Unless you are from Orange County, visiting Orange County, California is usually associated with going to Disneyland. And while I’m the first to say Disneyland is awesome, there’s also a whole other world of fun to be had just minutes from Anaheim. So whether you’re looking for other things to do outside the parks on your next visit to Disneyland vacation, or planning a vacation that doesn’t include Mickey at all, here are five top things to do in Orange County.
Living in Southern California, we are lucky to have an amazing array of world-class activities all within easy reach. And nowhere is there a greater collection of fabulous things to do than in Orange County, located between Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
A Day at the Beach
There are more than 40 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline in Orange County, boasting a plethora of boardwalks, piers and beautiful sun-kissed beaches. Popular beaches include Newport Beach, San Clemente, Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar.
Orange County is home to Huntington Beach, aka Surf City USA. With its lively downtown area right across from the beach and busy pier with a Ruby’s Diner perched at the end, Huntington Beach is easily my favorite. Its expansive shoreline is great for kids the boardwalk just beckons for bike riding or taking a long walk.
Young kids will enjoy the tide pool’s marine wildlife at Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach and Dana Point Marine Life Refuge. Winter months and low tides are ideal times to visit the tide pools.
Nothing says Southern California like a day at the beach, so get out there and explore them all!
Discovery Science Center
Orange County is home to one of the best kids’ science museums anywhere! Also known as “The Cube,” it is filled with interactive and fun educational exhibits. Kids can go on research adventures at Dino Quest, be hockey players or broadcasters at the Science of Hockey or learn about rockets and space. My son has been visiting this place since he was a toddler, and there is always something new and fun to discover.
Ongoing exhibits at the Discovery Science Center include Mission Control, Water Gallery, Science of Hockey, Dino Quest, Planetary Research Station, and my personal favorite – Healthy Kitchen.
Shop Til You Drop
With stores akin to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, there are shopping centers in Orange County – such as Fashion Island in Newport Beach and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa – that will make you make you wish you were rich. But there are also plenty of equally nice, more moderately priced places too, and many are downright family friendly!
My favorite is Irvine Spectrum, an outdoor promenade with shops, restaurants, a movie theater, comedy club and even some amusement park rides.
When it first opened in 1995, Irvine Spectrum was a leader in the retail industry for the development of outdoor lifestyle center shopping concepts. The center has evolved into a must see attraction for shopping, dining and entertainment for visitors from around the world. Irvine Spectrum Center offers visitors over 130 shops ranging from department stores to popular specialty shops and boutiques. There is plenty of outdoor spaces to relax (think fire pits and fountains) and free entertainment, too.
Day or night, Irvine Spectrum Center is a must-see shopping, dining and entertainment destination for visitors of all ages.
Balboa Fun Zone
Reminiscent of early California’s beach days, the Balboa Fun Zone is one of Orange County’s oldest and last great coastal amusement areas and a popular family-friendly attraction. Located on the Harbor in Newport Beach, visitors can enjoy rides on the waterfront Ferris Wheel, play games in the arcade or tour the nautical museum while enjoying their favorite beach treats such as fries, ice cream and frozen bananas.
The Balboa Fun Zone is also where you can embark on a harbor cruise, fishing trip, or take off for a day trip to nearby Catalina Island.
The Balboa Fun Zone is located on Balboa Peninsula across from Balboa Pier in Newport Beach. A public parking lot is available across Balboa Blvd next to the pier, and there is metered street parking. But be warned: parking can fill up early, especially on summer weekends.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Located just a few miles away from Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm often gets overlooked by visitors to Orange County. It is cheaper and some even say the rides are better. It you like thrilling roller coasters, this is the theme park for you. For kids, there are rides and activities at Camp Snoopy, the park’s kiddie section.
Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town really captures the essence of America’s Wild West. It is home to GhostRider, billed as the longest, tallest, and fastest wooden roller coaster on the west coast. This coaster was recently revamped and boasts “4,500 feet of smooth new track.” I haven’t ridden it yet, but considering the old track made your teeth chatter and your head shake, smooth new track sounds pretty darn good!
Ghost Town is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary with a new interactive entertainment experience. Plus, don’t miss all new shows, including the explosive Wild West Stunt Show, the Circus of Wonders on the Calico Mine Stage, and a new Calico Saloon show. There is also a new opportunity for park visitors to explore the buildings around Ghost Town, including the Sheriff’s Office and Barbershop.
Some of the best times to visit Knott’s are during Halloween, when it transforms into Knott’s Scary Farm (great for teens and adults, kids – not so much) and during the holidays when it becomes Knott’s Merry Farm.
Adjacent to the theme park is Knott’s Soak City Water Park. Cool off in the summer here with tons of slides, rides and aquatic fun.
There are lots more fun day trips you can do beyond Disneyland. Look for 5 More Top Things To Do in Orange County, coming soon!