Boating Itinerary of Southern California


The California coast between Los Angeles and San Diego is all about sand, surf and year-round sunshine. It’s the place that spawned beach culture, car culture, surf culture, amusement parks, sun-worshipping and drive-ins, all set to a Beach Boys soundtrack.

If you’re looking for an easy jaunt with plenty to see and do, this 36 NM cruise from Long Beach to San Clemente is a perfect way to spend a few days soaking up SoCal sunshine with good tunes playing on your boat.

Starting Point: Long Beach, CA

Long Beach skyline | Credit

Located about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, Long Beach is the second busiest container port in the United States and one of the biggest shipping ports in the world. It’s also the permanent home of the RMS Queen Mary, the Art Deco ocean liner that was the fastest in the world from its christening in 1936 until 1952.

The city was officially incorporated in 1897, first gaining recognition as a seaside resort. Later, the oil industry, a U.S. Navy shipyard and the port facilities grew to dominate. In addition to touring the Queen Mary, visitors can also check out the local vibrant art scene, which includes the Long Beach Museum of Art, Museum of Latin American Art, and downtown’s East Village Arts District, where galleries host openings and exhibits on the second Saturday of each month.

Adjacent to the Convention Center and Queen Mary, visitors tour the massive Aquarium of the Pacific on Rainbow Harbor, which houses a collection of more than 11,000 animals. And don’t forget the canals of the Naples neighborhood on a group of islands in Alamitos Bay, where you can take a gondola trip complete with a singing gondolier. The Naples Island Christmas Parade has been held every December since 1946, passing through the canals and around the bay.

Springtime brings the Long Beach Grand Prix for racing enthusiasts and the Congressional Cup — the only Grade 1 Match Race Regatta held in the United States — both in April. During the summer months, you can enjoy the Long Beach Sea Festivals, a string of events held at various places along the shoreline, three beaches, several city parks and Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier. Highlights include the Pirate Invasion, 4th of July, the Love Long Beach Festival, Crawfish Festival and Tiki Beach Festival, among numerous others.

For an unforgettable pre-departure dinner, try Heritage on East 7th Street in the city’s Rose Park neighborhood, where Chef Philip Pretty serves up seasonal delicacies such as wild striped bass, Iberico pork shoulder and toasted sunchoke ice cream.

Stop 1: Newport Beach

Estimated Mileage: 16 NM

Newport Beach houses from Balboa Island | Credit Joseph Plotz on Wikimedia Commons

Beachcombers love Newport Beach, the storied seaside enclave with a 10-mile stretch of unsurpassed sand and sun. Surfers prefer The Wedge, located at the southeast end of the Balboa Peninsula, known for its large waves, some reaching 30 feet. More than a dozen area beaches have been awarded a five-star rating from the Natural Resources Defense Council, with the city’s Municipal Beach taking top honors.

Newport Harbor is home to about 9,000 boats, making it one of the largest recreational boat harbors on the west coast. Popular pursuits include fishing, kayaking, rowing, paddleboarding and canoeing. Every spring since 1948, the Newport to Ensenada (N2E) International Yacht Race has drawn experienced sailors to Newport Beach. Billed as the largest sailboat race in the world, N2E offers more than 20 competitive classes, ranging from large ultra-light and maxi-yachts to smaller yachts in non-spinnaker categories.

As you might expect, Newport Bay is also home to numerous marinas and restaurants. Standout eateries include The Dock (seriously upscale waterside), The Winery (check out their nightly wild game specials), Gulfstream (classic seafood-house ambiance), and Bluewater Grill (copious portions of fish and shellfish in a casual dockside locale).

Upper Newport Bay (known locally as the Back Bay) offers myriad recreational opportunities. A network of trails and paths through coastal wetlands attracts walkers, joggers and bicyclists, and birdwatchers flock to the 1,000-acre Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, as do hikers and mountain bikers.

Side trip: Catalina Island is just 28 NM west of Newport Beach. Watersports and activities are centered around Descanso Beach just north of Avalon Harbor. Kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and other nautical conveyances are available here, providing the perfect way to see seals, sea lions, flying fish and dolphins. With more than 700 moorings, Catalina is a yachtsman’s paradise in summer.

Stop 2: San Clemente

Estimate Mileage: 20 NM

San Clemente Beach Pier | Credit Don Graham on Flickr

San Clemente is known by most people for two things: 1) surfing and 2) President Richard Nixon’s home (La Casa Pacifica). Often referred to as the Western White House, it’s still viewable on a beautiful stretch of California coast just north of San Mateo Point and San Mateo Creek.

From its inception as a 2,000-acre oceanside enclave in 1925, San Clemente was dubbed the “Spanish Village by the Sea,” and it’s still famous for its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Downtown San Clemente’s structures are replete with red tile roofs, stucco walls and dark wood doors, as are most of the area’s oldest homes north and south of downtown.

The San Clemente Pier and Beach Trail are popular spots for fishing, jogging and hiking, but the main attraction here is farther south at Trestles, a series of five breaks at San Onofre State Beach that draws surfers from all over the world and hosts major professional surfing events.

If you’re not quite ready to tackle the big waves, you can visit the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center at 110 Calle Iglesia, with its huge collection of exhibits, archives and oral histories. The city also has a large concentration of surfboard shapers and manufacturers, and world- famous surfers call San Clemente home.

After an invigorating day at the beach, you can wind down at any number of restaurants on Avenida Del Mar, whether your tastes run to French, Belgian, Italian, Mexican, American or vegetarian. At the foot of San Clemente Pier, The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar serves up nearly 20 daily seafood specials, in addition to bountiful breakfast and luscious lunch menus.

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