Weekend Photography Escape to Huntington Beach California

If you love photographing beach landscapes, then Huntington Beach, or Surf City USA, as it’s popularly known, is your happy place. However, what you might not know is that Huntington Beach is also a perfect weekend photography escape for nature and bird photography, too.

Nature Photography in Huntington Beach

Butterfly at Shipley Nature Center
Butterfly at Shipley Nature Center, photographed with the Panasonic 100-300mm for micro four thirds cameras.

You can spend a nice couple of hours at Shipley Nature Park photographing birds, trees, butterflies and flowers. You can even see a few ducks in the pond. As you’re exploring, keep in mind that the pond loop is not actually a loop as the pond is overflowing its banks in some areas requiring you to backtrack. It’s not a major issue, but one that’s helpful to know before you start your walk. In addition to the birds and ducks, you might even see a coyote.

The most dramatic location to photograph birds and other wildlife is at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Great Blue Heron in palm tree
Great Blue Heron at Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve, photographed with the Panasonic 100-300mm for micro four thirds cameras.

Be aware that in February, when I visited, it was still quite cold before the sunrise so layers are key in winter months, even though it’s Southern California. You might also want to wear a head lamp if you’re starting out before it’s fully light in the sky. There are a few muddy areas and puddles to navigate around, depending on recent rainfall. I’m happy when I can avoid getting my feet wet within 5 minutes of leaving the car.

Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, photographed with the Panasonic 100-300mm for micro four thirds cameras.

The morning I was there, I saw ducks and birds of all sorts, including snowy egrets and blue herons. Look for the Great Blue Heron nests up in the palm trees. They are such majestic birds. I fell in love with the snowy egrets’ wispy tendrils of feathers, which they develop during breeding season.

Beach Photography and Seascapes

You could spend all day photographing the action at the Huntington Beach Pier. No matter the time of day, you’ll see surfers trying to catch a wave. Photographing the pier at sunset must be on your shot list.

Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset
Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset, captured with the Panasonic Lumix f3.5-5.6 II for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Other not to miss photography opportunities include shooting under the pier at sunset. The shot underneath the pier with the waves crashing in against the moorings can be a really dramatic shot.

Down Under Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset
Down Under Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset, captured with the Panasonic Lumix f3.5-5.6 II for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

One other shot you might be tempted to get is a shot of a lifeguard tower. If this shot is on your shot list, you’ll want to get there early before lots of people clutter your shot. You’ll have to get creative to get a nice background without a trash can in the shot. Or, you can take out the trash in post (pun intended).

Beyond Huntington Beach – Extending Your Weekend Escape

If you have more than a long weekend, you might also consider spending a few days in Crystal Cove or Laguna Beach, which are both only a short drive away.

Crystal Cove Cottage 45
The “Sugar Shack,” a Crystal Cove Cottage, photographed with the Panasonic Leica 25mm 1.4 for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

The Crystal Cove Historic District rents cute cottages like the one above. It’s a small little beach community and restaurant that is part of Crystal Cove State Park. You can spend a few hours taking shots of the cute cottages, tide pools and other parts of beach life.

However, if you have more time, it would also be nice to spend a few days in one of the cottages. From what I hear, they rent out fast once reservations open.

Laguna Beach tower, photographed with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 for micro four thirds cameras.

Laguna Beach has a must-get shot: the mysterious tower. To get the shot, you have to scramble over uneven rocks and then take your shot when the least number of other tourists are in your shot. Otherwise, it’s a time consuming task to erase them out of your shot in post processing.

Restaurant Recommendations

It wouldn’t be a weekend escape without trying a few new restaurants. I really enjoyed lunch and the view at Bear Flag Fish Company in Pacific City. You can have a seat at the bar for a meal and enjoy the view. I can recommend the fish tacos and guacamole. You can get the fish tacos with whatever fish is fresh the day you’re there. I had mahi mahi, and it was excellent. The guy sitting next to me highly recommended the tuna poke. He also had the pot of clams and muscles, which he said were very good. If i lived here, I would be a regular at this place.

Behind Bear Flag is a food court and you’ll not be disappointed by the coffee shop nor the homemade ice cream shop.

Fish Camp has a really great lunch/dinner menu. You choose your fish or seafood, how you’d like it cooked, and your sides. Plus, one of the best parts is you can carry in a bottle of wine without paying a corkage fee.

Duke’s which is right at the start of HB Pier is a nice convenient place to eat after shooting the sunset. I had the seafood pot which tasted delicious, although the portion size was a little small. You’ll have room for an app or desert if you order it.

For breakfast, I can recommend Green Street Cafe for gluten free pancakes or waffles. It’s near the Bolsa China so you could shoot and then stop in for a breakfast with them.

Patrons of the Sugar Shack Restaurant enjoying February sunshine.

Also, the Sugar Shack right on Main St is a nice, busy place for breakfast. Seating inside is first come, first served. OTOH, if you’d like to sit outside on a sunny day, just add your name to the list hanging on the wall outside the entrance.


I stayed at the Sun N Sands, which is right on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH to locals). While you won’t have an ocean-facing view, you can hear the surf at night. The lady that runs it is super nice. The beds are a little soft, but comfortable, and the shower is a little small, but the water pressure was really nice. It was a great budget find right on the coast. The WiFi was a bit spotty, and not powerful enough to upload files or stream a movie. However, if you’re just going to check email, you’ll probably get along fine. All told, I’d stay here again. That is, unless I wanted to splurge with hotel points at one of the fancier places up PCH in Pacific City.

John Wayne Airport, Orange County – SNA

This airport is super easy to fly into and out of on your return home. On the days I traveled, it was easy to catch a Lyft in the parking lot across from departures. Just walk across the street to the parking garage and follow the signs. However, if you need to pick up luggage in baggage claim, you’ll need to go downstairs to pick that up and then walk across the street and ride back up in the elevator to get to the proper level for shared rides. Still, it’s pretty easy.

Let me know if you have any questions. I really enjoyed my weekend escape to Hunting Beach. It’s the perfect long weekend photography escape.