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The BEST things to do in Orange County: a local’s guide

We’ve lived in South Orange County for over five years now, and I lived in North Orange County for about a yr and a half 12 years in the past, and I LOVE IT HERE. We like it here. There’s so many lovely locations to go, fun things to do, AMAZING food, and whats up – THE BEACH!

It looks like each time I’ve a good pal or member of the family coming into town, they hit us up for our suggestions on favourite places to eat, or where to keep, or what the most effective beaches are and I end up sending them a textual content that might rival Struggle and Peace in size! SO right now I’m lastly placing together my native’s guide to what to do in Orange County, including some of our favourite things to do other than the seashore, yummiest food, greatest locations to keep, and of course, a treasure map to the most effective seashores.


I’ll just get this out of the best way and say come see us in Orange County anytime EXCEPT Might or June. I all the time feel so dangerous once we get guests at the moment! There’s this icky factor right here in Southern California referred to as “Gray May” and “June Gloom” and it’s sometimes just chilly, foggy, and the sun doesn’t come out often until at the very least noon or later in the day. It’s like summer time hybernates for those couple of months. However come Fourth of July, BAM – summer time’s all the time here in full pressure, and it sticks round via October and typically nicely into November.


​Now that we’ve been here virtually five years, we’ve completed a truthful amount of little staycations to have fun a birthday, or I’ve treated my staff to a night time away, or I’ve hosted girlfriends who’ve come into city for a night time ON the seashore earlier than we keep at my home, and so forth. It’s been a enjoyable means to progressively try out a lot of the nicer inns in this space and I can now fairly confidently give my favourite recommendations!

BEST 5-star: Arms down my favorite place to really deal with myself has been the Pelican Hill Resort. The property is so lovely and the rooms feel like a residence away from house, with little fireplaces and a beautiful view of Newport Coast. The pool is extremely lovely they usually’ll shuttle you down to the seashore at Crystal Cove which, in my opinion, is THE most lovely seashore in all of Orange County. The food right here is outstanding too! I had a poke bowl by the pool on my birthday and I feel it was the perfect poke bowl I’ve ever had.

In case you’re in search of the comfort of the seashore and the pool within just a few steps, then the Montage is my different favourite 5-star choice! Unimaginable pool and seashore, the rooms are nice but I like Pelican Hill’s rooms higher.

4-star suggestions: So long as you don’t come throughout a warmth wave (often July – Oct), then Surf and Sand is a tremendous fun place to keep! I discussed avoiding the warmth wave right here because they don’t have AC so it will possibly get fairly stuffy at night time. However the whole whole resort is outside (even the hallways of the lodge!) and you may sleep together with your home windows open and pay attention to the waves crash all night time. Ahhhh.

Pacific Edge Lodge: When you’re in search of a finances find that’s nonetheless oceanfront, that is my suggestion! I’ve stayed here before and whereas it’s no 4 seasons, it’s as close to the ocean as you’ll get at any lodge in Orange County! Bonus: I really like the restaurant that’s on property: Driftwood Kitchen.

​Crystal Cove Seashore Cottages: For those who’re fortunate sufficient to snag a spot in considered one of these, they’re extremely iconic, picturesque and cheap!! The spots get crammed up in seconds each month once they open up for booking although, so you’ve gotten to really plan forward!


There’s truthfully an ​infinite amount of delicious places to eat in Orange County, from the fanciest of fancy to so informal that everyone is going to be in flip flops! A lot of the locations on my listing are in South Orange County (referred to by locals as “South County”) as a result of that’s where we stay and spend most of our time. If you would like much more restaurant evaluations from a source I totally trust, go to Female Foodie’s Orange County archives cause she has recs all up and down Orange County. But as for the places we love and advocate, listed here are our very very favorite eating places to go to as a household, on date night time, or to take out of towners to in Orange County:

​Settebello: The very VERY greatest authentic Italian pizza you will eat in america. Interval. Additionally my very favourite restaurant of all time! This was my last meal before Lyla, and my last meal out before Millie, if that tells you something 😉
$$, Crystal Cove

