Huntington Beach

East Coasters who depend on NPR to keep abreast of what's happening west of the Mississippi know at least one thing about Huntington Beach: it's locked in litigation with Santa Cruz over who owns the rights to the name "Surf City USA." Both burgs think they have the best waves and want the phrase to draw the tourists.

But as the Weekly's own Gustavo Arellano recently asked KPCC listeners, why would any city want to affiliate itself with the crappiest surf song ever written? And if that's the setup, clearly Huntington Beach deserves the title; it has crappiness greatly in common with the groups of white-Levi's-wearing, harmony-singing pseudo-surfers.

So: crap. Poop. Ca-ca. Shit. Feces. Mierda. The stuff that floats down the Santa Ana River into the Pacific Ocean and keeps getting surfers sick and which has repeatedly led health officials to close the beach. Who can think of Surf City without thinking Surf Shitty? Unfortunately, crap is just one of Huntington's myriad environmental problems.

So why would you—would anyone—want to live in Huntington Beach?

Uh, because it happens to be a great place to live. With an average annual temperature of 75 degrees, the weather is perfect year-round. It's boring, but in a good way: the streets are clean and shiny and black and don't have potholes, the skyline is punctuated with lovely palm trees and oil derricks, the lawns are green, it's nice and flat so you can skateboard everywhere, you can watch birds or go jogging in the nearby Bolsa Chica Wetlands, there's a great dog beach, Main Street is door-to-door bars and restaurants, and the waves are excellent, even if they're often full of crap. But more than anything else, what truly makes Huntington Beach a great town is that it's full of hot women—like your mom. Dude, your mom is hot.

Photo by Kilwag

Toughest Skater Dave Reul (see also: Best Bar Band). So we like the guy; so some 11-year-old prodigy with an empty pool in his back yard built for skating could get this major award. So what? Reul is older than you, he's broken more things, he still gets chased out of barges—and, seriously: man knows every empty pool around. He's Orange County's Steve Alba that way. Look it up.

Best Vegetarian FooD Happy Veggie Vegetarian Restaurant. Ex-Weekling Sarah Callendar came, saw and tried to conquer Happy Veggie's extensive and affordable menu of pan-Asian, 100 percent vegan cuisine. And she was trounced by the 100-plus meals on the menu—everything from Vietnamese spring rolls, Indian curry, Chinese chow mein and pad Thai to soy Mongolian beef. Defeat has never tasted so sweet—or healthy. 7251 Warner Ave., Ste. F, Huntington Beach, (714) 375-9505.

Best Eyesore El Don Liquor. As tatty old cool Huntington rolls under the bulldozer's blade, we pause to remember a city that once was a place where methed-up surfers, Nazis and assorted scum held hands in the sewage-y ocean together—a city that lives on now only at the famous El Don Liquor store, a nearly century-old fixture at the corner of PCH and Main that sticks out like a melanoma on an old beach bum—ugly, sure, but also a badge of credibility. El Don is one of the last reminders of the way the beach was before the bros showed up: no shirt, no shoes, no bullshit. The land it sits on must be worth millions, but the chance to buy a bunch of shot bottles of Jim Beam and pass out in the sand—or, God help you, LIVE right on PCH in one of the El Don's terrifying second-story apartments—can't be priced. Never sell out, guys. 416 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-5536.

Best Surf Shop Jack's Surfboards. Jack's has a big selection of surfboards, bodyboards and action-oriented water gear for the serious sporting enthusiast, and enough beach-friendly leisure clothing and accessories to equip an army of wannabes. Here you can solve your midlife crisis the cheap way: by dropping $100 or so on some polarized sunglasses, some baggy cargo shorts and a pair of Reef flip-flops. 101 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 536-4516.

Best Source for Surf Shorts Kanvas by Katin. A true kounty klassic: Nancy and Walt Katin pretty much invented and then perfected the modern boardshort, stitching a chunk of rough sail canvas into a fundamental piece of surf life over 40 years ago. And some things never change: Kanvas by Katin is still just steps from the beach, and original seamstress Sato Hughes is still sewing away—son Glenn thinks she's at 30,000 pairs and counting. 16250 Pacific Coast Hwy., (562) 592-2052;

Best Bar BandWe'll get an empty Keystone bottle in the kisser for this one, but: Skatanic Rednecks. This city's answer to Hank Williams, Jackass and Steve Alba. Frequently found toasted medium-brown and crunchy, onstage at places like Gallagher's Pub & Grill—or street-skating (lead singer Dave Reul) some underused natural resource (empty pool) in a secret location (secret).

Best Place to Drink With Porn Stars Hurricane's. Okay, so this place is typically crammed with obnoxious peroxide-dyed spiky-haired surfers and weightlifters. Who cares? The female bartenders and most of the ladies sunning themselves on the balcony overlooking Main Street look like porn stars—and some of them actually are. This place rocks! 200 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-0500.

Photo by Amy Theilig
Best Cuban Food Habana Cafe. Together with Felix's at Orange Circle and Habana at Costa Mesa's The Lab, Habana Cafe completes the troika that rules Orange County's Cuban food scene with an iron grip that would make Fidel proud. Food snob Gustavo Arellano recommends the tart shredded-beef stew ropa vieja, served with black beans and rice; crab croquettes; the spicy oxtail stew; and the tortillas, which unlike the rest of the world's are flat corn or flour pancakes, known in Cuba as veggie omelets. 18552 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-1133.

Best County Tour Biking Santa Ana River Trail. It begins at an underpass separating Newport Beach and Huntington Beach and stretches 30 miles inland. Along the way, it jumps back and forth across the Santa Ana River and passes Banning Ranch and Talbert Regional Park, soccer fields and ballparks, upscale housing communities and weathered shacks, Angel Stadium and the Arrowhead Pond, and, finally, Featherly Regional Park. It is a tour of OC—without the crush of automobiles. A strong onshore flow will push you inland and ensure a snail-like return.

Best Dog Beach Dog Beach. This isn't just the best dog beach in Huntington, it's the only dog beach in Huntington—or Orange County, for that matter. The only rules are you have to bring an ample supply of doggie bags and keep your pet on the wet part of the sand. And you have to use the bag. And only nice dogs are invited. Goldenwest St. and Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach.

Best Breakfast Park Bench Caf. This is one of two dog-friendly joints in Huntington Beach's Central Park—the other is the down-homey Alice's Restaurant in the Park. Both serve great American fare for humans, but what makes Park Bench stand out is the Canine Cuisine Menu it introduced in 1993. Fido has never had so many culinary choices: everything from chopped bacon bits (Annabelle's Treat) and hot dog slices (Hot Diggity Dog) to peanut butter churros (Ole!). For the more finicky feline-chaser, there's Rover Easy (two scrambled eggs) and the Wrangler Roundup (a lean turkey burger patty). Don't forget: the caf's closed on Mondays and when it rains. 17732 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-0775.

Best Punk Shop Electric Chair. If you're under 25 and like to wear patches saying things like "Minor Threat," "Bad Brains" or "Rancid," or if you can't leave the house without donning several studded leather items decorated with skulls and crossbones and British flags, this is your place. They've got a sturdy collection of creepers, Doc Martens and music posters and a decent collection of punk CDs and vinyl recordings. 410 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 536-0784.

Best Record Store Vinyl Solution. Weekly underground music guru Chris Ziegler says this store is slipping, but it's the city's best for rare punk and new wave vinyl recordings and accoutrements: CDs, DVDs, cassettes, T-shirts, stickers and badges. 18822 Beach Blvd., Ste. 104, Huntington Beach, (714) 963-1819.

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