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100+ Things to Do in Orange County, California

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With my writing, I hope to educate and inspire in order to make a positive impact on others.

Orange County, California

Orange County, California: It seems like anyone with cable television has heard of the place. Unbeknownst to some, there is more to do in Orange County besides shopping, drinking lattes, or driving down the PCH (pacific coast highway) with the top down. Between the beaches, amusement parks, sports arenas, music venues, art, food, history, housewives, and weirdos, there are plenty of fun things to do. Some of these activities cost money and some are free; some require physical activity and some don't. In the end, no matter what your interests, or where you come from, I'm confident you can find something on this to-do list that tickles your fancy.

Fun Things to Do in Orange County

  • Visit Theme Parks: The O.C. has a ton of fun theme parks that are suitable for all ages, including Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Adventure City, Knott's Berry Farm, Knott's Soak City, Adventure City, and Medieval Times.
  • Take the Ferry: Ride the ferry over to Balboa Island for the day.
  • Art and Free Wine: Cruise the galleries and sip free wine on the 1st Thursday of every month at the Laguna Beach Art Walk.
  • Rent a Duffy Boat: Cruise around the waters of Newport Beach with your friends. You can bring drinks and food onto the boat.
  • Go Shopping!: People take shopping seriously here. The best places to shop are South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Fashion Island in Newport Beach, the Irvine Spectrum, and The Outlets in Orange.
  • Catch a Drive-In Movie: Enjoy a movie from the backseat of your car at Star Vu Drive-In at the OC Fair & Event Center.
  • Deep Sea Fishing: Take a trip out of Newport Landing or Dana Warf.
  • Have Lunch With the Hell's Angels: Join them at the most famous biker bar in Southern California: Cook's Corner, located just off El Toro Rd.
  • Enjoy America's Favorite Pastime: Catch a foul ball at an Angels baseball game.
  • Go Snorkeling: Laguna Beach has some really spectacular snorkeling spots. The best ones are Crescent Bay, Shaw's Cove, Fisherman's Cover, and Diver's Cove.
  • Shooting Range: Fire away at the Orange County indoor shooting range.
  • Ride a Goofy 4-Man Bicycle: Stroll through Doheny State Beach in Dana Point with your friends (or your kids).
  • Marina Park: Swim in the calm waters, watch the boats go by, or play in the playground. It's a great place for a picnic or a romantic stroll.
Catalina Island at night

Catalina Island at night

  • Catalina Island: A visit to this beautiful island feels like a trip to the Mediterranean. Go boating, scuba diving, or snorkeling. Or take a guided tour and visit the Catalina Casino (a museum; no gambling here) to learn about its rich history.
  • Spend the Day Dolphin and Whale Watching: You can buy tickets to go whale watching out at sea from locations in Newport Beach or Dana Point. They range from $13 to $40.
  • House of Blues in Anaheim: Try their Southern dishes and cocktail drinks and/or see a show. Great place for a date night!
  • Sherman Gardens: Read a book while smelling the roses at Sherman Gardens in Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach.
  • Balboa Island Fun Zone: Get a double scoop of ice-cream and ride the attractions.
  • Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach: Every summer this art show exhibits unique art: screenprinting, glasswork, jewelry-making, and ceramics.
  • The Swallows Inn: Get your cowboy gear on head to San Juan Capistrano's finest watering hole for some Western-country style drinks.
  • Jet Ski: Rent some jet skis and have a blast riding off the coast of Dana Point or Newport Beach.
  • Los Rios Street: Take a step back in time and tour Los Rios Street in downtown San Juan Capistrano. It has great food and antiques too.
  • Watch a Hockey Game: Watch the Ducks at The Pond of Anaheim a.k.a. the Honda Center.
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride: Ride 500 feet in the air on the Great Park Ballon Ride in Irvine.
  • International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach: Learn something new and then visit the beach afterwards.

