Beach-Bound Getaways in Orange County

Surf’s up at O.C. beaches and seaside resorts at Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point.

Turn off The OC and hit the real O.C., in Southern California. Coastal Orange County offers family fun on and off the waters of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and Dana Point. From the trendy Oceanfront area—known for world-class resorts, shopping centers and spas—to old-fashioned beach fun, a trip to Orange County is sure to be a memorable family getaway.

Magic Sandcastles

Not far from Disneyland, the sands along Orange County shores are great to create your own lands, Magic Castles, Narnias or Middle Earths. Options range from taking paper cups down to the beach, to using hotel concierge goodies and services, to hiring award-winning professionals to come in and share their tricks, tools and treats. Former stock trader and Dig It! Sandcastles founder, Marc Africano, says it’s a great family activity: “Mom gets stoked because she sees dad and the kids and everybody jellin’, and they have this great sandcastle they built together.”

The local Olympics for sandcastle stars is the renowned Sand Sculpture contest in Corona Del Mar every October. Families can watch or participate. Tel. 949-729-4400.

Go Fly a Kite

The prevailing westerly winds in Huntington Beach send all kinds of kites soaring—the Mary Poppins-type basic kites, the sports kites with two or more lines that go 40 miles an hour and do tricks, and the “kite boards” that lift people on boards out of the water for surf jumping.

The Kite Connection at the Huntington Beach Pier can help families with any of the above. Free setup and lessons are available to those who come in and purchase. Simple models start at $10. There are even designs that fold up easily, so everyone can tuck them in suitcases for some soaring at home. Owner Dave Shenkman has been inspiring kite-flying for 25 years. Tel. 714-642-4996,

Artistic Endeavors

Laguna is known for its galleries and beaches. There are more than 100 studios and galleries to enjoy, with local talent often on hand. On certain dates, families can frame their own creative adventures. With local volunteer artists, a family can explore the tidepools, then explore their pools of talent while being taught to make watercolors with salts and paints. Family members get their own journals to keep. Tel. 949-363-4700,

The Festival of Arts is held every summer (this year is the Festival’s 75th anniversary) in Laguna Beach. The art exhibition features paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, photographs, furniture and more. Art workshops, hands-on demonstrations and entertainment round out the days, while the Pageant of the Masters (re-creations of artworks using living people) is the highlight of the evenings. This year’s Festival of the Arts runs from Jul. 6-Aug. 30. General admission tickets cost $7; seniors and students get in for $4. Children under 12 are admitted for free. Tel. 800-487-3378,

From Boards to Wheels

Huntington Beach is officially known as Surf City, U.S.A. with a Surf Walk of Fame, the International Surfing Museum and regular surfing competitions, including the U.S. Open. For families that would rather be participants than spectators, take a group surfing lesson.

There are several good outfits to teach the ways of the waves. Toes on the Nose instructors from the Laguna Beach shop will let you practice some moves on the sand and then take you out with light foam boards into the real stuff. The waters aren’t as warm as the tropics, so thin wet suits are also provided to keep you comfy and to protect your skin while you kneel and paddle. It’s a thrill to catch a curl with your kids. Make sure to get some photos on the sand with the boards before taking the big plunge. 276 South Coast Hwy., tel. 949-494-4988.

If your family is looking for a healthy way to stay high and dry on land, take in the scene, and save gas—take to the bikes! There are one-seaters, two-seaters and four-seaters, and there are miles of boardwalk and scenic bike paths—some of the best in California. Wheels can be arranged through Zack’s on the Beach or through the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort’s Vacation Station.

Drive a Duffy Boat

A family member of almost any age can be captain of a Duffy boat. These slow, quiet electric boats are designed for easy touring on bays. With a five-minute lesson, a map and life jackets for everyone, families are sent off to plot their own routes. Bring edibles and drinkables, and you’ve got a moving feast for picnics or parties literally “on the go.”

Newport Beach offers Duffies and has several dockside service food arrangements with local restaurants. Tel. 949-645-6812,

Farther north, you can rent a Duffy from an outfitter at Sunset Beach and go around the islands of Huntington Harbor, or pull up to Peter’s Landing shops and restaurants. Duffy Electric Boat Company, tel. 562-592-3028.

If want to party in the posh lanes, past yachts and celebrity homes, the Balboa Bay Club and Resort has cushy Duffies for rent.

Puppy Love

Some vacation destinations encourage families to go to the dogs! Let Fido in on the fun with these pooch-friendly O.C. spots:

Wild Things

For less-domesticated animal encounters, families can head out on the ocean to view seals, dolphins and (at certain times of the year) whales. Dana Point Harbor is one of the wonderful coastal launching sites for individual kayaks or group tours and charters on larger boats. Trips can stay in the local harbor or motor to Catalina Island. The OCean Adventure is a large catamaran with knowledgeable guides for seeking out whales and dolphins.

Bird lovers and hikers can enjoy the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, which host more than 200 species of birds during the year.

Family-Friendly Hotel Programs

Many hotels will help arrange the above activities, but some offer their own family programs that are worth looking into. Check out the family-friendly activities and wonderful swimming pools at oceanside hotels, including Montage Resort and Spa, the Hilton and the Hyatt Regency. A full listing of beachfront hotels around Huntington Beach can be found at

This summer, the elegant St. Regis Resort Monarch Beach in Dana Point offers weekly activities for families, including butterfly releases, a marine adventure with the Ocean Institute, storytelling around campfires and stargazing with telescopes.

The Surf & Sand Resort, which is close enough to the beach that you can feel the waves’ spray, offers a pop-up tent in the room with “S’mores and Snores” service for kids of all sizes. It also screens poolside movies at dusk.

Destinations: Orange County, Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach

Themes: Beach Vacations, Family Travel

Activities: Museums, Sightseeing, Surfing, Swimming, Boating

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