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Good vibrations: surfing in Encinitas, California (Photograph by Lisa Corson)

Vacation Like a Beach Boy

Tides have come and gone since the Beach Boys formed in 1961. But Brian Wilson, architect of the band’s signature sound, endures. So crank up “California Girls” (50 years old in 2015) and explore the Pacific coastal stretch from Los Angeles to Del Mar in the barefoot steps of the quintessential boys of summer.

> Surfin’ Safari

Some of North America’s best waves roll at Trestles, part of San Onofre State Beach, in San Clemente. Some call it “the Yosemite of surfing.” You have to walk a mile to get there. Park on Cristianitos Road and follow the trail to the water’s edge. And cast a glance up the hill. There on Calle Isabella stands Richard Nixon’s old Western White House, now privately owned.

Meanwhile, at the southern tip of Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, the Wedge looms. It may be the most loved and feared bodysurfing spot in California—a quick, steep ride that often ends with a slam to the sand.

> Fun, Fun, Fun

Del Mar earned a shout-out in “Surfin’ USA,” but this is one beach town that grew up and got rich. The city shows off a neo-Tudor architectural theme and hosts two long-standing rituals: the San Diego County Fair (June-July) and the horse-racing season (July-September).

In Laguna Beach, you can’t turn your skateboard without bumping into another artsy summer festival. The Sawdust Art Festival erects a three-acre arts-and-crafts village with sawdust paths (July-August).

The Pageant of the Masters (July-August) features tableaux vivants re-creating famed artworks, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” to 19th-century Parisian burlesque posters.

> I Get Around

Redondo, Hermosa, and Manhattan Beaches—each with its own pier—are all connected by the Strand bike path. Find bikes for rent at Hermosa Cyclery.

At the end of the Manhattan Beach pier, the Roundhouse Aquarium displays sea stars and eels. Two blocks inland, cones and frozen bananas await at Manhattan Beach Creamery.

Huntington Beach is full of beach style and history. On Main Street, a bronze statue of surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku stands in front of Huntington Surf & Sport shop. The Duke would agree with Vince Ray, of the Hermosa Beach Chevron Surf Camp, who says, “Timing the wave—when to get on it—is the hardest thing to teach,” but “you get a magical feeling when that wave pushes you.”

This piece, written by Christopher Reynolds, first appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.