You can also find my article here on bayarea.com:
Summer is finally here, and while I still can’t quite figure out what the Bay Area weather will be like tomorrow, I can guarantee that Southern California will be sunny, especially in Orange County, where you can find some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. While driving down south is always an option, why not make the most of your time, and take a quick one-and-a-half hour flight out of the Bay to the Santa Ana airport? You’ll be surprised by how much more the OC has to offer other than being home to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Here are some of our favorite things to do in Orange County.
DINNER, DESSERT, AND DRINKS
You’re finally here, and yep, you’re hungry! Hop on over to the Anaheim Packing District where you’ll be met with an indecisive person’s dream come true. There are so many restaurants and options to choose from that you might make your own fusion dinner — from the Southern soul food of Georgia’s Restaurant to creative Indian dishes at ADYA to delicious Mexican food from Urbana and everything else in-between.
End your evening with some yummy cocktails by finding The Blind Rabbit, an old-fashioned speakeasy within the Packing District. To find the entrance to this secret spot, just look for a bunny sitting atop some sake barrels. This place does get packed, so if you plan on coming here, make reservations.
The Southern California favorite, Porto’s Bakery, has a cult following due to all of their delicious baked goods. Get there early enough to avoid the daily line-out-the-door, then grab some breakfast and stay awhile in their newest cafe. Looking for something on the go? Order a Cortadito (fresh espresso sweetened with condensed milk and topped with creamy steamed milk foam) and a box (or two) of pastries like their infamous cheese rolls, guava rolls or a savory favorite, the potato ball with a sauteed ground beef mixture made to perfection.
Orange County is pretty much the amusement park capital of California. If you’re into getting thrills by rides or water parks, then this is where you want to be, especially if you’re a kid at heart. Some of the favorites in the area are obviously Disneyland and California Adventure which are both in Anaheim, a newer indoor water park in Garden Grove called The Great Wolf Lodge, and an oldie but goodie, Knott’s Berry Farm. If you want great ocean views and a place to have fun, there’s also the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach as well. So many great options, so little time!
(If you’re headed to Disneyland and/or California Adventure, check out my other articles: Travel Tuesday: 8 Things I Never Knew About Disneyland as a First-Time Parent and Travel Tuesday: 8 More Things I Never Knew About Disneyland as a First-Time Parent)
…OR GO BEACH HOPPIN’
If you’re not into spending your entire day at an amusement park and want to bum around at the beach, snacking on your Porto’s pastries, then you have a lot of options here in the OC. Head to Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and many other beautiful beaches in-between if you drive up and down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway).
Go to Huntington City Beach if you want to play volleyball, walk the pier, or run along the paved path. Venture out to Newport Beach where you can enjoy the lovely views by walking from pier to pier. Here you’ll also find different shops and restaurants and a great beach for sunbathing, picnicking and people-watching. You can even watch a film nearby at the beautiful Lido Theater which only has one screen, a rare treasure nowadays.
Lastly, you can head out to Laguna Beach’s Treasure Island Beach to watch some picturesque sunrises and sunsets at this perfect piece of paradise. Suba dive and do some tide pooling to find the ocean’s treasures, like bright purple sea urchins and green anemone in crystal clear blue water, or head to the Thousand Steps Beach if you’re a budding photographer and snap away at the gorgeous archway and cave among other things. If you have a bit more time, check out Victoria Beach and find the magical Pirate Tower, which is even cooler than it sounds.
SMALL PLATES FOR SHARING
After a very long day, it’s time to eat. People in the OC are very much into sharing food, so tapas it is! You’ll find a lot of great restaurants, but try any of these three tapas restaurants, and you’re sure to leave satisfied. The Barrel Room in Santa Ana is great if you’re into charcuterie plates and drinking wine or Sangria, or eat at Playground if you like more non-traditional American (new) small plates with a creative flair and lots of beers to choose from. Or you can also head to nearby Costa Mesa and dine at Pueblo where you can get some traditional Spanish tapas and more.
Good Morning! Sunday mornings are usually made for delicious breakfasts, and breakfast at Bruxie will be just that. Located in three different Orange County cities (Irvine, Orange, and Huntington Beach), Bruxie is known far and wide for their waffle sandwiches. You can choose savory or sweet ones like the fried chicken inside a folded waffle or the creme brulee waffle sandwich stuffed with fruit and dusted with powdered sugar. Drool!
If you don’t have time to sit and enjoy your meal, get breakfast on-the-go by hunting down the food truck Waffle-icious. Similar to Bruxie’s, they also have sweet and savory options to choose from though theirs might be a little bit more creative — I mean who wouldn’t want a s’mores waffle topped with marshmallows or better yet, a Monte Cristo sandwich made with crispy waffle on the outside? You really can’t go wrong with either option.
It’s your last day to soak up the sun and why not do it in a non-traditional way. In Irvine’s Orange County Great Park where you can hop on board a giant helium balloon that’ll give you a great 360-degree view of up to 40 miles. This is one of the first of its kind to take flight, so take advantage if you can. The helium balloon is always tethered down, but it can take you up to 400 feet in the air and up to 30 passengers. A must-do in Orange County if you’re into new experiences.
DO IT FOR THE ‘GRAM
Next, head out to Mission San Juan Capistrano in the city of its namesake to explore and learn the history of this gorgeous building. It’s definitely a sight to see and a beauty amongst the flowers and grounds. This landmark was established in the 1700’s and is truly historic. It also makes for great photo ops, so don’t forget to take a few shots and snaps!
ONE LAST HURRAH
It’s the end of your trip, so why not end it with some views of the stunning Pacific Ocean as you head down to the most southern part of the OC, Dana Point. Here, you can pick up a quick lunch at Kawamata Seafood for a delicious poke bowl to go. Bring your lunch to Salt Creek Beach Park where you can watch the surfers and kayakers and maybe even join them for one last hurrah. Stay for the sunset as you listen to the waves crash before you head back to the Bay, and don’t forget to bring home some Porto’s for your co-workers, friends, and family.