41 Best & Fun Things to do in Orange County, California

Reviewed by Elina Ansary
Last updated:

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TL;DR: The best things to do in Orange County, California are hiking Crystal Cove State Park’s scenic trails and having a beach day at Huntington Beach. Make sure to also explore Balboa Island, tour Mission San Juan Capistrano, and spend a day at Disneyland!

Known for its stunning coastal views, beautiful beaches, and gorgeous weather, Orange County is the quintessential image that most people think of when they think of California.

Spanning 34 cities and taking up the space between Los Angeles and San Diego, there’s a lot of ground to cover in the O.C. (and a lot of things to do within the area)!

A beach in Orange County, California lined with spindly palm trees.

Luckily, after living in Southern California for five years (and going back for numerous visits since), I’ve spent a lot of time there.

I also have quite a few friends who grew up there who give me all the local tips whenever I visit for what to see and do. 

This is why I wanted to put together an ultimate bucket list for the best things to do in Orange County–I have a lot of first-hand experience and knowledge around this area of California.

So, whether you’re looking for the best beaches, outdoor activities, local experiences, or where to eat and drink, we’ve got you covered in this article. 

Now all you have to do is pack your summer things and get ready for some of that California sunshine!

One of the best things to do in Orange County is go to the beach--shown here from the end of a long pier, with white condos dotting the hillside and a sunny sky above.

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 

Table of Contents

Spend the Day at the Beach

Tire tracks in the sand on a beach with an orange sunset in the sky.

If there’s one thing you can’t miss with a visit to Orange County, California, it’s the beach.

Combine 42 miles of surf, tide pools, pristine upkeep, and often sunny weather, and it’s hard to have a bad day at the beach in Orange County.

Going to the beach is also one of the best free things to do in Orange County (although you usually have to pay for parking).

Here are some of the top beaches in Orange County–and dare I say, some of the most beautiful beaches in all of California. 

  • Doheny State Beach (Dana Point) – Open to the public since 1931, Doheny State Beach was California’s first state beach. Today, Doheny State Beach is one of California’s most popular beaches, with close to a million visitors per year. This is where you can enjoy great surf spots, tide pools, outdoor volleyball courts, aquariums (at the visitor center), and campsites. Parking is $15 per vehicle.
  • Salt Creek Beach (Dana Point) – This is another beach that’s great for surfing. Salt Creek has outdoor showers, restrooms, and tide pools as well. Parking is $1/ hour.
  • Seal Beach (Seal Beach) – Seal Beach is not only a beach, it’s also a pretty beachside city. And with its proximity to Disneyland, this is one of the most popular beaches for Disneyland visitors. Its usually windy nature makes Seal Beach a good place for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Parking is $3 for two hours or $6 for the whole day.
  • Huntington State Beach (Huntington Beach) – Another beach city in the area, Huntington Beach is nicknamed “Surf City USA.” Besides its world-class surfing, Huntington Beach features volleyball and basketball courts and the beautiful Huntington Beach Pier (which is also the perfect sunset spot).
  • Huntington Dog Beach – A half-hour drive from the Huntington Beach Pier, you’ll find a beach dedicated to dog owners. All dogs must be leashed in the parking lot, but they can run free on Huntington Dog Beach. Parking is $15 per vehicle.
  • Main Beach (Laguna Beach) – You might recognize Laguna Beach from TV, but it’s also where you’ll find one of the best beaches in Orange County–hence the name. Although usually pretty busy, Main Beach has a small-town charm with a scenic boardwalk, nearby boutiques, and basketball and volleyball courts. Street parking is metered. Looking for more options? Read our guide to the best beaches in Laguna Beach
  • San Clemente Beach – Some know it as San Clemente State Beach and others as San Clemente City Beach. Either way, there’s a lot to do here, including volleyball and visiting the San Clemente Pier. Street parking is metered.
  • Table Rock Beach (Laguna Beach) – Get away from the crowds at Table Rock Beach. Just note that swimming isn’t recommended here due to riptides. There’s free street parking, but you’ll have to walk down many stairs to reach the beach.

