ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Travel and Places»
  • Visiting North America

Beyond Disneyland -- Top Ten Things to Do in Orange County, California

Updated on August 13, 2014

Orange County...a Great Place to Visit

Orange County, California is a great place to visit. I should know, I have lived in Orange County for a good portion of my life. I even worked at Disneyland for six years when I was in college.

There are a lot of things to do in Orange County. Sometimes it feels like there is something for everyone. There are beaches and ocean activities, hiking, theater, and shopping, among other activities. Orange County has two zoos and museums for all different tastes.

Disneyland is what most people think of when they think of Orange County. Yes, Disneyland is the biggest thing going in Orange County. However, there is more to Orange County than just "The Mouse." In this lens I'll highlight some of my favorite spots in Orange County. In fact, I've been to almost all of them, and plan on going back to them all.

Photo by Jack Wei

Getting to Orange County

Orange County, CA is actually pretty easy to get to...well, it's easy if there's no traffic anyway. Located in the heart of Southern California, Orange County is surrounded by Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Riverside County, and the Pacific Ocean.

If you are in California, the main freeways that will get you there are the 5 from the north and south, the 405 from the northwest, the 57 from the north and the 91 from the east.

If you are flying in to Orange County, you can fly directly to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, which is right in the middle of the county. You can also fly into LAX in Los Angeles or Ontario Airport in San Bernardino County and drive in.

Photo courtesy

About Orange County

Here are some books written about Orange County. They are great resources if you are planning a trip to "The OC".

Orange County, CA Street Atlas
Orange County, CA Street Atlas

Maps so you can get around.

Early Amusement Parks of Orange County (Images of America: California)
Early Amusement Parks of Orange County (Images of America: California)

A fun look at places locals used to go to back in the day.

Vanishing Orange County (CA) (Images of America)
Vanishing Orange County (CA) (Images of America)

Old pictures of things that no longer exist. Great nostalgia.


1. The Beach

The beach is one of Orange County's biggest attractions. After all, beaches compromise the entire western border of the coutny. The beach is a great place to go. You can sunbathe on the sand or play in the waves. You can play beach volleyball, surf or go bodyboarding.

If you visit Huntington City Beach or Bolsa Chica beach, you can have a bonfire on the sand. I have great college memories of getting together with a bunch of friends around the fire pits at Bolsa Chica. Good times!

There are also 5 piers in Orange County, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport, Balboa, and San Clemente. Several of these piers have a Ruby's diner at the end. Ruby's on the Seal Beach pier is a favorite place for my family to spend a beautiful Orange County afternoon enjoying good food and good views. My ex-husband and I used to go grab chili burgers and then go eat them on the Seal Beach pier.

Just about all of the beaches in Orange County have festivals throughout the year. Huntington Beach has its famous surf competition every year. Other beaches have kite festivals, beach volleyball tournaments, beach clean-up days, whale festivals, etc. It seems like there's always something to do at the beach in Orange County.

Photo by me. Taken off the Seal Beach Pier

Check the tide tables so you can visit the tide pools at Crystal Cove Beach in the city of Laguna Beach when the tide is low.

2. Irvine Park

Irvine Park is Orange County's oldest park, and California's first county park. It was started in 1897 when James Irvine Jr donated the land around Santiago Creek to Orange County. The new park was called Orange County Park.

Today there are a lot of things to do in Irvine Park. For families, there is a train ride as well and bike and paddle boat rentals. There also horseshoe and volleyball rentals, pony rides and hiking. Also, there are educational programs for elementary school kids. When I was teaching kindergarten in Orange County, my school always took the kids to a travelling farm that visited Irvine Park every year.

There are also festivals and special events, including a pumpkin patch, a Christmas train, Easter Egg Hunt, and a California History Day. Irvine Park also has facilities for birthday parties and other celebrations, and even has bounce houses that can be rented.

However, I think the best part of Irvine Park is the Orange County Zoo, which is located there. The Orange County Zoo features plants and animals that are native to the American Southwest. The animal exhibits resemble natural habitats, which zoo staff thinks is good for both the animals and zoo visitors. From 1994 to 2001, the biggest attraction at the Orange County Zoo was Samson the black bear. He was brought to the Orange County Zoo after he was caught lounging in a hot tub in someone's back yard in nearby Monrovia. Samson was 27 when he died, which is very old for a bear.

Photo courtesy

3. The City of Orange

Yes, in the County of Orange there is a City of Orange. The City of Orange has several points of interest. It is definitely one of the cities in Orange County that shouldn't be missed.

One of the gems of Orange is the old town section. Old Town Orange is about a square mile in size and is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Orange County. Many of the homes were built as long ago as the 1880's. There are several architectural styles including Victorian, Craftsman, Bungalow, and Spanish Colonial.

Also in Old Town Orange is Old Towne Plaza. Visitors to this historic shopping district feel like they've stepped back in time. The intersection of Chapman and Glassel Avenues has a park with an old fountain and is surrounded by shops that look like they've through a time machine from the 1950s. In fact, Old Towne Plaza doubled as the Erie, Pennsylvania of the early 1960s in Tom Hanks' movie "That Thing You Do".

Photo by Evan Wohrman

4. Newport Beach

Newport Beach is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States. It is in the southern part of Orange County, and has plenty for visitors and locals alike.

If shopping is your thing, then Fashion Island is a good place to visit. It is an upscale shopping center with exclusive stores. Even if these stores aren't in your budget, it is fun just to browse, and maybe let the kids ride the carousel.

Newport Beach is also home to two piers, Newport and Balboa. There is a bike path between the two piers for roller skating and cycling right on the sand so you can jog, cycle or skate right on the beach. There are even places that will rent you bikes and roller blades. When I was in my 20's, some friends and I rented roller blades in Newport. I got going too fast and I fell and skinned my knee worse than I ever had before, which is saying a lot since I was a tomboy growing up. I haven't donned a pair of roller blades since, but it was still fun.

Newport Bay is a great place to take a harbor tour and look at all the exclusive properties. The Balboa Fun Zone features a ferry, ferris wheel and arcade. However, if nature is your thing, you'll want to visit the Newport Back Bay. It is still in pristine condition, and is a great place to hike. When I was in college, I took a field trip there and we saw a peregrine falcon catch a bird. It was very awe inspiring.

Photo by Low Altitude

5. The Great Park

The Great Park is Orange County's newest attraction. It has been billed as "the first great metropolitan park of the 21st Century"

The land where the park sits used to be the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The MCAS was closed in the 1990s. At first, the land was slated to become an airport, but in 2002, the people of Orange County voted to make it a park instead.

The first phase of the Great Park, the Western Sector, is about 200 acres. The first features opened in 2010, and the sector will be finished in 2012. The parts that have already opened include a giant orange hot air balloon, an arts complex, an aviation museum, a carousel, and educational exhibits.

Photo courtesy

6. Knott's Berry Farm

Knott's Berry Farm is the original theme park. It began as a small berry stand in Buena Park on Highway 39, which would eventually become Beach Blvd.

Walter Knott, the berry stand's owner, cultivated the boysenberry, which is a combination of a blackberry, a raspberry, and a loganberry. YUM!

It was the Great Depression and times were rough, so Mrs. Knott began serving chicken dinners to make some extra money. People loved the food and her Chicken Dinner Restaurant became very popular. By the 1950s, it was not uncommon for people to wait two hours to be seated in the restaurant.

Mr. Knott wanted to entertain his guests as they waited to eat at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant, so he built Ghost Town. Ghost Town is a replica of Calico, CA, a mining town in the Mojave Desert. It features shops, a saloon with a can-can show, displays, a mine ride, a "Haunted Shack", and a log ride. Then people started coming to Ghost Town without going to the restaurant.

Eventually, the Knott family added more rides and attractions and started charging a separate admission to their theme park, called Knott's Berry Farm. Knott's has been a favorite with locals for generations and continues to be one of the top attractions in Orange County.

And, of course, you can still go to Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant and get some of her famous fried chicken.

Photo by Park Thoughts

7. Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace

Orange County has a presidential connection. Richard Milhous Nixon, who was our 37th President, was born and raised in Yorba Linda. Yorba Linda is at the northern edge of Orange County.

At the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, you will find the small house where the President was born. The house was built by President Nixon's father in 1910 using a home building kit. It has been restored to its original condition. President and Mrs. Nixon are buried near the house.

