The beginning of June is like a watermelon ripening on the vine. It just needs a few more days before it’s primed – promising fruit that is sweet and crisp and airy. In those first days of June, we plot, plan and improvise. The hope is to enter fall with bright sparkling memories to carry us along as the days draw shorter. With that said, consider this your summer to-do list, your assistant as you attempt to carpe the heck out of each diem.
Witness Nature’s Force
When the summer south swells hit Orange County, a visit to The Wedge at the east end of Balboa Peninsula is a must. Thanks to a jetty built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the '30s, waves hitting the Wedge in summer are amplified as they stack on top of one another, climbing up and up and up before smashing down into the sand with a fury. On a medium-sized day, you might even brave the water with a nice pair of swim fins. (From 10am - 5pm, no boards are allowed – only bodies and fins.) But when the big swells hit, leave wave riding to the pros – there are two types of helicopters that hover over Balboa on big days at the Wedge: news choppers and Coast Guard medevac.
FIVE SUMMER FAVES
Film Director + Ocean Aficionado
1. BIKING OR HIKING :: In the wonderful greenbelt surrounding Laguna Beach in the morning or at sunset.
2. STAND UP PADDLING AT THALIA STREET :: Through the Laguna Marine Reserve which, after 30 years of overfishing, has fish again!
3. STROLLING ALONG :: Scenic Heisler Park then checking out what’s on display at the cliff-side Laguna Art Museum.
4. SIPPING :: One of Adam’s martinis at sunset on the patio of Sapphire Laguna, then browsing the shelves at Laguna Beach Books next door.
5. FEASTING :: On sustainable seafood seated at the cool upper-deck of Nirvana Grille, before taking the trolley to the art festivals where some of my favorite artists are displaying their best work in decades.
Ticket to Ride
Oh how easy it is to forget that we live in the theme park epicenter of the universe. Disneyland! California Adventure! Six Flags! Knott’s Berry Farm! It’s enough to make you clap with overeager excitement or roll your eyes in disgust. There are typically two sides to the theme park argument: gaudy fun vs. crowds and lines. If crowds are where your resistance lies, take a lesson from pass holders, who are wise enough to visit during off-peak, mid-week hours and know the little nooks and outposts at their favorite park where the standing isn’t quite so shoulder-to-shoulder. If you let yourself enjoy the theme park experience, you might just find yourself dancing at a parade, challenging your kids to rock-paper-scissors while waiting in line, or screaming in joy-tinged terror on a roller coaster – y’know, having fun. :: disneyland.disney.go.com :: knotts.com :: sixflags.com/magicmountain
Find a Hidden Beach
Anyone who’s endured dead-stop traffic on PCH in the summer is likely to think that discovering a secluded stretch of sand in Orange County is impossible. But with an intrepid spirit and a little extra energy, there are still plenty of isolated coves to make you feel like a castaway. One of the best is Totuava Bay, just around a rocky headland at the north end of the already secluded Thousand Steps in Laguna Beach. Totuava’s white sands are public, but with no street access, you’ll have to walk or wade over (depending on the tide). Once you arrive, you’ll be treated to crystalline waters and an absence of crowds. It’s a little extra effort, and if you’ve got gear, you’ll have to pay attention to make sure you don’t get stranded by a high tide – but totally worth it.
Taco y Cerveza
In the early evening, with the shadows growing longer and the heat beginning to fade, nothing hits the spot like a fish taco and a cold beer. Orange County has some of the best Baja-style fish tacos outside of… well… Baja. The grilled fish taco at Bear Flag Fish Co. in Newport and Crystal Cove is one of our favorites – the company owns its own fishing fleet and their emphasis on freshness is apparent on the plate. Across from the Montage in Laguna Beach, La Sirena Grill serves up sustainably-minded fish tacos along with rare craft beers on tap. New to the scene, solita in Huntington Beach is chef Deb Schneider’s newest means of expressing her love for Baja cuisine and it doesn’t disappoint a bit. The beer-battered-shrimp tacos will make any day feel sunny.
