Huntington Beach State Park

Waves roll onto this wild expanse of sand that disappears into a maze of lagoons and marshes. Foray into the park for a wildlife-filled escape.

Channel your inner surfer dude in Huntington Beach State Park, where days roll by taming the famous waves and watching the sun go down around an impromptu bonfire on the beach. When you need a break from wipe outs, the region steps up with a whole repertoire of nature-based activities. Try everything from surf fishing to wild camping, bird spotting to alligator dodging, with some worthy cultural attractions thrown in for good measure.

It is impossible to talk about Huntington Beach State Park without Atalaya springing up. Why? Because this beautiful Moorish-style residence is an amazing place to explore. Built by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, the 30-room quasi-palace is a regional landmark. Come September it plays host to the fabulous and highly acclaimed Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival. Meet local artisans, try specialty foods of the so-called “Lowcounty,” and sway your hips to an eclectic selection of tunes by local musicians.

Nature lovers rejoice for Huntington Beach State Park is teeming with flora and fauna, and there are plenty of programs available to help you get close to the wildlife. The loggerhead turtles that nest here are massive but not particularly scary. The alligators, on the other hand, are another story. Spot them at the freshwater lake or walk the Kerrigan Nature Trail boardwalk onto the salt marshes for near-guaranteed wildlife encounters.

The beach is frequented not only by ultra-cool surfers and laid-back locals walking with their canine friends, but hundreds of species of birds. Even non-twitchers can’t fail to be impressed by the sheer numbers. Head to the Nature Center for a who’s who in the bird world. Ultimately, Huntington Beach State Park is about embracing your inner Zen. Let your hair down, try longboarding, gaze at the stars, and meet the wildlife in this patchwork of sea, sand, and swamp.