Baja Fish Tacos: Another family favourite that everyone requests once they come to city. That is a tremendous fast casual place with fish tacos that may blow your mind! I truly love their shrimp tacos even more. And their rice … I don’t know WHAT they put in that rice but it’s heavenly. My order: shrimp bowl, bravo type. It’s an off-the-menu secret that a pal advised me about when she introduced me dinner after I had Millie, nevertheless it’s principally on a bed of cabbage with cojito cheese and a few sort of secret sauce and I haven’t ordered something since!
$, Costa Mesa, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Long Seashore, Mission Viejo, Norco, Orange, Santa Ana

BJ’s: A very fun, family friendly place to take guests or go together with a massive group! They’ve really yummy deep dish pizzas, salads, pastas, they usually’re well-known for their pizookes (a heat cookie with ice cream on prime). YUM. A sequence that you’ll find in most seashore cities in Southern California.
$$, 27 places in Southern CA

​Eat Chow: This was my #1 crave throughout my being pregnant with Millie. Every part there’s good however their tacky tots (yes, tater tots!!) will change your LIFE.
$$, Costa Mesa, Newport Seashore, Santa Ana

​Riders Membership Burgers: The most effective burgers ever. Neil LOVES this place. Every time we eat right here I half anticipate Guy Fieri to show up with a digital camera crew because it’s proper up his alley.
$, San Clemente

Bagel Shack: An iconic San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano spot that’s all the time a crowd pleaser. We love their bagel sandwiches!! My order is the recent ham and swiss on a cheddar bagel, or in the morning I like the Previous Man’s. In the event you’re an avocado lover you’ll too!
$, San Juan Capistrano, Lake Forest, San Clemente

​Bear Flag Fish Newport Seashore: Super yummy recent fish tacos! A fun quick informal spot that’s household friendly.
$, Newport Seashore (Crystal Cove), Newport Seashore (Lido Village), Huntington Seashore

Ramos House Cafe: In all probability my favourite breakfast spot in all of Orange County. The food is insane and modifications seasonally. Such a good spot for adults for breakfast or lunch. They are closed on Wednesdays, they usually don’t love little youngsters or laptops so it’s not a very household friendly restaurant or a place to go hang around and hook up to wifi for a enterprise lunch. Go for superb food and good dialog.
$$, San Juan Capistrano

Javier’s : Our favourite Mexican meals in Orange County!! I like going to the Crystal Cove location as a result of the views in that area are so picturesque, oh and as soon as I met all the Real Housewives of Orange County right here whereas they have been filming haha. In case you occur to be at the Irvine Spectrum Mall the meals is just nearly as good at that location, and when you’re ever delayed or waiting round in the John Wayne (OC) airport, the Javi’s there’s also wonderful!
$$ Newport Seashore, Irvine

​R&D Kitchen: This little gem is inside the Trend Island Mall they usually have the most effective fried hen sandwich I’ve ever had in my life! Additionally they have super yummy salads. A terrific spot for women lunch.
$$, Newport Seashore

Mama D’s: The BEST Italian meals in Orange County, palms down. They’re extraordinarily family pleasant, their service is top-notch, and that pink sauce. I might take a tub in that it’s so good!!! I had Neil convey this to me in the hospital once I had Millie, I adore it so much 🙂
$$, Newport Seashore

​The Rusty Pelican: For those who’re saying to your self, “we’re next to the ocean, we SHOULD eat some good seafood while we’re here…” then I recommend The Rusty Pelican. It’s a nicer spot but good for a birthday dinner or one thing the place you want to deal with yourself to really REALLY good fish!
$$$, Newport Seashore

Maestro’s : In case you want someplace good and fancy to dine, this is my suggestion! I’ve solely eaten right here once for an anniversary nevertheless it was superb and their butter cake is the speak of the city around here.
$$$$, Costa Mesa, Newport Seashore

Beachcomber: SUPER delicious and in extremely excessive demand! They do take reservations, but if you would like to eat there for breakfast (particularly in the course of the summer time or spring break) go EARLY. On a Saturday in the summer time the wait can rise up to 2+ hours for breakfast they usually stop serving breakfast at 11 (I feel?!) they usually’re fairly strict about that, but the good news is, lunch is delicious too and there’s a seashore proper there for teenagers to play on when you have to wait. It’s probably the most lovely setting the place you’re sitting as close to the waves as potential, AND you’re eating unimaginable meals? WIN-WIN.
$$, Newport Seashore