You’ll never regret a day spent strolling between the three Laguna Beach art festivals (Sawdust, Art-a-Fair and Festival of Arts) taking in paintings, photos, mixed-media, and sculpture. Sign up for a pottery or printmaking class, groove to live music, admire the skill of the famous Sawdust glassblowers, then head over to the Festival of Arts for the Pageant of the Masters. Watching heavily made-up actors stand completely rigid for two hours might not seem like a rip-roaring good time, but the art design, lighting and elaborate staging of these tableaux vivants is a wonder to witness. This year’s theme is Art Detective – promising an investigation into crimes of passion, hidden meanings and the secret story behind each iconic image. The Pageant runs July-August 30 with the Festival of Arts kicking off three days earlier. The Sawdust and Art-a-Fair both span from June 27-August 21. It’s worth noting that the Passport to the Arts allows you into all three festivals for one $23 price, excluding the Pageant of the Masters, and is good for the entire summer. :: lagunabeachpassport.com
Devour a Fried Twinkie
The fried Twinkie, along with any of the other choco-dipped, sugar-coated, deep-fried delicacies at the OC Fair, is an act of indulgence perfect for summer. Running from July 11-August 10, the fair, themed Summer Starts Here, features 23 days of concerts, cooking contests, as well as the Toyota Summer Concert Series at the Pacific Amphitheatre, featuring acts like Ziggy Marley, Pat Benatar, The Go-Go's, Deep Purple, and Lynrd Skynrd, among others, and five nights of monster and tuff trucks and the world’s best skateboarding and BMX pros on the biggest half-pipe in the world. But the true summery joys still come in the form of rides that hurtle along a track and foods that would be summarily banned in NYC. As much as the Fair Board spruces things up every year, the OC Fair is best when providing the sort of scuffed-up fun (riding down a towering slide on a burlap sack) that summer memories are made of. For those who need a little peace amidst the crowds, the gondola that travels from one end of the grounds to another is less a ride and more a chance to extricate yourself from the swell of people below. The fair is open Wednesday-Sunday. Concert tickets, action sports reserved seats, single-day general admission, and the popular Super Pass are available for purchase online or from the on-site box office. :: ocfair.com
Take the Ferry to Catalina
Catalina Island is the best “close-cation” you’ll find anywhere in Southern California. For a small island, it’s got an incredible range – it can be remote or buttoned-up, family- friendly or couples-oriented. More and more, it’s also become identified with adventure: rock climbing, zip lining, and heli-hiking are recent additions to the activities slate. Best of all, a few days on Catalina truly feels like an escape – French Riviera blended with old Hollywood – no flights necessary. :: visitcatalinaisland.com
The Sky’s On Fire
With the endless Pacific Ocean as its scenic backdrop of choice, Orange County puts on a pretty spectacular Fourth of July. Most every city along the Blue 42 has a fireworks display, and for those with a high enough vantage point to take in a long stretch of coast, they’re nice enough to not overlap with their neighbors… much. Alternately, Disneyland has fireworks every night. Even if the crowds and lines leave you wanting to steer clear, the gasps of wonder during the evening shows will melt even the coldest heart. :: disneyland.disney.go.com
The Play’s The Thing
If you think you don’t like Shakespeare, you might want to consider the possibility that you just haven’t seen the right Shakespeare. The Bard’s work is nothing if not malleable – shifting and catching the light in different ways with each new production. This summer, Shakespeare Orange County is staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream produced in association with Hitia O Te Ra, Garden Grove’s award-winning Polynesian dance troupe June 21-July 19; a disco-techno-hybrid, July 24-26, called A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream, plus Romeo & Juliet August 30-September 20. SOC has proven itself praise-worthy with their commitment to diverse casts and ideas and their ability to refract Shakespeare’s work through a unique prism each season. :: shakespeareoc.org
