When I was a kid my Mother would take me on a Sunday drive just to get out of town. We would pick a place up the coast and just go. The best time was when I could take a friend and most of the time we would giggle in the back seat for no apparent reason. I did however pay attention to where we were going and I enjoyed the sights along the way.
Push the clock forward some 40 years and I still like to go on Sunday drives. For this week’s staycation, the Sunday drive was actually on Saturday and it wasn’t just one friend, it was a car load of 5 including me. We picked a place up the coast and off we went. Things haven’t changed since I was a kid, the giggling turned to laughter and there was plenty of it. Funny how a Sunday/Saturday drive makes you feel happy.
We choose as our first destination Huntington Harbor some 60 miles up the coast from Oceanside. From the 405 freeway you get off on Warner Avenue and proceed west for a few miles until you end up on Pacific Coast Highway.
Huntington Harbor is a community in the north end of Huntington Beach in Orange County, California. This residential development consists of five man-made islands with waterways that are used for boating.
Along PCH we saw a small street fair and decided to check it out. I went off snapping photos and found a little area with shops and restaurants which looked like a relaxing place to have lunch and enjoy the day. 20 minutes later we were on our way again with one t-shirt purchase under our belt and all of us ready to explore the next area.
We drove north and passed through a small community called Sunset Beach. Located south of Seal Beach, this small town has a population of fewer than 1,000 people and consists mostly of houses on the beach. There are however, restaurants and shops on Pacific Coast Highway. Adding to the charm of this town is the Water Tower House which hovers 85 feet above the ground just west of PCH. At first glance it looks like an actual water tower but in reality it is a 3,000sq ft tri-level home with 360 degree views. They say it is available for vacation rental and with its uniqueness and proximity to the beach, I am sure that it is a great place to stay.
However, at that height, heaven help you if the elevator breaks.
Just a few miles away we arrived at Seal Beach. As of the 2010 census the population in Seal Beach was around 24,000, so a small town for Southern California standards. A majority of the cities acreage is devoted to the Naval Weapons Station with the rest either modern and expansive beach homes or small cozy cottages.
The main attraction is the Seal Beach Pier which is the second longest wooden pier in California stretching out some 1,865 feet.
Finding parking on this fall day was abundant, considering Seal Beach is full of activity and beach goers during the summer months. We took a leisurely stroll on the pier while admiring the 360 view along the way. You can see the Tower house from the pier too.
With a transportation strike going on at the nearby Long Beach port, cargo ships dotted the horizon waiting their turn to finally be unloaded. Quite a sight to see these huge ships just sitting there with their goods stacked high. I am sure a few Black Friday products are anxiously waiting to make their way to the stores.
At the base of the pier sits Main Street with its eclectic array of restaurants, shops, etc. Spanning a few blocks, it is a popular destination for locals as well as visitors.
The next stop is one of my favorite places, Alamitos Bay. It seems like Alamitos Bay is endless with its nooks and crannies, canals, and channels scattered about. I am going to do a staycation and rent a boat some day to explore it all, including the Naples Canals.
There are different sections sprawled out over the bay with restaurants, boat rentals, and shops. We didn’t spend a lot of time there as we were hungry and ready to eat, however I made a mental note to come back during Christmas as the whole bay is lit up with small Christmas tree barges during that time.
With Stomachs full, we set out for Belmont Shore and the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial pier. Belmont Shore is a region of Long Beach that’s buzzing with a variety of shops, restaurants, visitors, and beach-goers.
Finding plenty of parking again for a mere $2, we parked and took a walk on the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial Pier. The pier had an old fashioned look to it and I mean that in a good way. Even though it was re-built in 1966, walking on it felt like you took a step back in time. The restaurant on the end looked like it was being refurbished and I am sure once finished, it will be a great place to eat a meal while enjoying the view of the Pacific. In the meantime a snack bar is available for its pier guests.
From the end of the pier you can see downtown Long Beach, Long Beach port with its enormous cranes, the break water , the Queen Mary, a huge cruise ship dwarfing the Queen Mary, the oil islands, and of course the patiently waiting cargo ships. Although others prefer a less chaotic view from a pier, I found the view very interesting. The mix of ships against sailboats, against industry, against historical icons like the Queen Mary, can keep me there for hours.
Watching the sun set directly over one of the oil islands, we were ready for our trek home.
However, one last stop, Naples Canals, a small neighborhood of Long Beach. The islands of Naples are divided by canals which open into a main channel of Alamitos Bay. The center of Naples features a large fountain and most of the streets have Italian names such as Sorrento and Tivoli. The pedestrian walkway along the front of the homes spans the whole neighborhood and you can view the elaborately decorated homes at Christmas, while enjoying the canal below. Fido is welcome but bring the leash. These artificial canals were created in the early 1900s and on any given day or evening you can hear the soft sound of a gondolier singing Italian songs as he gently steers his gondola through the romantic canals. You can rent one too at http://www.gondolagetawayinc.com, although not all gondoliers have the chops to sing. At sunset it was beautiful and at Christmas it is a must see.
So homeward bound with sight-seeing overload, giggled out, and just plain tired. Just like when I was a kid except this time I was the driver and the kids were actually middle aged woman.
If you want to spend a full day just discovering our back yard here in Southern California, I suggest following our route and seeing for yourself the hidden gems of Huntington Harbor, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, Alamitos Bay, Belmont Shore, and finally Naples Canal. You won’t be disappointed.