California’s Riviera: where the endless summer lives on…

Family poses with Mickey Mouse for photo at Disneyland.

Balboa Island Ferry connects with a short hop to Balboa Peninsula.
The brig Pilgrim lies at anchor in the Dana Point Boat Harbor.
San Clemente Pier, home to surfers and Fisherman’s Restaurant!

Corona Del Mar State Beach is adjacent to entrance to the Newport Beach Harbor.

Visit California’s Riviera, where the endless summer lives on…

Continuing on our quest to find nearby warm weather destinations for touring, camping and sun-worshiping, this week we take you to the Orange County, CA, coast, 360 miles and seven hours down Interstate 5.

It’s a land defined as “California’s Riviera” since the early 1900s, when both sun-worshipers and Hollywood discovered this sun-kissed 42 miles stretch of sandy beaches offering respite to rich and poor, young to old. We’ve been heading down that way in winter or early spring, to recharge our batteries after too many grey, gloomy days of northern California winter.

The county is home to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the LA Angels of Anaheim baseball team and Mighty Ducks hockey team and many other attractions, but it’s the beachfront towns which we’re tracking. Let’s pack our beachwear, hiking shoes and bicycles, and explore sunny Seal Beach down to San Clemente!

Seal Beach, northern most in the county, is home to a lovely 3/4 mile strand of sand popular with beach-goers, the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge and Hennessey’s Seal Beach, a great place for breakfast or lunch, indoor and outdoor tables, and only a couple of blocks off the water. The beachfront cycling trail also connects with the San Gabriel River Bike Trail, as well as continuing south down Huntington Beach Bike Trail.

Huntington Beach Long ago earned the nickname ‘Surf City USA’, featuring three beaches, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach, popular for volleyball, surfing, fire rings, even beachfront camping. Just across Highway 1 is Bolsa Chica’s almost 1500 acres of wetlands, the largest saltwater marsh between Tijuana, Mexico and Monterey Bay.

Huntington Beach features the International Surfing Museum and the Surfing Walk of Fame along Main Street. Walk out on the Huntington Beach pier and watch world class surfers both north and south.

The Santa Ana River separates Huntington Beach from Newport Beach and offers a lovely bicycle trail following the river about 25 miles inland, through urban vistas, past the Los Angeles Angels ball park and the Honda Center, home of the hockey team, and up into the foothills east of LA.

Newport Beach boasts the world’s largest small boat harbor, two walkable peirs, the Balboa and Newport Piers, along a sandy beach front and lively bike path. Take the Balboa island ferry, (pedestrians and bikes welcomed) for an all-too short voyage between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula, connecting two lovely communities of waterfront cottages, boutiques and restaurants. Take the time to tour the 1905 Balboa Pavilion on the peninsula side, home to harbor tours, whale-watching tours and Santa Catalina Island cruises. The lovely town of Avalon is only 26 miles and about an hour and a half by ferry and well worth the detour if you’ve not been there. Newport offers plenty of upscale restaurants, but check out a funky favorite, the Crab Cooker on Newport Bay, casual, inexpensive and just right for families.

Block off a morning or an afternoon for a foot or bicycle tour of Balboa Island, circled by a wide walkway lined with $4 to $5 million waterfront “cottages” and stop for a famous Balboa Bar, ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate and covered with your favorite toppings, drawing a crowd since 1945. Just beyond the Newport Beach harbor entrance is Corona Del Mar State Beach, one of the most popular beaches along this sunny stretch.

Not to be missed, the south end of Newport Beach features Crystal Cove State Park, with miles of trails along and above the Pacific. Within the park, the old beachfront town of Crystal Cove. preserves mostly-refurbished cabins, renting for $200 a night. Plan a sunset meal at Beachcomber’s Restaurant, anchoring Crystal Cove, and tour the small next-door museum that tells the story of the many movies shot in the 1930s to 80s, including Beaches starring Bette Midler, Herbie the Love Bug, Treasure Island, Son of Tarzan and many more. The park also offers the new Moro Campground on a bluff overlooking the ocean, a bargain if you can book a spot.

Heading south on Highway one, Laguna Beach is the next upscale town, offering many additional beaches, as well as the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse. Across from the quaint downtown, packed with shops, restaurants and boutiques, is Main Beach Park.

Next town south is Dana Point and Harbor, popularized by Richard Henry Dana who wrote the 1840’s masterpiece “Two Years Before the Mast“. Tour the Dana Point Harbor, featuring well over 2000 boat slips, home to the Ocean Institute and Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, featuring replicas of the Pilgrim, the brig on which Dana sailed, and Spirit of Dana Point, a 1770’s privateer used during the American Revolution. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

At the southernmost end of the county is San Clemente, once home to President Richard Nixon, offering a lovely, 10 block long walkable downtown along Avenida Del Mar. Follow Delmar all the way to the beach and find San Clemente Pier, with shops and one of our favorite restaurants, Fisherman’s, right on the pier, perfect for delicious dinners blessed by incredible sunsets. San Clemente Beach State Park, with camping, is just south.

For more insight: Huntington Beach, surfcityusa.com; Laguna Beach, visitlagunabeach.com; Newport Beach, newportbeach.com; Orange County Visitor’s Association, visittheoc.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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