Best Things to Do in Orange County, California

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Advisor - Nadia Bess
Curated By

Nadia Bess

  • USA

  • California

  • Active Travel

  • Beaches

  • Domestic Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • Luxury Travel

  • Weekend Getaways

  • Coastal Towns

  • Disneyland

  • Shopping

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Curator’s statement

Orange County, California, lying in between the major destinations of Los Angeles and San Diego, flies under the radar of most travelers! With tons of gourmet restaurants, many luxury oceanfront hotels, year-round sunshine and so many adventurous things to do, Orange County is a fantastic getaway for a long weekend, a beach getaway or added onto an LA or SD trip.

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Where to stay in Orange County, California

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Things to do in Orange County, California

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Disneyland + California Adventure: Disneyland is what Orange County is most known for. Not just for families anymore, Disneyland — and its sister park California Adventure  — both now offer adult-friendly dining and adult beverage options. Downtown Disney, located in between the two parks, also offers many fun dining options. Definitely stop by Salt + Straw for unique gourmet ice cream flavors. 

Rent a duffy boat: Duffy boats are an iconic Southern California experience and a must-do! They are essentially a floating picnic table that seats eight to 12 and is easy for anyone to drive. Pack a spread from one of Orange County’s many delicious eateries, put some bottles from Hi Times in a cooler and munch & sip while cruising through the beautiful homes by the water. This is best at golden hour, right before sunset, but cruising after sunset is great during the holiday season to see all the houses lit up with holiday lights! 

Outdoor shopping: Lido Marina Village & Fashion Island both offer the quintessential Southern Californian experience, full of outdoor shopping, dining and lounging with ocean views. For a unique experience, Le Labo at Lido Marina Village is a perfume aficionado’s heaven. Try their signature hotel scents, like the InterContinental and the Fairmont! 

South Coast Plaza: Looking to shop until you drop at all the major designer labels? South Coast Plaza is an opulent shopping mall with every luxury designer under one roof. It also features some amazing eateries, such as Knife Pleat (French cuisine, one Michelin star), Water Grill for fresh seafood, AnQi for trendy Asian tapas and Terrace by Mix Mix for New American cuisine on a plant-filled terrace. 

Enjoy the water: Orange County is right on the water so why not get out onto the water? There are multiple outfitters available for snorkeling, kayaking, jetpacking, parasailing and more. You can also go whale watching year round, with the most sightings from December through April during their migration season. 

Go hiking: Another benefit of Orange County’s 278 days a year of sunshine and mountainous terrain is that it is hiking season year round! There are many trails available in the area so ask your hotel concierge about the best ones close to you at your experience level.

Brewery tour: Orange County has some of the top craft breweries in the country. Spend an afternoon at one brewery or hire a driver to take you to multiple. Some of the top spots include Green Cheek, The Bruery, Brewery X, Bottle Logic, Four Sons and Hangar 24. 

Catch a sports game: Spend the afternoon out in the sun cheering on a baseball, hockey or soccer team while eating some stadium snacks. Or, drive to Los Angeles to see a football or basketball game!

Play a round of golf: Orange County is known for its frequent sunshine and many gorgeous golf courses with fantastic views. Pelican Hill and Monarch Beach both are popular choices with ocean views.

Orange County Neighborhoods to Visit

Laguna Beach: This artsy beachside community, famous from multiple TV shows, is full of art galleries, small boutiques and charming eateries — in addition to many fantastic beaches. Check in advance for the dates of the art festivals and shows, such as Festival of Arts, Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Festival. 

Orange: This adorable downtown in the shape of a circle is famous for antiquing, but it’s become quite modern! Try one of the excellent restaurants, pop into some local shops, visit the local breweries, tour nearby Chapman University for some beautiful landscaping and swing by the amazing farmers market on Saturday mornings! 

San Juan Capistrano: Visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, pop into the art galleries and tiny shops or time your visit during the annual Swallows Day Parade in March. Visit the Los Rios Butterfly Garden while wandering throughout the Historic District. 

Balboa Island: Balboa Island is an adorable tiny island to visit and walk around, especially during Christmas when all the houses are ornately decorated. The main strip has plenty of restaurants and shops and you can also rent bikes to roam farther. Don’t forget a frozen banana from the banana stands, as seen on Arrested Development. 

Crystal Cove: Crystal Cove is the best beach in Orange County, with crystal clear waters, smaller, calmer waves and a dedicated (paid) parking lot. Grab a snack at Crystal Cove Shake Shack (not to be confused with the Shake Shack chain), wander throughout the Village and eat at Beachcomber (you need to book exactly 30 days in advance to grab a reservation). You can also hike to Crystal Cove if you prefer to start the day with some physical activity.

