Super Side Trips along the Orange County PCH

Laguna Beach is a great place to drop your bags when spending time in Orange County, CA.  Huntington Beach, Dana Point, and Balboa Island are divergent stops that offer great half-day trips from Laguna Beach, along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with current information (April 23, 2021).

Huntington Beach


Huntington Beach, 15 miles north of Laguna Beach, is known as Surf City USA. The Vans US Open, which is the world’s largest surfing competition, is held there.  Huntington Beach also hosts Operation Surf, a one-week surfing program for injured active-duty military and veterans.  The Kowabunga Van Klan, a local social club for VW owners and surfers, is based in Huntington Beach.  VW vans are a thing.  Visitors and locals alike love the 10-mile flat pedestrian bike path.

Volleyball on Huntington Beach

The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa is a great option if long days at the beach and/or by the pool is your paradise.  The expansive resort sits on 18 acres, with several dining options, gorgeous gardens, and provides beach access via a private bridge. 

Hyatt Bridge

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Here’s a great way to get up close and personal with Huntington Beach.  Park in the Pacific City lot on the PCH, and rent cruiser bikes 2 blocks away at EV Rideables.  Reserve bikes in advance.  Pacific City is a new open-air development that offers casual dining, limited retail, and a DryBar salon. 

Pacific City

Stop in Sandy’s Beach Shack, which is open for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, and lunch every day .  Walk down the 1,850-foot Huntington Pier, and take a front row seat for surfing mania.

Huntington Pier

On weekend mornings, families are in full force and the wetsuit changing ruckus in the pier parking lot is worth a glance.  Skip Main Street.  There’s no need to dress up.  Fine dining and dress codes are not a thing in Huntington Beach.  Take off on your cruiser and enjoy the 10-mile path along the Huntington Beach pedestrian bike path.  

Beach Cruiser WHite

Serious surfers prefer to start at sunrise when the water is most calm.  A surfer friend texted this Sunday sunrise just before catching a wave.  Visitors are unlikely to catch this.  Here you go.


Dana Point


Dana Point, 8 miles south of Laguna Beach, occupies 7 square miles, and is a family friendly, relaxed, very polished town, anchored around a gorgeous harbor.  Folks pick up the Catalina Express there for the 1.5-hour trip to Catalina Island for an overnight or more.


Park in the public parking lot at the Dana Point Harbor.  Take a 2.5-hour morning dolphin and whale watching tour with Captain Dave’s Safari.  Grab lunch at the Harbor Grill.  Next, head across the street to Heritage Park.  The park has multiple levels.  Keep going to the top.  Throw down a blanket, relax, and take in the views.  A lightweight tablecloth substitutes for a blanket, and is good to pack for warm weather trips.  Bullseye Packing is a 60-minute workshop for the Expert Traveler, that includes packing tips, and secrets for carry-on only travel.

Dana Point Harbor

If kids are in tow, carve out time for the Ocean Institute.  Check its calendar of events before you travel.  Some require advance registration. 

Ocean Institute

Balboa Island


Newport Beach occupies 53 square miles.  It is one the most affluent cities in the USA, and the luxe life emanates everywhere.  This is the go-to place for upscale shopping, fine dining, and showing off your assets.  Newport also includes Balboa Island, 8 miles north of Laguna Beach, which is an old-fashioned beach town, minus the flash, with 1950s charm. 


Head to the Balboa Fun Zone and park in the lot at Balboa Blvd and Palm Street.  Arrive early to secure parking.  Enjoy a ride or two if kids are along.  Steps away, take the Balboa Island Ferry for the 10-minute ride to Balboa Island.  The ferry holds 2 cars max, plus it carries bikers, and pedestrians. 

Balboa Island

Once on the island head to Marine Avenue, .6 miles away.  That is the Main Street equivalent filled with shops, galleries, and dining options that are more of the no frills type.  Enjoy the homes and the water along the way. 

Balboa Island Homes

Stop in the Balboa Island Museum to discover Balboa Island’s cool history.   Lots originally sold for $50 each. 

Balboa Island Museum

Lunch at Wilma’s Patio, which is authentic to the core.  This too is a no-frills place and food is fantastic.  Split the peach pie a la mode.  Balboa is also famous for the frozen bananas from Sugar n Spice.  Choose pie, banana, or both.

Peach Pie Wilmas Balboa Island

Related Posts

Go to Laguna Beach, CA for a Great Escape for tips on Laguna Beach, a preferred overnight spot and anchor for half-day trips to Huntington Beach, Dana Point, and Balboa Island.  Airline travel, car rentals, and weather data are found there too.

Amazon Prime Packing System Prevents Travel Nightmares offers a start to finish guide for carry-on packing.  Essential travel supplies are covered for all travelers, including those who check luggage.

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