Southern California’s Orange County and the surrounding areas offer some of the most beautiful coastline in the state, and a rich inland empire history centered on America’s second gold rush, the citrus industry.
Easy day trips to the north, east and south offer a variety of things to do whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or anything in between. Explore the beaches, shop and dine in the heart of Southern California.
1. Newport Beach
Newport Beach offers ten distinct neighborhoods and the west coast’s largest recreational harbor.
The quintessential California city is known for its sunny weather, beaches, active and healthy community, fine dining and high end shopping.
Visit the Fun Zone on Balboa pier for classic arcade games and a historic Ferris Wheel, learn to surf, rent a kayak, enjoy a Gondola Adventure, take a paddleboard yoga class, or board a yacht for whale watching.
Duffy boat tours are a classic way to explore the Newport Harbor, or take in the view from more than a dozen dockside dining establishments. Visit Fashion Island for a luxury retail experience, or browse the independently owned shops in Laguna Beach, Balboa Island or Corona del Mar.
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Torrance is a charming seaside town just south of Los Angeles offering 1.5 miles of pristine coastline, surfing and beach going, shopping, dining and more. Beaches in Torrance are laid back and uncrowded. Dip your toes in the water or enjoy the view from the Palos Verde Peninsula. Must-do’s include a trip to the locally famous King’s Hawaiian Bakery.
Best known for their hot-dog buns and dinner rolls, the bakery has a full-service restaurant on site that makes California’s best French toast. Torrance is home to America’s fifth largest mall with over 200 luxury retailers, the Del Amo Shopping Center. Finish the day with a visit the Red Car Brewery and Restaurant, a local favorite since 2000. Things to Do in Torrance
3. Balboa Peninsula
© Peter Bennett and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
Newport’s Balboa Peninsula is 3-miles long and offers sandy beaches to one side, views of the harbor to the other. In between the to shorelines, you’ll find restaurants, bars, retail shops and entertainment. Visit the original Ruby’s, a classic 1950’s diner, and the historic Balboa Pavilion, once a dance hall hosting famous big bands in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The Ferris wheel at the Balboa Fun zone has operated for over 80 years. Hop aboard the Balboa Island ferry for a short trip from the peninsula to the island itself.
Newport Beach, CA 92661
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4. Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Over 8,000 years ago the Bolsa Chica Wetlands was a productive estuary and home to species of antelope, mule deer and grizzly bears. Early humans in the area left evidence of that dates back between 6000 and 3500 BC. Through the years, the land has been transformed for ranching, oil drilling, military exercises. Since 2004, a lowlands restoration project has been in effect, designed to return the land to its 1800’s glory. Visit the interpretative center for 1,400 square feet of exhibits, including aquariums with live species, interactive panels about wetlands ecology, live reptiles, and taxidermied birds. Experience an animal feeding day, or join one of the many educational programs for all ages. Things to Do in Huntington Beach
3842 Warner Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 92649, Phone: 714-846-1114
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5. Bommer Canyon
Bommer Canyon is a community park in the city of Irvine that offers trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Some trails are open to the public only when accompanied by a trained docent as a guide, due to sensitive habitat areas. The Canyon is a valuable source of habitat for several species of endangered wildlife, both plants and animals. Within the park is the old Bommer Canyon Cattle Camp. Once a ranch, the Cattle Camp is now a 15-acre reservable area for private parties. The Cattle Camp includes picnic tables, shaded spaces, multi-use buildings and cabins for camping.
