One day, about the time the Jetsons visit Orange County, there'll be bacteria counts posted at every Orange County beach. If by then we haven't succeeded in destroying the beaches, the counts will let beachgoers instantly know the risks of entering the water.
In the meantime, we have Heal the Bay's online Beach Report Card (www.healthebay.org). For the past three months, using data pulled from the 150 water-quality-monitoring sites along the county's coastline, the report card gives A through F grades for dozens of local beaches using data from the previous week. It doesn't give current conditions, but it is useful in finding beaches that are consistently healthy.
Using the group's report card, we found seven beaches with perfect A+ records in dry conditions over the past 12 weeks. Remarkably, the same beaches scored perfectly during the last period of wet conditions in June.
Two beaches that look great on paper are the Blue Lagoon off Lagunita Point and the Laguna beach off Mountain Road; both are nearly inaccessible. Balboa Beach at the Wedge and Corona del Mar 200 yards south of the breakwater score well, too, but they lack food, good parking and predictably good waves.
For surfers, the best beaches are Salt Creek Beach and San Clemente State Beach. Salt Creek has great waves but way too much seaweed; San Clemente State Beach is a surfer's paradise, but it sits a little too close to San Onofre for our tastes.
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That leaves Sunset Beach at Broadway. It has good waves, free parking, public restrooms, good restaurants and clean water. Of course, when winter hits and the urban deluge begins, all bets are off. Every one of these beaches could become a petri dish for savage micro-organisms. That's the price we pay for living where we swim.