It’s hotter than Hades outside. Still, you have a yearning for some outdoor exercise. What to do?

In most parts of the United States, the answer might be to hit a treadmill at a gym with air conditioning.

But fitness buffs are more fortunate in Orange County, Calif. Here, they have their own natural AC and it’s called the beach.

To beat the summer heat – and also because our 40-plus miles of ocean views is amazing – here’s a quick guide to some of my favorite beach spots.


What: Bolsa Chica Wetlands offers an interpretive center and several trails winding through coastal grasses and marshy areas.

For: Hikers, trail runners, bird watchers.

Tip: Be sure to continue south far enough to walk across the wooden bridge for fun and photos.

When: Mornings and evenings are best for birding as well as finding parking.

Where /cost: 3842 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach. Free.


What: Some 10 miles of bike path or, really, two distinct paths. The path south of Huntington Beach pier offers bicycle and bike buggy rentals and is great for meandering along the beach and checking out the crowd. The path north of the pier is more a running and walking path that also includes Dog Beach.

For: Walkers, runners, slow cyclists.

Tip: Visit at least twice, breaking up the beach paths into two trips.

When: Beach crowds are part of Southern California culture and the wide path makes weekends the most fun.

Where / cost: Parking anywhere near Main Street and the pier is best and offers a choice of the south or north boardwalks. Free, excluding parking.


What: Boardwalk along the beach.

For: Walkers, runners, slow cyclists.

Tip: Hoof it. Unlike Huntington Beach, this is a relatively short and narrow path best suited to foot traffic.

When: Weekdays are best if you hope to park. Start about an hour or two before sunset to soak in the laidback vibe of beachfront residents. You may end up joining someone for cocktail hour(s).

Where / cost: Park near either pier or anywhere on the Balboa Peninsula and head down a beachside side street to the boardwalk. Free.


What: A 10.5-mile path around one of the best estuaries in Southern California.

For: Walkers, runners, slow cyclists, equestrians, bird watchers.

Tips: Check out the path on the east side of the bay during sunset. The sky’s reflection off the water is spectacular.

When: Low tides see the most birds. Also, evenings are relatively quiet.

More: Check out the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center: 10,000 square feet with exhibits, documentaries and interactive displays; open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Free.

Where / cost: Officially, the entrance is Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, 2301 University Drive, Newport Beach. I park near the marina on the south side where there’s generally plenty of parking. There also is a parking lot midway along Back Bay Drive.


What: Technically, this is the land side of Crystal Cove State Park. But most everyone has called it El Morro for years, and that’s also the street you turn onto from Pacific Coast Highway. The park offers a wide variety of great trails covering 2,400 acres.

Who: Hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers.

Tips: Ridges offer great ocean views but require tough climbing. The canyons offer comparatively easy hiking and are cozy and quiet.

When: If want to avoid mountain bikers, avoid Saturday mornings. Still, any day is a good day at El Moro.

Where / cost: The Ranger Station is inland from the PCH traffic signal next to El Morro School. Day pass, $15.


What: Badlands Park is a relatively unknown county park that offers unobstructed ocean views

For: Hikers, walkers.

Tip: This isn’t just about ocean views. You also get great glimpses into some truly spectacular – and expensive – homes.

When: While the sunsets are terrific from this area, be sure to go early enough so you don’t get caught out after dark. The paths can be slightly confusing at night.

Where / cost: 31671 Isle Vista, Laguna Niguel. Free.


What: Tide pools that offer a variety of sea creatures in a designated Marine Protected Area by the State Marine Conservation Area Tidelands. For a small fee, you also can check out the Ocean Institute.

For: Photography buffs, anyone who likes to explore the ocean without getting (too) wet.

Tips: Wear sturdy sneakers that you don’t care about getting wet. And, please, be careful not to step on or touch any sea creatures. You’re here to look.

When: During high tides, there aren’t tide pools. Be sure to go during low tides.

Where / cost: From Pacific Coast Highway, turn onto Dana Point Harbor Drive and park toward the end. Heading toward the beach and near the base of the Headlands cliffs, you’ll see concrete stairs. Free.


What: Miles of beach path that continues along train tracks.

For: Beach runners, walkers. Cycling is allowed in some parts, but you’ll end up pushing your bike near the pier and along the wood bridge.

Tips: Be careful crossing the railroad tracks or just hang around the pier. You’ll rediscover why you moved to Orange County.

When: Parking is tight everywhere in San Clemente on summer weekends. Try weekdays if possible.

Where: The beach trail stretches from Avenida Pico on the north to Avenida Calafia on the south, where you’ll also find San Clemente State Beach and parking. There’s also decent parking near the pier and at the end of Pico. Bring quarters to feed meters or look for credit card parking.


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