11 Bommer Canyon Rd, Irvine, CA 92603, Phone: 949-724-6835, (website link)
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6. Chula Vista
Chula Vista is a suburb of San Diego and home of a Team USA Olympic training center. With good weather year-round, miles of hiking, jogging and cycling trails, a protected marina perfect for rowing or paddling, and plenty of open coastline surrounded by mountains, it’s the ultimate outdoor recreation site. Visit the Living Coast Discovery Center to learn more about the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, or enjoy an outdoor show at the Mattress Firm Amphitheater. Dine at the bayfront Galley for views of the Marina, and visit the Otay Ranch Farmer’s Market each Tuesday afternoon. Things to Do in Chula Vista
Chula Vista, CA 91910
7. Day Trips from Orange County: Corona del Mar
Corona del Mar is a chic enclave of Newport Beach, offering fine dining, shopping, cafes and bars. The small Cliffside hamlet overlooks the Pacific Ocean and offers several gorgeous white sand beaches. Enjoy the ocean view from two lookout points, named Inspiration Point and Lookout Point Park. The two most easily accessible beaches are Big Corona, which features a jetty, beach volleyball courts and waves perfect for surfing. Little Corona is a quieter beach offering a tide pool full of opportunities for a close-up look at sea life and a relaxing, more tranquil environment.
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625
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8. Crystal Cove State Park
Orange County’s Crystal Cove State Park protects 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness and over 3 miles of seashore. Within the park is a National Historic District of 46 small cottages, built in the 1930’s and 1940’s near Los Trancos Creek. Backcountry trails wind through Moro Canyon to Moro Ridge, where panoramic views await. Area wildlife includes coyotes, rattlesnakes, bobcats, and several species of birds. A total 15 miles of trails includes a paved 2.5 mile coastal trail for walking, jogging or cycling. Guided programs within the park include ranger-led hikes, geology talks and tidepool talks. Camping is available at the Moro campground. Things to Do in Laguna Beach
8471 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, California 92651, Phone: 949-494-3539
9. Fullerton Arboretum
The Fullerton Arboretum was founded in the 1970’s and is a joint project of the city of Fullerton and the trustees of the California State University. The arboretum features a museum, potting shed and nature center. Gardens and plantings include a woodlands collection, desert collection and Mediterranean collection. There is also a community garden where local volunteers grow vegetables, and a children’s garden. The 1894 Heritage House is located at the arboretum’s center, and was moved there in the 1970’s to save it from destruction. The Eastlake-style cottage was once the home of one of Cal State Fullerton’s doctors, and has been restored to reflect the Victorian era style that was popular in 19th century Orange County. More info
1900 Associated Rd, Fullerton, CA 92831, Phone: 657-278-3407
10. Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is a unique artist’s colony nestled into a 7-mile stretch of Orange County coastline. The area is home to 20,000 acres of protected wilderness, the most beachfront cottages in all of Orange County, hundreds of miles of hiking and cycling, ocean adjacent bluffs, tide pools and sandy beaches. Visit in July or August for the world famous Pageant of the Masters, an arts festival in which classic paintings from around the world are live acted. Enjoy a first Thursday art walk, or browse the many downtown galleries or Laguna Art Museum. Visit any of the city’s public parks, or head to the beach to swim or beach comb. With over 100 independently owned boutiques, see why Laguna has been named among the best cities to shop and dine local.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
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11. Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a quick drive from Orange County. Home to several world-renowned museums, some of California’s most famous attractions, and 75 miles of coastline, there’s plenty to do in this bustling city. For a taste of the arts and culture, visit the LA County Museum of Art, Brentwood’s Getty Center or downtown’s Broad contemporary art center. Enjoy a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall or outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl. Take a tour of one of the many Hollywood movie houses, or stroll down the famous Hollywood Boulevard. For an outdoor experience, visit the many beaches and seaside neighborhoods, or hike into the Malibu or Hollywood hills.
Los Angeles, CA
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12. Day Trips from Orange County: Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano is a National Historic Landmark and museum, and considered the birthplace of Orange County. Founded in 1776, the mission was the 7th of 21 California missions. View the hundreds year old structure, and ruins, and view artifacts and artwork displayed in the permanent exhibits. At the Mission Clubhouse, learn hands-on activities such as basket weaving. Relax in the peaceful gardens, or enjoy the outdoor summer concert series. Bells are rung daily the same way they have been for over 200 years. In March, witness the miraculous return of the swallows, as thousands of birds alight on the chapel, having traveled over 6,000 miles from Argentina each year. Things to Do in San Juan Capistrano
26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-234-1300
13. Niguel Botanical Preserve
Laguna Niguel’s Niguel Botanical Preserve offers 18 acres of protected land with 4 miles of walking and jogging trails, and over 2,000 species of plants. The primary purpose of the preserve is to collect and display draught-tolerant plants either native to or appropriate for the southern California climate. Gardens are organized by region, and include Mediterranean, Baja, Channel Islands, Palm Canyon and South Africa. Enjoy the preserve on a self-guided tour through the gardens, or join one of the many seasonal public programs. Volunteer days take place the second Saturday of each month. Past events have included annual Earth Day Celebrations each April and fall planting events.