Best Places for Kids (or for the Kid at Heart)

  • Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure in Anaheim: This one is obvious, but it's still fun. Stay at night for the fireworks.
  • Discovery Cube Science Center in Santa Ana: Check out their exhibits and learn something new.
  • Ride the miniature railroad through Irvine Park: Explore Irvine's beautiful park on a miniature train. You can even rent paddle boats if you want to enjoy the lake there.
  • Knott's Berry Farm: They've got rides, shows, and even a waterpark called Soak City.
  • Santa Ana Zoo: 20 acres of cute animal exhibits, including the exotic anteaters, guanacos, and rheas
  • Orange County Zoo: Learn about and look at local wildlife. This zoo is located right in the middle of Irvine Park.
  • Ocean Institute in Dana Point Harbor: Learn about and look at local marine life.
  • Irvine Spectrum IMAX Theatre: See a movie in 3D.
  • Orange County Fair: It's open for 23 days every summer. Come watch pig races and eat deep-fried twinkles.
  • K1 Racing Indoor Go Karts in Irvine or Anaheim: Get your speed fix on!
  • Boomers!: Hit the batting cages, go miniature golfing, or play arcade games at this awesome amusement center in Fountain Valley.
  • Adventure City: This family-themed park is great for kids, with rides, petting zoos, and other fair-like attractions.
  • ZOOMARS Petting Zoo: Get a pony ride or pan for gold at this Western-style attraction located on Los Rios Street in San Juan Capistrano.
  • Prehistoric Pets in Fountain Valley: Check out some neat reptiles. Many of their reptile displays rival the best zoos!

Best Places to Eat and Drink

  • Orange Hill Restaurant: Amazing food + incredible view = an unforgettable dining experience.
  • The Hobbit in Orange: Have dinner in this small home that's been transformed into a restaurant.
  • St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort: Have tea and martini's on Saturdays.
  • The Beachcomber in Crystal Cove: Best place for a romantic sunset dinner right on the beach.
  • Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles in Pasadena: An iconic soul food restaurant with really really good friend chicken.
  • Farmer's Markets: Buy and eat locally grown fruits and vegetables at one of the many farmer's markets.
  • Ruby's Diner: Shooby dooby down to Ruby's, a 40s-style diner on the end of the Balboa Island Pier in Newport.
  • The Rooftop Bar in Laguna Beach: Drink a cocktail and watch the sunset.
  • Lobby Lounge: Sip some cocktails and enjoy the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean while pretending you're rich.
Downtown Disney at night

Downtown Disney at night

Things to Do in Orange County at Night

  • Imperial Ballroom: Dance the night away at the Imperial Ballroom in downtown Fullerton.
  • Downtown Disney: Take a moonlit stroll through Downtown Disney in Anaheim.
  • OC Night Market in Costa Mesa: They've got rainbow churros, rainbow elote, and rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches.
  • Tessmann Planetarium: Gaze at the night sky and learn more about our universe. Located on the campus of Santa Ana College in Santa Ana, California.
  • GlowZone in Huntington Beach: Play bowling, mini golf, and other arcade games in the dark with glowy lights. Super retro!
  • Mission Control in Santa Ana: Play some old-school arcade games and sip some adult drinks. If you have kids, they are allowed inside for the kids' games.
  • Dana Point's Live Music Cruises: Jam out on a boat Friday or Saturday evening. The boat also features a full bar.
  • Gaze at the Stars: Hike to the top of Top of the World in Laguna to enjoy unobstructed views of the night sky.

