Road Trips

Grab the Girls and Eat Your Way Through the O.C. on This Foodie Road Trip

As girls’ getaways go, destinations don’t get much more idyllic than those along California’s coastline. Serving as a backdrop are high cliffs overlooking the Pacific and sandy stretches of beach flanking boardwalks whizzing with rollerbladers and cyclists.

There’s a lot of territory to cover along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), 655.8 miles to be exact. So, where best to couple incredible views, flavors, adventures and entertainment? Options are endless.

Topping the list — a string of quaint Orange County (O.C.) beach towns along the Southern California coast: Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

Seal Beach

Start your trip in Seal Beach, and stroll down its ultra-charming Main Street. This Old Town area begs for time spent perusing boutiques, art galleries, Irish pubs and surf stores.

A recommendation: Purchase a kite from Up Up & Away and a gooey delicious cinnamon roll from Sweet Jill’s and then stake out a sandy spot next to the Seal Beach Municipal Pier (the second-longest wooden pier in California, thank you very much) for fun in the sun.

Huntington Beach

Drive 20 minutes south of Seal Beach and walk the length of the iconic Huntington Beach Pier, where the urge to join a game of beach volleyball is likely to hit you and the girls. Hit the sand and join in the fun — there’s almost always a game in progress.

scenic drives in orange county
Head to the pier in Huntingdon Beach. (Photo: Getty Images)

Afterward, grab a bite at the Barefoot Bar within historic Duke’s Huntington Beach. Go for pupus — poke tacos, macadamia-imbued hummus trio and Korean sticky ribs — paired with Duke’s signature Mai Tai.

Once refueled, partake in the sport Huntington Beach, aka Surf City USA, is known for — surfing. Group surf lessons through Corky Carroll’s Surf School are held at laid-back Bolsa Chica State Beach.

Post chasing rip curls, catch the sunset from SeaLegs at the Beach, a beach party unto itself with live music (thumbs up for Reggae Sundays) and a set of sassy swings. Once you’re equipped with sangria and eats — they serve everything from Baja ceviche to pulled-pork waffle sundaes — you can convene around a fire pit to toast the rising moon.

Newport Beach

If ever a place whispered of girlfriends’ getaways from the past, it would be Crystal Cove State Park, 30 minutes south of Huntington. Proof positive: The seaside cottage scenes in the movie “Beaches” were filmed here. Oh, and a martini flag that signals cocktail hour has been flying high since the 1930s. Explore the cove’s historic cottages to see how California gained a reputation for prime vacationing.

Elements of the perfect Crystal Cove day begin with exploring tide pools and hiking trails. An 1,140-acre underwater park is also available for avid snorkelers and scuba divers. Catching sight of marine life, including blue whales, though, can often be achieved by merely reclining on the beach under an umbrella.

 scenic drives in orange county
Dine at the Beachcomber in Newport. (Photo: Courtesy of the Beachcomber Cafe)

Not to be left out: brunch at The Beachcomber Café (reservations highly recommended). Order the Big Bad Bloody Mary, complete with crab claw and jumbo shrimp; beignets to share; and a main dish like the Steak Chilaquiles. Burger aficionados may want to take a set of stairs up the hillside to an Orange County institution, the Crystal Cove Shake Shack. The burgers, fries, many milkshake flavors and view are to die for.

An on-the-water experience awaits on Balboa Peninsula. Commandeer a Duffy Electric Boat (seats eight passengers) from Balboa Boat Rentals for touring the bay with breaks for swimming and dining at Lido Marina Village’s waterfront restaurants. Another eatery to try (which allows docking and dining) is Zinqué, where lunch faves range from tartines to entrees like grilled salmon with ratatouille, paired with vintages from the wine bar.

scenic drives in orange county
Take a paddle at Balboa Island. (Photo: Getty Images)

Another way to take to the water is via ferry for a visit to Balboa Island. Musts while there: exploring Marine Avenue’s shops (Island Tales Bookshop is a hidden favorite for kids’ tomes), snacking on a chocolate-dipped frozen banana at Sugar & Spice, and winding through canals for peeks at the waterfront homes and docks. Plan a return visit for the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, when houses are decked out in holiday decor.

Later, return to Lido Marina Village to scour sweet boutiques and shops like the Lido Village Books for gifts. From here, make a beeline to Lido House, Autograph Collection’s Boost Spa, ideal for a private party with its four treatment rooms.

Other alternatives — lounging in a poolside cabana or heading to Lido House’s Topside Roof Deck for caviar service and champagne.

Laguna Beach

A half-hour farther south, Laguna’s artists’ community roots are undeniable. Indeed, inspiration dwells here. Merely drive toward the Pacific Ocean and pass myriad galleries, or plan a trip around the seasonal arts and crafts events that are veritable institutions: the Sawdust Festival, Art-A-Fair, Festival of Arts (FOA) and Pageant of the Masters.

The latter two events, located within Irvine Bowl, make for summer nights of wonder. Arrive early evening to pore over booths of upscale sculpture, photography, jewelry and paintings from local artisans.

scenic drives in orange county
Stroll the scenic walkways of Laguna Beach. (Photo: Getty Images)

Imbuing the area with ambience is live music from a stage surrounded by picnickers and wine sippers. Foodies will love Terra Laguna Beach’s California cuisine, with dishes like the honey-lime seared salmon and maple-brined pork chop.

Ideal for coupling with a girls’ getaways is FOA’s Art, Wine, Chocolate and Jazz series on Thursdays, plus Wine and Painting Saturday Nights. Fashionistas will want front-row seats at the annual Festival Runway Fashion Show; a competition where artists create couture using reclaimed, reused and recycled materials. FOA’s masterpiece de resistance is the annual Pageant of the Masters. As night falls, the amphitheater fills with fans of tableaux vivants, works of art brought to life by actors.

Year-round, Laguna Beach Playhouse and Laguna Art Museum keep creative fires lit. Perhaps most inspiring of all is Top of the World, a scenic overlook encompassing miles of the idyllic O.C. coastline, from Seal Beach to Laguna. Girlfriends’ getaway perfection.