The ocean is Southern California's main attraction come summer. Check out our list of Orange County, ocean-centered activities you won't want to miss.
There’s a reason most people live in coastal Orange County: It’s called the Pacific Ocean. Face it, if that big beautiful blue playground wasn’t there, we’d be just another Riverside (case-in-point: have you seen how many Riversiders flock here every weekend?). And the season when the Pacific really shines is summer. Its waters warm up, as do the beaches, days get longer and to-do lists get saltier. So here are a few oceanic entries for summer you won’t regret.
Get ready, the circus is coming to Surf City U.S.A. in the form of the U.S. Open of Surfing. Historically, there have been as many tattoos and nose rings on display as surfers. But of course, the real show is in the water, where superfreaks of talent slash and carve their way toward the ultimate cash prize in pro surfing: $100,000. That, in addition to the fact that Huntington Beach, with its iconic pier and main street, provides one of the best venues in the sport, means that most of surfing’s top names show. Expect to see Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and local heroes Brett Simpson and Courtney Conlogue. And of course there are “sideshows” such as the skate, BMX and other competitions. It all goes down July 30 through August 7.
Look for a huge south swell, then head to the very end of the Peninsula where you will see a bunch of crazed bodysurfers seemingly trying to get themselves into traction riding the bombs of Newport’s infamous Wedge. There’s nothing like standing on the beach watching a 20-foot tall wave as it explodes on the sand a mere 30 feet in front of you. Oh, with a maniac proned-out inside. It’s better than the worst car crash you’ve ever seen. And thankfully, a lot less bloody – usually. Regardless, it’s standing-room-only action at its finest.
Nothing says summer like a clean white sail on the open blue ocean. Oh, you don’t own a sailboat? No problem. That’s why sailing clubs exist. Dues are around $100 per month and of that a good portion serves as credit toward chartering one of the club’s fleet for anything from day cruises to week-long Catalina trips. The best part? When the head backs up, you don’t deal with it. Engine problems? Not your problem. Just go have your fun, dock it and go. No hassles, no worries. So summer. Check out The Windward Sailing Club, which has a sterling reputation and some very nice boats.
But Learn to Sail First
Another great way to get on the water – and learn a whole lot of seamanship in the process – is to sign up for a class or two at Orange Coast College’s School of Sailing and Seamanship, heralded as one of the best sailing schools in the country. Here, you’ll find classes for every member of the family, as well as on every subject – from learning to sail a Lido 14 to the nuances of anchoring a 60-foot mega-yacht. There are family sailing classes, after-school programs and classes that attract only seniors. There are also great seminars with lively personalities that discuss sailing around the world. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, sign on the Alaska Eagle, a 65-foot cutter that sails the world, taking students on separate legs of the journey. Places visited include Hawaii, Easter Island, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, and more.
Settle down, we’re talking parasailing. And you can get high – rides ascend to 1,200 feet. And the nice thing is, unlike hang gliding or skydiving, there is no learning curve. Merely strap in and let go. And for those who are visiting Catalina Island, there’s a parasailing operation there as well.
Take an Island Adventure
First developed just before the turn of the 20th century, Catalina Island, now 88% controlled by the Catalina Island Conservancy, has a little bit of everything, whether you’re craving a quaint hotel, a raging bar, some wilderness hiking, or a crystal clear water snorkel. Twenty-six miles from Newport Beach, Catalina Island is 22 miles long and a mere eight miles across. Most of that is untouched by bulldozers, and trampled by the approximately 150 American bison. In 1924, 14 bison were brought to the island for the filming of The Vanishing American, but because of cost overruns, the film company left the animals on the island rather than transporting them back to the mainland. (And the bison scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.) Now, they star in tourist photos. The coves and bays of Catalina also offer some of the clearest waters around. From Fourth of July Cove to Emerald Bay, underwater wildlife is abundant, including garibaldi, yellowtail, kelp bass, white sea bass, and leopard sharks. Other fun things to do include renting bikes, golf carts, kayaks, or jet skis. Or, try high-speed rafting, parasailing and snorkeling or scuba. Getting to Catalina can be an adventure in itself. If you don’t have a boat – and still haven’t signed up for the sailing club – hop a ride on the Catalina Flyer, which departs from the Balboa Pavilion in Newport Harbor every morning at 9 a.m. and arrives at 10:15 a.m. For the daytrippers, the boat returns at 4:30 p.m. The cost is $68 roundtrip. Finally, if you’re in a serious hurry, the island has the “Airport in the Sky,” which accommodates helicopter service out of Long Beach. Check out Island Express; flights take just 15 minutes at a cost of $180 roundtrip.
