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It’s safe to generalize that beach culture is California culture and vice-versa. From tremolo-laden guitar licks to noseriding on a ten-foot “log” (surf slang for longboarding) to cruising beach town main drags in a chopped low-rider hot rod, surfing infuses everyday life in Orange County especially at Huntington Beach or, as it’s often called “Surf City, USA.” Indeed, dropping in on HB’s reliable waves is an experience that pretty much anyone can enjoy. Summer waves are mellow and there are numerous places to both rent boards and take lessons. To get a bird’s eye view of the action, walk out on the Huntington Beach pier and watch the surfers from above. Everything in town revolves around wave-catching, from retail outlets like Jack’s and Surf and Sport to the International Surfing Museum and Walk of Fame.

Newport Beach is home to the infamous “Wedge” which is more popular with bodyboarders than it is with surfers. On certain swells, the waves wrap around a man-made rock jetty and “jack” up to double or triple their normal size before slamming down on the sand. Body boarders (do NOT call them “boogie boards”) time their ride to enter the tube, or hollow, part of the wave which provides several seconds of bliss before the breaks savagely onto the shore.

As a contrast to this raucous scene, Newport Beach has a decidedly nautical feel, thanks to its massive boat harbor and bay. Newport was also one of California’s first beaches to attract tourists in the early 20th century, including many movie stars who felt that Newport was just far enough away from Hollywood to enjoy a bit of privacy and relaxation. John Wayne was one of Newport’s most famous land owners.

Continuing south along Pacific Coast Highway 1, the coastline turns more rugged and the beaches retain a wild, untrammeled feel. Crystal Cove, Emerald Canyon and Crescent Bay are worthy of exploration before arriving in Laguna Beach, long regarded as one of southern California’s most affluent and visually stunning addresses. The dramatic scenery and strict development regulations have preserved the beauty of the coast line and attracted an eclectic blend of artists and their patrons; indeed Laguna Beach’s galleries and culinary scene (to say nothing of its posh private resorts) are as much of an attraction as the beaches themselves.