A Sandy Day, the OC Way

Even those of you hitting the books on campus this summer have something to look forward to when it comes to UC Irvine’s coastal location. Wondering where to catch the best waves, secret trails and soft sand for weekends that will feel like getaways?

Courtesy of Lauren Shepherd

Courtesy of Lauren Shepherd

This guide will take you along the coast’s best Orange Country beaches from Huntington Beach down to San Onofre.

Most of you probably know about Surf City USA: Huntington Beach and its famous US Surf Open. Huntington Beach is the place to be to catch some of the most paramount waves in the state. With the hustle-bustle of shops and restaurants, and a Ruby’s down on the Pier, this piece of shore is one of the most alive beach towns on the coast.

UCI’s closest piece of sand is Newport Beach, and it is anything but a small strip of shore. Newport Beach is famous for the Wedge, waves over 20 feet, for you daredevils out there. Other spots along the seaside are known to have the best waves for body-surfing.

You can’t miss the dominating string of beach houses along the huge Newport coastline. If you hear about a party in Newport, chances are you are headed for the beach rentals.

If you are looking for especially picturesque views of the South Coast, just drive down Laguna Canyon Road to the string of shores that make up Laguna Beach. There are many little coves between Crystal Cove and Table Rock, and each one has its own draw for anteaters.

It must be the vintage beach cottages and the calm, quiet shore at Crystal Cove that gives this beach its historical essence and makes you think of simpler times. Try a Ruby’s snack at the Shake Shack on PCH before walking down the trail to this quiet stretch of sandy nostalgia.

Main Beach has that typical beach-town feel, with volleyball courts, a Ruby’s Diner and beautiful shops surrounding the shore. The narrow and twisty streets of Laguna Beach hold the most treasured art galleries and unique finds.

The strip of restaurants along Laguna’s cliffs offer a variety of dining options, from Mexican grills to Mediterranean cafes. You might even take your next date to an ocean view dinner at sunset.

As you walk down to South Laguna, beaches of paradise will make you believe you are on a tropical island. With clear water coves and plenty of rock-climbing trails, these beaches score high in adventure.

Victoria Beach holds its own history as the spot where skim boarding originated in the 1960s. The sleek boarded water dance has grown in popularity since then, drawing local crowds to watch the skim boarders down at Table Rock and 10th Street, or “Thousand Steps” as frequent beachgoers like to call it.

At Thousand Steps, the walk down from PCH to the sand, is a trek for the fearless. As you stare down the narrow stairway to the shimmering sand, take a deep breath, because scaling the seemingly limitless steps makes relaxing on this shore even sweeter.

A few years back, 10th Street beachgoers had the pleasure of reading the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” as they climbed up Thousand Steps at the end of the day. The lyrics have long since been removed, but some locals still sing the Led Zeppelin song all the way up.

During these summer months, most times before 11 a.m. or after 2 p.m. are low tide hours, lending to the right conditions for cove crossing. On the north end of Thousand Steps, a cave opens up to rocks jutting out into the ocean, which is the threshold leading to the “cave pools,” past the little beach called Tortuavas.

This rock adventure makes for an unforgettable journey of rock climbing and swimming. When the water conditions are good, you can let the tides push you up through the cave pools.

Farther south in Dana Point, Salt Creek and Strands offer styles of beaches from both sides of the summer spectrum. Salt Creek is the big summer hangout for most Dana Point teenagers, with its snack bar dishing out cinnamon chips, soft-serve ice cream and California burritos.

Just beyond the south rocks of ‘Creek,’ as the locals call it, lies Strands, separating the ocean from breathtaking houses of glass and Tuscan stone on the cliffs above. At the north end of Strands, junior lifeguard trainees paint the shore in red swimsuits.

The Headlands trail above Strands is a great place to watch the sunset or take a morning run on the sand trail which weaves through miles of succulent and desert plants in the Dana Point Preserve down to the Dana Point Harbor.

Between the railroad and the swelling shore lies Beach Road in Capistrano Beach, decked out with beach volleyball and basketball courts on one end, and fire pits on the other. Locals here call the beach  ‘Hole in the Fence’ after the bike and beach cruiser store there. The summer months bring a lot of people rollerblading or biking along Beach Road, past the variety of modern and antique beach cottages.

As PCH continues south, you will find yourself in San Clemente, and the railroad track is the threshold to the San Clemente Pier; a beautiful spot to watch the surfers below. The pier is also known for being a beautiful fishing spot, open at 4 a.m. for you early birds. Just watch out for the crowds, it’s a popular beach.

Unique shore breaks caused by plenty of sandbars, rocks and seaweed reefs offer those who go to Trafalgar Street, or “T Street,” a surprising and fun ocean experience. The wild waves make this beach great for body boarding.

If you are a surfer who wants to get away from the busy beach towns with their metered parking and shopping frenzies, Trestles is the place for you. It is all about respecting the natural flow of the beach, and the local surfers plan to keep it as such. A piece of beauty, this beach offers surprising sets throughout the season.

For those who want to learn how to surf, head all the way south to San Onofre, where the waves are perfect for beginners. This is the quintessential surf hang out, with volleyball courts and little surf shacks. You will understand its lure when you see the flocks of surfers heading down to the shore.

If you want to start out on glassy waves, sacrifice the sleep and head out early in the morning to avoid the afternoon’s choppier tides.

With so many to choose from, which OC beach will be your favorite getaway spot?