Fun Things to Do on a Date in Orange County

  • Take a Romantic Ride on Catalina Island: Rent a golf cart and drive around Catalina Island.
  • Jam Out to Some Music: See a show at the Orange County Performing Arts Center or the Observatory.
  • Laugh Out Loud: See a comedy act or local music group at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.
  • Laguna Canyon Winery: Get drunk but stay classy.
  • The Grove of Anaheim: See your favorite band perform.
  • Tour the Coast: Jump on the Amtrak Surfliner and head north or south for the day.
  • Rock Climb: Sender One is the biggest climbing gym in Orange County.
  • The LAB a.k.a. The Anti-Mall: A hidden mall in Costa Mesa designed for hipsters. It is filled with hip restaurants, clothing stores, and shops that cater to the quirk-artsy type.
  • Ride the Ferris Wheel: At Irvine Spectrum Center, you can ride the ferris wheel, shop, eat, and get to know each other in this cute and fun location.
  • Old Towne Orange: Visit the cute shops and sit by the fountain in this lovely historic downtown area in Orange.
  • Camelot Golfland: A huge miniature-golf complex. Great for kids or a first date.

Best Beaches/Surf Spots

  • The Wedge: You might recognize this location from the cult documentary The Endless Summer. The Wedge delivers 30 feet waves and is the hottest spot in Newport for surfers.
  • Thousand Steps Beach: Take the steep stairs and enjoy this beautiful beach, perfect for surfing and volleyball.
  • Pirate Tower at Victoria Beach: This beach is not well-known to tourists and boasts a 60-foot pirate tower.
  • Crystal Cove State Park: Blue waters, nice waves, tide pools, and sloping hills makes this beach a very picturesque "vacation spot," even for the locals.
Pirate tower at Victoria Beach in Laguna Beach ,CA.

Pirate tower at Victoria Beach in Laguna Beach ,CA.

Places to Visit

Free Things to Do in the O.C. (Mostly Outdoor Activities)

  • Stroll down the Seal Beach pier (the longest in Orange County).
  • Read a book on the beach.
  • Ride the free trolley through Laguna Beach in the summer.
  • Fly a kite at Main Beach in Huntington.
  • Visit Little Saigon in Westminster to stock up on all your Vietnamese-made supplies.
  • Pay your respects to lost loved ones at the historic Yorba Cemetery in Yorba Linda.
  • Go bird watching around the Bolsa-Chica Wetlands.
  • Get together with friends for a beach bondfire.
  • Hike Carbon Canyon in Brea.
  • Get friends together for a game of beach volleyball.
  • Hike Saddleback mountain and other surrounding trails.
  • Hike Trabuco Canyon.
  • Roast mallows and tell ghost stories at Twin Harbors camping on Catalina Island.
  • Rollerblade by the beach, with your shirt off, of course.
  • Hike, bike, surf, or swim at Crystal Cove State Park located just North of Laguna Beach.
  • Have a picnic at O'Neill Regional Park.
  • Go RV camping at the Newport Dunes.
  • Hike or bike through Aliso Woods Canyon.
  • Enjoy the boardwalk along Main Beach in Laguna Beach.
  • Take Fido for a day of fetch at the dog beach in Huntington.
  • Check out one of many Christmas boat parades during the holidays.
  • Find great deals at the Orange County Swap Meet in the OC Marketplace every weekend.
  • Go skate one of the many skate parks located in Orange County.
  • Take a drive on Ortega Highway; one of the most dangerous highways in the U.S.
Huntington Beach Pier

Huntington Beach Pier

Cities in Orange County

CityPopulationFamous for...

Aliso Viejo

47,823

The Aliso Viejo Library clock tower

Anaheim

336,265

Disneyland

Brea

39,282

Public art displayed around the city

Buena Park

80,530

Knott's Berry Farm theme parks

Costa Mesa

109,960

Costa Mesa art work (Segerstrom Center for the Arts)

Cypress

47,802

Oak Knoll Park

Dana Point

33,351

Dana Point Harbor

Fountain Valley

55,313

The Reptile Zoo

Fullerton

135,161

Fullerton Arboretum

Garden Grove

170,883

Crystal Cathedral

Huntington Beach

189,992

Huntington Beach Pier

Irvine

212,375

UC Irvine

La Habra

60,239

Not much

La Palma

15,568

Safe and friendly neighborhoods

Laguna Beach

22,723

Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters

Laguna Hills

30,344

Not much

Laguna Niguel

62,979

Laguna Niguel Regional Park

Laguna Woods

16,192

Safe retirement community

Lake Forest

77,264

Saddleback Church

Los Alamitos

11,449

Not much

Mission Viejo

93,305

Lake Mission Viejo

Newport Beach

85,186

Sailing and other boating activities

Orange

136,416

Chapman University

Placentia

50,533

Quiet neighborhoods

Rancho Santa Margarita

47,853

Rancho Santa Margarita lake

San Clemente

63,522

San Clemente beach

San Juan Capistrano

34,953

The large cliff swallow population

Santa Ana

324,528

Bowers Museum and Santa Anna Zoo

Seal Beach

24,168

Seal Beach Pier

Stanton

38,186

Adventure City

Tustin

75,540

Sherman Stevens House

Villa Park

5,812

Not much

Westminster

89,701

Little Saigon

Yorba Linda

64,234

Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace

I appreciate your dedication for reading through the entire list, but what are you still doing here? Grab your friends, family members, pets, and lovers, and go do something!

Comments

Anon on October 16, 2019:

Villa park has AMAZING views of the city lights up in the hills at night. Truly stunning from up there, and I have lived here in Orange my whole life. All ya do is drive up there and back down and get glimpses of the whole city for miles with the lights and highways

Nicole on March 28, 2019:

Good list! But Los Alamitos has the Los Alamitos Horse Race Track and the Katella Deli (delicious ethnic restaurant, deli, bakery). Tustin has Old Town (very cute nostalgic homes and shops, great to walk around). Anaheim has St John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church with an annual Greek Festival every summer, and there is one also in Irvine. Laguna Hills has great art walk events, bead shops, and scenic restaurants. Lake Forest has The Hat (great little old time pastrami and roast beef sandwiches with big bags of fries - sit down and drive-thru). Orange has The Block (Outlet shopping, restaurants, AMC stadium movie theaters). Buena Park not only has Knott’s Berry Farm but there are many other great places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Knott’s Soak City, and Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, and Pirates Dinner Theater. Irvine (Greek Festival- see above), and the Irvine Spectrum shopping center (with restaurants and Edwards movie theater, and a large Ferris wheel), and many walking paths and parks. San Juan Capistrano has the San Juan Capistrano Mission Church and museum. Many more things to do, but this is a start. :)

Hannah on August 18, 2018:

If I was a kid at 12-13 years old what would I like to do?

Paula Faust on July 11, 2018:

You might want to tell people about the Laguna Beach Summer Breeze. You can get free Parking and a free bus ride to Laguna Beach! Just park free at the lot where the 405 fwy meets SR 133 in Irvine and take a the free bus into Laguna Beach. Its open Saturday and Sundays, 11am to midnight, now until September 2, 2018. Lagunabeachcity.net/summerbreeze

Chris Keenan on July 02, 2018:

Unfortunately Irvine Lake closed a few years ago

Blu Bunni on June 30, 2018:

It says it was updated June 6, 2018...Wild Rivers, St. Regis? Those are all closed. Get plastic surgery, crash a wedding? Hmmm, someone was desperate for ideas...

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on May 27, 2018:

I grew up in Southern California, and spent a lot of time in Orange County. I was, in fact, there before Disneyland. However, I'm pretty sure Catalina Island is in Los Angeles County. Either way, if you can get away from Avalon and go inland, it's lovely in a wilderness sort of way.

Reader on May 20, 2018:

Great list. Some of it is weird and isn't just something do on a whim; and some of the places aren't even in Orange County, so to me this is more of a broad SoCal list. It did provide and spark some cool ideas of what to do though, so thanks!!

Ben on April 29, 2018:

It appears that the Star Vu Drive-In theater has closed many years ago.

Jeff Davis (author) from California on January 07, 2018:

Thanks for the feedback

Narmina on December 01, 2017:

great list...very imformative!!! I especially loved the "get plastic surgery" part....made me laugh!!! Good job!!!