Day Trips From Orange County

Glen Ivy Hot Springs: Less than an hour from the coast of Orange County, Glen Ivy is a fantastic outdoor wellness experience. It offers a variety of pools, including mineral pools, saline pools, hot and cold plunge pools, lounge pools and even a mud pool. The facility also offers workout classes, spa treatments, an underground moisturizing treatment experience and more! Stop at Tom’s farm stand on the way home for some gourmet goodies. 

Spend the day wine tasting in Temecula, only about an hour from Orange County! The town also has a cute downtown with various eateries. 

Take the train down to the coast to San Diego or up the coast to Santa Barbara. You can also take the train into Los Angeles for the day.

Places to eat & drink in Orange County, California

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Orange County Restaurants

Duke's Huntington Beach: Fantastic fresh seafood served on the pier directly over the ocean.

Bear Flag Fish Company: A tasty and very popular counter service fish joint, with their most popular items being poke and sushi. 

Bello: This is my all-time favorite restaurant in Orange County and it was just featured on the Michelin Guide for the first time! With authentic Italian food (no alfredo here), charming staff and great cocktails and wine, this restaurant is always a joy to visit. Don’t overlook the Chef’s Table experience, a 12 course with beverage pairing price fixed fine dining experience for only 6 diners, held within Bello. Book far in advance. 

Basilic: On the first Tuesday of the month (October through May only), this Swiss/French restaurant offers an all you can eat raclette night! Book well in advance to snag a spot in this tiny restaurant on Balboa Island. 

Javier’s: A popular hotspot for seafood and Mexican cuisines, this location is really famous for their margaritas! There are several locations in Orange County. 

Cucina Enoteca: With two locations in Orange County, this trendy modern Italian restaurant is best enjoyed family-style so it’s great for groups. 

Habana: This stylish Cuban restaurant has a lush patio and fantastic mojitos. Their brunch buffet is also stellar. 

Bourbon Steak: if you are looking for a ritzy, upscale steakhouse to impress your date or client — this is the spot. With ocean views and perfectly cooked steak (in addition to seafood options), this is a great option for celebrating special occasions. 

Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens: Dining outside in this upscale garden center is true Southern Californian culture! This mainly outdoor restaurant offers modern American cuisine, complete with creative cocktails and fun changing specials that feature local produce. 

Las Brisas: Ocean views from their outdoor patio and fantastic Californian & Mexican cuisine make this a great brunch spot.

Folks Pizzeria: Truly excellent pizza and a great wine list with hard to find options. The staff is highly knowledgeable so ask them for recommendations. 

Urth Caffe: Iconic Californian cuisine! They have several locations throughout Southern California but the Laguna Beach location is the most charming. Make sure to try all of their unique lattes. 

Blue Bowls: With several locations throughout Orange County, this counter service acai bowl spot offers customizable acai bowls for when it’s too hot to eat anything else. 

Mendocino Farms: This casual chain offers great salads, soups and sandwiches, with many locations offering patio dining. 

Bagels and Brew: Bagels & Brew has been family owned in Orange County for over 16 years and makes excellent bagels. Their viral unicorn bagels are a fun treat and they are also well known for their wide variety of schmear and bagel sandwich options. 

Best Place for a Cocktail in Orange County

The Bungalow Huntington Beach: With a patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean that offers killer sunset views and creative cocktails, this spot is hard to beat for a true California cocktail experience. 

Topside Roof Deck: Part of Lido House Hotel, this rooftop bar with ocean views is another great spot to watch the sunset. They have a DJ on weekends; make sure to reserve in advance. 

The Bow Room at Hello Kitty Cafe: While the cafe is great for afternoon tea with children, go through a door in the back to access the adults-only section (reserve in advance). Once there, you can imbibe in creative themed cocktails and light bites. 

Orange County Coffee Shops

Orange County has numerous gourmet coffee shops so be sure to try any that you come across in the area which you are staying! That being said, here are my favorites:

Morning Lavender: This cafe is dripping in cuteness. It has a flower wall for optimal Insta-opportunities and their drinks — especially their rose and lavender lattes — are all picture worthy. It’s attached to a cute shop and has a great tea service on weekends (book 3 months in advance for best availability). 

Kean Coffee: With several locations in Orange County, this spot is one of the most popular options with true coffee experts. 

Zinc Cafe & Market: In addition to many great coffee options, this locale also serves great casual California fare. 

Philz Coffee: Also with several locations throughout Southern California, this trendy option offers excellent authentic coffee and custom drinks. 

Need to Know

Orange County-ians love their dogs! Most venues have outdoor seating and you will see that many residents bring their dogs everywhere, making this a dog-friendly vacation location.

Advisor - Nadia Bess

Travel Advisor

Nadia Bess

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