Huntington Beach

Look hard

Photo by Keith MayThere's nothing quaint about Huntington Beach, which has a mostly working-class population of 190,000. In fact, it's a pretty ugly city. Except for the old residential neighborhoods surrounding Lake Park in the downtown area, the city is desolate. Beach Boulevard especially is a wasteland of fast-food franchises and auto dealerships.

For most of the century Big Oil owned Huntington Beach, covering its coastline with hundreds of steam-driven wells. That legacy lives on today with the oil field out near Bolsa Chica and the single well pumping silently next to the Taco Bell on PCH.

When the oil dried up, the City Council—dominated by pro-business, chamber of commerce types—sold its soul to Big Business: Boeing, Hilton, Wal-Mart and PLC Cos., the mega-development firm specializing in gated communities of luxurious homes. Even the nickname "Surf City" is mostly just a bitter joke now, with raw sewage forcing frequent beach closures and ordinary surfers banned from the water during the big OP/Gotcha/Bluetorch/whatever pro competitions every summer.

Downtown, which should be funky, has instead congealed into a mass of redevelopment giveaways to corporate franchises: Jamba Juice, Burger King, Starbucks, Jack in the Box, Subway, Taco Bell. About the only remnants of the old days are the El Don Liquor and the apartments upstairs.

And, of course, there's HB's preference for an overwhelming police presence, especially around times when residents are celebrating the birth of freedom and all that.

That said, there are still plenty of interesting things to do in Huntington, but you've got to look really hard to find them.

HUNTINGTON GRABS ITS WALLET

Mandic Motors. Nobody likes going to the mechanic, so we don't, and we end up paying the price later in dark, empty parking lots or along steep freeway embankments during monsoons. Instead, just go to Mandic and take advantage of their fast and fair service. Gobs of AAA mechanic awards can't be wrong. But what's nicest about Mandic is that they don't try to ram unnecessary repairs down your throat. They're good people. 424 Main St., (714) 536-6585.Vinyl Solution Records and Tapes. This place is the last bastion of people who know punk. Here you'll find the best selection of punk records you'll see until Duane Peters kicks off and his stuff ends up at a police auction. The staff is colorful—alternately late or absent-minded. A couple of times per year, they hold the Secret Sale, at which, starting at midnight, customers can grab whatever they want and then haggle until it's nearly half-price. Sometimes the staff will accept goods in lieu of cash. The bathroom is also a shrine to David Lee Roth, displaying every clipping and centerfold on the guy from the past decade. 18822 Beach Blvd., Ste. 104, (714) 963-1819.Savers. This is a discount department store from a time before Wal-Mart. Every day, something is half off. It has clothes, dinnerware, bikes, electronics and really scary Jesus graffiti in the upstairs bathroom. 19131 Magnolia St., (714) 962-6881.

HUNTINGTON GRABS ITS CROTCH

Hurricane's. The balcony of this joint has the voyeuristic feel of New Orleans during Mardi Gras—lots of drunk guys ogling the bikini parade below. But inside is where the real action is. It's hardly a secret that Hurricane's is ground zero for strippers, porn stars and Young Republicans. Between the live music and the various drink specials, the place is always packed with frisky young sex goddesses and the schmucks who think they can get them. 200 Main St., Ste. 201, (714) 374-0500.Elfstone Hollow. This eccentric pub is what happens if you take the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, add even more suds, and then drop it in HB's Old World Village. The place looks like something Tolkein threw up, displaying junk like "the last unicorn horn" on the wall. If you can stand the feel of being trapped inside a Dungeons & Dragons game, this is actually an entertaining place to spend an hour or two—provided no one starts singing. Dear God, please let no one start singing. 7651 Center Ave., Ste. 42, (714) 899-9918.

WILD HUNTINGTON

Bolsa Ecological Reserve. The best place to see wildlife at Bolsa Chica is on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway between Golden West Street and Warner Avenue, directly across from the entrance to Bolsa State Beach. Visitors can observe saltwater marine life, including stingrays, sea slugs, horn snails, crabs, fish, small sharks and California sea hares. Parking is free, as is the use of the trail. Fishing is allowed, but bicycles and dogs are not permitted. Free tours are offered the first Saturday of each month beginning at 9 a.m.

HUNTINGTON CHOWS DOWN

Arriba Baja Cantina. Not quite an actual Mexican cantina but more than your typical corporate feeding trough, Arriba offers a comfortable alternative to the typical hardcore HB scene. The food comes prepared by an ex-Taco Mesa chef, so you know it's good. There's a beautiful wraparound balcony, a great bar staffed with friendly bartenders, lots of televisions, and live music on Sundays. 126 Main St., Ste. 201, (714) 960-4690.Las Barcas. You've gotta love a Mexican restaurant with a giant "No Lard" sign in the front window. 21032 Beach Blvd., (714) 536-2616.L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. This is, for better or worse, authentic Hawaiian fare. For all their pineapples and palm trees and tropical paradise, Hawaiians seem to love the greasy fried meat. Fried chicken, fried beef, fried pork and fried Spam. Lots of Spam. Maybe it's just nostalgia for those halcyon From Here to Eternity days before the war. Whatever you order, it comes with two scoops rice and one scoop macaroni salad. And isn't that what we're all looking for anyway? 19692 Beach Blvd., (714) 968-1898.Alice's Breakfast in the Park. Huntington's answer to Tavern on the Green. Located in Central Park, Alice's is where people go to, uh, eat breakfast in the park. 6622 Lakeview Dr., (714) 848-0690.Sugar Shack Café. If you hit the Sugar Shack Café early in the morning, you'll find yourself amid a swirling sea of humanity. The Sugar Shack makes the best coffee around, and locals know it. Anyone who tells you Sugar Shack doesn't have the best coffee is obsolete. All will obey Sugar Shack! Sugar Shack über alles! Ich Bin Ein Sugar Shack! 213 Main St., (714) 536-0355.Zubie's Dry Dock. This is the best place for a hearty, cheap breakfast in all of Orange County, not just Huntington Beach. With sawdust sprinkled on the floor and a full-tap bar that's also open for breakfast, Zubie's has all the old-school charm of a Depression-era soup kitchen. But you can get a whopping plateful of huevos rancheros or chorizo for less than $5. 9059 Adams, (714) 963-6362.
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