Huntington Beach, California Walking Tour
Welcome to Huntington Beach, California. This self-guided walking tour of Historic Downtown Huntington Beach will lead you through more than a century of beach town nostalgia.
Bring along family and friends or go solo for this engaging stroll through our historic downtown and 15 of its fascinating historic sites. The tour will take about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace, or a bit longer if you stop for a coffee, ice cream, meal, or libation at one of our delicious eateries along the way. End your tour at the Visitor Information Kiosk in Pier Plaza with your answers to the eight questions included below and receive a free prize, courtesy of Visit Huntington Beach!
Bridging the past to the future
Thank You to the City of Huntington Beach and its Historic Resources Board, especially historian Kathie Schey, for invaluable input on the content and accuracy of this walking tour guide. A special thank you to local writer Chris Epting for his assistance. Thank you also to the Orange County Archives and to everyone who photographed, preserved and restored images of historic Huntington Beach. As you enjoy the walking tour, please do not disturb residents of historic houses. They are private homes.
1. Huntington Beach Pier
LOCATION: Pacific Coast Highway and Main St.
WHAT IS IT? As you look across at Main Street, it is fun to imagine an earlier era when the street was unpaved, horses waited, and an entire railroad car load of gravel intended to fill all the potholes only filled those in the first block. Then as now, however, Main Street was filled with great shops and wonderful eateries. Enjoy your walk today, learning about the past that helped make our wonderful city what it is today.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: In the early 1900s a Pacific Electric (PE) railway building near the pier was a stop for PE’s red cars. Railroad mogul Henry Huntington ensured the cars ran through Huntington Beach to Los Angeles. Question: What was the name of the ballroom built next to the pier in 1938?
Need a hint? Ask someone working at the nearby visitor’s kiosk for help.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Cross Pacific Coast Highway
2. The Huntington Beach Company
LOCATION: 416 Pacific Coast Highway
WHAT IS IT? In 1905, the Huntington Beach Company had offices in this block. This company was responsible for much of the early development of this city. The buildings here are the only remaining original structures. Eight second-floor apartments are still rented today.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: By 1910, this block also contained the Ocean Wave Hotel, with the Crescent Theater located below. The 1918 O’Barr building where Jack’s Surf Shop was founded in 1957 stands today. Another original building still standing, circa 1905, houses the El Don liquor store.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Make a right on 5th St. and proceed one block.
3. The Shank House
LOCATION: 204 5th St.
WHAT IS IT? This two-story Craftsman bungalow was originally built in 1913 by Dr. George Shank, one of the first physicians in Huntington Beach. It was moved from its original site on 20th St. to its current location around 1926.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: The Huntington Beach redevelopment agency obtained the property in 2004 for use as a police substation.
Question: What year was the flagpole in front of the building placed?
Need a hint? Look for plaque near flagpole base.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Walk one block up Walnut Ave.
4. M.E. Helme House Furnishing Company
LOCATION: 517 Walnut Ave.
WHAT IS IT? The M.E. Helme House Furnishing Company building, built in 1904, is an example of an early 20th century Western false front wood commercial building. Today it’s an antique store.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: It is the only pre-1910 commercial building in HB that hasn’t been altered. Look down at the rings for hitching the horses.
Question: How many horse hitching rings are embedded in the sidewalk?
Need a hint? Look carefully down at the sidewalk.
TO THE NEXT STOP: The location is next door, on the corner of Walnut Ave. and 6th St.
5. The Helme/Worthy House
LOCATION: 128 6th St.
WHAT IS IT? Built in Santa Ana in 1901, this house is an example of Craftsman architecture with Queen Anne and Victorian influences. Matthew Helme purchased and moved it here by mule team in 1904. He was a member of the first Board of Trustees in Huntington Beach and its fourth mayor.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: Helme fought for the city’s incorporation and worked for the development of a fire department, street lighting and water system. Both Helme buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Question: What kind of flower bush is located next to the house?
Need a hint? Look for the sign admonishing visitors to not touch the flowers.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Proceed to 6th St. and make a left on Main St.
6. Main Street Library on Triangle Park
LOCATION: 525 Main St.
WHAT IS IT? The Mid-Century modern Main Street Library, designed by McClellan, McDonald and Markwith, was completed in 1951. One of the earliest examples of tilt-up concrete construction, it also features a marble entryway and remarkable floor to ceiling windows. Now officially named Triangle Park for some early references to the site, the grounds feature numerous early Canary Island Palms surrounding the library today.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: A grandfather clock in the library was donated by students of Huntington Beach High School in 1915 as thanks for librarian Bertha Proctor’s help with their speech and debate team. It has since been placed in a “modern” case, likely at the time it was moved to the current building in 1951.
Question: What has been housed in the park grounds in the past?
TO THE NEXT STOP: Adjacent to the library
7. Beach Court
LOCATION: 323-327 6th St.