29751 Crown Valley Pkwy, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
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14. Old Towne Orange
Old Towne Orange is the historic center of Orange, California, recently revitalized and a destination for shopping and dining. To experience the breadth of the culinary offerings, take one of three Olde Towne Orange Walking Food Tours. Tours stop at several historic points of interest, with plenty of snacking in between. The Orange Home Grown Farmers and Artisan Market takes place on Saturdays. Visit to listen to live music while shopping and taste-testing local foods. The Olde Town Orange Flea Market is a favorite for antiquing, thrifting and seeking out collectibles.
Orange, CA 92866, (website link)
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The inland empire city of Riverside is located 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The city is the birthplace of the California citrus industry and home to over two dozen National Historic Sites. Take a self-guided downtown walking tour, available at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, Mission Inn Museum or Riverside City Hall. At the California Citrus State Historic Park, you’ll learn about the role of the citrus industry in the area’s development, known as the ‘second Gold Rush.’ Take a guided tour of the groves and browse the exhibits at the visitor center. The historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa offers 75-minute tours and a 360-degree view from the rooftop. The largest example of Mission Revival–style architecture in the U.S., the Inn has hosted President Regan, President Nixon and several celebrities.
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16. Salt Creek Beach
Dana Point’s Salt Creek Beach Park is best known as a popular surfing location. Waves are shaped by a small offshore reef, which offers up some of the best lefts on the California coastline. Sunbathing, swimming, body surfing and other recreational activities are welcome. Tide pool exploration is a popular past time for an up close view of sea life. Facilities at Salt Creek Beach include restrooms with outside showers, and a concession building open seasonally for refreshments and snacks. During the summer months, the beach is host to a Thursday night music series which invites local musicians to perform at Bluff Park overlooking the beach.
33333 S. Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point, CA 92629, Phone: 949-923-2280
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17. Day Trips from Orange County: San Bernardino
San Bernardino is located northeast of Orange County and borders the San Bernardino National Forest. The inland empire city is home to Cal State University San Bernardino’s Fullerton Museum of Art, which houses ancient Egyptian relics. Seccombe Lake Park, in the center of the city, offers fishing and several playgrounds. Silverwood Lake is located to the north, backed by the mountains of the National Forest. Visit the First Original McDonald’s museum to see the collection of McDonald’s memorabilia and history of Happy Meal toys. The San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum is located in a 1918 train depot. For a scenic drive, head into the National Forest along the Rim of the World Highway.
San Bernardino, CA
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18. San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail
Orange County’s San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail offers uninterrupted access to over 2 miles of sandy shoreline. The scenic dirt path offers a wide birth that’s popular for walking, jogging and cycling. The northernmost trailhead is accessed through North Beach, a popular beach offering a café, restrooms, picnic tables, swings and volleyball courts. Calfia Beach is located at the southern end of the trail, also with a café and restroom facilities. A grassy area is located on the bluff overlooking the beach. Mid-way through the trail is the San Clemente Pier Beach. The Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar is located on the pier and a popular location for dining and people watching.
San Clemente, CA 92672, (website link)
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19. San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
Orange County’s San Joaquin Marsh protects over 300 acres of valuable wetlands, and by extension, the wildlife that relies on the habitat for survival. Approximately half the acreage is healthy natural habitat, while the remaining half has been restored. Visitors may enjoy bird watching and wildlife spotting along the 12-mile trail network throughout the sanctuary. Over 200 species of birds annually visit the marsh. Educational programming is offered in partnership with the National Audubon Society and the Discovery Science Center. Part of a Natural Water Treatment System, the wetlands remove 70% of the nitrogen and other impurities from urban runoff before it reaches Newport Bay.