If you have more time, a few other Orange County beaches to check out include the following:

  • Corona del Mar State Beach
  • San Onofre State Beach 
  • Thousand Steps Beach
  • Crystal Cove State Park beaches
  • Crescent Bay Beach

Looking for an even more in-depth look at the beaches in the area? Read our guide to the best beaches in Orange County.

Eat an Ice Cream Taco

A woman with light brown hair turns to the side to bite into an ice cream taco, with the interior of a brightly-lit ice cream shop in the background.

In recent years, rolled ice cream has become a local craze. And the latest trend is rolled ice cream tacos!

Not too far from Disneyland, you’ll find Sweet Rolled Tacos in Garden Grove. This place serves up rolled ice cream in colorful taco-shaped waffle cones.

These sugary tacos are perfect for those hot Southern California days, whether you’re traveling in Orange County with kids or simply looking for a fun treat to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

My favorite flavors? Vietnamese Coffee or Cookies & Cream.

Sip on an Iced Vietnamese Coffee from Little Saigon

Sunlight falls on a tattooed hand as it pours espresso over ice in a small glass sitting on a polished wood countertop.

Spanning across Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, and Westminster, you’ll find over 4,000 Vietnamese-American businesses that make up an area in Orange County, California called Little Saigon.

Little Saigon is one of the largest Vietnamese communities outside of Vietnam. It’s also home to some of the best Vietnamese food and Vietnamese coffee in California.

Start in Little Saigon with a Vietnamese iced coffee from Phin Smith

The first time I tried a Vietnamese iced coffee was in Little Saigon, completely unaware of the magic I was about to put into my mouth in the form of (very) strong coffee and condensed milk. 

It was love at first sip.

To this day, I still haven’t tried a better Vietnamese iced coffee than the first one I tried in Little Saigon.

Coffee in hand, walk around Phuoc Loc Tho (Asian Garden Mall), and cruise along Bolsa Avenue. Then, grab a bite to eat at Bánh Mì Chè Cali.

Enjoy Disneyland and Disney California Adventure

A barbershop quartet dressed in bright colors stands in front of  a Victorian-style wooden facade at Disneyland.

By far the most popular thing to do in Orange County is to spend a day or two at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park

It’s something to experience at least once (if not annually).

Established in the 1950s by Walt Disney, Disneyland is one of the most popular Orange County tourist attractions. 

It has millions of visitors every year and is one of the most visited theme parks in the world.

From thrill rides to favorite costumed Disney characters and themed fantasy worlds to get lost in, Disneyland is easily one of the most fun things to do in Orange County, CA.

Although I always recommend starting with the main Disneyland park, its sister theme park, California Adventure, is worth a visit as well.

Disney California Adventure Park is seen as the more adult version of Disneyland. You’ll find more thrill rides and the option to drink alcohol at Disney California Adventure Park.

And if you’re looking for things to do in Orange County, CA at night, don’t miss the Main Street light show and fireworks at the end of the day in Disneyland. 

It’s one of the coolest fireworks shows I’ve been to.

Local tip: Download the Disneyland app and purchase the Disney MaxPass feature. We’ve all heard of FastPass, which allows you to sign up for a specific time slot where you can skip the line at a desired attraction.

With the MaxPass, you don’t have to walk to the ride first to sign up for the time slot. Instead, you sign up on your phone via the app. This saves even more time, which means you get to do more fun stuff.

Looking for an annual pass? Read our guide to the Disneyland Magic Key Passes.

Get Your Thrills at Knott’s Berry Farm

A brightly-painted and colorful carnival ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, with a clear blue sky behind it.

If you’re looking for even more fun places to go in Orange County, make a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm for some serious roller coasters.

Located in Buena Park, Knott’s Berry Farm was California’s first theme park and features adrenaline-inducing rides and seasonal events. 

For those who like a good waterslide, there’s also Knott’s Soak City right across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm. 

And when dinner rolls around, stop at Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant for the best fried chicken in Buena Park.

Local tip: During October, Knott’s Berry Farm transforms into “Knott’s Scary Farm,” which is one huge haunted house. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you want to get into the Halloween spirit, this is one of the spookiest things to do in Southern California.

Stroll Around Downtown Disney

A man sits on a concrete bench with his back to a circular planter with a tree growing from the center in the Downtown Disney District.