There is also a museum which houses memorabilia, papers, etc from Nixons tenure as President of the United States. In 2007, the Nixon Library and Birthplace became part of the federal Presidential Library System. Because it was now run by the federal government, it could now house Nixon's Presidential papers and records. The museum gives a history of Nixon and his Presidency and policies.

Photo by Arizona Shona

8. Fullerton Arboretum

The Fullerton Arboretum is located on the campus of California State University at Fullerton (which is my alma mater). Fullerton is at the northern end of the county, right off the 57 Freeway.

The Arboretum is 26 acres in size and is the largest botanical garden in Orange county. It houses over 4,000 plant species from all over the world.

There are four main collections: Woodland, Cultivated, Desert, and Mediterranean.

In addition to being a peaceful garden for the community to enjoy and relax in, the Fullerton Arboretum is a community resource. It holds plant shows and education programs, is a place where people can have weddings and other parties, and hosts school field trips.

Photo by Grant Schweppe

9. Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the "birthplace of Orange County". It was founded on November 1, 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, a Jesuit priest. The mission was the seventh mission to be founded in Alta California. There were 21 missions altogether. The missions had two purposes, to bring Christianity to the native population, and to expand Spain's borders and influence in the northern part of California. The mission served as an outpost and as a place to educate the native people so that they could become good Spainish citizens.

Today, the mission is being restored. Most of the buildings have been restored, including Serra's Chapel, which is the only church still in existence in which Father Serra is known to have celebrated mass. Unfortunately, the Big Stone Church was not able to be restored and is still in ruins. However, it really cool to see the ruins and walk through them.

Every year, on March 19, the town of San Juan Capistrano and the mission hold a Swallow's Day celbration. This is the traditional day in which the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano after spending the winter in Argentina.

When you visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, you should definitely take the audio tour. It is very interesting and educational.

Photo by me

10. Discovery Science Center

The Discovery Science Center is a great children's museum. It is located in Santa Ana, in the heart of Orange County. You'll find it right next to the Main Place Mall, nestled between the 5 and 22 freeways. The infamous Orange Crush interchange is less than a mile away, so it is easily accessible from the 5, the 22 and the 57 freeways.

There are lots of interactive exhibits for kids to enjoy. The permanent collection includes exhibits about astronomy, aerodynamics, earthquakes and hockey. Outside is a great dinosaur exhibit. There are also educational movies you can watch for an extra fee. Last time I was there they were showing "Turtle Vision 4-D" and "Dinosaurs of Patagonia".

In addition to the permanent collection, the DSC is always hosting temporary exhibits. When I took my son last month, there was an exhibit about water that was absolutely fascinating. They also have annual events that are great. Every spring they have Bubble Fest, which celebrates the science and the wonder behind bubbles. It's super fun!

Photo by Bama Library Lady

This lens won the Purple Star award. (It's my very first one) WOW!

New Guestbook Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 5 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      California is one of my favorite vacation spots. I can't count the number of times I have been there. Having family living in California sort of helps too.

      This is a beautiful lens and worthy of the Purple Star AND my angel blessings.

    • girlfriendfactory profile image

      girlfriendfactory 5 years ago

      Oh this makes me miss OC ! I miss the food most of all though. There are so many yummy places to eat! I lived there in my early 20s and oddly enough went roller blading in Newport Beach, too. I lived in CM so we spent a lot of time in Newport and Balboa. I miss Fashion Island ~ we used to eat at CPK and then watch the kids play at the pop jet fountain. I miss Knott's, too because you can only get olallieberry jam right there in the restaurant that I know of, I've never seen it anywhere in their online store. I miss the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival and people selling flats of huge strawberries on street corners. I miss the OC Swap Meet (do they still have that?) which was walking distance from my apartment and had some of the best fruits and vegetables for great prices, I miss Dana Point, and Laguna Beach for quaint shopping and sandwich shops...oh those were the days!

      Thanks for taking me back! This is a terrific lens and it can be found among the other blessed lenses at Flyby Wingings They may call me an aimless wanderer, but not all who wander are aimless and I'm glad I wandered upon this! ~Ren

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      The beaches look clean and crystal clear. I'd probably look at the historical towns too for the different architecture styles.

