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California Dreaming

The coastal towns south of Los Angeles offer the right mix of high style and surf culture. T+L maps an easy three-day itinerary.

By Sarah Spagnolo

Day 1

Immortalized by the Beach Boys and Tom Wolfe’s Pump House Gang, the sunshine-filled communities that line the lower part of Highway 1 are beloved as much for their shore breaks as for their barefoot appeal. After arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, pick up a Chevrolet Corvette convertible at Midway Car Rental (6225 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles; 800/824-5260; midwaycarrental.com; rentals from $45) and head south to Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA. Start at the International Surfing Museum (411 Olive Ave., Huntington Beach; 714/960-3483;surfingmuseum.org), where salty locals congregate for concerts, to learn about more than 100 years of wave-skimming history. The collection includes the windup Bolex camera that director Bruce Brown used to film The Endless Summer (1967). Ready for lunch? Take a five-minute stroll to the pier and order the fried lobster tacos and Stone Brewing Co. India Pale Ale on draft at Sandy’s Beach Grill (315 Pacific Coast Hwy.; 714/374-7273; lunch for two $50), a new spot right on the sand. Eight miles south is palm-lined Newport Beach. Park your car near Alta Coffee Warehouse & Restaurant (506 31st St., Newport Beach; 949/675-0233; tea for two $3), which serves a refreshing mango iced tea under a pergola, or for a sweet snack, stop by the oceanside Jane’s Corndogs (106 McFadden Place, Newport Beach; 949/675-1770; dessert for two $6) for its ice cream-filled Balboa Bars, dipped in chocolate and coated with peanut shavings or sprinkles. Crystal Cove State Park, nine miles away, lures nature lovers to the shoreline. For hilltop ocean vistas, request a western-facing bungalow at the palatial Pelican Hill Resort (22701 Pelican Hill Rd., Newport Coast; 800/820-6800; pelicanhill.com; doubles from $545), with its 14,500-square-foot circular pool. But should you prefer to be close to art galleries and small boutiques, opt for a Beach Front room with a balcony at the renovated Pacific Edge Hotel (647 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949/494-8566; pacificedgehotel.com; doubles from $215), in downtown Laguna Beach. While there, catch the tangerine-colored sunset from the roof deck of the 1929 La Casa del Camino Hotel’s K’ya Bistro Bar (1287 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949/376-9718; drinks for two $12), where freestanding heaters and fleece blankets keep the evening chill at bay. Don’t miss dinner at Sapphire Laguna (1200 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949/715-9888; dinner for two $125). The inviting dining room is lit by Moroccan-style lamps. Iranian-born chef Azmin Ghahreman oversees an international menu full of small plates such as chicken-filled Tak-Koji tacos with lime sour cream.

Day 2

In the morning, non-surfers can test their balance with the latest watersports craze: stand up paddleboarding. A 90-minute private lesson with the instructors at Stand Up Paddle Company (1099 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949/715-4530; supcompany.com) includes a wet suit, board, paddle, and unparalleled views of the coast and nearby Catalina Island. Afterward, refuel at Laguna’s beloved Orange Inn Café (703 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949/494-6085; lunch for two $20), where orange-infused California date shakes and banana-blueberry muffins are served beneath rafters lined with vintage surfboards. Then it’s back on the road, driving south past the breaks at San Onofre State Beach and the marine base at Camp Pendleton. Stop in Encinitas at the roadside Pannikin Coffee & Tea (510 N. Hwy. 101; 760/436-5824; coffee for two $3.50), housed in a repurposed 1888 train station. For a jolt of energy, order a cup of Sumatra (roasted on site) and a slice of fresh-baked rhubarb pie before heading to the design district’s shop-lined Cedros Avenue. Vintage beach-city signs from airy SoLo (309 S.Cedros Ave., Solana Beach; 858/794-9016) make fine souvenirs, as do the ikat pillows at Cokas Diko (412 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach; 858/481-4341). Check in to one of the 120 spacious rooms at L’Auberge Del Mar (1540 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar; 800/245-9757; laubergedelmar.com; doubles from $295), just south of the city, but ask the valet to leave your car out front for the 10-minute detour to Del Mar’s Market Restaurant & Bar (3702 Via de la Valle, Del Mar; 858/523-0007; dinner for two $90). The farm-to-table dishes—grapefruit-and-avocado salad; Cabernet-braised short ribs—are worth the drive.

Day 3

Rise early for a quick breakfast in Cardiff-by-the-Sea: either a spicy egg burrito at Pipes Café (121 Liverpool Dr., Cardiff-by-the-Sea; lunch for two $15) or a velvety glazed doughnut at VG Donut & Bakery (106 Aberdeen Dr., Cardiff-by-the-Sea; 760/753-2400; doughnuts for two $2), plucked straight from the oven. La Jolla, 14 miles south, has its fair share of white sand along the pristine coastline. It’s also home to Karl Strauss Brewing Co. (1044 Wall St., La Jolla; 858/273-2739; karlstrauss.com; drinks for two $11). Try the award-winning caramel-and-fruit-inflected Red Trolley Ale—or, if it’s still too early for a pint, continue an hour south to San Diego’s Ocean Beach neighborhood and the newPizza Port (1956 Bacon St., Ocean Beach; 619/224-4700; lunch for two $16), where you can choose from a selection of whole-grain pies and handcrafted brews, including the amber-hued Cho Saiko (“radical,” in Japanese surfer slang). San Diego recently welcomed a number of new hotels and restaurants, such as the sleek Sé San Diego Hotel (1047 Fifth Ave., San Diego; 619/515-3000; sesandiego.com; doubles from $159), which has 181 rooms with oversize windows and Brazilian walnut floors. Cucina Urbana (505 Laurel St., San Diego; 619/239-2222; dinner for two $65), in Banker’s Hill, serves Piedmontese Barbera wine and house-made lobster ravioli, though be warned: You’ll want to exchange your shorts and sandals for pants and stilettos for this SoCal finale.