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Orange County ITINERARY

Main-taining Seal of Approval

The pier is the exclamation point on beach town's declaration of fun.

April 30, 1998|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Seal Beach after dark can be a peerless experience but never a pierless one. The city's wooden pier is its main attraction, but don't discount the little shops on Main Street. (One, for instance, sells seashells kinda by the seashore.) The area may also be in a class by itself when it comes to the number of Irish-themed pubs per square block.

DUSK 1

A little statue of a seal greets visitors to the Seal Beach Pier. On one side of the structure, surfers surf until it's absolutely dark; on the other side, perhaps their surfing days behind them, a pair of dads recently played with their kids on the playground. Lit-up offshore oil platforms always seem to suggest Spanish galleons at Christmastime.

DINNER 2

The pier has been called the jewel of Seal Beach--so what does that make Ruby's? One thing's for sure, walk the length of the 1,865-foot pier and you deserve a burger, just what the diner is known for. The chain has a whopping 27 locations--but don't call them Whoppers!--and four sit at the end of piers. It's a view lot for sure, but you don't have to pay a lot for location, location, location. You can still get a burger, fries and a soft drink for under $10.

The casual retro diner is decorated with vintage Coca-Cola posters, and lest you forget you're more than a thousand feet out over the Pacific Ocean, there's a fish tank mid-room. There are lots of other dining choices near the pier including the Lahaina Broiler (901 Ocean Ave.), Taco Surf (115 Main St.) and Pasta Grotto (117 Main St.).

AFTER DARK 3, 4

If a few of the shops are closed by the time you're done eating, window-shop. The window display at Art Images (119 Main St.), for instance, catches virtually every passer-by's fancy, with what appears to be a perpetual-motion wooden policeman and baton by a palm tree and photo reproductions including one of J.F.K. smoking a cigar butt with his temple bandaged called "The Comrade at Ease." Inside among the art are miniature musical instruments.

California Seashell Co. claims to be the "lowest priced shell and rock shop in America"; a bronze plaque on the front door says "millions of years in the making." The store carries miniature lighthouses from 1 inch to 2 feet tall. There's a whole bin of shark jaws ($12 each), and recently the store ran a special on 9- to 10-inch puffer fish. They're not alive, but a sign warns, "Yes, they are real . . . and sharp too, careful." Rubber dolphins are $1.50. (If the Seashell Co. is closed, peek through the porthole.)

Sweet Jill's (123 1/2 Main St.) offers dessert items including cream cheese chocolate cake, and chocolate chip fudge cookies that look like muffins; in fact, the help calls them "cookie cups." Chocolate Delight (133 Main St.) is another option for anyone with a sweet tooth.

The book store on Main Street called the Book Store on Main Street offers collectible books and "once-read paperbacks" in a delightfully disheveled setting. Some shelves are labeled. Still, owner Nathan Cohen seems to know just where everything is. Sift through the clutter and you might unearth such treasures as "Whee! We, Wee, All the Way Home," by Matthew Fox, "a guide to a sensual, prophetic spirituality with a completely new forward to the '80s." Whee!

LATE NIGHT 2, 3

Count 'em, three Irish bars on one block!

Clancy's (111 Main St.) offers pool tables, sports coverage on overhead television monitors and loud music. The Irisher Saloon (121 Main St.) offers pool, TV sports and music and a poster near the front door featuring a dozen Irish poets and playwrights. Hennessey's Tavern, obviously the maverick of the bunch (140 Main St.), has a complete menu--but no pool table!

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

1. Seal Beach Pier

South end of Main Street

(562) 431-2527

24 hours

2. Ruby's Diner

900 Ocean Ave. at south end of pier

(562) 431-7829

7 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

3. California Seashell Co.

125 Main St.

(562) 493-6653

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday

4. Book Store on Main Street

213 Main St.

(562) 598-1818

10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Thursday-Monday

Buses: OCTA Bus No. 42 runs along Seal Beach Boulevard and Electric Avenue with a stop at Main Street; Bus No. 1 runs along Pacific Coast Highway with a stop at Main Street.

Parking: There is free parking along Main Street and paid lot parking on Ocean Avenue, west of Main Street.

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