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OOPS. A SURFER caught way too much air as he bailed on a wave by the pier in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Surfing is a way of life, and an economic engine, in the Southern California city. Even the city’s official website has a detailed surf report. Want to know the surf’s height, direction, period (the number of seconds between successive waves) and overall quality? It’s all there.

But you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy the town. It’s fun just to watch the surfing life, which hits its zenith during the annual Vans U.S. Open of Surfing. Hundreds of thousands of people, many bronzed and barely clothed, watch and party during the weeklong competition, which Huntington Beach hosts every summer (it was in July this year). Besides the world-class surfer competitions, the festival brings free concerts, skateboarding and BMX riding — and lots of shopping and partying opportunities.

The town is jumping during the U.S. Open, but at other times you can find plenty of room to play in the sand. Nicknamed “Surf City USA” and the cradle of California surf culture, Huntington Beach boasts about 8.5 miles of uninterrupted beaches. Rookies can enjoy boogie boarding; wannabe surfers can take lessons; experienced surfers can catch the waves all day. Play beach volleyball (or just watch; the local players are really good). Go kitesurfing or paddleboarding. Take a bike ride along scenic paths. Play golf, go ocean-fishing, take a whale- or dolphin-watching boat tour. Or just sit in the sand, or at an ocean-view cafe, and watch the sunset.

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Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at

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