As the name suggests, the Downtown Disney District is another Disney-related activity. 

It’s perfect after a visit to the park or if you skip Disneyland altogether but still want Disney-themed things to do in Orange County.

Downtown Disney is the area you walk through to get to Disneyland or California Adventure.

It’s definitely on the touristy side but also free and worth visiting at least once for the full Disney experience.

Local tip: Parking is free for 15 minutes if you want to just hop out and walk around quickly. Otherwise, parking is free for two hours if you spend $20 at one of the shops and free for five hours if you dine at any of the Downtown Disney restaurants.

Find the Pirate Tower at Victoria Beach

A fairytale-style castle tower built against a sandstone cliff overlooking crashing waves, with a sunset in the distance.

Although this isn’t as much of a hidden gem as it used to be with its popularity on Instagram, finding the Pirate Tower at Victoria Beach is still a fun thing to do in Orange County.

The scenic tower, also known as “La Tour,” was built in 1926 for beach access from the house that was built above it.

It was basically a very fancy staircase down to the beach when it was in use, but it has since become a famous Laguna Beach landmark to visit.

Today, it’s closed to the public but you can still view the Norman-style tower from the north end of Victoria Beach. Just make sure you go during low tide.

Hike at Crystal Cove State Park

A sandy path leading to a circular stone lookout point where a woman stands at the railing and looks out over the ocean, with an overcast sky above.

If you’re looking for more outdoor activities in Orange County, don’t miss Crystal Cove State Park.

This is the most stunning state park in the area, offering coastal views, plenty of easy hiking trails, tide pools, and historic buildings. 

Situated between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach and spanning 3.2 miles of coastline, there’s a lot to explore at Crystal Cove State Park.

It’s an Orange County bucket list destination and deserves at least half a day, if not more.

Crystal Cove State Park is another one of the most popular tourist spots in the area, so expect it to be somewhat crowded.

Local tip: If you can snag one, book an overnight stay at one of the Crystal Cove Cottages. These 24 historic cottages were built in the 1930s and were part of the seaside colony that existed here from 1920 to 1940. You can book one via Reserve California.

Find a Park Near You That Offers Outdoor Movies

Two pairs of crossed legs sitting on a blanket on grass, surrounded by other picnickers, with a large outdoor movie screen partially visible beyond.

Many things changed during the pandemic, one of which was the increased popularity of outdoor movie showings. 

Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor or maybe it’s the novelty of everyone sitting down to watch a movie together. 

Either way, with a picnic and bag of popcorn, it’s easily one of the best things to do in Orange County at night these days.

Here’s a list of the 28 best parks in Orange County where you can find outdoor movies.

Tour Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano, an old Spanish mission surrounded by palm trees with a clear blue sky beyond.

One of the 21 Spanish missions you’ll find along the coast of California, Mission San Juan Capistrano dates back to colonial times when California was occupied by Spanish missionaries.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776 and is one of the oldest local landmarks that’s still standing today.

As one of the most beautiful California missions, it’s nicknamed the “Jewel of the California Missions.” It’s also one of the most visited with about 300,000 annual visitors.  

During a visit to Mission San Juan Capistrano, you can tour the grounds, artifacts, artwork, permanent exhibits, and unique American Colonial architecture on display.

Before you leave Mission San Juan Capistrano, visit the Serra Chapel and relax in the gardens.

Local Tip: Doheny State Beach is right next to San Juan Capistrano, so after you’ve had enough history for the day, you can relax on a nice beach.

Learn More About OC History at the Bowers Museum

A brick path leading to the white, Spanish-style entrance to the Bowers Museum, surrounded by a manicured lawn and a clear blue sky in the background.

If you’re going to visit one museum in this area, make it the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

Established in 1936, the Bowers Museum features exhibits on early local history, as well as art from all corners of the globe. 

There are 100,000 objects in the Bowers Museum’s permanent collection and a unique variety of rotating exhibits. 

The Bowers Museum is one of the best activities to do in Orange County, especially if you’re like me and enjoy learning the history of places you visit.

Dive Into the Archives at the Old Orange County Courthouse

The Old Orange County Courthouse, a large, reddish-brown stone building surrounded by lawn with a tree trunk in the foreground and a blue sky in the background.

