When you think of Orange County in California, your mind probably defaults to Disneyland in Anaheim. But, there’s more to explore in the area outside “the happiest place on earth.” I recently spent four days in “the OC” to check out some of the local hotspots. Though I’ve lived in California most of my life and travel often down south, many of these places were totally new to me.
The easiest way to fly into Orange County is via John Wayne Airport (SNA). This airport is less busy and less stressful than the one in Los Angeles (LAX). From there, you can drive just a short distance to each of the cities in Orange County including Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Buena Park, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach.
Orange County Guide — Where to Stay
Anaheim is a fantastic place to establish your trip’s home base. It’s very central and there are several options for different hotel types and price points. During this trip to the OC, I stayed at the Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel in Anaheim for three nights. But, if you can afford it, I’d definitely recommend making the Disneyland Hotel your home base.
If you need more suggestions, other journalists stayed at these places:
- Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa
- The Inn at Laguna, Laguna Beach
- Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, Newport Beach
- Pasea Hotel and Spa, Huntington Beach
Orange County Guide — Places to Eat
- Anaheim Packing House, Anaheim
Super adorable gastro hub, remodeled two years ago from an old Sunkist packing center. Delicious food for all ages and live jazz on the weekend.
- Ferrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant, Buena Park
New building but classic ambiance with amazing food and desserts. You must try the Old MacFarrell’s Burger and the Ice Cream Nachos. Just for fun, the kids will love the Fake Meatloaf Dinner.
- Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge, Costa Mesa
Just across the walkway from Segerstrom Center, this restaurant is conveniently located for a pre-show meal. It’s upscale, well lighted with panoramic full-length windows, and serves amazingly tender beef short ribs.
- Splashes Restaurant, Laguna Beach
Get an oceanside view of the sunset as you dine to the sound of the waves. This is a perfect place for a romantic date night or celebration dinner. I polished off my plate of salmon — it was that good. We also had a set menu here.
- Eat’s Kitchen & Bar at Hotel Irvine, Irvine
Located inside the hip Hotel Irvine, this is no ordinary hotel restaurant. Dishes here are fresh, new, and the taste is perfectly balanced. This is place easily stands on its own for casual lunches too.
Orange County Guide — Things to Do
- California Welcome Center, Buena Park
Get some personal suggestions and all the attractions brochures and maps you’ll ever need for Orange County.
- Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park
Family-friendly fun for all ages without the crazy lines! Fast and thrilling coasters for teens and adults with plenty of attractions for young and school-age children. If you’re into the old west, explore the expanded ghost town.
- Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa
Enjoy concerts at the Center for the Arts or plays at the Performing Arts Hall. We watched Tony Bennett perform live and even he was praising the fabulous acoustics.
- Private Duffy Boat Harbor tour, Newport Beach
Rent a covered boat, known as a Duffy boat, to explore the waterways around Newport Beach. The water is usually calm and boat have a max speed of 5mph. Board at the boardwalk area of Newport Village or drive your car onto the ferry to avoid the traffic on city streets.
- Lido Marina Village, Newport Beach
This new shopping center is in the final phases of construction and will be done in February 2017. You can already explore the swanky boutique shops in classic white buildings.
- Pacific City and Main Street, Huntington Beach
Enjoy more shopping at Pacific Center or window shop along Main Street. Then, cross over to Huntington Beach to put your feet in the sand, play in the waves, or play some beach volleyball.
As you can see, Orange County is a destination that offers something for everyone. From lodging and dining to shopping and attractions, there are plenty of ways to enjoy and discover the area. I only got a quick overview of each city in the county this time and I can’t wait to come back again with my family.
I was invited on an all-expense media trip to explore the area. All opinions are my own.