Surfing, theme parks, reality shows and shopping are synonymous with Orange County, the second-largest county in Southern California. But there’s so much more than the usual distractions to explore around these parts. Here are our favorite things, some well-known and some off-the-beaten path, to do while in the O.C.
Enjoy theme park thrills
The O.C. is home to two of America’s most famous theme parks: Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. At Knott’s, be sure to queue up for GhostRider — the largest (and fastest) wooden roller coaster on the West Coast — and don’t miss the Wild West Stunt Show.
At Disneyland, it’s magical fun for the whole family with rides, Disney character photo ops and nightly light parades. If you’re a Jedi at heart, plan to visit the popular park in 2019 when Galaxy’s Edge, the world’s first Star Wars theme park, opens.
Luckily, you don’t need to wait on the Resistance to enjoy Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, a delightful resort that provides direct access to the park, newly renovated rooms, a host of restaurants and a pool area with so many options Mickey could probably get away with charging admission.
Go on an epic shopping spree
Los Angeles may have Rodeo Drive, but the O.C. has South Coast Plaza. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, the open mall has 250 boutique stores, offering mostly luxury brands (see: Prada and Fendi) and 20 restaurants — plenty to keep a shopaholic entertained for hours.
If you’re a fan of fashion, but prefer to avoid the crowds, check out the O.C.’s mall alternatives, such as The Lab or The Camp. These trendy spaces feature mostly small boutique shops and hip eateries.
Take a bike tour
With 42 miles of coastline, Orange County is ideal for a scenic bike ride. Rentals are available near most boardwalks for easy access to the self-guided beach bike trail.
If you prefer an inside track on the local sights, opt for a guided bike tour. Irvine’s Pedego Electric Bikes offers excellent 20-mile, two-and-a-half hour outings covering everything from natural wonders (Mountains to the Sea Trail) to urban history (The East Irivne Tour) from the seat of an electric bike — ideal for any fitness level.
Relish the rays in Surf City USA
Catch some sunshine, people watch or take some incredible sunset selfies as you stroll along the famous Huntington Beach Pier.
Also known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach is not only home to the longest pier on the West Coast (jutting 1,850 feet into the Pacific Ocean), but it’s also one of the few beaches in Southern California that allows dogs (and campfires). This fido-friendly spot has about a mile and a half of sandy shore for your pooch to run free, off-leash.
Arrange an art affair
If you’re an avid art lover, then Laguna Beach (often called the “art colony”) is a must-visit O.C destination for you. Beyond the dozens of galleries, an array of events draws creative types to this small coastal city, including the locally focused, biannual gatherings hosted by the Sawdust Art Festival.
Another huge draw for art aficionados is The Festival of Arts Art Show and Pageant of the Masters. This two-month summertime event features 140 of Orange County’s top artists displaying paintings, ceramics and jewelry, as well as a unique showcase of live paintings where actors dress the part of characters from famous masterpieces.
If you need help sorting out the festival schedule or even planning a realistic game plan for visiting a few of the more than 90 area galleries, staffers at Five-Star Montage Laguna Beach love art as much as you do and will be happy to help you draw up the perfect itinerary for checking things out.
Indulge in island amusement
Balboa Island, a man-made vacation destination in Newport Beach, offers a bit of something for everyone. Pick up stylish souvenirs at one of the local boutique shops, catch a ferry to the Fun Zone at Balboa Village to ride the famous Ferris wheel or hail a romantic gondola ride.
Whatever you do on this popular stretch of sand, don’t miss sampling the island’s two iconic desserts: the Balboa bar (an ice cream bar dipped in chocolate and rolled in sweet or salty toppings) and the frozen banana, made even more famous by the popular TV series Arrested Development.
Make time for whale watching
Home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, Dana Point is where to go for an excellent ocean safari. Because of this range, you can spot an array of sea life in their natural habitats nearly all year long.
Should you stay at Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel or the impressive Monarch Beach Resort, the concierge can help you charter a whale-watching cruise to see humpback or gray varieties, orcas, dolphins and exotic sea birds. Check out this daily whale sighting log for an idea of what’s in store.
Feast in a food hall
Featuring local vendors selling everything from meat pies and mussels to cupcakes and croissants, food halls have been trending for several years in cities across the nation. And the O.C. is no exception.
Along the iconic PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) in Huntington Beach, you’ll find Lot 579. Costa Mesa boasts The OC Mix. And just a 20-minute drive inland will bring you to the Anaheim Packing House.
For the newest foodie-focused destination, check out McFadden Public Market in Santa Ana —here you’ll find plenty of Instagram-worthy culinary delights and even an arcade.
Walk through history
Founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, Mission San Juan Capistrano has been dubbed “The Jewel of the Missions” for its lush gardens and classic Spanish architecture. Opt for a self-guided audio tour or follow a knowledgeable docent for a deep dive into the building’s fascinating past.
While you’re in the area, stroll through the Los Rios Street Historic District, California’s oldest continuously occupied neighborhood.
Cheer on the home team
Home to two professional sports teams, Orange County offers year-round entertainment for avid fans. Enjoy America’s pastime as two-time American League MVP Mike Trout and MLB’s Los Angles Angels step up to the plate at Angel Stadium from April to September.
If you’re in town between October and April, catch the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks on the ice at the neighboring Honda Center.