Already visited the Bowers Museum and ready for more history in Santa Ana? Check out the Old Courthouse Museum in the Downtown Santa Ana Historical District. 

The Old Courthouse Museum is a Romanesque Revival style goliath from 1901. 

It’s home to the Orange County History Center, Orange County Archives, and the Pacific Coast Archaeological Society’s library.

Plus, for all of you cinema buffs, the Old Courthouse Museum was the setting for an episode of American Horror Story and The Film on Thelma Jordan.

Do a Craft Beer Tour

A set of five small glasses of different types of craft beers sitting in a wooden holder.

Brewery hopping is one of the best things to do in Orange County for adults (sorry kiddos!) and, specifically one of the best things to do in Anaheim.

To explore the local craft beer scene, you can either hop on a guided beer tour or do a self-guided tour.

This goes without saying, but if you’re doing a self-guided tour, please make sure you have a designated driver or use a shared ride service to get to and from the breweries.

Here are a few of the best breweries in Orange County that I’d recommend visiting:

  • Bottle Logic Brewing (Anaheim)
  • Noble Ale Works (Anaheim)
  • The Bruery (Placentia)
  • Brewery X (Anaheim)
  • Docent Brewing (San Juan Capistrano)
  • GameCraft Brewing (Laguna Hills)
  • Four Sons Brewing (HB)

Eat All the Churros

If you’re looking to take a break from sightseeing in Orange County, find a churro truck and dig in. 

Eat them with filling (Nutella, vanilla, chocolate, etc) or with some Champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate made with corn), either way, they are sure to be delicious. 

If it’s your first time trying churros, I’d recommend starting with Don Churros Gomez in Anaheim (although, really, any local churro truck will do).

Local Tip: I’m definitely biased toward the Nutella churros…they’re heaven on earth.

Explore the Artsy Culture of Costa Mesa

A woman with short dark hair walks through a an art installation consisting of a tunnel lined with hundred of CDs.

Tucked away just a mile from the coast, Costa Mesa is a vibrant and eclectic city to explore.

Costa Mesa is known for its hipster and artistic vibe, unique shopping, and colorful street art. 

To start an afternoon in Costa Mesa, I’d recommend walking through the LAB Anti-Mall.

This “anti-mall” has an outdoor layout with trendy fashion boutiques, local restaurants, hair salons, a record store, and an art gallery.

After shopping, check out the many statues and installations as well as colorful murals around the city.

Get in Touch With Nature

Two grey seagulls walk on wet sand on a beach in the warm light of a sunset, with sandstone cliffs in the background.

Even with Disneyland, numerous beaches, and plenty of art galleries, the best Orange County attractions are arguably still out in nature. Here are a few of my favorites: 

  • Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve – Right next to Huntington Beach, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a 1300-acre must-see destination. The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve features mudflats, salt and freshwater marshes, and dunes. It’s home to over 200 bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers. To get a good feel for the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, I recommend doing the 3.8-mile North Loop Trail.
  • Dana Point Headlands – Beyond the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, more nature attractions in Orange County include the Dana Point Headlands, which are part of a conservation area and a beautiful place to go for a hike. Within the Dana Point Headlands, you’ll find over 150 different plant and animal species that are native to this part of California. The Harbor Loop is a flat 1.9-mile trail around Dana Point Harbor and a favorite local Dana Point hike. Time it right, and you’ll catch an unforgettable sunset at Dana Point Harbor. 
  • Shipley Nature Center – Established in the 1970s and featuring 18 acres of native plants and animals, the Shipley Nature Center is a good place to learn more about the natural history of the area.

Take the Ferry to Balboa Island

A sandy beach in the foreground, with a small vessel floating in a harbor, larger boats and palm trees in the background.

One of the best things to do in Newport Beach is to visit the man-made Balboa Island with its Balboa Fun Zone.

This scenic island is filled with local shops and delicious eateries. It’s a popular year-round destination for locals and tourists alike.

Walk along Marine Avenue to take in the local shops and dine on fresh seafood at one of the restaurants near the water. 

You also won’t want to miss the island’s famous desserts–the Balboa Bar and the Balboa Frozen Banana (anyone else a fan of Arrested Development?).

