Orange County, California encompasses 34 different cities, beaches, and parks with nearly perfect climate to provide many opportunities for outdoor activities, a wide range of tourist attractions, legendary theme parks and endless options for fun in the sun. The list below is the top 10 picks that consumers have chosen to be among the best things to do in Orange County.
10. Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
If you decide to visit Orange County during Christmas, then the boat parade is a must see. With over 100 years of history, the parade is viewed by over one million people each year. The whole landscape is transformed to set the harbor ablaze into a magical light experience for five consecutive nights. There are over 250 yachts, kayaks, canoes, and other small ships that participate in the parade along with hundreds of waterfront homes and businesses that will be decked out for the holiday and playing music that will fill the air. The parade starts off at Bay Island and winds 14 miles around the harbor. On the final night, a special fireworks display will close out the parade.
9. Brunch or Dinner Cruises
There are many things to celebrate in life, whether that celebration is for a birthday, an anniversary, or just because, going on a cruise tour could be the best way to celebrate it. The tours include casual daytime outings or formal sit-down dinners. Booking a sunset dinner cruise or a champagne brunch could set the perfect tone for a romantic liaison. If you are ready to make a commitment to that special someone, then exchange vows while the sun sets or while sailing under the twinkling stars. No matter what, this is an experience that you don’t want to miss.
8. Pageant of the Masters
The Festival of Arts takes place during July and August in Laguna Beach and features the Pageant of the Masters which is a nightly 90-minute show in an outdoor amphitheater that uniquely recreates some of the world’s most famous paintings with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces. There is also a live narration, and a full orchestra. This year, the theme was based on the pursuit of happiness in simpler times when joy came without interruptions. Traditionally the finale is De Vinci’s Last Supper and it is said to be so poignant that it draws the crowds for the following year.
7. Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano is a history buff’s dream come true. It dates back to 1776 and is known as the Jewel of the Missions with a variety of adobe foundations and a few working buildings. Though the Great Stone Church is no longer intact, the Serra Chapel with its baroque alter is still in use. The mission includes groomed gardens, fountains, and koi ponds to relax by, and there are several museums to visit. They also offer daily guided tours and host a variety of art and cultural activities each season.
6. Huntington Beach Pier
Huntington Beach Pier is an iconic part of surfing lore dating back to 1904. The wooden pier stretches 1,850 feet into the Pacific Ocean allowing spectators to watch surfers compete in amateur and world professional championships or view the unobstructed sunset. Other than watching the surfers and a beautiful sunset, you can also take to the air on a colorful kite or rent a rod-and-wheel and try your hand at fishing off the pier. At pier’s end is a 50’s-themed restaurant named Ruby’s Diner that serves a seaside fare like fish-n-chips alongside American classics such as cheeseburgers and chocolate-malts. Once the sun goes down, go to the beach to enjoy an ocean side bonfire.
5. Gondola Rides
Kick off your romantic weekend by experiencing a Gondola cruise on Newport Bay. Tradition dictates that couples kiss under every bridge. Then choose from specialty add-ons like chocolates, rose petals, champagne and more. Enjoy the views of yachts and magnificent homes that you will pass by while sea lions swim below or have some private one-on-one under the enclosed area that is available on every gondola. You have the choice of a traditional Venetian gondola, with the gondolier pushing you through the bay and canals, or you can do a more modern, electric Venetian gondola that glides silently through the water. Regardless of which one you choose, this will be an experience that you and your loved one will remember for a lifetime.
4. Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park is one of the excellent places to visit in Orange County that is fun and adventurous for adults and kids alike. There are a little over three miles of beach and 2,400 acres of back country wilderness with rolling surf, sandy beaches, tide-pool walks, horseback riding, and guided hikes. The park has a Mediterranean climate that is characterized by moist, foggy summer mornings, sunny days, and cool evenings. You have a few choices when you become hungry such as Ruby’s Shake Shack at the bluff’s top, or make sunset reservations for The Beachcomber Café located on the sand. It costs $15 per day to park and to avoid the crowds, make the trip between August and May or go during the weekends.
3. Knott’s Berry Farm
This theme park was built in during the Great Depression and became so popular that it is now one of the main tourist attractions in Orange County. Today, it features 160 acres of five themed areas including Ghost Town where you can visit a 1880s Western town that has cowboys, gold panning, and stagecoaches. There is also Camp Snoopy with over 30 rides to entertain younger children. Or choose to step into another time to cheer your favorite knight while you eat and watch jousting, swordplay, and horsemanship at Medieval Times Buena Park Castle. If that isn’t enough, you get cheaper ticket prices, shorter lines, and lots of berry products.
2. Disney California Adventure
Disney California Adventure Park, which opened next door to Disneyland in 2011, offers more thrilling roller coaster-type rides than its neighbor, while the park’s theme celebrates California’s natural wonders and distinct culture. Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land is the hottest ride and visitors should queue up early in the day to avoid the longest lines. Paradise Pier embodies the classic Southern Californian coastal boardwalks, Red Car Trolleys run up and down the streets in San Francisco fashion, and Grizzly Peak pays homage to the state’s national parks and natural beauty. For patrons 21 years and older, enjoy a drink or two from the park’s beer garden, wine bars or margarita stands. Downtown Disney District, outside the gates of Disneyland and California Adventure, is free to visit as well making this a perfect place to meet up with friends.
Disneyland has been considered the happiest place on earth since 1955 and is dedicated to fairy tales and Disney characters in a family-friendly atmosphere. You can go to the classics like Matterhorn and King Arthur Carousel or go on different adventures to Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Mickey’s Toontown, and Fantasyland. There are special events including parades and holiday shows. Disney characters wander around the park giving visitors the opportunity to get an autograph or take a picture. There are many things to do at Disneyland so make sure that you give yourself several days to fully appreciate the experience.
Orange County is made up of coastal communities which mean that summers aren’t nearly as warm as in other parts of California. Due to the ocean’s temperature, summer and fall are the best times to visit, though you can expect beaches, malls, and movie theaters to get very crowded. If the ocean’s temperature isn’t a concern, then you’ll be able to find cheaper flights and hotel prices during between January and April. Visitors who have physical or other challenges can still have a fantastic time in California. Special services are widely available, and access to trails, buildings, and attractions is continually being improved.