Nick’s: Speaking of butter cake, these guys make a imply butter cake too, and all of their food is super good. This is certainly one of mine and Neil’s favourite date spots, however you do have to either make a reservation or get here EARLY (at each the San Clemente or Laguna places) because the waits on the weekends especially are 2-2.5 hours after about 5:30 p.m. Their sister restaurant, South of Nick’s, can also be really yummy but often equally as busy.
$$$, Laguna Seashore, San Clemente

Dessert spots in Orange County:

​South Swell Ice Cream: Enjoyable place to grab dessert after dinner in San Clemente! Every little thing could be very instagrammable and so SO good. For those who’re making an attempt to eat a little extra healthy that is a fun dessert spot as a result of you will get a frozen banana as an alternative of the ice cream bar.
$, San Clemente

​Sprinkles Ice Cream: Certainly one of my fave ice cream spots! Their flavors are all the time additional yummy they usually change all the time.
$, Newport Seashore

Handel’s Ice Cream: That is a newer joint in Laguna Niguel that’s been buzzing for several months now. They’ve been in business for a LONG time however individuals I know had been driving down to San Diego for his or her ice cream for years and years, and now they’re finally in Orange County! Every time I’m going into this place it’s packed, however the line moves fast! Super scrumptious, fun ice cream flavors right here like my current fave – Graham Central Station. Professional tip: you will get the Four-scoop sampler for $5 and check out Four flavors!!
$, Laguna Niguel

Sidecar Doughnuts: In case you’re a doughnut connoisseur, you MUST go to sidecar doughnuts. All of their doughnuts are to die for however I all the time get whatever’s most recent, and sample it on the best way back to my automotive.
$, Costa Mesa

Balboa Frozen Banana Stand: Tremendous fun place to take your youngsters to get a treat, or go after dinner on date night time! There are a few proper on Balboa Island and I feel they’re all kinda the identical 🙂
$, Balboa Island (Newport Seashore)

Healthy choices in Orange County:

Banzai Bowl: The easiest acai bowls I’ve ever eaten, arms down. A number of places in Orange County and one in Oahu Hawaii – if that tells you anything! My mom ALWAYS needs to go right here first when she’s in city 🙂
$, Laguna Seashore, San Clemente, Costa Mesa

Lively Culture: When you love HEALTHY meals, that is a must! Lively tradition’s OG bowl and “not your mama’s nachos” are a few of my favourite things to order, oh and their coconut shake. But every part’s good!!
$, San Clemente, Laguna Seashore

Pressed Juicery: Another mega wholesome spot that to be trustworthy isn’t my very favourite BUT that’s as a result of if I’m gonna have a treat, I would like it to be a TREAT. Most of my pals are obsessive about this place! They’re recognized for their fro-yo and scorching fudge which might be sweetened with dates.
$, Tustin, Newport Seashore, Newport Coast, Irvine, Laguna Niguel


Often people who find themselves headed listed here are for Disneyland (extra on that in a min!) or the seashore (extra on this later too!). But there’s SO MUCH to do in Orange County! So listed here are a few of our favorite things to do as a family in Orange County:

Drive down PCH: This may appear to be a no-brainer nevertheless it’s FREE and delightful and in case you have simply a little additional time to get from level A to point B, take the scenic route.

ZOOMARS Petting Zoo San Juan: Our youngsters completely love this place! It’s so cute and fun they usually have small animals for petting, feeding, and even supply pony rides.

Fake City: A enjoyable choice should you get rained out of a seashore day and have antsy toddlers or younger youngsters!

Get Air: Our youngsters love getting their wiggles out here too! It gets busy on rainy days nevertheless it’s a enjoyable place to get some power out.

Pageant of the Masters: I haven’t been to this however Neil took his mother and father a couple years ago they usually beloved it! It’s tremendous well-known and in the event you’re into theater it’s top-of-the-line productions in this area.

Segerstrom Arts Middle: An excellent nice venue for things like traveling Broadway musicals and live shows. They hosted Hamilton last yr, and I saw the Mormon Tabernacle Choir there last June and it was unimaginable!!

Disneyland: Yes, I do know, OBVIOUS however I had to point out it! We are complete disnerds and LOVE Disneyland!! You’ll be able to learn my season cross holder insider ideas right here on on Disneyland with youngsters, Disneyland date night time, and Disneyland todder/child pleasant rides.

Angel’s baseball recreation at Angel Stadium: In case you’re here on the right time and you’re keen on baseball, this is a actually fun night time out! The stadium is very easy to get in and out of and has great parking, in contrast to some of our MLB neighbors a bit north (coughDODGERScough). Shut to Disneyland too.

Lease bikes at Newport Pier: That is a favorite pastime for our household! We rented bikes before everybody had their own, and there’s a very fairly bike path where you’ll be able to experience all the best way down Newport Seashore.

Style Island Purchasing: A BEAUTIFUL outside mall with all my favorites: Nordstrom, Anthro, Lululemon, and cute youngsters clothes like Hanna Andersson and Peek Youngsters. They have a good variety of the whole lot from Ceaselessly 21 to Chanel at Neiman Marcus, nevertheless it’s fun to even just walk around because the whole lot’s so fairly. Great dining choices too. And it’s very pet-friendly as you possibly can see in Winnie’s pic under 🙂

Mission Viejo Mall: That is an superior mall when you simply need ALL the shops, however you don’t need it to be TOO ginormous. Their Nordstrom is huge however not so large you’ll feel overwhelmed, they usually have a nice food courtroom.

​Rainbow Flip Flop Outlet: A fun place to go get a souvenir (or take-home present) that anybody would love, for a great deal!

Again Bay Loop Trail: For those who love happening a scenic run or power stroll, that is a lovely loop that a lot of locals actually take pleasure in.

​San Clemente Seashore Trail: The most lovely seashore path! This is all the time prime of my mother’s to-do listing when she comes to go to. It’s 5 miles should you go from the north parking zone all the best way to the south parking zone and again.


There really are SO many lovely beaches in Orange County that it’s exhausting to decide simply a few, however these are the ones that I recommend most to individuals coming in from out of town, which might be straightforward to find, straightforward to park at, most of these have loos, and are the prettiest and most family-friendly.

ALSO, in case you’re headed to the seashore with babies or littles, you may like studying our prime 10 baby seashore ideas!

Crystal Cove: Such a lovely place for a family stroll or down to the seashore to watch the sunset. The tide swimming pools are enjoyable too!

Montage (Treasure Island Seashore): I feel that is the prettiest seashore you’ll be able to “go to the beach” at for the day. It’s the same seashore utilized by the Montage so it may get crowded in Summer time months, nevertheless it’s breathtakingly picturesque.

Calafia: Certainly one of my favourite beaches to tell visitors to go to, because it’s clean, fairly, straightforward to find, straightforward to park at, has loos, and a great little snack shack in the summer time!

Baby Seashore: If in case you have infants and toddlers this seashore is a dream! It’s more of a bay so you gained’t have to be paranoid of them getting knocked over by a wave. A lot of young mothers hang out here in heat months and it may possibly get mega crowded in the course of the Summer time!

Thousand Steps: A very lovely Laguna Seashore spot that used to be type of a “locals only” sort of seashore but now a lot of tourists find their method down right here too. There are LOTS of steps (it looks like a thousand! however it’s truly 200 one thing) leading down to this seashore, but the delicate waves and delightful seashore is value it to me. For positive certainly one of my fave spots.

Newport Seashore: For those who’ve come in city for Disneyland, and you’ve requested me the place you must go to the seashore, this is in all probability what I’ve advised you! Newport Seashore is family-friendly, clean, pretty, and conveniently shut to a LOT of excellent meals! Geographically, Newport Seashore is a good place to jet to the seashore from Anaheim. You’ll be able to go to Huntington Seashore too but the crowd there might be a bit more edgy 🙂

San Clemente Pier Seashore: In the event you’re in search of someplace to have lunch right on the water, arrange a towel and chair and umbrella, AND watch surfers all day, this is your spot.

I hope this helps you discover some fun things to do when you’re in our little nook of paradise!! Have you been to Orange County? Is there anything you’d add to the record? Let me know under!