Whatever you decide to do, taking the ferry to Balboa Island and spending the day exploring this little oasis is one of those classic Orange County things to do and always a fun day out.

This is especially the case if you’re looking for things to do with kids in Orange County. 

The Balboa Fun Zone is positioned along the Balboa Peninsula and has arcade games, a Ferris wheel, and plenty of kid-friendly activities.

Looking for more island escapes? Read our guide to the best California islands to visit.

Explore the Coastal Canyons at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

A view of the beachside community and the ocean from a hilltop in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

As I’ve mentioned, there are a lot of things to do in Orange County, but another one that shouldn’t be missed is exploring the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Tucked away in the San Joaquin Hills near downtown Laguna Beach, this huge 7,000-acre park is where you’ll find some of the last standing natural coastal canyons in Southern California.

It’s also where you’ll find the only natural lakes in Orange County. If you’re looking for good hikes in the area, there are over 40 miles of hiking trails.

While you’re there, don’t miss out on visiting the Nix Nature Center to learn more about the history, flora, and fauna of the area.

Looking for more outdoorsy activities in the area? Read our guide to the best hikes in Laguna Beach.

Walk Around Old Towne Orange

Quaint storefronts and trees lining a sidewalk in Old Towne Orange on a partly sunny afternoon.

If you’re wondering where to go in Orange County, CA to get off the main tourist trail, head to Old Towne Orange

Before you ask, no I didn’t spell Old Town Orange wrong–think of towne with an “e” as a reminder of how old it is. 

Old Towne Orange was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and features plenty of historic buildings, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and antique shops.

Starting at Plaza Park, this is one of the best things to do around Orange County if you want to feel like you just stepped onto the set of “Gilmore Girls” or “One Tree Hill.”

Go on a Day Trip to Catalina Island

An overhead view of yachts in the circular harbor of Santa Catalina Island on an overcast day.

Lying 22 miles off the California coast, Santa Catalina Island is one of the most popular places to visit near Orange County and a fun day trip or weekend trip.

The island has two main hubs you can ferry to–Two Harbors and Avalon–although Avalon is the main town that most tourists head to first. 

Once you arrive on the island, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve been transported to another time with the number of historic buildings, quiet trails, and the very few cars you’ll come across.

And there’s a lot you can do once you arrive.

From walking along the waterfront to shopping at local boutiques, sunbathing, hiking, and snorkeling, there’s plenty to keep you busy for the day or a full weekend on the island. 

You can also go on one of the popular glass-bottomed boat tours, discover some scenic viewpoints (there are plenty), or tour the famous casino while you’re in Avalon. 

Catalina Island is a little pricey, but if you can work it into your budget, a visit to Catalina Island is well worth the price and one of the best things to do near Orange County. 

Local tip: With its many hills, most people get around Catalina Island by golf cart. Though not cheap, there are places to rent golf carts near the ferry dock once you arrive.

Looking for more info on Catalina Island? I’ve done a lot there! Read my guides to the best hikes and beaches on Catalina Island and how to plan a Catalina Island day trip.

Note: the glass-bottomed boat tours feed marine fish as part of the tour. Feeding wildlife, including fish, is known to disrupt their normal feeding habits and can pose ecological issues if they learn to depend on humans for their food.

Plan a Backpacking Trip Across Catalina Island

Three friends in hiking gear goofing around on a trail during a backpacking trip across Catalina Island, with California hills and a bright blue sky in the background.

If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, one of the most popular multi-day hikes in California can be found on Catalina Island. The 37-mile Trans-Catalina Trail takes 3-5 days to hike. 

You’ll have picturesque views from the ridge and almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain. And there’s a lot of wildlife, from eagles to bison. 

I’ve backpacked the full trail and it was worth every steep mile for the amazing views along the way.

Read my detailed guide to backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail.

Step Back in Time at Heritage Hill Historical Park

A small white chapel in Heritage Hill Historical Park, with hollyhock flowers in the foreground and a clear blue sky in the background.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in California 150 years ago? 

The Heritage Hill Historical Park features two fully restored buildings that date back to around the 1860s, during the Mexican Rancho era. 

Make sure to visit Heritage Hill Historical Park during one of the free tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11 am. Only people on the tours get to go inside the buildings.

