Consider Orange County, a place where the sun never quits, where the coastline sprawls with pristine beaches, and where the Hollywood glitz is just a stone's throw away. I, a humble wanderer, have called this land home for nigh on five years now, and let me tell you, the allure never fades.
While my Seattle roots may still be a part of my essence, this Californian oasis has its charms. Sure, you've seen the TV glamor of Los Angeles and the well-groomed facades, but there's more beneath the surface. The real Orange County is a blend of ritzy glamour, cultural enclaves, and a vibrant surfing scene. Forget the scripted lives on TV; we're a little more down-to-earth here, even if we all secretly yearn for a beachfront abode.
Now, let's debunk a few myths. First, we're not all beach bums. Many of us are, but not all. Secondly, don't lump us in with LA or San Diego; we've got our distinct vibe. LA is the hipster capital with a dash of pretentiousness, while San Diego is the laid-back cousin. And thirdly, TV lies; “The OC” wasn't even filmed here. Don't get me started on the “real housewives.” Not everyone rides the waves, and not everyone is a beach dweller.
North Orange County reigns supreme over the south; it's an unwritten law. So, let me be your guide to the gems and secrets of Orange County. Whether you're a newbie or a seasoned visitor, there's much more than meets the eye when it comes to things to do in Orange County.
1. A Coastal Awakening at Alta Coffee in Newport Beach
Credit: Alta Coffe
My journey in California began with a steaming cup of Joe at Balboa Bay Resort. This luxurious waterfront resort offers stunning views of Newport Beach, an exquisite spa, and a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. It's a serene escape in the heart of Newport Beach.
2. Newport Beach's Morning Embrace
For a tranquil morning escape, venture to Newport Beach on a weekday, armed with a blanket and a sweater. The ocean's embrace is serene, the sand perfect for a nap, and the sense of peace is unparalleled. Reading amidst this coastal paradise is a privilege I cherish. It's undoubtedly one of the top Orange County attractions.
3. The Lab and The Camp: Anti-Malling in Costa Mesa
Credit: The Lab
Step into The Lab and The Camp, Costa Mesa's trendy anti-malls. Think quirky second-hand shops, vegan eateries, gourmet donuts, and artisanal products peddled from retro camper vans. At Milk and Honey, savor a strawberry banana smoothie, a pizza bagel with real marinara sauce, or a lavender latte while sitting under a rustic chandelier by an ivy-covered wall.
4. Bonzai Bowls in Costa Mesa: Acai Nirvana
Bonzai Bowls is my go-to for acai bowls. This Brazilian delight, with its frozen acai fruit topped with granola and fresh fruits, is pure indulgence. The lines are long for a reason; it's worth every minute of the wait. It's one of the must-do things in OC.
5. Disneyland: The Happiest (and Most Crowded) Place on Earth
Disneyland, a pilgrimage site for many, is a must-visit when exploring things to do in Orange County. While I no longer hold a year-long pass, the park hopper ticket is your best bet. Brace yourself for lines that defy logic; the magic is real, but so is the wait. The classic Tower of Terror ride is no more, replaced by the Guardians of the Galaxy, a change that doesn't sit well with me. Star Wars land, aka Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, is on the horizon, promising even longer queues.
6. Knott's Berry Farm: Disney's Thrill-Seeking Cousin
Knott's Berry Farm, often overshadowed by Disney, is a thrill-seeker's paradise. Forget Six Flags; this amusement park in Buena Park boasts rides like Supreme Scream, a 252-foot vertical drop, and Xcelerator, a 0-82 mph adrenaline rush in 2.3 seconds. But don't brave these rides on a full stomach! It's undoubtedly one of the top Orange County attractions for adventure seekers.
7. Laguna Beach: Seek the Hidden Gems
Laguna Beach holds more than meets the eye. Avoid the tourist hubbub at Main Beach and seek out Thousand Steps Beach, where turquoise waters and tide pools await your exploration. A hand-carved pool, hidden among the rocks, promises an Instagram-worthy swim and endless photo ops. The early morning hike to Top of the World rewards you with breathtaking OC vistas.
8. Indie Vibes at The Wayfarer and The Observatory
Dive into OC's indie music scene at The Wayfarer and The Observatory. These venues offer quirky cocktails and a lineup of local talent. You might just discover the next big thing before Hollywood does. It's one of the quintessential things to do in Orange County for music enthusiasts.
9. Balboa Island: California Instagram Paradise
Rent a bike or hop in your car to explore Balboa Island, an Instagrammer's dream. From the iconic Balboa Fun Zone to vintage arcades, it's a treasure trove of California charm. It's among the top Orange County attractions for capturing unforgettable memories.
10. Pirate Coast Paddle Company: Glide on Serene Waters
Stand up paddle boarding at Pirate Coast Paddle Company in Newport Beach is a quintessential OC experience. The calm waters and SUP Glow night paddles make for unforgettable memories. Just remember, bring a pet life jacket if your furry friend joins the adventure. It's one of the top things to do in Orange County for water enthusiasts.
11. Sofar Sounds: Intimate Concert Experiences
Sofar Sounds OC offers intimate gigs in unique venues like living rooms and antique shops. It's a different concert experience, one that's equal parts enchanting and mysterious. It's among the must-try things to do in OC for music lovers.
12. Red Rock Canyon in Lake Forest: A Hidden Gem
Hiking at Red Rock Canyon, tucked within Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, feels like stumbling upon a slice of Sedona in southern California. The rusty red rocks, formed by mineral deposits, are a sight to behold. It's one of the coolest hikes in southern California and a must-do among Orange County attractions.
13. Orange Hill Restaurant: Views and Culinary Delights
Credit: Orange Hill Restaurant
Orange Hill Restaurant, perched atop a hill, offers some of the best views in Orange County. Whether for brunch or dinner, the scenery is unmatched. Opt for an outdoor table beside a heat lamp for an unforgettable experience. It's one of the top places to enjoy a meal among the things to do in Orange County.
14. Newport Back Bay: Nature's Playground
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve, known as Back Bay, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. The trails, ideal for running or longboarding, wind through coastal wetlands teeming with wildlife. It's a must-visit among the Orange County attractions for nature lovers.
15. Surf's Up: Embrace the Waves
When in Orange County, you must try your hand at surfing. Whether at Newport Beach or Doheny Beach, the foamy waves beckon. It's a quintessential OC experience, and you'll regret not catching a wave while you're here. Surfing is one of the musts for things to do in Orange County.
So, with your bucket list in hand, venture forth and explore the hidden treasures and vibrant culture of Orange County. This sun-kissed land has so much more to offer than meets the eye. Enjoy the journey!