’s get started and make our way down the Pacific Coast Highway, frequently called California’s Golden Coast.

HUNTINGTON BEACH

Huntington Beach is officially known as Surf City USA. Located between Los Angeles and San Diego, its wide-open sandy beaches make it a haven for families and couples—and their dogs—as well as surfers. The iconic Huntington Beach Pier spans more than 1,800 feet in length in the heart of HB and lets visitors enjoy breathtaking views surrounded by the sounds of crashing waves. The U.S. Open of Surfing takes place on the south side of the pier every summer and is the largest surfing competition in the world, attracting around half a million visitors.

where to drink

Duke’s Huntington Beach (317 Pacific Coast Highway, 714.374.6446, dukeshuntington.com)

Named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, Hawaii’s most famous citizen and the “Father of International Surfing,” Duke’s offers a dozen signature drinks with a view of the surf beach at Huntington. Try the Maui Watermelon cocktail, made from botanical cucumber and mint vodka and fresh watermelon.

where to eat

For a special occasion, enjoy the fine dining at the Watertable in the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach (watertablehb.com) or Red Table (redtablerestaurants.com), offering funky renditions of classic comfort food.

NEWPORT BEACH

Newport Beach is the largest coastal area on our Pacific Coast Highway adventure. It’s made up of 10 distinct neighborhoods, each with its own unique personality and natural beauty. With the largest recreational harbor on the west coast, there are 10 miles of extraordinary fishing, swimming, surfing, and aquatic sports activities.Mutt Lynch’s (2300 W. Oceanfront, 949.690.1531, muttlynchs.com)

where to drink (and eat)

Mutt Lynch’s has been one of Orange County’s favorite dive bars since 1976 (the beer keg urinals are a real treat!). Make sure to try one of the more than 36 brews, mostly served on tap in ice-cold 32-ounce schooners. I especially liked the Firestone Walker 805, a refreshing blonde ale, paired with Mutt’s Novia’s Italian Salad. It’s a great place to hang out.

LAGUNA BEACH

Laguna Beach is home to a state marine reserve and conservation area, fully protected marine reserves—nothing can be fished for, touched, or removed from this area. In addition, with more than 30 coves and beaches, Laguna Beach is the ideal spot for luxurious coastal fun and features more beachfront lodging than any other city in California. Don’t miss the annual Pageant of the Masters, July 8–September 3, 2020; it is one of the most unique productions in the world as pageant participants recreate famous works of art in tableaux vivants.

where to drink

The Deck on Laguna Beach (627 Sleepy Hollow Lane, 949.494.6700, deckonlaguna.com)

As the only bar located on the sand in Laguna Beach, the Deck on Laguna Beach is situated on the Pacific Edge Hotel’s beachside deck and is a festive spot for American seafood (the fresh lobster quesadilla—yum!) and colorful cocktails. Try the Seaworthy cocktail, made with rum and fresh strawberries and basil. The Bloody Mary is truly a salad in a glass, full of celery, olives, a sweet pepper, and a radish. Prepare yourself for a 30-minute-plus, well-worth-it wait.

where to stay

For less than 200 bucks a night, try the oceanfront Laguna Riviera Beach Resort (lagunariviera.com) or the Pacific Edge Hotel (pacificedgehotel.com).

where to dine

Try Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico (carmelitaskdm.com) with a view of Laguna Beach, serving unique dishes, including jumbo shrimp taquitos and crab-stuffed, bacon-wrapped jalapeños.

DANA POINT

Trails wind through the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area, which has sweeping ocean views and an interesting interpretive center. The city was named after Richard Henry Dana Jr., author of sailing tale Two Years Before the Mast, which included a description of the area. Dana described the locale, including neighboring San Juan Capistrano, as “the only romantic spot on the coast.” In the 1950s, pioneering surfers discovered Dana Point, and in 1954, Hobie Alter, of Hobie Surfboards and Hobie Cat fame, opened the mainland’s first retail surf shop in Dana Point. Early surf legends came to ride “Killer Dana,” a legendary wave that broke at Dana Point Cove.

where to drink

Wind & Sea Restaurant (34699 Golden Lantern, 949.496.6500, windandsearestaurants.com)

Located in the heart of Dana Point Harbor, Wind & Sea offers a bustling view of boats of all sizes gliding in and out of the marina on seafaring adventures around the harbor or into the Pacific Ocean. My favorite cocktail is Mr. C’s Old School Mai Tai, a blast from the 1940s, comprising light and dark rums, orgeat, lime, pineapple, and mint.   

where to dine (and stay)

Waterman’s at the Dana Point Marina (watermansdp.com) is a seafood-lovers haven with more than a half dozen choices of fresh caught fish and oysters, clams, and mussels daily. For a special occasion, book a room at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa (marriott.com).

SAN CLEMENTE

Built in the 1920s as a Spanish village by the sea by former Seattle mayor Ole Hanson, San Clemente has about 300 sunny days annually and some of the best surf on this coast. Hanson’s favored Spanish Colonial Revival architecture still rules in the quaint stucco-and-red-tile-roofed homes and popular civic buildings, such as the Ole Hanson Beach Club, the community center, and the harborside pier.

where to drink

The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar (611 Avenida Victoria, 949.498.6390, thefishermansrestaurantsanclemente.com)

Fisherman’s has a lot going for it, including an elevated pier with a panoramic view of one of the most beautiful sunsets in the region. Another plus is the Monday through Friday happy hours, which include a different $5 appetizer daily—the fish tacos are especially delicious—and the “sunset hour” drink menu is unbeatable with Long Island ice teas and Margaritas.

where to stay

The Casa Tropicana Boutique Inn (casatropicana.com) has eight romantic rooms in a five-story, Spanish-style building overlooking a palm tree–lined beach and the 1926 San Clemente Pier.

So pack your bags and bikini and enjoy all that the Golden Coast has to offer.

Getting There

There are several much quicker options than loading up the station wagon, kids, and dogs and driving the two full days to SoCal.

Flight options abound from both Colorado Springs and Denver with several final destinations in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. Book a nonstop flight on United to LAX out of the Springs or take a puddle jumper from COS to Denver, where United, Frontier, and Delta, among others, fly into all three of the aforementioned airports.

If you want to leave your car at DIA, Groom, formerly known as the Colorado Springs Shuttle, has several pickup locations all day long from the COS airport to DIA, and travel time is less than two hours.

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