Laid-back Seal Beach

No movie stars or mansions: The Southern California beach town keeps it real

In this little slip of a beach community, young families commingle peaceably with surf rats and sun-bronzed retirees. Unlike some of its neighbors, Seal Beach is content to keep things low-key and ungentrified. What you'll find along Main Street, Old Town Seal Beach's primary shopping drag, is an eclectic mix of venerable ma-and-pa establishments with hardly a chain store in sight. You could easily while away the day at the beach here, but it would be a shame to miss downtown. Spend some time dipping into the various boutiques and shops, then take in a movie at the historic Bay Theatre before getting some grub at one of the many yummy restaurants nearby ― no need to dress up for dinner.

GETTING THERE

Seal Beach is located just southeast of Long Beach in Orange County. From Los Angeles, take I-405 to the Seal Beach Blvd. exit. Hop onto Pacific Coast Hwy. State 1 going north; it will lead you to Main St.

SHOP

Up Up and Away Kites The cramped store sells all manner of things that flutter. A perfect place to start before heading to the beach. INFO: 139 ½ Main St.; 562/596-7661.

Maison Bleu About as upscale as Seal Beach gets, with high-style home decor in coastal hues. INFO: 207 ½ Main St.; 562/936-1436.

GO

The Bay Theatre The town's classic movie theater mixes modern masterpieces with new releases. INFO: 340 Main St.; 562/431-9988.

Seal Beach Pier Picturesque views of the Pacific, free concerts (6-8 Wed, Jul 11-Aug 15), and lazy fishing. INFO: $6 parking; at the end of Main St.

EAT

Nick's Popular with Seal Beach's Gen-Y contingent, Nick's has the best burritos in town. INFO: $; 223 Main St.; 562/598-5072.

Find the real O.C. in Corona del Mar
Cruise California's Newport Harbor
Secret garden
Walt's Wharf $$$$

Beachwood BBQ Bring a big appetite to this joint; the dry-rubbed ribs and pulled-pork sandwiches are not for the tiny-tummied. INFO: $$; closed Mon; 131 ½ Main St.; 562/493-4500.

MAKE IT AN OVERNIGHT

With its French antiques and tapestries, luxurious sheets, and slow ceiling fans, the Ayres Hotel Seal Beach (104 rooms and suites from $149; 800/653-3230) makes every effort to bring a touch of European-inspired elegance to the beach. A boutique hotel that keeps things tastefully intimate, the Ayres features deluxe suites in which Sir Noël Coward would have felt right at home.

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