Sometimes you just want to dine by the water. But in this county, which boasts scores of waterfront restaurants along its beaches and harbors, you also need to choose the experience you want to enjoy along with your glistening view. A feast by a bustling pier in the salty air? Quiet reflection to the sound of lapping surf? A stunning sunset from a rooftop bar? No matter your taste, Orange County has a table waiting just for you.
1. The Galley Café
Although this authentic ’50s diner can be difficult to find, it’s worth the effort. Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the local hangout celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007. Try the chili-cheese omelet and fountain drinks. Also accessible by boat. 829 Harbor Island Drive, Newport Beach, 949-673-4110. thegalleycafenewportbeach.com
2. The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove
Housed in a restored cottage, the café offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you can stroll the beach if you have to wait for a table. Park at the Los Trancos lot, on the east side of Coast Highway, for $10, or catch The Beachcomber Shuttle for $1 per person each way; children younger than 12 ride free. 15 Crystal Cove, Newport Coast, 949-376-6900, thebeachcombercafe.com.
3. K’ya Laguna Beach
You can’t beat the view from the rooftop bar at La Casa del Camino hotel, built in 1927 and once a retreat for Hollywood stars. Now popular with the hip L.A. crowd, the umbrella-covered bar is always hopping, so arrive early. 1287 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-376-9718, kyabystro.com.
4. Proud Mary’s
This 30-year-old restaurant on Dana Point Harbor was reopened to the delight of loyal patrons after a devastating fire in 2007. Serving breakfast and lunch, this cozy spot offers a year-round patio and heaters. Try its famous breakfast sandwich: grilled ham, bacon, or sausage; scrambled eggs; cheese; and mayo—all on a French roll. 34689 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, 949-493-5853, proudmarysrestaurant.com.
Listen to the breaking waves 25 feet below as you dine on the palm-shaded patio at this elegant restaurant at the Surf & Sand Resort. Seating available in the dining room as well. Enjoy American coastal cuisine and catch the spectacular sunset with someone you love. 1555 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 888-869-7569, surfandsandresort.com.
6. River’s End Café
Located on the wide, sandy beach at the mouth of the San Gabriel River, this restaurant’s view includes the Seal Beach Municipal Pier, Santa Catalina Island, and, on a clear day, the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served on the tropical beach patio. 15 First St., Seal Beach, 562-431-5558, riversendcafe.com.
7. Billy’s at the Beach
A tiki-inspired hangout with servers sporting sarongs, bands playing all-too-familiar tunes, and a view of the bay. Try the pu pu platter, Billy burger, crab cakes, or Hawaiian seafood and steaks. A festive gathering spot for locals. 2751 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949-722-1100, billysatthebeach.net
8. Spark Woodfire Grill – Closed
Take in the panoramic view of the Pacific and Huntington Beach Pier at this second-story restaurant. Savor premium steaks, chops, and seafood, many roasted on a hickory fire. Menu includes more than 50 martinis, including the grapefruit-flavored Ruby Slipper. 300 Pacific Coast Highway #202, Huntington Beach, 714-960-0996.
Photograph by Justin Patrick Long
This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue