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10 Local Things to Do in Orange County

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One of the exciting aspects of travel is the opportunity to experience a destination as if you actually lived there. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Well, when in the OC, here are 10 local things to do in Orange County if you’re seeking to soak in the local flavor!

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1| Watch the sunset at Huntington Beach Pier.

A trip to Orange County is not complete without watching the sun go down behind the pier at Huntington Beach. Known as Surf City, USA, locals frequent this beach not only to surf but also to capture the sunset. Of all the classic local things to do in Orange County, this is a top one! This iconic pier is sure to create a picture-perfect memory of your time in the OC. 

2| Explore the Fantastic Tide Pools on the Orange County Beaches.

Not many people may know that there are beaches in Orange County with fantastic tide pools! Here is a list of beaches with tide pools worth visiting (with the city location in parentheses because the whole beach thing can get confusing):

If you’re short on time, I recommend visiting the tide pools in Newport Beach and/or Laguna Beach since the two cities neighbor one another.

3| Go Beachcombing or Hiking at Crystal Cove State Park.

A leisurely walk along the beach at Crystal Cove is a breath of fresh air featuring cliffs, tide pools, and 3 miles of uncrowded beach. Quaint, historic beachfront cottages from the 1930’s and 40’s make you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time as you stroll along the coast. If you prefer a more strenuous walk, there are 17 miles of hiking trails to choose from, located adjacent to the beach. When you get hungry, you can hike back to the beach to enjoy burgers and a shake at Ruby’s Shake Shack.

4| Ride the Ferris Wheel on Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach.

The Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach is an area of Balboa Peninsula that features classic carnival rides along with an arcade. The rides include a Ferris wheel, bungee trampoline, rock wall and mechanical shark, among a few other rides. Akin to a mini amusement park, it’s a fun diversion that will conjure a nostalgic feel. Harbor cruises, whale watching tours, bike rentals and a nautical museum are nearby as well.

After spending time on Balboa Peninsula, locals like to take the Balboa Island Ferry to Balboa Island and enjoy a frozen banana at the Original Frozen Banana stand. The island is full of unique restaurants and boutique shops that are perfect for browsing or dining.

5| Enjoy the Fine Arts Festivals in Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach is a prime spot for soaking in the arts and culture of Orange County. The Sawdust Festival and the Pageant of the Masters are both popular among tourists and locals alike. The Sawdust Art & Craft Festival offers year-round studio art classes and seasonal festivals. The art classes include pottery wheel, glassblowing, jewelry making, screen printing and fused glass.

Now, Pageant of the Masters is something you won’t want to miss. It’s one of the most unique productions worldwide and is a key part of southern California history that began in 1933. It’s essentially theatrical art, where famous works of art are recreated with real people, in costume and makeup, posing without moving. 

When the festivals aren’t in session, locals enjoy Laguna Beach’s local art galleries and First Thursday art walks.

6| Take a Stroll Along Shoreline Village in Long Beach.

Shoreline Village, located in Rainbow Harbor in the city of Long Beach, offers TONS of things to do for ALL ages. There’s a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and shops. Kids can ride the carousel or play in the arcade. Families can rent bicycles and enjoy a self-guided bicycle tour along the coast. Or experience a slice of history by taking a tour of the Queen Mary ship that’s docked in the harbor. For more information, check out the Yelp reviews.

7| Visit One of the Many Orange County Farmer’s Markets.

The weekly Farmer’s Markets in Orange County are teeming with fresh produce, artisan crafts, live music, and people. Anaheim has Farmer’s Markets on Sunday in the Packing District or on Thursday at Center Street Promenade. Irvine has a Sunday Farmer’s Market at the OC Great Park. The city of Orange holds their Orange Home Grown Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. If you want to go to a Farmer’s Market, but aren’t available during the aforementioned days, then try the Huntington Beach Farmer’s Market. It blends the weekend Farmer’s Market atmosphere and fresh food offerings with the traditional grocery store layout (like a simple and low key Whole Foods).

8| Shop Outdoors at the Irvine Spectrum or Fashion Island.

The Irvine Spectrum in Irvine is a family-friendly outdoor mall with architecture reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Your kids will love the carousel, Ferris wheel, and miniature train ride. You will love the assortment of shops and restaurants that are at your fingertips. As far as restaurants, Cucina Enoteca, Tender Greens, and Javier’s are a must try. There’s even a movie theater, Target, and Barnes and Noble within the Spectrum so that it’s truly a one-stop shop.

On the other hand, if a more upscale outdoor mall is your thing, then Fashion Island in Newport Beach will be right up your alley. It houses the only Neiman Marcus in Orange County and offers numerous boutique shops and rare flagship stores. Among the stores, you can find Vineyard Vines, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Restoration Hardware, Jonathan Adler and many more!

9| Explore Upper Newport Bay

A beautiful place to take in Orange County’s natural ecological habitat. You can stroll or bike along the dirt nature paths within the bay by day and catch the sunset by nightfall. Parking is free but there aren’t water fountains so be sure to bring water. A fun surprise is that people ride horses along the trails so you could run into a few horseback riders! Overall it’s a place where locals go to take a walk with a stroller, go for a light jog, or walk their dog (on a leash of course, because of wildlife, you know). There’s a lot more to it than just walking trails, though, so be sure to check out the Upper Newport Bay website before you go. Oh, and the Yelp reviews too!

10| Walk up to the Actual Point of Dana Point and Enjoy the View!

Dana Point Harbor is not only one of the largest recreational harbors on the west coast, but it’s one of the largest in the world. To get a bird’s-eye view of the harbor, start at the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center and walk out to the end of the bluff.

Related Post: 150 Things to Do Near Disneyland

What will you try first?

What are you itching to try on your visit to Orange County? If you’re an Orange County local, what would you add to this list?

Please share in the comments below!

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