October 21, 2020
As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
If there's anything we all love to do, it's discovering new, hidden places—and SoCal doesn't disappoint. The most popular things to do in Orange County include visiting pristine beaches and some of the Golden State's best amusement parks. But the O.C. is also full of delightful surprises known only to the adventurous locals. Whether you're a longtime resident or a tourist traveling for the day, these hidden gems in Orange County will surely blow your mind.
Orange County's Hidden Gems
1. Victoria Beach
The SoCal paradise of Orange County is all about beaches, beaches, beaches. So, it shouldn't be surprising that one of the top hidden places in Orange County is a beach. (Plus, hitting the beach is one of the best free things to do in the O.C.) With glimmering azure waters secluded from the city, Victoria Beach is a spot known to Laguna Beach locals more so than tourists.
You'll find a variety of characters enjoying many outdoor activities—skimboarding, swimming, fishing, scuba diving, kayaking, and surfing—at Victoria Beach. But this unique beach in California also features one of the most mysterious attractions in the state: the Pirate Tower. This enigmatic seaside stone structure looks like something out of a children’s storybook; see if you can find it during your visit.
2. The Noguchi Museum
A secret spot known to few SoCal natives, The Noguchi Museum is a gemological haven. Packed with fascinating rocks of all shapes and sizes, lush gardens, water features, and even a pyramid, this facility is a largely undiscovered gem in Orange County. The Costa Mesa museum is especially a must-see for professional photographers and shutterbugs.
3. The Lab
This modern "anti-mall" is one of the best hidden gems in Orange County. To the untrained eye, The Lab looks like an industrial park hidden behind trees, but upon taking a closer look, you'll find something completely unexpected. Walk down a narrow, shaded pathway to discover a collection of small boutique shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
Within this open-air shopping destination in Costa Mesa, you can find everything from vintage clothing to handmade jewelry, so head here if you're in need of retail therapy. After you’ve shopped till you dropped, head to one of the 10-plus eateries and drop by The ARTery gallery.
4. Carbon Canyon Regional Park
Although towering redwoods are well-known natural landmarks in California, the trees within Brea's Carbon Canyon Regional Park are hidden treasures. The redwoods at this park rise up to about 100 feet high, and the best way to see them up close and personal is by hiking the park's 1.1-mile trail to the Redwood Grove. Take in the beauty of the redwoods and observe the birds flocking around them.
5. Marina Park
Newport Beach is one of the most expensive cities in California, but it's also home to a picturesque park that provides the level of seclusion you so desperately seek. The ultimate family spot, Marina Park offers kids a memorable outdoor experience on the beautiful Newport Beach Harbor.
The calm and serene waters of the harbor offer a safe swimming experience for the little ones; you won't need to worry about strong crashing waves or undercurrents. If your children prefer to play on land, they can run, jump, climb, and slide down the playground equipment—not to mention explore their very own lighthouse. Marina Park also provides ample picnic areas perfect for soaking up the SoCal sun whilst admiring the boats floating by.
6. Back Bay Loop Trail
Many of California’s top mountain biking trails are truly extraordinary, but this one's a standout. Different from your humdrum trails through the woods, the Back Bay Loop Trail takes you along Newport Bay, providing scenic views. Part of the O.C’s nature preserve, the pathway gives cyclists and hikers the splendid opportunity to view the native wildlife. Feel free to bring Fido along, too; dogs are allowed on the trail as long as they are on-leash.
7. Great Park Balloon
Irvine's Great Park Balloon isn't your ordinary hot-air balloon—as its name implies, this massive balloon carries up to 30 people. Hop aboard to fly 400 feet in the air for two minutes; during the ride, you'll experience breathtaking views of the O.C. and (on clear days) the downtown Los Angeles skyline in the distance. Whether you're looking for an amazing photo sesh or for an outing with friends and family, stop by this one-of-a-kind Orange County hidden gem.
8. Pirate’s Cove
Serenity and seclusion are what Pirate's Cove is all about. You can easily spend the day at this Newport Beach destination splashing around in the tranquil waters or exploring the small caves scattered along the shoreline. Plenty of trees shade the area, providing ample spaces to crash and watch the shimmering Pacific Ocean waves.
9. The Wedge
Located in the furthest corner of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, The Wedge is a surfer’s paradise. The humongous, wedge-shaped waves—some which rise up to 30 feet—crash dramatically onto the shore, offering a challenge for avid surfers. Aside from the rad waves, The Wedge is also bordered by multimillion-dollar beach houses and unique rock formations, so there's plenty to see here. Grab your picnic baskets and blankets, and head on over to this shoreside attraction to nab the perfect front-row seat for the stunning Cali sunset.
10. Pitcher Park
Not your typical park in terms of landscape (there are no large fields to run through), Pitcher Park is a small pocket park in Old Towne Orange. While small, the park offers plenty of picnic spaces, photo-op spots, and a heritage museum where you can learn about the history of Orange County.
11. Crescent Bay Point Park
We’re all about the ocean here in SoCal, and another O.C. gem is Crescent Bay Point Park. The park's pristine grounds with splendid ocean views make for a perfectly relaxing afternoon. On most days, the Laguna Beach park is pretty quiet, and if you're lucky, you might have it all to yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the waves crashing along the Pacific coastline.
12. Heisler Park
The heart and soul of Laguna Beach, Heisler Park boasts awesome ocean views, gorgeous gardens, walking trails, and expansive green spaces. Head down to the tranquil waters, which are ideal for beginner swimmers and young kids looking for some water fun, and explore the park's small coves and tide pools teeming with wildlife.
13. Thousand Steps Beach
Don’t skip through just yet. Although the name suggests there are a thousand steps, there are only 230 steps leading you down to and back up from the beach. Gear up at Thalia Surf Shop to take on the Southern California waves, and pick up a couple of rad surf T-shirts while you’re there. Even if you're not a surfer, you're bound to love the main attractions of the beach: human-made pools that collect water during high tide. Enjoy a brisk swim in the California waters, and stick around for scenic sunset views by the shoreline.
14. Fairview Park
Fairview Park is a great weekend destination for families. Located in Costa Mesa, the expanse boasts an array of trails perfect for hikers, runners, and cyclists. A popular activity among locals includes flying toy airplanes—a great way to keep the kids entertained for a few hours.
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