Headed to the OC for a getaway? From historic sites and interactive learning centers to world-class parks and fairs, Orange County is bursting with diversions and amusements to fill your whole vacation. As a matter of fact, there are fun attractions and things to do in Orange County, California than there are in most of the country’s states.
A mishmash of over 30 municipalities, the OC has a pretty culturally diverse population as well as irrefutable and terrific reputation as a tourist destination, thanks to its famed surfing, miles of beaches and mild climates. What’s more, Orange County has a couple of famous amusement parks that guarantee to delight children as well as those who are kids at heart. Whether you’re traveling solo or with the entire family, there’s something delightful for you in sunny Southern California.
1. Relaxing and nostalgic stopover at Balboa Island
Balboa Island, a quintessential feature of the OC, is a laid-back coastal hub that can give you a lovely nostalgic experience. Scenic and charming, this 2.5-square-mile island is a great place to bike and enjoy a leisurely stroll, with its stunning ocean views, yachts, and homes.
For those who are traveling with their children, a quick trip to the Balboa Peninsula on the ferry will take you to the Balboa Fun Zone – an old-fashioned boardwalk with classic arcade games, bumper cars and a Ferris wheel. In addition to the old-school thrills, it has heaps of treats for those into sweets, including the saltwater taffy, and the classic frozen Balboa banana dipped in candy sprinkles, ground nuts and chocolate.
2. Explore Little Saigon
Wander around Little Saigon in Westminster, and immerse yourself into the fascinating Vietnamese culture. Also, while visiting the neighborhood, don’t forget to look for cheap buys as well as dine at Vietnamese restaurants that offer tasty culinary treats.
3. A beautiful sunset views at Huntington Beach Pier
Stretched wonderfully over the Pacific Ocean, Huntington Beach’s wooden pier exudes the laid-back and casual ambiance that’s classically Californian. Lauded as one of the top Orange County attractions, this wooden pier, with unobstructed views of the orange and pink sky, is by far one of the best places in California to watch the sunset.
4. Eat at Ruby’s Diner
Ruby’s Diner, nestled at the end of the Huntington Beach pier, is a 1950s-themed restaurant that serves diner classics like chocolate malts and cheeseburgers, along with seaside staples, such as Baja-inspired fish tacos and fish n’ chips.
5. Dine at Orange Hill Restaurant
With primo views and mouthwatering steaks, Orange Hill Restaurant can give you a dining experience that you will cherish for years to come.
6. Experience the Great Park Balloon Ride in Irvine
Hop on the park’s big orange balloon, and go for an epic aerial ride – about 400 feet above the ground – for 10 minutes. Serving as an observation deck for the development of the Great Park, this balloon ride offers an unmatched panoramic view than spans over 35 miles on a clear day. And by the way, this ride only costs $10 a person, which is way cheaper than most hot air balloon rides.
7. Explore Disneyland Park
Disneyland Park, aptly labeled as the happiest place on earth, is a world-renowned Orange County theme park that appeases its visitors with its thrilling shows, enticing games and breath-snatching rides. With eight marvelous individually themed lands, this beloved resort offers tons of joys, fun and adventure for the whole family.
Here, you may explore the outdoorsy Pirate’s Lair, the Tomorrowland’s futuristic adventure or the zany attractions in Mickey’s Toontown. Plus, there are restaurants, shops, shows and rides located in every section of the park, making it a fun-filled wonderland for everyone.
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8. Spend a day at Disney California Adventure Park
The California Adventure Park re-surfaced in 2012, with a brand-new look, after a few years of construction and planning. The 12-acre and insanely popular Card Lands, Buena Vista Street and a new entrance were unveiled along with an array of new restaurants like Carthay Circle. Cars Land’s Radiator Springs Racers is the most sought-after ride, and you should up line up as early as you can here, to avoid the longest queues.
9. Wander around Downtown Disney
Looking for cheap and free things to do in Orange Country, California? You don’t have to spend a fortune to get an unforgettable Disney experience in the OC. At Downtown Disney, you can enjoy seasonal entertainment, walk around the shops and even park for three hours, without spending a penny. Of course, there are a lot of great buys and cute finds in this part of Disneyland Resort, but you can have a blast at Downtown Disney for free by just strolling around and enjoying the ambiance.
10. The exhilarating rides at Knott’s Berry Farm
Billing itself as the first theme park in America, this sprawling complex in Orange County is a 160-acre wonderland buzzing with historic exhibits, sumptuous food, live entertainment and thrill rides. And though it rides less themed than the ones in Disneyland, the Knott’s Berry Farm aims for bigger thrills with its hair-raising rides like the Xcelerator, Timberline Twister, Bigfoot Rapids, Perilous Plunge, and a whole lot more.
11. Whale and dolphin watching from Dana Point
Get an up close look of SoCal’s amicable whales and dolphins by taking an ocean tour from Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari.
12. A glimpse of California history at San Juan Capistrano
Founded by Spanish missionary Junipero Serra in 1776, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is one of the oldest Spanish missions in California, and still features a few working buildings and a mixture of adobe fountains. While the great Stone Church isn’t intact, the Serra Chapel is still in use with its baroque altar. The legendary swallows of the mission, believed to arrive each year on Saint Joseph’s Day, further enhance the charm of the mission.
The museum of the site recollects its history, and a mélange of cultural and art activities are hosted every season, such as the Battle of the Mariachis, a summertime concert series and camps for children.
