On the Water

If you feel like spending some time exploring the attractions near the waterfront, our 10Best list can help you make an informed decision on where to go and what to do. Catalina Island is one attraction in the area popular with 10Best readers.


Taking as its focus the planet's largest body of water, this intriguing facility addresses the range of the Pacific basin. It divides the ocean into the Southern California/Baja region, the Northern Pacific, and the Tropical Pacific, exhibiting in detail each one's residents and terrain. The aquarium also highlights sharks, shorebirds, and lorikeets (a brightly colored family of Australian parrots) in replicas of their native habitats. Other special exhibits explore topics like whales and deep-sea ocean inhabitants.

Read more about Aquarium of the Pacific →

This waterside attraction, a turn-of-the-century Victorian structure, was built in 1906 and has been a focal point in Newport Beach for many years. Formerly a rail destination from Los Angeles, the pavilion is now mainly devoted to marine recreation. As such, it's the point of departure for ocean-going vessels intent on whale watching, fishing, and the like. A restaurant and ballroom are also on the premises, and an adjacent boardwalk provides lots of traditional waterfront diversions, including games and carnival foods.

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If you're literally trying to get away from things, make Catalina your haven. The island lies just 22 miles from shore and is accessible via an hour-long boat ride. Its charming community is relaxed and carefree, and you'll take the vibe to heart as you frolic in the ocean, play a round of golf, or simply browse local shops and boutiques. In fact, there's plenty to do, no matter your interest or budget. Stay for a day, or make a weekend of it. With balmy weather and loads of leisure time ahead, there's nothing quite as appealing!

Read more about Catalina Island →


Outdoor enthusiasts of all inclinations clamor to this beautiful park, which offers not only a wide variety of landscapes for physical activity but a selection of lookout points for sightseeing as well. Several thousand acres of terrain accommodate visitors on foot, horseback, and bikes, and 3½ miles of coastline proves eminently pleasurable to folks who want to swim, scuba dive, surf, and more. In fact, a portion of the park extends beneath the water, encompassing it in its bounds. Dogs are not permitted, and park accessibility depends on the weather, so call ahead.

Read more about Crystal Cove State Park →

Dana Wharf is the central location for a wealth of ocean-related activities, and visitors often find themselves drawn there when they want to experience local marine life. Sportfishing and whale watching are two of the most prominent pursuits, and you can tailor your desires to the excursions offered. Day trips for fishing range from 5 to 12 hours, or you can book an overnight outing if you want more time on the ocean. Whale watching jaunts typically run about 2 hours; you can book private charters as well. Knowledgeable tour operators add a lot to each experience. Try to make reservations well in advance.

Read more about Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching →

When the summer heat bears down intensely, or when the kids have begged to go so often that you can't handle the repeated requests, make Knott's Soak City your fun-time escape. The water park offers attractions for all ages, whether it's inner tube or high-speed slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, a children's play area, a fun house, or a four-person raft ride. Food vendors, a clothing and gift shop, and locker rooms are available, as are season's passes.

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If you're eager to see what it feels like to fight one of the big boys and do your best to land him, Newport Landing is ready to set you up for a terrific time. Numerous options allow you to choose everything from a half-day to an overnight excursion, and you can put out a line for red snapper, halibut, barracuda, and more. Fishing boats come equipped with seasoned crews and a variety of amenities, and you're certain to have a great experience. If you're happy to let the sea creatures stay where they are, consider a whale watching cruise instead!

Read more about Newport Landing Sportfishing →

Hop on the Pilgrim and prepare to be amazed by the diversity of California's marine life! For a small fee, you can learn about life aboard a 19th-century sailing vessel, explore a real tidal pool, and take part in the marine lab's open house. If you want to experience something a little wilder, then make arrangements to take one of their cruises, which range from the Bioluminescence Night Cruise to the Marine Wildlife Cruise. Snorkeling excursions to Catalina or San Clemente are also available.

Read more about Orange County Marine Institute →

The Queen Mary was not only a luxury ocean liner in its day but also a WWII-era warship, carrying troops and military leaders from 1940-1946. The ship, which first set sail in 1936, was retired from service in 1967, when it was brought to Long Beach and permanently docked. Now serving as both a hotel and an attraction, the Queen Mary offers guest accommodations, restaurants, a lounge, a dinner theater, and a wedding venue. The ship is also said to be home to a number of spirits, and regular paranormal tours offer interested folks the chance to spot and interact with the restless departed. In addition, the Queen Mary hosts a variety of special events throughout the year.

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Intended to chart the prominent role that surfing has played in Huntington Beach, this museum is an intriguing repository of "Hang 10" memorabilia and history. From an array of boards that have been used through the years to the influence of surfing on music and pop culture, exhibits riff on the California vibe and the people who have promoted it. You'll find attention given to the Endless Summer movie, to legendary surfing figure Duke Kahanamoku, and to many other seminal personalities. Also affiliated with the museum is a Surfing Walk of Fame, which honors well-known folks who have contributed to surfing's high profile and popularity.

Read more about International Surfing Museum →