Kayak in Newport Beach Harbor

A bird's eye view of kayaks lined up on the beach in Newport Beach Harbor.

Another great way to spend the afternoon is paddling around the Newport Beach Harbor. 

This is a fun way to see the beach, harbor, and Balboa Island from a unique perspective. Some people even paddle out to Crystal Cove.  

You can rent kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP) from the Newport Beach Marina Park or Harbor Kayak.

If you’re visiting with your own gear, there are plenty of places with free parking where you can launch from.

Go Whale Watching

A whale's tail sticking out of relatively calm ocean waters.

Arriving without a car? No problem! I recommend booking a hotel in Anaheim and then hopping on an all-day tour and whale-watching expedition

This tour is perfect for a quick do-everything weekend trip. The tour bus cruises down the coast, stopping at Laguna, Huntington, and Newport Beach beaches. 

From Newport Beach, you’ll board a boat and speed out into open waters for dolphin and whale watching. 

You’ll also stop in Huntington Beach for long enough to do some shopping and maybe even visit the Surf Museum. 

I personally love this tour because it’s efficient, and your tour guide narrates throughout the entire day, enriching your experience. 

It’s a great deal once you calculate the price of taxis, tours, and lost time.

Catch an Angels Game

A view from above the field at Angels' Stadium.

Instead of watching an Angels game from your hotel room or the bar down the street, go see the real thing.

The Los Angeles Angels Stadium is in central Anaheim. If you’re a baseball fan, visiting this area without seeing an Angels game is truly striking out. 

And if you’re a Dodger fan plan to visit when the teams go face-to-face. These are the best games anyway. Nothing like a little bit of local competition to heat things up.

Road Trip the Pacific Coast Highway 

A view of the open road of the Pacific Coast Highway, with a beach to the left and partly cloudy sky above.

I hope you have a good road trip playlist because it’s time to turn up the tunes and meander along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. 

The PCH starts (or ends, depending on where you’re coming from) in Dana Point.

What better place to commence the ultimate road trip than from ground zero? 

From Dana Point, you can drive through Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach on the PCH (aka Highway 1), and even drive through the Los Angeles beach cities. 

Although some of the prettiest views along the PCH can be found along the OC coastline, if you’re looking for a longer road trip, just keep driving.

From Southern California, continue north along the PCH for 656 miles of breathtaking views in all directions.

Read our complete guide to doing a Pacific Coast Highway road trip and where to eat and stay along the PCH.

Learn How to Surf or Watch the Surfers at Huntington Beach

A surfer seen from behind making his way out into the waves underneath a pier, amongst the posts.

If you’re interested in seeing what California surf culture is all about, what better place to take surf lessons than in “Surf City USA.”

You can find either private lessons or group lessons in Huntington Beach. 

Of course, private lessons mean you’ll receive undivided attention and more instruction, but don’t underestimate the power of group lessons. 

Taking a group lesson with friends means you get to laugh at each other falling for the umpteenth time.

Or, if you’re like me and surfing isn’t your thing, head over to the Huntington Pier to watch the experts do their thing. It’s an impressive sight to see.

Visit the International Surfing Museum

A close-up of the sign for the International Surfing Museum, with some of the building's art-deco facade and a sliver of blue sky visible beyond.

If you have a fresh sunburn from surfing all day, hide from the sun in the International Surfing Museum

You’ll learn interesting facts about famed surfers like George Freeth, who was the first person to popularize surfing in the US, and Corky Carrol, the “best-known surfer in the world.”

There’s a rainbow of surfboards on display, each with its own story, shape, and style. You’ll even find unique treasures like an electric surfboard and old hand-carved boards.

And this museum isn’t only for diehard surfers. Even the founder of the museum, Natalie Kotsch, isn’t a surfer. 

You don’t have to catch waves to appreciate the sport that put Huntington Beach on the map.

Surround Yourself with Greenery at the Fullerton Arboretum

A large cactus bush at the Fullerton Arboretum, with an overcast sky beyond.

Arboretums are essentially tree gardens. 

At the Fullerton Arboretum, you’ll see Orange County locals out for a stroll and university students learning about sustainable gardening practices.