WHAT IS IT? Built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style in 1923, this and other courts like it provided housing for workers during our early oil boom. It is said that a basement exists which “rum-runners” found useful during Prohibition.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: The ghost of screen legend Rudolph Valentino, who may have stayed here, is said to haunt this area.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Follow Main St. to 6th St. and make a right, cross Orange Ave.
8. International Surfing Museum
LOCATION: 411 Olive Ave.
WHAT IS IT? This art deco/ moderne building was completed in 1935, the office of early general practitioner, Dr. Hawes. With no hospital nearby, it served as an emergency facility for injured oil workers. In 1987, the famous Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum was established here. Exhibits include the cornerstone from the 1914 Pier and Edmond Schumpert’s important bust of Duke Kahanamoku. The World’s Largest Surfboard, verified by GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS© at 42 feet long, is displayed in the parking lot!
AS A MATTER OF FACT: In the early 1980s, the building was home to the famed punk club, “Safari Sam’s.”
Question: How many surfers are visible on the building’s mural?
Need a hint? Take a look in the back!
TO THE NEXT STOP: Proceed down alley next to museum.
9. Old Jail
WHAT IS IT? Built in 1916, this standalone brick structure was the city’s first jail cell. Most early serious crimes were attributed to “booze.” Lesser infractions included “riding a bicycle on the pier.”
AS A MATTER OF FACT: The original police station, also made of red brick, is located adjacent to the jail cell.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Head back out to Olive Ave. and make a right, cross Main St.; next location is on left.
10. U.S. Post Office
LOCATION: 316 Olive Ave.
WHAT IS IT? This early Post Office built in 1935 during the New Deal era and restored in 1991, was designed by Luis A. Simon, who was also the architect of the federal courthouse in Los Angeles and the IRS building in Washington, DC.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: Inside are many original features including brass teller cages. Historic photographs are also displayed.
Question: Who was Postmaster General when the post office opened?
Need a hint? Look for the cornerstone.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Take Main St. toward the ocean.
11. Talbert-Leatherman Building
LOCATION: 217 Main St.
WHAT IS IT? Dating back to about 1904, this is one of the oldest remaining commercial buildings in the city. Another early commercial building, located nearby at 213 Main and erected in 1907, has also been home to many businesses including a sheet metal works in 1919 and Huntington Beach Electric in 1924.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: Huntington Beach’s first gas pump once stood in front.
Question: What is hanging over the top of the restaurant?
Need a hint? Take a step back and look up!
TO THE NEXT STOP: Proceed down Main St. toward the ocean.
12. The Former Standard Market
LOCATION: Corner of Main St. and Walnut Ave.
WHAT IS IT? This was the original site of the open-sided Standard Market built in 1928.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: Note the plaque at the entrance at HSS clothing store. Around the corner at the restaurant entrance you will find an informative plaque about the market’s history.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Directly opposite, on Main. St
13. 1930's Era Architecture
LOCATION: 127 Main St.
WHAT IS IT? This corner store, in the Streamline Moderne style representative of that era, was built in about 1938 when “whipstock” or “slant drilling” for oil became the norm.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: It was originally the Huntington Beach Cut-Rate Drug Store owned by S.R. Bowen who was also a mayor of our city.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Proceed down Main toward the ocean.
14. Pioneer Building
LOCATION: 117 Main
WHAT IS IT? This site, originally built in 1907 and rebuilt in about 1917, has perhaps the most colorful history of any structure on Main. First used as a public school, it next became the real estate offices of Seely & Lavering. After the discovery of oil in Huntington Beach in 1920, and the arrival of thousands of “roughneck” oil workers, H.F. Lindner bought the property, establishing the Palace Pool Hall on the first floor and Palace Hotel upstairs.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: This location was also reputedly said to be a popular brothel during the oil boom years.
TO THE NEXT STOP: Proceed down Main toward the ocean to Pacific Coast Highway
15. The Legendary Golden Bear
LOCATION: Near 300 Pacific Coast Highway
WHAT IS IT? Today, Pierside Pavilion occupies the site of the legendary Golden Bear. Originally opened as a restaurant on this spot in 1926, famous celebrities including some of Hollywood’s brightest stars came here to dine by the sea. It evolved into a folk music club by the early 1960s. Eventually the “Bear” emerged as a legendary venue for rock and roll, blues, jazz and even comedy, hosting some of the biggest names.
AS A MATTER OF FACT: The Golden Bear hosted a range of performers including Linda Ronstadt, Arlo Guthrie, Jerry Garcia, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Janis Joplin and many more. Famed muralist, Wyland, then unknown, painted its exterior mural in the late 1970s. The building was demolished in 1986.
Your tour is complete!
Check your answers at the Visit Huntington Beach Visitor Information Kiosk in Pier Plaza and receive a free prize from Surf City USA.