Huntington Beach is the place where the Santa Ana River makes waves – quite literally. Part of what makes Surf City such an excellent place to catch a wave is a sandbar created by sediment flowing from the Santa Ana. People have gathered here to surf and enjoy the SoCal lifestyle for decades, and Huntington Beach is still a great place to come to relax and soak up the sun.
The culture of this particular beach makes it a perfect destination to bring your kids for a day of fun. Pack up a cooler full of cold drinks, your lounge chairs, beach toys, boogie boards, and your beach umbrella and camp out for the day.
My niece Emily and nephew Hunter had a great time playing in the surf and dipping their feet in the river. Once they started riding the waves on their boogie boards, it was nearly impossible to get them out of the water.
Suggestions for things to do:
Ride in a Surry (but no fringe on top)
There are a series of rental places/snack shops that dot the boardwalk at Huntington State Beach. You can rent normal bikes, surries, and a few other interesting rides. Emily had her heart set on a surry, which is actually cheaper than renting a bike for each member of your family. They have two sizes – one with room for two peddlers and one with room for four. Both types have seats in the front for very small children (they get to enjoy the ride with no work!)
We took the one with room for two and I had the kids switch out between peddling and resting. Emily had a great time pretending to “drive” with the dummy steering wheel. Surries are a great relationship builder if you are looking for a workout and don’t mind joggers passing you.
Wade in the River
Emily’s favorite part of the day was getting to dip her feet in the Santa Ana before we moved over to the Pacific side of the beach. Families set up camp along the river’s edge – some even set their beach chairs right in the shallows.
Kids can wade in shallow water without waves overwhelming them. The river’s currents are strong, though, and can go out to sea or back toward land depending on the tides. Don’t let kids go too deep. This is a place for strong supervision.
The Santa Ana River is Southern California’s largest and most-used river and supplies water to millions of people living in the Santa Ana’s watershed, which extends from the Inland Empire to Orange County. Its headwaters are high in the San Bernardino Mountains, stretching from Mount Baldy to Big Bear. Snowmelt from these mountains and rain from around the watershed feed the Santa Ana and its many tributaries. One of the coolest things about this watershed is that most parts of it are within easy driving distance – you can ski in the mountains, drive through the desert, and play at the beach all in one day.
Ride the Waves
If you don’t know how to surf, you can still enjoy Huntington Beach’s legendary waves. Boogie boards are incredibly popular – the shallow surf is full of kids swimming out and riding back. If you don’t own boogie boards, they can be rented at the snack shops that dot the beaches. Emily and Hunter spent the better part of three hours in the water, fighting their way out and careening back to shore.
Now would be the time to dust off any footballs, volleyballs, or even badminton sets you have in the garage. Any kind of beach sport you can think of is more than welcome at Huntington. No one seems to mind if a ball goes flying towards another group’s setup – it’s almost expected.
Bring your tailgating gear for a feast on the sand. One of the most clever setups we saw was a family that fit a giant cooler into one of those collapsible red wagons.
If cooking on the sand is not your style, bring drinks, snacks, and stop at the snack shops for what Emily and Hunter swear are the “best hotdogs EVER!”
Where to Find It:
Huntington State Beach is located where the Santa Ana River meets the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Ana’s Headwaters start high in the mountains that surround the Inland Empire, including places like Big Bear. The snow we play in all winter eventually makes its way down to Surf City, where it runs into the Pacific.
The Beach is situated next to the Pacific Coast Highway, west of Magnolia Street in the City of Huntington Beach – click here for directions from the California Department of Parks & Recreation. Parking is $15 for the day during the summer and $10 a day from October 1st through March 31st. Come early for the best spots.
There are so many cool things to do with your kids in the Santa Ana Watershed, which extends from Big Bear to Huntington Beach, coving much of the Inland Empire and Orange County. One thing that these two regions share is a water supply – and if you live in the IE or the OC, most of your water comes from within this area.
My name is Elizabeth Skrzat, a 29-year old newlywed, and I am bonding with my new niece and nephew by exploring the Santa Ana Watershed with them. Emily is 10 years old, in 5th grade, and loves math and the color pink. Hunter is 11 years old and in 6th grade. He loves social studies, riding his bike, and hamburgers. They have lived here all their lives, but like New Yorkers with the Statue of Liberty, they have never really explored their own home. The Santa Ana Watershed encompasses all of the best of SoCal living – the mountains, the desert, and the beach – and sightseeing locally is a great way to have fun with your kids without burning a ton of cash. We will visit many places in the IE and the OC together and all of it is “kid-approved” by them.
Want to explore more places in the watershed? Take a look at SAWPA’s map of things to do in the Santa Ana Watershed, which extends from Big Bear to the beach!