    • remicallens profile image

      remicallens 5 years ago

      Great Orange County sunset photo.

    • JK Sterling profile image

      Jim Sterling 5 years ago from Franklin, Tennessee

      We were married in the City of Orange 20 years ago. Looking forward to a visit soon.

    • goldenecho profile image

      Gale 5 years ago from Texas

      OK...well maybe not. By the time I was born they had several roller coasters I guess. Maybe there was a park outside the main park or something.

    • goldenecho profile image

      Gale 5 years ago from Texas

      Knotts has changed a lot just in my lifetime. My mom used to take me there when I was little. There was a park and maybe one roller-coaster, and we mainly just played at the park. I was very young. I vaguely a path that was covered with some sort of vines, and some sort of wooden animals on springs. The only reason I knew there was a roller coaster is because I saw a bunch of teenagers lined up for it. I was only about 4 at the time. I don't think you had to pay then if you weren't going on the roller coaster...and if you did, then it must not have been much.

    • JoleneBelmain profile image

      JoleneBelmain 6 years ago

      Orange county looks like such a fun place to visit. I guess anytime you get to live near the ocean it is great.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congratulations on that lovely purple star for this very fun adventure!

    • profile image

      luecjennifer 6 years ago

      I found this very much good to read about.

      Home Theater System

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 6 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Wow, this lens gives me lots of ideas. Thanks. I have bookmarked this lens in my "America Trip" folder as we are planning a trip to the USA for a trade show in Anaheim next March. We will be in this area for about a week, so this information is great!

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 6 years ago from California

      Congrats on the purple star! This is a neat lens!

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 6 years ago from Northern California

      Congrats on the Purple Star. I remember visiting Knotts Berry Farm as a kid.

    • LissaKlar LM profile image

      LissaKlar LM 6 years ago

      This seems like it would be the perfect place to grow up. You have a lot of facts here and it was all very interesting. Congratulations on your purple star. It is well deserved!

    • profile image

      GabrielaFargasch 6 years ago

      My sister lives in Newport Beach! I've never been there but I hear it's gorgeous! You created a beautiful lens about Orange County! Thanks for sharing!

    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Orange sounds beautiful with its beaches and parks.Congrats on your Purple star!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      Great lens but you might want to add that the Discovery Center is in Santa Ana. I didn't know it existed and had to look it up but thanks to you, we have plans to go next week. The Great Park is an ambitious project and watching it grow will be interesting.

    • seashell2 profile image

      seashell2 6 years ago

      Nice work... It reminded of my honeymoon, way back... we visited Knott's Berry Farm, I remember getting our pictures taken with those funny characters!

    • lemonsqueezy lm profile image

      lemonsqueezy lm 6 years ago

      Congrats on your purple star. I would probably want to visit the Nixon Library and Brithplace. Nice compilation!

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      This lens brought back many memories of bonfires at Huntington Beach (and tarred feet), since our church frequently had beach parties there that lasted through the evening. Knott's Berry Farm was a regular Sunday destination for our family when I was growing up in the 1950s. We ate the chicken house, and while waiting I panned for gold or we walked through ghost town. Do they still have the jail where you can hand the "Prisoner" something to say to some unsuspecting person in your party? That used to be the high point in the old days. Do they still have the glow worm studio and the mission trail by the lake? It used to be a great free place to go with a date on Friday or Saturday night until I graduated, and then they started to charge because trouble makers started hanging out there.

      Our church also had a Sunday School Picnic at Irvine Park every year, but it sounds much more developed now than it was back in the 1950s.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      Congratulations on your purple star! They are such a treat and given for special lenses, and this is a special one! I like the idea of seeing what else there is to see in the area of Disneyland...I am on the east coast, so it is Disneyworld for us.

    • MamaKris profile image

      Kristin 6 years ago from Long Beach, CA

      @NoYouAreNot: Thanks for the kudos, but this lens got the Purple Star, not Lens of the Day. *sigh* maybe someday I'll get that lucky. =)

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 6 years ago

      Well deserved LotD, Kris, and an interesting guide to visiting Orange County, CA.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Thanks for the guidance on visiting Orange county. Blessed