The Fullerton Arboretum is run by California State University, Fullerton. 

It butts up to the university campus, making this one of the best things to do while visiting a friend on campus or touring the school.

In the fall of 2023, the Fullerton Arboretum plans to roll out new Discovery Stations for kids. 

Children will get to learn about pollinators, birds, and sustainable gardening practices at the Fullerton Arboretum.

Snorkel the Coves Around Laguna Beach

An underwater scene with an orange fish seen head-on amongst seaweed and reefs.

Laguna Beach covers a long stretch of coastline, including multiple coves that are ideal for snorkeling. 

The best snorkeling is usually at Shaw’s Cove, Diver’s Cove, and Thousand Steps. 

The fish are plentiful and diverse, in part due to the 2012 zoning for Marine Protected Areas. 

You’ll find garibaldi, octopi, rays, leopard sharks, eels, and lobster. If you’re lucky, you might see some dolphins and seals as well. 

While at Laguna Beach, you can also have a nice picnic with views at Heisler Park. There are fun sculptures and colorful flowers throughout Heisler Park.

Hike to the Top of Saddleback Mountain

A small board lies across a small creek along a shady, forested trail on Saddleback Mountain.

Saddleback Mountain is one of the best places to enjoy gorgeous views in the area. 

From Santiago Peak, you can see as far as Catalina Island to the southwest, south Bernardino to the north, and Riverside to the East. 

There are two routes to reach Santiago Peak. 

The first is via Maple Springs, which is north of the peak. Meanwhile, the route via Holy Jim Trail and Main Divide Road is to the south. 

Maple Springs trail is a 9.5-mile out-and-back hike with a 1,463-foot elevation gain. However, the road to the visitor’s center is extremely bumpy and unfit for low-profile cars. 

If you’re okay with extending your hike by 14 miles, you can park at the entrance gate and walk the 7-mile bumpy road instead.

The other route is via the Holy Jim Trail and Main Divide Road. This is a strenuous 15.9-mile out-and-back hike with a killer 4,163-foot elevation gain.

Looking for more hiking options? Read our guide to the best hikes in Orange County.

Have a Sunset Picnic at Inspiration Point

A pink sunset over a beach, seen from low bluffs above.

You don’t have to buy a billion-dollar beachfront house to enjoy the Newport Beach sunset. 

Stop at the supermarket and bring a blanket for a beachy sunset picnic at Inspiration Point

Here, you’ll have the same views as the houses lining the beach. You can sit atop the bluffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean or walk down to the water’s edge. 

There’s plenty of parking at Inspiration Point and a cement walkway from the parking lot down to the beach. It’s a little steep, but you can pause at the benches along the way.

If you prefer watching the sunset and then grabbing a bite to eat after, read our guide to the best restaurants in Newport Beach.

Go Art Gallery Hopping at Laguna Beach First Thursdays Art Walk

One of the best things to do in Laguna Beach is to explore the art scene. Laguna Beach city has a rich artistic history with over 100 art galleries

You can wander through the art galleries anytime, but if you’re in town on the first Thursday of the month, check out the First Thursdays Art Walk

During the Art Walk, the Laguna Art Museum offers free admission and the galleries provide free charcuterie and wine. 

How’s that for cheap things to do in Laguna Beach? I don’t know what’s better than free art, wine, and community.

Rent Bikes in Newport Beach

A view of the Newport Beach Bike path at sunset, with three palm trees on the beach to the left, and a row of beach houses to the right.

One of the best ways to see Orange County cities is on a bike. 

By renting bikes, you have the convenience of going at your own pace, stopping for ice cream, or visiting that cute shop with the macrame purse in the window. 

Plus, biking is way more efficient (and fun) than walking. You can easily ride along the beachside bike path to Huntington Beach and back. It’s about a two-hour round trip.

Visit the Pretend City Children’s Museum

The blue front entrance and sign for the Pretend City Children’s Museum surrounded by trees with a partly cloudy sky in the background.

If you’re looking for kid-friendly things to do in Irvine, go to the Pretend City Children’s Museum

This is an interactive activity center focused on kids learning about the real world through play. 

Pretend City Children’s Museum has everything from a pretend bank where young kids can learn about counting to a pretend doctor’s office where they learn about health and bodies. 

