PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Orange County

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  • Suburban expanse with beautiful beaches
  • Known for year-round sunshine, amusement parks, and tech companies
  • Very diverse population and many large ethnic neighborhoods

Population: 3 million (#6 of 3,144 counties in the U.S.!)

When To Visit: Year-round

Climate: Warm, dry, and sunny year-round

Halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, this primarily suburban county has many beautiful cities and sights to explore. Traditionally thought of as a conservative land, it has grown more progressive in recent years and is far more diverse than its portrayals in media would have you believe.

Photo: Shaw’s Cove, Laguna Beach

Where To Go in Orange County

Huntington Beach

The OC’s largest beach city, Huntington Beach has miles upon miles of boardwalk along the sandy coastline and a fun downtown.

Newport Beach

One of the most luxurious beach communities, Newport Beach has some of Orange County’s prettiest beaches.

  • Balboa Island: This easily accessible island has upscale shops, a variety of food, beautiful homes, and great views of the surrounding Balboa Bay. Free.
  • Corona del Mar State Beach: This remarkable beach features stunning rock formations. Free.
  • Sherman Library & Gardens: This botanical garden is populated with beautifully manicured plants, flowers, and trees. Small admission fee, varies by day.

Laguna Beach

This luxurious town tucked away from the main freeways is an epicenter for Orange County’s LGBTQ community and is built around a gorgeous central beach.

Irvine

A relatively new and quite diverse city, Irvine is the center of the OC’s tech industry and home to its largest malls and parks.

Anaheim & Buena Park

These north Orange County cities are known primarily as the homes of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.

Fullerton

A college town with a cute downtown area that is the closest thing the OC has to good nightlife.

Orange County Cheap Eats

Orange County restaurants and fast casual eateries popular with locals where you can get a full meal for under $15. I always highlight some vegan or vegetarian options – cutting down on the amount of meat you eat is by far the #1 way you can reduce your environmental impact and contribute less to animal cruelty.

Chada Thai: Enjoy one of your favorite Thai dishes or try a creative and delicious take on salad at this popular, laid-back Thai place. 9872 Westminster Avenue, Garden Grove. (714) 858-1693

Rose Bakery Cafe: This cute cafe with ample outdoor seating is famous for its all-day breakfast burritos. 3536 E Coast Highway, Ste C, Corona del Mar. (949) 675-3151

Vua Bun Bo: Orange County’s Little Saigon is the largest Vietnamese American community in the country and this new eatery that’s been called the best Vietnamese food in Orange County is a must-stop for their modern twist on banh mi and noodle soups. 9211 Bolsa Avenue, Westminster. (657) 666-4618

Cali Tacos: A casual spot with huge portions, come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and be sure to get their house sauce. 1639 West Chapman Avenue, Orange. (714) 912-4888

Adya: Often called the best Indian food in Orange County and for good reason! Adya only offers a few options of their appetizers, rolls, and curries, and has perfected each of them. Anaheim & Irvine locations. (714) 533-2392

Bear Flag Fish Company: Some of the best poke in the OC – don’t miss out on their delicious Tommy sauce! 3421 Via Lido, Newport Beach. (949) 673-3474

Tito’s La Especial: Try tacos al vapor – pressure steamed tacos that may make you never want to eat a regular taco ever again – at this casual taco spot. 701 North Harbor Boulevard, Santa Ana. (714) 554-9871

Orange County Nightlife

Orange County bars, lounges, and clubs that are popular with locals and meet one or more of these criteria: A) Unique, unlike anyplace you’ll find in another city  B) Fun and lively, sure to be a good time  C) Beautiful decor or view

Mesa: This posh sit-down bar has a unique retracting roof and unique cocktails and artisinal shots. 725 Baker Street, Costa Mesa. (714) 557-6700

Tin Lizzie Saloon: Orange County doesn’t have much in the way of gay bars, but this small dive bar is a fun, friendly place to hang out and has a great happy hour. 752 St Clair Street, Costa Mesa. (714) 966-2029

You Never Know: A tiny hotel bar with talented bartenders and some of the most creative cocktails in Orange County. Irvine Marriott, 18000 Von Karman Avenue. (949) 553-0100

The Fifth: It doesn’t get more Orange County than this: a rooftop bar overlooking Disneyland! Come for the view and to enjoy Disneyland’s nightly firework show. 1650 South Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim. (714) 772-0899

Mission Control: A hip new arcade bar with over 40 games that’s very kid-friendly during the day. 515 N Main Street, Santa Ana. (657) 232-3338

Nearby Side Trips From The OC

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Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve

San Diego: Billed “America’s finest city” and renowned for its near-perfect weather, this more peaceful sister of LA has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Read more.

Los Angeles: The largest city in the West is so much more than the entertainment capital of the world. Explore its plethora of neighborhoods and find hidden treasures like the tucked away canals of Venice and the secret stairs of Silver Lake.  Read more.

Channel Islands National Park: Accessible only via boat, this park allows you to explore five of the only islands off the coast of Southern California. Undeveloped, these islands contain several endemic species, beautiful sea caves, and prime hiking. Read more.

Joshua Tree National Park: The alien-looking joshua tree is the main attraction at this park, but there are also beautiful rock formations, oases, and wildlife to see. Read more.

Mojave National Preserve: Off the beaten path, this preserve contains the 3rd tallest sand dunes in the U.S., the densest grove of joshua trees in the country, and some unique hiking opportunities. Read more.

 

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