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O.C. Beach Cities

A guide to coastal cities in Orange County, California


Southern Californa’s beach cities are perhaps one of its biggest attractions and most beautiful features. And with good reason. Beach cities tend to be active, happy places with great views, an aquatic lifestyle, boutique shopping and lots of fun recreational activities -- each with its own unique character and charm. Here’s a guide to the beach cities in Orange County.

Newport Beach: An Affluent Nautical Town

© Ray_from_LA via Flickr
Newport Beach has a well deserved reputation for being the economic power center of Orange County. This seaside community is home to some of the O.C.'s wealthiest residents and topped CNN Money's 2010 list of the Best Places to be Rich and Single. Newport Beach is an idyllic, nautical town with great shopping, an abundance of recreational activities and one of the best beaches in Orange County.

Laguna Beach: A Coastal Arts Community

© Lavender Dreamer
The city of Laguna Beach could be considered the arts capital of Orange County. Settled shortly after the Civil War, the south coast city began with a handful of lumber farms. In the early 1900s the Laguna Beach was discovered by impressionist painter Norman St. Clair and was revitalized as an artist colony. Today the city is a coastal resort town famous for its summer arts festivals: Pageant of the Masters, which is the oldest and attracts artists from all over the world; the locals only Sawdust Art Festival and the Art A Fair.

Huntington Beach: Surf City U.S.A.

© US Open of Surfing/IMG World, Inc.
Dubbed "Surf City USA," Huntington Beach is is also known as a West Coast surfing mecca. For more than 50 years, the city of Huntington Beach has been the site for the West Coast surfing championship, now called the U.S. Open of Surfing. Despite most of the city being populated with residential 50s-style subdivisions, the downtown Main St area provides a fun nightlife, boutique shopping and people watching. By all accounts, Huntington Beach is an O.C. city with the perfect combination of suburban charm and urban grit.

Dana Point: An Aquatic Recreation Destination

© Daniel R. Blume
Once called "the only romantic spot on the coast" by its namesake, a lawyer and seaman, Richard Henry Dana, Dana Point is home to one of few harbors in Southern California and a popular aquatic recreation destination. Before the development of the harbor in the mid-60s, however, Dana Point was known for having one of the best surf breaks on the California coast, called "Killer Dana." Even with the waves tamed for the sake of the harbor, Dana Point is a vibrant aquatic community with marine education programs at the Ocean Institute, and a wide array of water related amusements including kayaking, fishing and whale watching.

Seal Beach: Small Town O.C.

Image courtesy of Orange County Archives
In it's early days, Seal Beach was simply a boat landing called Anaheim Landing, but during World War II, the U.S. Navy bought some 5,000-acres of land from the city, including the landing. The navy still maintains this land, which now includes nearly 1,000-acres of protected wildlife reserve and a WWII submarine memorial. Once a popular aquatic vacation destination and the site of an early O.C. amusement park, "the Joy Zone," Seal Beach is perhaps best known as a sleepy border town with an aging population.

San Clemente: The Spanish City by the Sea

© Curtis Fry
This O.C. suburb was designed by a former Seattle mayor, who envisioned a "Spanish city by the sea" for families who preferred an active village lifestyle. President Nixon was so taken with San Clemente, that he purchased a vacation home, which he nicknamed La Casa Pacifica, where he retired briefly after his presidency. While parts of the northeastern side of the city are a clear example of suburban sprawl, the area south of the I-5 has maintained a coastal village feel, with lots of beach access, local shops and ocean front dining.
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