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A walk through the essential Orange County beaches

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Amidst busy schedules packed with homework, exams and extracurriculars, UCI students may be eager to spend some time in the sun. With the UCI campus conveniently located by the Pacific coastline, there are endless beaches to explore. 

Newport Beach

Hours: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., piers close at midnight, Crystal Cove State Park beaches close at sunset

Parking: Free and paid options

Notable Spots: Seaside Donuts, Taco Bell Cantina, Balboa Island Ferry, Fashion Island, fire rings located on beaches

Newport Beach offers a wide variety of watersports for those looking for more adrenaline than catching a tan. Surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing and parasailing are among the most popular outdoor activities along this 8-mile stretch of beach.  

Walking down the Newport Pier, the scene displays small vendors, musicians and pedestrians walking, biking or skating. Fishing for mackerel, smelt and rock bass is also a common activity at the end of the pier.

For fans of the television sitcom “Arrested Development,” Newport Beach is also home to the quaint Balboa Island — accessible by car or ferry. This charming community atop the man-made island boasts over100 boutiques, shops, galleries and restaurants. Visitors can also ride the Balboa Ferris wheel, which has provided views of Newport Harbor since 1936. 

Newport Beach is also home to Crystal Cove State Park. Views of sloping hills, tidepools, wildflowers and the natural seashore characterize the 3.2 mile stretch of beach. The park offers a variety of scenic trails enjoyed by hikers, bikers and equestrians. 

Within the park lies the Crystal Cove Historic District, a seaside colony that dates back to the 1930s. Its 46 preserved coastal cottages provide one of the last glimpses into Southern California coastal communities of the early 20th century. 

Corona Del Mar State Beach 

Hours: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Parking: Free and paid options

Notable Spots: Tidepools, Inspiration Point

The scenic Corona Del Mar State Beach is just south of Newport Beach. It is perfect for those who like to soak in the natural scene,  boasting rocky cliff sides perfect for watching sunsets. Visitors can walk along the rocky shoreline or swim in the tranquil waters. 

Photo by Victoria Le / Staff
Little Corona Del Mar Beach’s rocky tidepools.

Five minutes south of Corona Del Mar State Beach sits Little Corona Del Mar Beach. It is more secluded and boasts tidepools — home to octopuses, hermit crabs, starfish and sea anemones, amongst countless other sea creatures. It is best to go tidepooling during low tide before the waves cover the rocky pools. According to the Corona Beach Tide Chart, the optimal time for a visit would be between 6 a.m. and 1 a.m.

Laguna Beach 

Hours: Varies according to the beach

Parking: Free and paid options

Notable Spots: 1,000 Steps Beach, Victoria Beach

Photo by Victoria Le / Staff
View of Laguna Beach shoreline.

It would be impossible to not mention one of Orange County’s most popular beaches — Laguna Beach. Featuring more than coves, this beach stretches seven miles and offers attractions for adrenaline junkies and relaxed sunbathers alike. It is perfect for swimming, tidepooling and a variety of watersports. At the Main Beach, visitors can enjoy beach volleyball or walk the boardwalk to the scenic Heisler Park

Huntington Beach

Hours: 5 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Parking: Free and paid options

Notable Spots: Huntington Beach Pier and Trail, Huntington Beach Dog Beach 

Huntington Beach is a bit further from UCI, but it is a must-see destination. It is known for its party scene and is home to shopping hub Pacific City and the U.S. Open of Surfing, one of the world’s largest annual surf competitions. At Huntington Beach there are also several fire pits, and from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. visitors can enjoy grilling by the sea. For beach sports fanatics, volleyball courts are scattered along the coastline. 

Visitors can also wander the Huntington Beach Pier, browsing gift shops and listening to the performances by local artists, who frequent the pier. Along the beach, there are dozens of shops, including bike rentals. Visitors can choose from various wheels — including traditional, tandem and surrey bikes — to ride along the 15.7-mile Huntington Beach Trail.

General tips for beach-goers

When visiting these beaches, respect marine life and beach guidelines. For tidepools, it is important to be mindful of the effects of interacting with the environment. Avoid touching, displacing and disrupting marine life. Each rock, plant, shell and creature is essential to the tidepool ecosystem. 

Victoria Le is a City News Staff Writer. She can be reached at victotl5@uci.edu.