Laid-back Seal Beach

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

Marc Weingarten

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 The best seafood in town also has an extensive wine list to complement your oak-grilled New Zealand bluenose sea bass. INFO: $$$$; 201 Main St.; 562/598-4433.

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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