catalinainfo.com :: islandexpress.com
Save Some Fish… and Your Kid’s Future Food Source
We’ve been singing the siren song for Oceana – the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans – for years and guess what… we’re doing it again. Because, frankly, it’s one of the best ways you can give back to Mother Ocean, and your own future. Not to mention the future of your kids. Not ready to write that check or volunteer some time yet? Here are some facts that just might change your mind: Fish is the biggest source of wild or domestic protein in the world. More than 90% of the ocean’s tunas are gone due to pollution and over-fishing over the last 50 years. But, lest you think the only thing we consume from the sea is fish, think again: Substances from marine plants and animals are used in many products, such as medicine, ice cream, toothpaste, fertilizers, gasoline, cosmetics, and livestock feed. Another cool thing we like about Oceana is its website, which has great, positive info like ocean-friendly and healthy seafood recipes, lists of ocean-friendly restaurants, helpful blue-living tips, and much more. And just in case you need more reason to sign on, Oceana happens to be one of the most star-studded orgs since LiveAid, with names like Ted Danson (co-founder), Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, and others. Look for Oceana’s annual SeaChange Summer Party fundraiser this summer for a fun way to help.
Learn to Dive
If you think the Pacific is beautiful from the beach, just wait till you see it from 50 feet underwater. Rocky outcroppings, kelp forests, colorful fish – it’s all happening just below the surface. But to take full advantage of that scenery, you’ll have to get certified in scuba first. The good news? It’s a mere few weekends away. A typical class involves a night of introduction, followed by a weekend of further instruction (approximately six hours) and practice in a pool (about four hours). Then, it’s into the open ocean for a few dives with an instructor and you’re certified. Next stop is a few atmospheres below. A place with a great rep is Beach Cities Scuba with locations in Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point.
Rent a Duffy for a Sunset Cruise
No engine noise, no outboard exhaust, just soft cushion seats around a cocktail party table, Duffy’s electric boats were made for sunset soirées. And Newport Harbor, the biggest small boat harbor on the coast (whatever that means), is perfect for these little putters that top out at five knots. If you only want hors d’oeuvres, stay aboard, but there are also a number of great eateries with guest docks, including Bluewater Grill, Cannery Seafood of the Pacific and Back Bay Café, to name a few. Rentals at Duffy run about $90 per hour and reservations are recommended.
Check Out Women’s Surfing… No, Seriously
No, that was not a long-haired 15-year-old future men’s champ doing an air reverse over your longboarding butt, it was an average teenage girl. Back in the day – like just a year ago – no one paid attention to women’s surfing unless it was for the bikini factor. Gidget was still what most people thought of as the iconic female surfer. Now, women’s surfing has blown up as a legitimate sport and is making a serious splash – make that throwing some serious spray. The women have always had grace and beauty, but now they also have power, style and a mean stale fish grab (ask your daughter what that is). And Orange County is right in the mix thanks to Billabong rider and WTC rookie phenom Courtney Conlogue, who hails from Santa Ana. She’s the real deal, and a smart one too – with the ability to go pro in her early teens, she instead elected to graduate from Sage Hill, with honors. Now she’s garnering honors on the tour, currently running seventh. Simply put, Conlogue is a role model any parent would want her daughter to follow. So check out women’s surfing; the next event is in France during July and will be broadcast on the Web and on Fuel TV.
Become a Surf Yogi
So you’re tired of groveling for waves with 10-year-old future Kelly Slaters at 54th Street, are bored with paddling your stand-up paddleboard (SUP) through pancake-flat bay water but aren’t ready to take up golf just yet. SUP yoga might be the ticket. Yes, you heard it right: yoga-on-a-SUP classes are available through the Newport Aquatics Center. So if in addition to mastering all things waves, you’ve conquered downward dog on land, try it on a 10-foot floating plank. Guaranteed to work your mind, core and balance. Of course, if you still haven’t got your SUP on, the center also offers a variety of SUP classes for all ages, including everything from SUP basics to SUP race training and even a SUP youth camp.
