With ten miles of pristine beaches and the perfect natural conditions for breaking surf, Huntington Beach is a popular and quintessential Southern California coastal haven.  Beautiful walking paths line the beach from one end to the other and Huntington boasts one of the largest recreational piers in the world. There are five public beaches along this uninterrupted stretch of wide, sandy beach front. There is even a dog-friendly beach smack in the middle of all the fun. From surfers to kayak paddlers, nature-lovers, golfers, equestrian aficionados, shoppers and foodies alike--- this town has something for everyone.  But this wasn’t always the case…

Way Back When…
European settlers claimed this area for Spain in 1784. Loyal military man Manuel Nieto received a land grant of 300,000 acres naming it Rancho Los Nietos (meaning ranch of the grandsons). Subsequently, the Stearns Rancho Company used the area for cattle and horse ranching. Imagine a herd of cattle galloping down what is now Beach Boulevard!  As the cattle business dwindled, agriculture increased during the 1890’s. Common crops were barley and beets. The area later became known as Shell Beach, supposedly for the small clams found at the seashore. In 1901, the name was again changed to Pacific City after P.A. Stanton formed a syndicate and purchased 40 acres along the beach and 20 acres on both sides up Main Street. He envisioned this to eventually rival Atlantic City on the East Coast. During the 1920’s, huge oil deposits were found here and oil wells sprang up quickly to capitalize on the resource. This discovery was a financial boom for the local economy and enriched the town greatly---growing by leaps and bounds.

Beach Umbrellas - 1930

Lucky For Mr. Huntington? No, Lucky For Us…
There are many reasons for residents to be thankful for Mr. Huntington’s involvement is this charming beach town. Here are three key reasons: 1) In 1909 the city was incorporated and the original developer was the Huntington Beach Company. This was a real estate development firm which oversaw the building of the new town. The company was owned by, you guessed it, Henry Huntington, and thus the town was named in his honor. Henry was a railroad magnate and provided great stability to this then sleepy town. 2) Huntington also helped to sponsor the extension of the Pacific Electric Railway which brought tourism to this rather remote area. 3) In 1907 while vacationing in Hawaii Henry met George Freeth (now known as the Father of Modern Surfing) and he brought him to Huntington Beach to perform surfing demonstrations. Huntington was on hand when the concrete pier was opened in 1914. Many years later, the town would be nicknamed “Surf City” and surfers gravitated to the area to surf, shape and fabricate surf boards and create an eclectic surf culture. Today Huntington Beach is known as “Surf City USA” and hosts the annual U.S. Open of Surfing competition and is also home to the International Surfing Museum.

Historic Huntington Beach


Turning The Clock Forward….
Fast forward to the 1950’s and many of the oil wells had become unproductive. Wells which were no longer producing were cleared to make room for a post-war housing boom. Subsequently, a community and downtown revitalization program was implemented in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Older buildings were torn down to make room for newer construction. Upscale hotels & resorts were added along Pacific Coast Highway, as were restaurants, shopping malls, bike paths and a host of other improvements were made.  Today, Huntington Beach is a vibrant and thriving surf town. The most recent addition is an outdoor shopping & dining mall and is aptly named “Pacific City”. And now we know how this venue got its name!

1963 Surf Championship

Historical Walking Tours…
For those who would like to take a walk down memory lane, there are two excellent self-guided tours with maps and complete descriptions for visitors to enjoy. The maps can be obtained at the Visitor Center office on Main Street, or at the Visitor Kiosk at the foot of the pier.

The Historic Walking Tour of Downtown Huntington Beach features 35 special areas of interest with an easy to follow map. Many photos are included in the brochure and for history buffs, this is a treasure trove of great information. Along the alley between 5th and 6th Street, for example, there is a stand-alone single room 1916 jail cell. Along Walnut Street, tour visitors will find The M.E. Helme House Furnishing Co. that was built in 1904 and is the only pre-1910 commercial building in town that has not been altered.  

Another icon was The Golden Bear. The Golden Lion Café opened in 1923 on Main Street by Harry Bakre. In 1926 the name was changed to The Golden Bear Café and in 1929 moved to its location further down Main Street at Pacific Coast Highway (then called Ocean Avenue). The café was a favorite for tourists visiting the area. The café went through various changes in ownership, and in the 1960’s & 1970’s it was a thriving nightclub called The Golden Bear. It only held about 300 patrons and was routinely packed with music lovers wanting to see and hear some of the best revered folk and rock musical talent of the day. Sadly, in 1986 the Golden Bear closed its doors. The cost to retro-fit the building was too high and the master plan for the downtown area was moving forward toward new builds.  In December, 2014, the city unveiled a commemorative plaque honoring The Golden Bear on the wall of the new Pierside Pavilion.

The Golden Bear in 1960

Just a stone’s throw north is the Historical Walking Tour of Sunset Beach. At the turn of the century, this town was very popular for duck hunting. The wetlands and thick bogs made it an ideal spot for ducks and hunting lodges were erected. Avid hunters would flock to the area to enjoy the sport.  During Prohibition, this was a secret find for bootleg liquor shipments to be delivered by sea, and drop off points were disguised as homes. Over the years this town has also experienced its share of challenges--- between the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, a very bad hurricane and the installment of the Navy Weapons Depot, just to name a few. Then in1950, the Pacific Electric red cars stopped running and in 1983 the town experienced a terrible flood from storm surges. The following are just a few examples of some of the 20 points of interest that can be seen on this fun self-guided tour. The 1938 Old Lookout House on South Pacific Avenue was the first home built south of Warner along the oceanfront. It was a Coast Guard lookout during World War II to search for submarines off the coast. Visitors on the tour cannot miss The Water Tower on Anderson Street near PCH. It was like a beacon. Originally built in 1890, it was the largest water tower on the West Coast holding 75,000 gallons. It was replaced in 1940 with this redwood tank that we see today.  It is now a residence offering 360 degree views---from the ocean to the mountains. There is a small island here too, just east of PCH, with access from Broadway, and it is here where we find the Caslin’s Original Castle. This is along Bayview Drive and was built in 1924 as a Duck Club. The building materials were brought in by row boat and the home was used to store illegal liquor during Prohibition. This part of its history was discovered when bottles were found underneath the house during an extensive renovation. 

The foregone has been a fanciful walk down memory lane. It is always fun to learn something new about the history of this seaside town and to discover new things about a place that has grown up before our very eyes. Let the thrill, sun, memories and recreational fun of Huntington Beach “Surf City USA” be yours to enjoy for many, many years to come.