Orange County is a diverse county that encompasses everything from lively Huntington Beach in the north to the quieter southern region with scenic spots like Dana Point. Beaches are plentiful and stunning in the county, but there is plenty more to explore inland, from delicious Vietnamese cuisine in Westminster to the historical town of San Juan Capistrano. It’s been nearly two years that I’ve called this area my home and I’m still learning about new-to-me spots. Here’s a list to help inspire your own exploration.
1. Heisler Park – oceanside pathway that passes numerous hidden beaches that you can hike down to.
2. Crystal Cove State Park – plenty of hiking trails and The Historical District which has beach cottages from the 1930s/40s.
3. Victoria Beach – home to the mystical pirate tower of Insta fame.
4. Top of the World – a network of scenic hiking trails high in the surrounding canyons that have 360 degree views of the Pacific Ocean.
5. Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters – starting in early July this live performance art goes until early September and is worth checking out if you are in the area during this time.
6. Sawdust Art Festival – a great event to experience Laguna’s art community through seasonal and weekend art festivals.
7. Laguna Art Museum – features exclusively California art, including local artists.
8. First Thursday Art Walk – walk through 40 galleries on the first Thursday of every month from 6-9 pm.
9. Pacific Marine Mammal Center – observe seals and seal lions being nursed back to health.
10. Treasure Island Beach – well-maintained beach that is adjacent to the luxury Montage resort.
11. Thousand Steps – get your daily steps in (223 to be exact) and be rewarded with a view at the end.
12. Laguna Coast Wilderness Park – hike on one of the trail that wind through one of the only coastal canyons in Southern California.
13. Art A Fair – local summer art destination that features artwork from around the world.
14. The Wedge – popular surfing spot for large waves.
15. Balboa Pier – the quieter counterpart of Newport Beach with Ruby’s Diner at the end.
16. Back Bay – network of trails that weaves through wetlands and nature preserves. Great for birdwatching.
17. Fashion Island – shop at this upscale OC outdoor mall with a view of the ocean.
18. Pirate House – visit this house that is decked out in pirate-themed everything from top to bottom. It’s best to visit in the day, since the house is not lit-up at night.
19. Duffy boat rentals – rent a private covered boat and cruse around the harbor.
20. Balboa Island – do the tourist thing and get a frozen banana at Sugar ‘N Spice or Dad’s just a few feet down the block.
21. Christmas Boat Parade – watch illuminated boats parade around the Newport Harbor in mid-December.
22. Gondola Ride – glide past million-dollar homes in the canals of Newport Harbor.
Corona Del Mar
23. Sherman Library & Gardens – stop by well-curated exhibits that highlight the Pacific Southwest, as well as beautiful gardens that are built with ecological horticulture in mind (planting things that enhance the local ecosystems.
24. Inspiration Point – a panoramic view of the coastline, including Corona Del Mar State Beach.
25. International Surfing Museum – a non-profit that highlights surf history from around the globe.
26. Shipley Nature Center – has many hiking trail, a nursery and a butterfly house.
27. Beachfront Cinema – it does not get any more OC than watching a movie on the beach.
28. Van’s US Surf Open – taking place in July or August, this popular competition where some of the best surfers compete. Lots of vendors and live music creates the perfect summer vibe.
29. Huntington Central Park – large local park that has an equestrian center where you can ride on the surrounding trails. Great spot to view spring blossoms.
30. Huntington Dog Beach – where some of the happiest canines in the county are free to frolic in the surf.
31. Huntington Beach Pier – walk along this lively pier, especially recommended at sunset.
32. Bolsa Chica Wetlands – a coastal estuary that is a popular bird-watching spot.
33. Sunset Beach – not as crowded as its nearby neighbors, with equally stunning views.
34. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure – a trip to this storied amusement park and its newer Golden State-themed counterpart is worth spending the day standing in line and eating overpriced (mediocre) fast food. Going during off-season is the best.
35. Center Street Promenade – located in downtown Anaheim, this is a great place to grab coffee walk around boutiques and farmers’ markets. Stop by Pour Vida for memorable tacos.
36. Angel Stadium – great atmosphere to catch a game.
37. Founder’s Park – travel through time and learn about the city’s agricultural history.
38. Anaheim Convention Center – home to VidCon, BlizzCon, Anime Expo and many more.
39. Joe’s Italian Ice – this spot known for its homemade Philly-style ices topped with soft serve is an institution with long lines especially during the summer.
40. Anaheim Packing House – hip food court located in an old citrus warehouse.
41. Downtown Disneyland – if the ticket prices to Disneyland and California Adventure are too steep, this is a good alternative to experience a little bit of Disney magic.
42. Museo Museum and Cultural Center – well-curated historical and cultural exhibits in a Classical Revival style Carnegie Library building.
43. Honda Center – catch a hockey game and cheer on the local NHL Anaheim Ducks team. Concerts are also held here.
44. Flightdeck – for something equally as thrilling as Space Mountain but without the crowds, this flight stimulator allows you to choose from planes like Boeing 737 or fighter planes.
45. Disneyland Hotel – fun spot to stay or just visit the Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar.
46. House of Blues – catch a concert while indulging in Southern-inspired food.
47. Oak Canyon Nature Center – plenty of walking/hiking trails of all levels. Free parking.
48. OC KPOP Academy – learn to master the latest KPOP moves in a group class.
49. Jain Centre of Southern California – a beautiful temple that is home to one of the oldest religions in India that promotes non-violence. Delicious vegetarian food is available as well.
