Huntington Beach, CA-

Surf City. Legend has it that Jan and Dean's '63 anthem was inspired by Huntington Beach. Think of '60s surf mania as a tactical nuclear strike aimed at buttoned-down Middle America, and Huntington Beach as ground zero. "Everybody thought we were nuts," says Raul Duarte -- ace surfer then and now surfing coach at Golden West College. "No wet suits, out in the cold. All of a sudden it changed. We went from being crazy to being cool." Or as another local icon, Corky Carroll, puts it: "Huntington Beach is the heartbeat of surfing culture.

"It was, in some ways, a funny place for that heart to beat. Other Southern California beach towns were more beautiful (La Jolla) or more amenable to Hollywood glamorization (Malibu). Huntington Beach was a gritty, blue-collar burg. But the surf was industrial-strength -- huge waves guaranteed most of the year.

"We have two good windows," explains Steve Seim, who directs Huntington Beach's lifeguards. "In summer we get great south swells -- from hurricanes in Mexico, from storms all the way in Australia. In winter we get great western swells from the North Pacific, coming through the window between Palos Verdes and Catalina."

Such choice surf means that in summer Huntington Beach has the bona fides to hold some of the biggest surf competitions in the country. The waves also help power Orange County's economy, thanks to brand-name surfwear manufacturers that inhabit industrial parks inland.

These days Huntington Beach has acquired airs -- pastel palazzi done in a red-tile style Corky Carroll dubs "nuevo viejo." The Huntington Beach Pier's splintery wood pilings have been replaced by concrete. Yet, head down to that pier any morning. The surf is still churning. The legend still grows. Only a few years ago a high school girl ran away from her Florida home because her parents didn't understand her passion for waves. Where did future world champion Lisa Andersen run to? Huntington Beach, of course.

THE SCENE. It centers along Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, near Huntington Beach Pier.

Flanking Main are two rivals. Jack's Surfboards (101 Main; 714/ 536-4516) is fronted by the Surfing Walk of Fame. Across the street, Huntington Surf and Sport (300 Pacific Coast Hwy.; 841-4000) has surfers' footprints and autographs enshrined in concrete. Want more surfing history? The small Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum (411 Olive Ave.; 960-3483 or showcases cool old boards, photos, and music.

SURFER EATS. Surfers know Mom was right. You need a big breakfast before you jump into that ocean. In Huntington Beach, head for the Sugar Shack Cafe (2131/2 Main; 714/536-0355). Michele Turner has been running the joint for 30 years, serving terrific short stacks and homemade oatmeal. Does she surf? "My sons and my husband do," Turner says, "but I'm afraid of the water."

Other favorites: Wahoo's Fish Tacos (120 Main; 536-2050) and Ruby's Surf City Diner (Huntington Beach Pier; 969-7829). Scheduled to open at the foot of the pier next month, Duke's Huntington Beach (634-4799) will be an outpost of the popular Oahu eatery.