Summer and ice cream go together like summer and Popsicles… or summer and snow cones… or summer and mochilato. Point being: There’s nothing better than a cool treat on a hot day. At Irvine’s Creamistry, they flash freeze your ice cream using liquid nitrogen – it’s a steamy, noisy, fascinating process that lets you pick add-ins, flavor combos and even what type of base to use. If you like your desserts a little less scientific, Hawaiian-style shave ice (served with azuki beans and ice cream) has taken off throughout Orange County. Check out sticky Fingers in Irvine, Sno 2 Go in Mission Viejo and Oahu Shave Ice in Fullerton – three perennial favorites known for shaving their ice as fine as snow and using a heavy hand to douse the cone with saccharine-sweet flavoring. When it comes to riffing on the classics, Hans’ Homemade in Santa Ana and Strickland’s Frozen Custard both draw raves for texture and taste. B.Candy in Corona del Mar dreams up flavors that are wildly inventive and impossible for kids to pass up (lemon cookie, Trix cereal, rainbow cotton candy). For the classic family experience, you can’t miss Farrell’s. The heaping banana splits and hot fudge sundaes are legendary – the sort of things that people boast giddily about finishing. If someone at your table was able to down their sundae in record time, they ought to consider qualifying for Farrell’s 5th Annual Charity Ice Cream Eating Challenge. Kids, adults and food contest pros can enter at any store and take a shot at qualifying from June 20-July 13 with hopes of competing in the finals on July 20 in Brea. Lest you worry that your ice cream indulgence might be in vain, Farrell’s donates all proceeds from the qualifying and championship rounds to CHOC and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. :: FarrellsUSA.com/challenge
Visit The Way Way Back
It’s not just the idyllic Prohibition-era cottages at Crystal Cove that conjure the past. The crowds pale compared to similar beach expanses in Newport and Laguna while offshore the marine life flourishes. The goal of the Marine Protected Areas around Crystal Cove is to turn back the clock on the ocean ecosystem, and the results have been immediate. Even crossing to the beach from El Moro Campground, through a tunnel below PCH, feels like a portal to the past. As for scoring one of those cottages – pastel painted and slightly dilapidated in the most Pinterest-y of ways – try to catch a cancellation by checking in at the office in the middle of a Friday afternoon. :: crystalcovebeachcottages.com
Learn to Surf
Do you have a twice-used surfboard collecting dust in your garage? Let this be the year that you learn. Orange County is one of the planet’s most popular surf destinations, and there are surf schools scattered up and down the coast. Plus every shop in the county teaches private lessons. Heck, Wave Storm foam longboards are only $99 bucks at Costco. The excuses fall away – this is your summer. If you’re just starting, ask your local surf shop for the best breaks to learn on. Newport offers a sandy bottom and plenty of space, Dana Point has perhaps the easiest beginner wave outside of Waikiki and Bolsa Chica matches a cruisy wave with nice hiking trails.
Watch How The Pros Do it
The Hurley Pro at Trestles in the fall may be Orange County’s most premier event in the eyes of the Association of Surfing Professionals, but the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach is definitely the most fun. From July 26-August 3, the surf world throws one hell of a party alongside the HB pier. The atmosphere is equal parts madcap carnival, laid-back street fair and high-intensity sporting event. It’s filled with star spotting, hyper-competitive heats, street food, and thousands of fans – and it’s loads of fun. :: vansusopenofsurfing.com
Get to First Base
Let’s get something straight: You don’t have to love baseball, you don’t even have to like baseball to have fun at a Major League game this summer. It’s all about the atmosphere – eating hot dogs and cotton candy, ordering beer, calling the pitcher a “bum,” calling the ump a “bum,” belting out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch, trying to get on the kiss cam – that’s pure Americana. It’s great fun…almost enough to make us forgive the absurd moniker: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. :: angels.mlb.com
FIVE SUMMER FAVES
Chef + Sustainability Star
1. CRESCENT BAY POINT PARK :: Laguna Beach :: This is the perfect secluded beach location for a picnic or to watch the sunset. I could sleep here all day, just listening to the ocean.
2. HUNTINGTON DOG BEACH :: Huntington Beach :: If you love animals, you’ll find lots of dogs having a damn good time – and one of the best beaches for watching the sunset.
3. JACK'S SURFBOARDS :: Any location :: When summer comes, this is my favorite place to gear up.
4. TOP OF THE WORLD :: Laguna Beach :: T.O.W. is a perfect view coupled with a great hike, and free parking never hurts.
5. SOL COCINA :: Newport Beach :: Nothing beats dining on the water, especially in the summertime. SOL Cocina is the quintessential spot to have a cold crisp beer or margarita and fish taco done right.