You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to feel like you've landed there. Huntington Beach—only a little over an hour flight from SFO straight into the ridiculously quaint Long Beach airport (Virgin flies direct)—drops you straight into the OC, which feels about as far away from SF as Siberia. (It’s just that Siberia is farther—and a lot colder.)
Book a weekend at Joie de Vivre’s latest lifestyle boutique hotel, the Shorebreak. The surf-chic hotel has beds that are incredibly comfortable, an open-air atrium perfect for lounging around the fire pits and it's located directly across the highway from the beach. In fact, I'd venture to say that Huntington might just provide the perfect antidote to SF, for these reasons and more:
Smaller is better in Huntington Beach. Whereas in SF, your summer scarf is something to be wrapped tightly around your neck, in Huntington Beach, it’s best used as a sarong, wrapped around your waist. It also can convert into a towel when you go to the beach to ogle the surfers, best watched on either side of the Huntington Pier. (However, if you really want to fit in with the gaggles of lithe teenage girls everywhere, take an old pair of jeans and cut them into the tiniest jean shorts you can fit into. Then wear them, unbuttoned and unzipped, with nothing else on but a the world's smallest bikini. I dare you.)
The roads are liberatingly flat. Which means you can rent a beach cruiser through the hotel, skip the helmet, and looking cute in a dress and flip-flops, cruise your way all eight miles to Newport Beach without running out of breath. This is not to say you won’t need a taco and a beer to refuel with before heading back. For this stop at the Great Mex Grill where Taco Tuesdays and Fridays get you $1 tacos and $1 draft beer.
It’s not all surf culture. There’s Little Saigon. When the long boarders, the low-riders, the tweens and the tourists have lost their charm, take a quick drive to Westminster where there’s a vibrant Vietnamese community, thriving with pho joints, bakeries and more. At Song Long, everyone’s ordering the cha ca, a dish of broiled fish topped with immense amounts of fresh dill. Le Croissant Dore is also loved for its savory pastries and beef stew.
The fish tacos are good. Whereas SF isn’t naturally a fish-taco kind of town (I'd say we’re more carnitas), Huntington definitely is and Wahoo’s Fish Taco is there to prove it with a surfer patronage tan from the sun and not a spray, baring bare chests still sandy from the beach. Suffice it to say their website says “Shred or Die.” And they’re not talking about cheese.
You don’t have to shop at Forever 21 (although you can). Stop into American Vintage (201 Main St., 714-969-9670), you'll find an excellent selection of dresses as well as a ton of perfect-condition cowboy shirts for men.
Dinner can offer a taste of San Francisco. Yes, Huntington has a bit of a meathead side to it (meatheads in puka shell necklaces), but the Shorebreak is set on offering something more than beer and burgers to the local community as well as visitors. For the hotel’s restaurant, Zimzala, they brought in SF’s own Joyce Goldstein to consult, Sean Crume (formerly of Frisson in San Francisco) to be the director, and a talented young chef, Vince Muraco, to cook. Have a cocktail in the bar and then sit down to a casual, but elegant, dinner of a delicious, very-Goldstein mezze plate, a vegetable tagine or some “local catch” topped with salsa verde. Wear your flip-flops just for the hell of it. It might be a while before you get to pair upscale dining and surf attire again.