Surf a Different Kind of Board
For most SoCal kids, summer is all about surfing; surf mags and shortboards take the place of math books and chalkboards. Unfortunately, for Mother Nature, summer is all too often about flat spells, during which the Pacific lives up to its calming name and resembles a lake. But now, kids – and parents – can keep surfing (and even get a little math in) with the surfing board game Waimea Wipeout. Despite it being named after the iconic Hawaiian big wave spot, Waimea Wipeout has a set of cards that converts it to an all-Californian edition. Using a deca-die, players score points in heats, with the same format as a World Championship Tour contest, for everything from classic cutbacks to modern air-360s and of course a timeless barrel. “It’s fun for all ages and helps teach important social and math skills,” says Jeff Cicatko, the creator of the game and father of two, who says the educational aspect was as important as the fun factor. He spent over a year interviewing professional surfers and researching other family-friendly games to come up with the final version, which currently sells in select surf shops, on the Web and is a mainstay at many surf camps. He also recruited the work of world-renowned surf photojournalist Brian Bielmann to create an authentic and exciting look for the game. And, like the ocean itself, the game has many faces: There are nine different sets of surf breaks to choose from, including not only California, but Hawaii, Florida, New England, and others. So even when the surf goes flatter than a Kansas plain, you can still stay stoked – and maybe even learn a little something while finally pulling that stale fish into superman reintro.
Be an “Old Man” for a Day
There’s no better classic, no-stress surfing day than a trip to San Onofre. After all, with a surf break name of Old Man’s, you know it’s all mellow breakers and good vibes. Technically located in San Diego, off Interstate 5 at Basilone Road, 3,000-acre San Onofre State Park actually includes three areas: San Onofre Bluffs, San Onofre Surf Beach and San Mateo Campground. San Onofre Surf Beach (Old Man’s) has been a favorite surfing and fishing campsite since the 1920s and has long been headquarters for longboards, ukuleles and talking stories around the campfire. Beware, however: It can get very crowded. Only a certain amount of vehicles are allowed in each day and by 9 a.m. there is often a long line waiting for dawn patrollers to vacate the lineup. On a sunny summer day, many stay for the duration, so get there early. One downer: Alcohol is no longer permitted. Oh, and don’t let that looming nuclear reactor ruin your vibe – despite the fact that rumor has it that the water is mysteriously warmer here than anywhere along the coast. Entry is $10 per day.
Virtually Buy a Vintage Surfboard
Remember when mom wouldn’t allow your surfboard in the house? When your most prized possession was relegated to the cold, dark garage? Well, those days are long gone thanks to the explosion of surf art collecting, with vintage surfboards being auctioned off for 10s of thousands of dollars. And whether you’re planning to ride your next board or decorate your company boardroom with it, one of the most prestigious vintage surf auctions is coming up July 22-23: the Hawaiian Islands Vintage Surf Auction, featuring everything from Alai’a boards to ’80s new wave boards and everything in between. Established in 2001 by legendary surfer/shaper/Triple Crown of Surfing Director Randy Rarick, this special two-day event happens only every other year due to Rarick’s insistence that only the most deserving of items gain acceptance. Just consider a few of 2009’s top sellers: a Bob Simmons “Foam Sandwich” from the James Arness Collection went for $40,000; a 1955 Matt Kivlin balsa 10’4” corralled $39,000; and if you are the current owner of the auction’s 1920s 10-foot Waikiki Redwood Plank, you’re $24,000 lighter. When it was all done, the auction saw sales of more than $700,000. Now, if you’re thinking that the Hawaiian Islands in the auction title means it takes place in Hawaii, well, that’s where you’re right. But 2011’s auction will be Web-friendlier than ever so that both the silent and live auctions can be “attended” online in real time – yes, it’s now easier than ever to trade thousands of dollars for 90-year-old wood. And who knows, maybe that old friend your mom wouldn’t let within 50 feet of the house is up on the chopping blocks – now it’s not old, it’s classic.
Join a Parade
Sure, the big daddy of boat parades happens during the winter holidays, but summer’s Old Glory Fourth of July Boat Parade in Newport Harbor is a really fun runner-up. Now in its 59th year and hosted by the American Legion Club, the event sees more than 100 vessels cruise the harbor, decorated for patriotic pride and competing for awards such as Best Tugboat, Best Wooden Classic, Best Dinghy, Best Electric, and Best Sail. And the best part for spectators? They can join the fun. Just rent or borrow any barge and put into the lineup. You know the day, the time is 1 p.m., when the parade will form in front of Collins Island and be led by the Harbor Patrol Fire Boat. Oh, and stick around for a sunset fireworks show courtesy of Newport Dunes.