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With temperatures hovering around 75 degrees year-round, the cities of Orange County—or the O.C.—are sun-soaked oases tucked between the metropolises of Los Angeles and San Diego. With an array of pristine beaches, coastal trails, thrilling water sports, kid-friendly activities, and cultural attractions to choose from, visitors will find a variety of ways to stay entertained.
Many want to hit the beach (and for good reason) as soon as they arrive. Most beaches in the region offer opportunities for sunbathing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, tide-pool exploration, and of course, surfing. A mecca for surfers, the O.C. boasts several beaches with options for surfers of all skill levels.
Huntington Beach is one of the more well-known surfing hot spots—it isn’t called “Surf City USA” for nothing; in fact, the sport’s impact on the city’s culture is evident in everything from the International Surf Museum, to the life-sized statue of legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, to the Surfing Walk of Fame. (Tip: Don’t miss the famous Huntington Beach Pier, either, which is best enjoyed at sunset.) In Newport Beach, skilled surfers should look no further than The Wedge, famous for having the largest swell in Southern California. But beginning surfers should hit Dana Point’s Doheny State Beach, the first California state beach. Meanwhile, St. Ann’s Beach in Laguna Beach offers waves for all experience levels.
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Non-beachgoers can also savor the great outdoors at the numerous coastal parks. Laguna Beach’s Crystal Cove State Park is one of the county’s largest open spaces and natural seashores, providing visitors with 18 miles of trails through 2,400 acres of wilderness next to the Pacific Ocean. Nature lovers may want to explore Irvine, too, which has more miles of trails than any other city in the O.C. Bommer Canyon is a popular choice for hikers and bikers, offering numerous nature trails that go past sycamore trees and wildflowers. Another notable spot is the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, encompassing more than 300 acres of restored coastal wetlands that are rich with wildlife.
Thrill seekers, however, will want to head to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. California’s first theme park offers shows, special events, and numerous rides—including the West Coast’s tallest, fastest, and longest wooden roller coaster—inspired by the Golden State’s history and culture. Anaheim’s Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure Park are other iconic destinations that will satisfy both the young and the young at heart with exciting attractions and experiences. The admission-free Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach is another family-friendly option, featuring a waterfront Ferris wheel, arcade games, and a nautical museum.
And for those who just want to relax and partake in some retail therapy, the O.C. can satisfy any desire. Browse for gifts and artisanal goods on Forest and Ocean avenues in Laguna Beach, shop for the latest fashions at Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach, and enjoy a high-end experience at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa—where shoppers can find 250-plus stores, concierge services, and personal shoppers (not to mention gourmet eateries).
Costa Mesa is also known as the “City of the Arts”, so culture buffs have their pick of shows, plays, and concerts at various venues. Other cultural attractions in the O.C. include the Laguna Art Museum, Orange County Museum of Art, Huntington Beach Art Center, Noguchi Museum, and Mission San Juan Capistrano—dubbed the “Jewel of the Missions” for its architecture and lush gardens.
The O.C. truly offers something for every taste, so grab your swimsuit, slather on some sunscreen, and go out and discover this SoCal gem.
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…
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