A Local’s Guide to Orange County California

I was lucky enough to grow up in sunny Orange County, California- the land of the mouse, beautiful people, surfing, and beautiful beaches. The food is fabulous, as is the healthy outdoor lifestyle. Although I now live on the east coast, I still feel like a Californian at heart and return at least a couple of times a year so that you can consider this a local’s guide to Orange County, California. Here are the things that I do when I come home and where I recommend to travelers that ask me for advice about what to do in Orange County.

A Local's Guide to Orange County, California

Amusement Parks

Disney Parks

I grew up with frequent visits to Disneyland, so I may be biased, but I do think it is the happiest place on earth. I go every time I am home. It is nice to be able to escape the real world and enter an idealized place, leaving your cares at the entrance.

Consequently, It truly does make me feel like a carefree child. The park is often pretty crowded and packed full of opportunities for fun, so you can easily spend two days just in this park. If you can fit the long-lined rides (like Space Mountain) in right before the park closes, but after fireworks start, you will experience much shorter waits. Hint: If you are in line when the park closes, they will let you on the ride. Be sure to stay for the fireworks, some of the best I’ve seen anywhere! Also, buy your tickets online, as they can sell out, and you could be turned away at the gate.

Although Disneyland has some thrill rides, they are not too crazy- just my style. Still, if you are looking for something more adventurous, you may prefer California Adventure with the Tower of Terror and California Screaming. Soaring Over California is one of my favorite rides ever- a peaceful 4-D virtual reality ride over my glorious state!

For a comparison of the two parks read Can I See Both Disney Parks in One Day?

What to do in Orange County California
If you have the chance to visit Disneyland for any holiday, do it. They know precisely how to celebrate. Here is It’s a Small World at Christmastime.

Knott’s Berry Farms

Another place to go for roller coasters is the western-themed Knott’s Berry Farm. Be sure to try a berry pie at the restaurant at the entrance- It was a berry farm many years ago. It is an excellent park, with lots of thrill rides, but I prefer Disneyland. I would go here rather than California Adventure, though. However, I am more likely to spend more time hiking or at the beach than at another OC amusement park.

Beach Towns

I think California has the best beaches around. Here are my three favorite beach towns.

Newport Beach

Orange County California guide
Balboa Beach in Newport Beach, California.

This town is the closest to my heart, as I spent so much time during my teenage years here.

Suggested activities:

  • Surf at the Wedge.
  • Playing games and enjoying the amusements in Balboa’s Fun Zone. I have to admit this is a bit aged, not sparkly like the rest of Newport, but has tons of fun for adults and kids and won’t break the bank like Disneyland.
  • Take the ferry from Balboa Island to the peninsula to do some shopping or have dinner and a Balboa Bar.
  • Bike ride down Balboa Beach’s sidewalk.
  • Spend an evening enjoying Balboa beach’s fire pits.
  • Rent a Duffy Boat to explore the calm waters between Balboa Island and Peninsula.
  • Shop at the upscale outdoor mall, Fashion Island.
  • Take a walk down Balboa Pier viewing the people fishing, while sipping a chocolate shake from Ruby’s.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is an art lover’s haven set between California’s mountains and cliffs looming over the Pacific Ocean.

Suggested activities:

Huntington Beach

things to do in Orange County California
Huntington Beach by the Strand, California

This beach town is best known for its great surf waves and 10 miles of flat coastline, very different from Laguna Beach. There are many piers and a more laid-back surfer vibe.

Suggested activities:

  • Shop for surf clothing in Huntington’s huge shopping area, The Strand.
  • Search for blue whales by going on a whale watch.
  • Of course, surf (or body or boogie board).

Hiking

Peter’s Canyon, Orange

When picturing California, most people think of beaches and palm trees but travel just a bit inland, and the terrain starts turning into desert. You will find unique scrub and interesting fauna, and it is worth exploring the canyons.

Back Bay, Newport Beach

Easy hikes in Orange County California
The shallow waters in Back Bay, Newport, California provide many opportunities to view California’s wildlife with the Saddleback Mountains in the background.

This 10.5-mile hike of Newport’s estuaries is a nature lover’s dream with well-kept hiking paths (as well as biking paths) and an abundance of unique wildlife. I got married overlooking this water, which can also be kayaked and SUP on.

Catalina Island

Easy Day Trips in Orange County, CA
California prickly pear bushes can be seen on our hiking trails. Although the fruit is edible, but be sure to study how to prepare it before eating, or you will get a very sore tongue!

Catalina is an island within an hour ferry ride from mainland Orange County- you can see it from Newport on a clear day. Its main city of Avalon has elegant dining and shopping opportunities. My first open water SCUBA dive occurred in the reefs close to the island’s shore. It is some of the best diving in the state with its abundance of wildlife, like the California marine state fish, the bright orange Garibaldi. Outside of the city, you will find undisturbed hiking trails through the California scrub among the prickly pears. There are also places to camp. I love this place, one of the Channel Islands. To read more about Catalina, check out Chillin’ in Catalina from Our Family Travel Adventures.

Where to Eat in Orange County, California

In and Out Burger

A must-visit, this fast food joint is really as good as rumored! My order is always a single animal style (an off-menu hamburger variation in which the meat is grilled in mustard and slathered with special sauce-thousand island dressing- and cheese), hand-cut french fries and a chocolate shake. I just referred a couple of friends there, and they visited multiple times.

BJs Pizza

This restaurant specializes in deep dish pizzas and has locations on all my favorite California Beaches. I love the Sweet Pig, loaded with ham, stewed tomatoes, pineapples, and mozzarella cheese. Don’t forget the Pizzokie (warm cookie in a pizza pan covered in an ice cream sundae) for dessert!

Ruby’s

My favorite is at the end of the Balboa Pier, but you can find these 40s style hamburger joints all over southern California.

Rutabegorz

California is all about being active and health-conscious. This is my favorite restaurant to get my veggie on! I love the Vegetable Lasagna, any of their salads and the not-so-healthy cheesecake with a sour cream frosting and strawberries is the best I have had on earth!

Mexican

What to eat in Orange County, California www.thedailyadventuresofme.com
Carne asada burrito from Jalapenos Mexican Food, Tustin, California. If you go, be sure to try the spicy pickled carrots in the salsa bar.

Being located within a couple of hours from Mexico and full of Mexican immigrants, be sure not to miss the Mexican food- the best I have had in the US. There are so many great places for buena comida. My suggestion is to skip the chains and hit up any number of storefronts or drive-thrus. The best ones will have menus in Spanish and offer tongue (lingua) on the menu. I love carne asada anything!

Things to Do with Kids in Orange County, California

Discovery Cube OC

My kids always ask to go to this hands-on science museum where you can experience an earthquake, a tornado, or play hockey.

Aquarium of the Pacific

A manageable way to explore the west coast’s sea life near the Long Beach shoreline.

Depending on how long I visit, I usually also visit Los Angeles, San Diego, or Santa Barbara. Subscribe to get those posts when they come out!

What are your favorite things to do in Orange County? Please let me know in the comments!

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A local's guide to Orange County, California www.thedailyadventuresofme.com
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7 thoughts on “A Local’s Guide to Orange County California”

  1. California is like a dream place with its lovely beaches, great hiking trails and wide variety of food.The Amusement Parks are another enticing attraction, especially to the kids. In all California is a great place for a family vacation.

    Reply

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