5 Riparian View, Irvine, CA 92612, (website link)
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20. Tanaka Farms
Irvine’s Tanaka Farms is among the last family-owned farms in Orange County that’s open to the public. The Farm offers a Produce Market Stand, open daily, and a Harvest Festival on weekends. The Harvest Festival celebrates what’s in season, and partners the crop with hands-on arts and crafts classes, games and guided tours. Visit the farm to say hello to the flock of rescue chickens, run or walk through the seasonal corn maze, and enjoy the children’s play area. Guided farm tours are seasonal, and depending on the time of year include Strawberry Tours, Melon Tours, Pumpkin Tours, U-Pick Vegetable Tours and Cooking Tours among others.
5380 3/4 University Dr, Irvine, CA 92612, Phone: 949-653-2100
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Tijuana is located just south of San Diego on the Mexican side of the border and is among Baja California’s most visited towns. Spend a day immersed in the vibrant culture of Mexico by taking in the sights, artwork, food and drinks. The Avenida Revolución, locally referred to as La Revu is the main street in historic downtown Tijuana and offers the most touristy experience with souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Visit the food trucks at Telefónica Gastro Park for a more fashionable gastronomic experience. Walking tours of Tijuana include craft beer tours, food tours, and coastal tours of the beaches. Must-see historical sites include the Tijuana History Museum, Museo de las California and Cathedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
Tijuana, Baja Norte, Mexico
22. Thousand Steps Beach
Laguna’s Thousand Steps Beach is actually just over 200 steps from the Pacific Coast Highway above, but those 200 stairs are enough to keep the beach quieter than most during the busy summer months. Access the staircase from just north of 9th street, and at the bottom you’ll find a nice stretch of white sand beach and beach break surf, perfect for skim boarding and body surfing. At low tide, explore the cave to the south of the beach, with a full walkthrough that becomes inaccessible when the tide is high. Metered parking is available along the Coast Highway, and in town near the top of the steps.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
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23. Treasure Island Park
Laguna Beach’s Treasure Island Park is located in front of the Montage Resort. The area offers benches, picnic tables, and an iconic grassy overlook and beautifully landscaped walkways from which to view the ocean. Take a pause here from the day, or visit at sundown for a spectacular view of the sunset over the water. A long paved ramp at the south side of the park leads down to Treasure Island Beach. Enjoy the beach for swimming, surfing, tide pool exploring or walking along the fine white sand. Public restrooms and parking are available.
30801 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, California 92651
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24. Trestles Beach
While Trestles Beach is technically in San Diego County, as the northernmost beach within San Onofre State Beach, it’s accessed from Orange County’s San Clemente. The beach is among the most popular local surf spots, though rife with a locals only vibe, as visitors can see from the spray painted warnings on the path leading to the beach. Enjoy watching the surfers, or take a 1-mile stroll down to the Trestles Wetland Natural Preserve. This area where the San Mateo Creek flows to the ocean is a popular bird-watching spot. The San Mateo Campground is located nearby and is also the trailhead for several hikes through the San Onofre State Park.
3929 S El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA 92672, Phone: 949-492-4872
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25. West Covina
The motto of Covina’s downtown historic district is “a mile square and all there,” which references the shopping, dining and entertainment all located within an easy three-block walking distance of the city center. Sop for antiques, collectibles, vintage clothing, music and skateboards. Try one of the many independently owned restaurants, representing foods from all several cultures. Local events include the Thunderfest Car Show and Music Festival, which celebrates its 24th year in October. The St. Paddy’s Day Rooftop Festival takes place each March in the downtown parking structure. The San Gabriel Valley was once at the epicenter of California’s Citrus Belt. Learn more about the city’s history at the Covina Valley Historical Society Museum.
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