Secret Things to Do in Orange County, CA for Visitors
The tourist things to do in Orange County, CA are well-known to Southern California travelers. Visiting Disneyland, shopping at South Coast Plaza, and surfing at Huntington Beach are written up constantly in travel mags and newspapers. But the county also offers secret delights known only to locals such as myself. Try them out on your next visit.
Noguchi Sculpture Garden
The Noguchi Sculpture Garden satisfies those interested in outdoor and art things to do in Orange County, CA. Six abstract pieces, created by famed artist Isamu Noguchi, represent the California landscape. You’ll find mixes of stone, tile, steel, water and desert foliage decorating abstract, natural and freeform shapes. Park for free in the east parking lot of Sears – South Coast Plaza, and cross the sky bridge over Bristol Street. Then head southeast for the black glass towers rising on the corner of Anton Blvd and Park Center Drive. The sculpture garden is buried behind office buildings, so ask a passerby to point you the way.
Summer Bat Walks
Like many outdoor areas in the county, the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine invites relaxing walks on its nature trails to enjoy waterbirds and other wildlife at the 300-acre wetland preserve. But the secret time to come is at night for the Summer Bat Walks. After listening to an indoor presentation by a bat biologist, you then walk about a mile-and-a-half on flat, unpaved ground to view the two species of bats that make their home here. You'll be able to hear and watch them swoop and dive as they feast on flying insects. These tours, given by volunteers of the Sea and Sage Society Audobon Society, are held only in July, August, and September but require advance registration by April because they fill up fast.
Lyon Air Museum
If you’d rather spend time indoors on one of your secret things to do in Orange County, CA, the Lyon Air Museumsatisfies across the street from the runways of Orange County Airport. Airplanes are certainly in abundance, including a B-17 Flying Fortress. a passenger DC-3 and a B-25 Bomber. But this idiosyncratic collection also includes military vehicles, military motorcycles and automobiles from the 1930s-40s. The museum is open nearly every day of the year, with tours available from volunteer docents.
Environmental Nature Center
Where can you find a freshwater marsh, Yellow Pine forest, foothill woodland, and Channel Islands flora in just 3.5 acres? At the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach. The 14 habitats represent what’s available in California, from the coast to the mountains. The 8,500-square-foot solar-powered main building is the first one in Orange County to receive LEED platinum certification, and houses a nature museum and classrooms. Make time for the Native Butterfly House in the spring and summer, so you can admire these local wonders at all stages of their life cycle, from egg to flying beauties.
Santa Ana River Trail
The Santa Ana River, typical of county rivers, is normally dry and paved with concrete. But it does feature a trail for biking, walking, or horseback riding that stretches 110 miles across three counties. You can enter at many of the roads that cross it and proceed south to Huntington Beach or north to the San Bernardino mountains. Several attached parks offer convenient rest stops and picnic tables. If you go after a heavy rain, you’ll be rewarded with flowing water and islands of wildlife such as pelicans, herons and ducks.
Orange County Model Engineers
Don’t forget to amuse the kids on one of your secret things to do in Orange County, CA. Take them on an excursion aboard miniature freight and passengers cars pulled by working miniature diesel and steam engines. The Orange County Model Engineers offer rides on the third Saturday and Sunday of each month, on the eastern side of Fairview Park in Costa Mesa. Five miles of 7.5-inch gauge track wind their way through stations, bridges, grasslands and hills. Rides are free, but donations are accepted to keep the hobby-built locos in top running condition.
Pacific Marine Mammal Center
Beach time in Southern California generally involves sunbathing, sand, and surfing, but never sea lions. At the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, you can get up close to these playful creatures that you can usually only spy from afar. The organization focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals and then releasing them back into the wild. Because the facility is run primarily by volunteers, you're welcome to get involved as more than a spectator.
Downtown Santa Ana Artwalk
On the first Saturday of every month, the Downtown Santa Ana Artwalk thrills with its mix of street fair, dance party, and art festival. Local galleries and art museums stay open from 6 PM to 10 PM showcasing the best of paintings, sculpture, drawing, pottery, jewelry, and other visual forms. Live street music encourages dancing as street merchants hawk their wares and police officers on horseback keep a watch on everything. You can quell your hunger or quench your thirst at several restaurants and bars.
If you have more secret things to do in Orange County, CA, please put information and links in the Comments box below.
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© 2011 Aurelio Locsin