by Carmel L. Mooney
When Northern California residents think of Southern California, images of Disneyland, Hollywood, and San Diego are common images that come to mind. That’s changing as more and more Californians are discovering two hidden gems which both coincidentally compliment any trip to visit Mickey Mouse but who also stand alone as the perfect family vacation of sand and sea.
No better coastal family destination exists on the west coast than Huntington Beach and Redondo Beach where a historic pier, dazzling harbor, glistening beaches, and award-winning restaurants are just the appetizer. Both sister seaside towns with their distinct flavors and charms offer an endless supply of activities and interests for vacationing families.
Active and fitness conscious-families love that Redondo Beach’s four marinas and much much more can be accessed easily on foot where top attractions include, the S.E.A. Laboratory, the Redondo Beach Pier, famous murals, Veteran’s Park, The Esplanade, and the Riviera Village Shopping District, all peppered by outdoor cafes, spectacular boutiques, antique shops, and interesting galleries. What’s more the South Bay Bicycle Trail originates at the south end of town and meanders 19 beautiful coastal miles to Santa Monica.
Of interest to families who cannot fathom leaving their furry companions at home, Redondo Beach dog visitors even have their very own dog park.
One of Redondo Beach’s crown jewels is the amazing Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. 1,450 excellent seats provide an opportunity for multi-generational visitors from all over the world to enjoy critically acclaimed musical and theatrical productions, children’s shows, and legendary musical artists all in the largest and grandest musical theater in Southern California.
S.E.A. Lab is a must-see for all families with its marine education center, touch tanks, and hands-on and fascinating local marine life exhibits. Other Redondo favorite family activities include the Ocean Racer high-speed boat ride, the SSV Looking Glass 19-passenger USCG inspected semi-submersible underwater viewing boat, paddle boating, ocean kayaking, whale watching, and sport fishing.
A great way to see the city’s highlights are by boarding the Disco Metro where owner Tom Kearney says, “When the bus is moving, so are you.” This fun-loving disco-era-themed tour bus is the ultimate in a unique blend of wackiness and class for getting around both towns. Kearney is also building a Tiki bus and Pirate bus, both are coming soon. You won’t want to miss them; the experience is unforgettable.
A new highlight in town is the recently opened Toy Box where visitors can rent everything from a handmade Maybach automobile to jet skis.
Family dining in Redondo Beach runs the gamut from casual pier-side dining at Ruby’s where malt shop favorites, 1940’s style, are served up homemade and with fresh healthy ingredients to the family-friendly yet exquisite cuisine at Baleen Los Angeles, the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club’s signature restaurant. Kids will love the specialties served with a hot rock to cook them on, and savory dipping sauces.
Another dining and lodging option is the centrally located Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina Hotel, right across from Seaside Lagoon offering a heated saltwater swimming pool, children’s play area, and everything little ones need to run off some energy and enjoy the fresh salt air in a safe environment.
A favorite lunch spot to whet your appetite while strolling the Riviera Village is H.T. Grill, which the locals and visitors frequent.
The Hyatt Huntington Beach just minutes down the road offers a destination in itself and the perfect spot from which to explore all Huntington Beach has to offer with its eclectic dining, miles of nature sanctuaries and biking trails, and dog beaches, and shopping. The Hyatt leaves no stone unturned where families can build a bonfire on the premises and order up a complete gourmet s’mores kit for a great fire pit treat. Kids and parents alike can take a sandcastle building class. Or why not try your hand at kite flying or surfing? You can take lessons or try them on your own. Huntington Beach is famous for surfing, so why not make history?
The Hyatt’s Pacific Waters Spa with its 20,000 square feet of pure bliss and pampering, offers an incomparable relaxation oasis. Why not let mom and dad get a spa treatment while the kids partake in one of the dozens of activities or classes on the property?
Take a pedicab or rent bicycles and jump right on the strand where the action lies and don’t forget to check out dining favorites like Sugar Shack Café that’s been serving up locals’ favorite breakfasts and lunches since 1967. No trip would be complete without a visit to Duke’s, Pete’s Sunset Grille, or Shades for the ultimate dining experience where culinary masterpieces are created by award-winning Chef Jeff Littlefield.
No matter when you visit be sure to include sunscreen, a light jacket, walking shoes, sunglasses, and a sun hat. With a temperate Mediterranean climate and low annual precipitation, both towns offer a fantastic place to escape bitter cold winters and hot and humid summers. With weather seldom an issue, both towns are attractive destinations year-round, with the best travel deals often found in the fall and winter months. Be sure to ask both the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club and the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach about specials and packages they offer frequently.
Less than an hour away, you’ll find Disneyland and California Adventure, Balboa Fun Zone, Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland, and Universal Studios. So there’s no excuse not to visit on your way to one of Southern California’s attractions or to plan a trip just to visit either or both of these fantastic beach towns.
Both Redondo Beach and Huntington Beach are only half an hour from LAX airport. Be sure to explore these two coastal gems of Southern California the next time you’re clan has time for the perfect family vacation of sun, sea, and surf.
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Carmel L. Mooney is a fourth-generation Californian, mom and travel columnist, travel author, and radio talk show host.