Amelia Huckabee on May 21, 2016:

Don't forget Painting UR Way in Anaheim Hills.

Sarah on January 14, 2015:

Your list had some good ideas but maybe next time leave out plastic surgery and buying medical drugs. Don't play into the stereotype of what everyone thinks SoCal is about

tipstoretireearly from New York on May 29, 2012:

Great list! Whale watching out of Dana Point was awesome. We actually didn't see any whales (:(), but we saw literally thousands of frolicking dolphins. And just spectacular scenery.

Anisley Smith from Los Angels, Canada on March 01, 2012:

Thanking You for Creating the list .I will be Lived in India a number of year.You will be expand my "to do"list for weekend fun.I m come to plan the vacations of Oranges Country.............

Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on November 20, 2011:

Thanks for creating the list. I've lived in Orange County for a number of years. You've helped expand my "to do" list for weekend fun.

OC Jill from Orange County, California on June 03, 2011:

You must be a Kings fan! They'll get there someday ;)

Great article (other than the Ducks reference) with a lot of good ideas!

For those reading...the Ducks are the one of the most successful NHL hockey teams in the past decade, having been to the playoffs six of the last eight seasons. In that time they have won the Western Conference twice. They have been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, having lost game 7 in 2003, and winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 :)

Jeff Davis (author) from California on November 30, 2010:

oceansunsets - Nice to hear! San Juan is my hometown...lots of history there. I'm happy to see you can agree. Thanks for the comment.

Paula from The Midwest, USA on November 29, 2010:

Love this hub! Born and raised in Southern California, and have done many of the things you mentioned in your hub. Just a couple months ago I went to San Juan Capistrano Mission, to Rubys, many of the OC beaches, and much more. The links with the suggestions are so helpful. This last summer we fished with our sons on Balboa Pier. So much to do, absolutely great hub! The art in Laguna is spectacular, grew up going to Pageant of the Masters. Can vouch for how wonderful that is!

Jeff Davis (author) from California on October 07, 2010:

major tome - good one. I'll leave it here in the comments as number 101. Thanks for the addition.

Major Tom on October 05, 2010:

Can'r neglect www.tripadvisor.com's #1 ranked attraction in Anaheim: Flightdeck Air Combat Center. Get in touch with your inner Top Gun in authentic F-16 fighter jet flight simulators.

Jeff Davis (author) from California on September 16, 2010:

onlinepharmtech - I love it! I am a fan of the lab, snorkeling Cresent Bay and the Pageant of the Masters especially...Thanks for the input. I may have to update the list to 110 things to do. Thanks for reading and commenting...

OnlinePharmTech from Hawaii on September 15, 2010:

Awesome list...I want to add

1. The Lab - Costa Mesa

2. Santa Ana Art Walk - Downtown Santa Ana

3. Japanese Garden - Across from South Coast Plaza

4. Korean Town - Garden Grove

5. Orange Circle - Downtown orange

6. Kayaking in Newport Newport Beach

7. Huntington Beach Library - Most beautiful library in OC

8. Snorkeling in Crescent Bay - Lobster

9. Pageant of the Masters - Summer only

10.Santa Ana Court House

Jeff Davis (author) from California on July 16, 2010:

That's good to hear. I'm glad this has inspired you to go check out somewhere new. I could write another list of 100 things to do, but I don't want to give away all the secrets....thanks dawn!

Dawn Michael from THOUSAND OAKS on July 15, 2010:

Loved it, especially the plastic surgery.....lol! Ok so I learned a few new places to go, love fashion island and not to far is Legoland for kids. Have to try out some of the other ones being myself a California Girl!!!

Jeff Davis (author) from California on May 25, 2010:

yes the sun often shines...

Healthy Living Is from allergies, people, flowers. health, diet, art, medicine, mental health on May 25, 2010:

Man, how I would love to be there. i heard it is beautiful there.