Pretend City Children’s Museum is a great alternative if your kids aren’t old enough to go on the rides at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.

Explore the Scientific World at Discovery Cube Orange County

The colorful and unique architecture of the Discovery Cube building with a traffic intersection in the foreground and a clear blue sky behind.

Another favorite thing to do for those who are traveling with kids is the Discovery Cube. This is another center for play-based learning. 

Discovery Cube Orange County focuses on STEM and is perfect for older kids who are maybe too old for the Pretend City Children’s Museum.

You’ll find exhibits like the Organic Waste Lab, which teaches the role that worms play in composting, and a child-sized learning rainforest. Cool, right?

Local Tip: The Discovery Cube is just around the corner from the Bowers Museum, so you could easily visit both on the same day.

Prowl with the Mountain Lions at the Orange County Zoo

A close-up of a mountain lion's face in a zoo.

The Orange County Zoo houses predominantly animals in rehabilitation or those that can’t be released into the wild. 

So, there are some really interesting local animals that can be found there like bears, mountain lions, porcupines, and foxes.

It’s also one of the most affordable things to do in Orange County with kids. Admission to the Orange County Zoo is only $2 per adult, plus parking ($3-$10). 

After the Orange County Zoo, you can spend a mellow afternoon on a train tour or Wheel Fun boat at Irvine Regional Park.

Local Tip: If you’re staying in Santa Ana, the Santa Ana Zoo will be more convenient, and it’s just as good as the Orange County Zoo.

Eat Sweet Treats at Hello Kitty Cafe

The pink and white striped awning and facade of the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Whether or not you like shopping malls, the Irvine Spectrum Center is well worth a visit if only to experience the Hello Kitty Cafe

This destination cafe is decked out in pink pop art and has a menu full of sweet treats that will make you smile. 

Going to Hello Kitty Cafe with a group of friends is a lot of fun. There are cookies shaped like Hello Kitty herself, Dole Whip ice cream, milk teas, and boba.

Have a Great Day at Orange County Great Park

A volleyball court at Orange County Great Park on a sunny day with a field visible beyond.

For more things to do in Irvine, check out Orange County Great Park

This park isn’t just “good,” it’s 500 acres of greatness with plans of adding another 300 acres in the future. 

Why is Orange County Great Park so great, you might ask? Well, for starters, there’s a hot air balloon, so there’s that. 

Orange County Great Park is also home to state-of-the-art sporting facilities, a carousel, walking trails, play structures, and the Palm Court Arts Complex.

Shop for Luxury Goods at South Coast Plaza

The entryway, sign, and brick sidewalk leading into the South Coast Plaza mall.

South Coast Plaza is the go-to place in Orange County, California for luxury lifestyle collections. 

South Coast Plaza is an international shopping hub curated for every season. 

Shop until you drop at Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and more.

Plus, South Coast Plaza has award-winning restaurants where you can re-energize with gourmet dishes from around the world.

Meet Adorable Seals at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center

One of the more unique things to do in Orange County, California, is to visit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center

This is a rehabilitation center for Pinnipeds (the scientific category that seals and sea lions are a part of). 

Here, you can get to know California sea lions, harbor seals, and northern elephant seals. 

After a little rehab and care from the center volunteers, they head back into the wild. 

Be warned though: you’re going to fall in love. These critters are adorable with their giant puppy-dog eyes and “barks.” 

The center is open from 10 am to 4 pm, seven days a week. There’s no need to book ahead and no admission fee (although donations are much appreciated).

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 


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Mimi McFadden
Founder & Editor-In-Chief

Mimi McFadden initially started The Atlas Heart in 2013 to write about her adventures abroad. But since 2019, The Atlas Heart has become a love letter to the Golden State. Mimi enjoys sharing her first-hand knowledge and expertise with the places she knows so well and making the most comprehensive travel guides possible. When she’s not hiking and exploring new places in California, she loves to travel abroad, read in her cozy chaise lounge, play basketball, and connect with friends and family over board games. Over her 28 years in California, she has lived in Santa Cruz (18 years), San Diego (5 years), and the San Francisco Bay Area (5 years), where she currently resides.

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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.


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