13. Laguna Beach Art Walk on the first Thursday of the month
On the lookout for more free things to do in Orange County? Visit the Laguna Beach Art Walk on the first Thursday of the month, to get free wine and access to its glamorous galleries.
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14. Explore Laguna Beach on foot
Laguna Beach, immortalized by the reality television show of the same name, is home to some of the most stunning coastlines in California, making it an ideal place to do some sightseeing. Deemed as one of the most distinct beach cities in the United States, Laguna is famous worldwide for its luxury resort hotels, gorgeous beaches, seaside village atmosphere and extensive artist community.
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15. Hike or mountain bike Black Star Canyon
Want to burn the excess pounds or calories you’ve gained during your vacation in the OC? Then, go on a hiking or mountain biking adventure at Black Star Canyon. A California Historical Landmark, this beloved mountain biking destination will amuse you with its wild scenery, and great views. Plus, a visit to this remote mountain canyon will give you a chance spot a handful of animals, such as chickens, cows and bobcats.
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16. Indoor cart racing
Get your fix for speed at America’s premier indoor karting center – K1 Speed.
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17. Enjoy the gorgeous sunset from a rooftop bar
Watch the sunset, while enjoying a sumptuous cocktail, from The Rooftop Bar in Laguna Beach.
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18. Shopping South Coast Plaza
In the mood for a shopping spree in the OC? For the ultimate luxury shopping experience in Orange County, head off to the South Coast Plaza – a premier shopping location and a bonafide label hunter’s heaven. Known as the highest grossing shopping mall in the US, South Coast Plaza in the OC hosts a myriad of high-end designer shops, including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Hugo Boss and Yves Saint Laurent. Even if you’re not a shopaholic, this shopping paradise is a great place to stroll and do some window shopping.
19. Surfing at Huntington Beach
Surfing is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of most affordable sports and coolest things to do in Huntington Beach, Orange County. Once you have a surf board, the ocean is totally free for you to ride on. And, if you don’t your own surfboard, you can rent one for a very affordable price at Zach’s Surf Shop.
Don’t know how to ride a surfboard? Don’t worry, as there are individualized lessons available from Corcky Carroll’s Surfing School and Zack’s Beach Concessions. Likewise, there are schools offering seasonal classes in Huntington Beach, Orange County, such as Huntington Beach Lifeguards and Danger Woman Kim Hamrock.
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20. Learn more about surfing
Voted as one of the 125 icons of Orange County, International Surfing Museum is a treasure trove that shows classic surf films, provides essential information about noteworthy surfers as well as displays historic surfboards.
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21. Drop by Orange County Zoo
Learn more about the local wildlife by visiting the Orange County Zoo in Irvine.
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22. A scenic road trip on Pacific Coast Highway
Want to do on a road trip in Orange County? Rent a car, and cruise down Route 1, or also known as Pacific Coast Highway, while blasting your ears with your finest Californian-themed music playlist.
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23. Unwind at an Orange County beach
Hit the beach, take a deep breath of salty, clean Pacific air, and be amazed by the sights of such a rejuvenating and beautiful place.
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24. Take a tour around Soka University
One of the underrated places to visit in Orange County, Soka University will treat your eyes with its picturesque gazebos, shady trees, incredible water effects, and gorgeous Tuscany-inspired architecture.
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25. Visit Fullerton Arboretum
The Fullerton Arboretum – the largest botanical garden in Orange County – houses a collection of more than 4,000 beautiful plants. Moreover, it is home to the Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage Museum, which highlights the architectural history of the region as well as the contributions of pioneering farmers and the local Japanese American community.
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26. Experience a world of water-based activities on Catalina
Catalina is a small rocky island with an endless series of water-based diversions. Offering you a world of pleasures, Catalina lets you circumnavigate the island by kayaking, snorkel and check out the charming marine life in the azure waters at Lover’s Cove, as well as hop on a glass-bottom boat tour for underwater views of shipwrecks and the reef.
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27. Camping on Catalina
Tell ghost stories and roast mallows on Santa Catalina Island.
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28. RV camping
Traveling with the whole family? A great way to spend a vacation or a weekend getaway with the family is to go to Newport Dunes, and go for an RV camping experience.
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29. Stand-up paddle boarding
Head to Newtown Beach, and try out an SUP (stand-up paddle board). Not only is it fun and exciting, but it is also a great workout.
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30. Drop by Discovery Science Center
Pay a visit to Santa Ana’s Discovery Science Center, and learn something new and interesting to impress your buddies back home.
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31. Pay a visit to Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Are you a big-time sports fan? Baseball legends like Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew once trod Angel Stadium of Anaheim, and wowed spectators with their heroics and plays, paving the way for the new generation of Angles. The NLF Rams, until 1995, shared this historic stadium, but after moving to Saint Louis, the Angels became its sole resident. A gigantic renovating project gave the whole stadium a much-needed face-lit, complete with a family and kid’s zone, terraced bullpens and a multitude of restaurants.
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32. Tour the Ocean Institute
Nestled in the Dana Point Harbor, the Ocean Institute is open to the public every Saturday and Sunday. Visitors can enjoy ocean-themed exhibits, witness animals feedings, and view hundreds of marine creatures in touch tanks and aquariums. The Pilgrim tall ship of the institution is available for tours on most Sundays, and the research vessel, R/V Sea Explorer, offers an exciting array of sightseeing and educational cruises during the year, including blue and gray whale watching cruises.
For those who like hiking, there’s a path meandering along the beach, at the bluff’s base, where you can catch sight of sea urchins, sea anemones and starfish hiding among the rocks.
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