50. Knott’s Berry Farm – local Wild West-themed amusement park known for its fried chicken and huckleberry-everything. If you are in the area in October, the Knott’s Scary Farm is a must if you want a fright.
51. Fullerton Arboretum – 26-acre botanical garden located in Cal State Fullerton campus.
52. Muckenthaler Art and Cultural Center – enjoy the various performance and exhibits as well as the sculpture garden on the grounds.
53. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum – learn about the legacy of the 37th U.S. president.
54. Brea Museum & Heritage Center – a local museum dedicated to the history of the town, including the role oil rigs played in the economy.
55. Carbon Canyon Regional Park – hike through the redwoods.
56. Old Towne Orange – collection of original historical buildings from when the city was incorporated.
57. Alta Dena Dairy Drive-Thru Dairy – for a bit of old school OC shop for some snacks/groceries at this mini-mart where you don’t even have to get out of your car.
58. Vans Skatepark – try out the different terrain in this indoor skatepark or just watch the skateboarders do their thing. Private lessons are also available.
59. Bowers Museum – art museum featuring Native American, Asian, African, Oceania and California pieces. The Tangata Restaurant on property is great for brunch.
60. Noche de Altares – colorful displays honoring those who have passed on during Dia de los Muertos.
61. Old Courthouse Museum – local historic exhibits housed in this sandstone and granite building.
62. Discovery Cube – an interactive museum that engaging and educational for both kids and adults.
63. Black Star Canyon – hiking and biking trails in a remote ravine that is believed to be haunted.
64. Vietnam War Memorial – a moving memorial to those who were lost during this controversial war.
65. Rose Center Theater – a performance space that hosts everything from traditional Vietnamese concerts to contemporary American theater.
66. Museum of the Republic of Vietnam – one of the only museums that tells perspective of the Vietnam War from southern Vietnamese. Free admission.
67. Asian Garden Mall – immerse yourself into local culture with delicious food and all the specialty shops. They also have summertime Night Market with inexpensive street food.
68. Christ Cathedral – formerly known as the Crystal Cathedral, this impressive reflective glass building is worth stopping by.
69. The Anti-Lab – open-air mall that has interactive art installations among its shops.
70. Noguchi Garden – great for photo opps with the various sculptures.
71. Orange County Museum of Art – modern art that will find a permanent home in Segerstrom Center for the Arts in 2022.
72. Union of Vietnamese Student Associations Tet Festival – the largest Vietnamese New Year festival in the U.S. takes places during late January-early February depending on the lunar calendar.
73. Orange County Fair – takes place from mid-July to mid-August.
74. Costa Mesa Art Walk – admire 20+ pieces scattered throughout the city guided by a free audio tour
75. Soka University – founded within Buddhist values this secular university has beautiful grounds and numerous hiking trails surrounding the campus.
76. Heritage Hill Historical Park – a small park that features historical homes. Join a tour given by a ranger or stop by during the season events like Haunt at Heritage Hill and Victorian Christmas.
77. Limestone Canyon – known as the OC’s Grand Canyon, reservations needed to hike around.
78. Giant Wheel – take a spin on this ferris wheel located in the scenic Irvine Spectrum outdoor mall.
79. Tanaka Farms – multi-generational farm that holds seasonal community events, including u-pick strawberries, pumpkin patch, and Christmas tree farm.
80. Turtle Ridge Viewpoint – an easy (but steep) hike to a panoramic lookout of the surrounding cities and ocean.
81. Quail Trail – one of the most scenic hiking trails in Southern OC.
82. Irvine biking trails – an impressive network of 60+ miles of trails that weave throughout the city.
83. UC Irvine – walk around the campus including the arboretum and then get lunch afterward at the University Town Center.
84. Great Park – a spacious park that is home to the city’s beloved Great Park Balloon, a hot air balloon that you can ride for free.
85. Bommer Canyon – an easy hike that is especially beautiful after the rain.
86. Hello Kitty Grand Cafe – immerse yourself in a world of delicious Hello Kitty everything
87. Bluff Top Trail – historical walkway with views of the harbor below, the Dana Point Arches are on the route as well.
88. Ocean Institute – offers educational opportunities including whale watching.
89. Doheny State Beach – California’s first state beach (opened in 1931) it has campgrounds.
90. Dorris Walker Overlook – offers panoramic views of the harbor and is located in Herritage Park where you can have a picnic.
91. Catalina Express – this one-hour boat ride takes you to Catalina Island, where you can stay overnight or just travel to for the day.
92. Dana Point Headlands Trail -a scenic protected nature preserve with plenty of hiking trails to explore.
San Juan Capistrano
93. Los Rios Street – pedestrian-friendly historical street with coffee shops and boutiques.
94. Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens – nonprofit that offers a museum and cultural events in a historical home.
95. San Clemente Beach Trail – a 4.6 trail that goes alongside the ocean the entire way, as well as the train tracks. It passes along several beaches.
96. San Clemente Pier – take in some of the scenic views of San Clemente beaches from the water.
97. T-Street Beach -popular surfing spot that’s walking distance from the San Clemente Pier.
98. Outlets at San Clemente – upscale outdoor mall with views of the ocean.
99. Avenida Del Mar – charming downtown area with surf shops and ice cream shops.
100. San Clemente State Beach – remote southern beach where you can camp on the cliffs above the water.
101. Pacific Coast Highway – start at Seal Beach and drive on the Highway 1 all the way down to its end in Dana Point.