Surf lessons and beachside butler s’mores service are among the family friendly highlights at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. // © Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa
Planning a vacation involving five boys ranging in age from 3 to 14 is not an easy task. My sister and I wanted to travel together with our families but, with an age range like ours, it was harder than we expected to pick a destination. Once we determined that we didn’t want to fly, we settled on Huntington Beach, Calif., located between my hometown of Los Angeles and her hometown of San Diego. It also happens to be close to two of our favorite attractions: Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and The Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., though we found ourselves with plenty to do in Huntington Beach.
We reunited at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, a beautiful resort property conveniently located across a pedestrian bridge from the beach and just a short walk from the Huntington Beach Pier. The resort had all of the amenities that we were looking for, including two pools (one with water slides for the kids), a game room and a selection of great dining options on the property. Travelers who plan to drive should take note of the fact that the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach has valet parking for the affordable cost of $29 per day. In addition, there is a $25 per day resort fee, which does include basic Internet access. For some categories of rooms, guests can enjoy the Regency Club with complimentary light breakfast in the morning, appetizers in the late afternoon and desserts in the evening. Water, juice, coffee and soft drinks are also complimentary; however, wine, beer and cocktails are available for a nominal fee per drink. For our family, the Regency Club was a great place to start the day, and it was a huge help to be able to get snacks and drinks for the kids at any time.
Activities in Huntington Beach are centered around its prime location on the Southern California coast. During the weekend we visited, the city was hosting the U.S. Open of Surfing, where world-class surfers gather each year to take on the challenging Huntington Beach swells (This year’s event takes place from July 20-28). The beach party atmosphere of the surfing competition was contagious, and we quickly moved from a spot on the pier down to the shoreline to watch the surfers up close. It was an amazing opportunity for my two boys (ages 11 and 14) to watch the famous surfer, Kelly Slater, compete from only a few feet away and, when Kelly shook their hands as he came out of the water, they were beyond thrilled.
Inspired by the competition, the boys and their oldest cousin (age 9) decided to try out surfing for themselves. We signed them up for a surfing lesson through Toes on the Nose, located in the hotel lobby, which couldn’t have been easier. We arrived about 15 minutes before the lesson time to get the three surfers fitted for wetsuits and to get complimentary beach chairs for the spectators — they even had a huge bag of sand toys for the two youngest cousins for only $5. We all walked across the bridge to the beach where the boys received on-the-sand surfing basics from two experienced surf instructors (and trained lifeguards) while the other children busted out the sand toys. Once in the water, the boys took turns riding small waves into shore with the instructors standing close by so that we knew they were safe the entire time. It took a while but, eventually, all three of them managed to stand up and ride a wave, just like Kelly Slater — well, almost.
After the lesson, the instructors told the boys that they could use the boards on their own for the rest of the day, but they decided they were finished. We walked back across the bridge to the hotel where we enjoyed a great lunch on the patio at Pete’s Sunset Grill. With decor inspired by famous surfing destinations around the world, we figured it was the perfect place for a post-surfing meal. The boys relived (and embellished) their surfing exploits while the adults had amazing strawberry basil margaritas.
The following day, we decided to try a surrey ride along the boardwalk. If you have never seen one of these crazy contraptions, it’s basically a bicycle built for 3-9 people — plus seats for two toddlers in the front — complete with a fringed cover. We received a brief explanation from the staff at Waterfront Adventures on how to ride (and, more importantly, steer), took our obligatory embarrassing family photo and we were off. Because the peddler in the front “driver’s” seat is in charge of steering as well as a considerable portion of the peddling, it’s a good idea to have an adult take that seat. We managed to maneuver our way to the pier and back with only a couple of near collisions with passing bicyclists. Thankfully, the surrey was equipped with a very loud “clown horn” (as my nephew referred to it) so all disasters were averted. It was definitely a very fun family bonding experience, not to mention a great way to sneak in a little exercise. Everyone enjoyed the ride, especially the twins, who had the best seats in the house perched at the front of the bike.
That night, we decided to have a light dinner in the hotel’s Red Chair Lounge. We scored two comfortable couches and the boys played pool and shuffleboard while we waited for our food. Since the Red Chair Lounge has happy hour cocktail and food specials from 5 - 7 p.m., Sunday through Friday, we ordered wine, delicious burgers and assorted flatbreads without breaking the bank.
After dinner, we headed back to Waterfront Adventures on the boardwalk for a butler beach bonfire. When we arrived, there were already beach chairs set up in a semicircle around a fire pit and a table laden with pots of hot chocolate and enough marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars to feed an army of hungry s’mores eaters, which of course, we were. Our butler brought over wood and started our fire, checking back frequently throughout the evening to make sure it was always burning. The kids loved roasting their own marshmallows, and it was a lovely way to end our Huntington Beach vacation together. In the end, all five boys paid the ultimate compliment: They asked if we could go back every summer.
Know Before You Ride
A real family rides together — trade out individual beach cruisers for Waterfront Adventures’ surrey rides. Prices vary:
Single Surrey (seats up to three plus two toddler seats) - $25/hour
Double Surrey (seats up to six plus two toddler seats) - $35/hour
Triple Surrey (seats up to nine plus two toddler seats) - $45/hour