Never say you’re bored in Orange County again. Here are 47 things to do
Whenever a friend asks where we should go, I send them “the list.”
It’s what we call the messy page in my Notes app, a compilation of Orange County spots that my friends and I love enough to go to regularly. And, it’s saved us hours of time.
It started with a recurring dilemma in my driveway — me settled crisscrossed behind the wheel, my friend’s Adidas kicked up on the dash, the Kia spouting ‘70s music as we brainstormed places to drive to. At best, it took at least 20 minutes to settle on an activity, but at worst it took two hours and ended with a defeated trek back to my couch. We live in one of the most sought-after areas in the country, and — “There’s nothing to do.”
Orange County offers way more to do than Disneyland. Aside from the perk of usually free parking, it’s home to gorgeous hills, iconic beaches and lively attractions. So, thinking that there’s nothing to do is laughable.
Which beaches in Los Angeles and Orange counties allow dogs? Check our list to find out.
In early 2021, once again idling on the broken road of my cul-de-sac, I logged the places my friend and I were talking about in my Notes app. I also brainstormed later that night, compiling a document of every fun place I’d been to.
Once we had the options in front of us, deciding became easier. As an act of public service, I share this list with all the O.C. locals idling in their cars (or out-of-towners who want to do something other than go to Disneyland.)
Since I add new places as I find them, this list is always evolving and might not have your favorite place on it — yet. Feel free to add your faves, and even revise the list, in your own Notes app. In the meantime, skim through my love letter to Orange County (which is in no particular order).
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A few notes: This list doesn’t include eateries or 21+ bars or clubs, unless they’re part of a shopping center. And shopping centers were included because hanging out at the mall is a beloved O.C. pastime. All attractions are also within O.C. boundaries. (My apologies to the Aquarium of the Pacific.)
An extra tip for that pesky decision paralysis among two people: One person picks three options, another person narrows it to two, and you both settle on one.
As a Fullerton native, I can say that locals were thrilled when these huge wood staircases debuted in Hillcrest Park in 2017. The more than 450 steps – which cost $1.6 million to install – make for a brutal leg day as they take you up and down the hillside. A common loop is going up 209 steps straight, then down a 100-step staircase and down another 84-step staircase (Give or take a few steps — it’s hard to keep count when you can’t feel your quads.) Then, repeat five times.
The parking lot is free and usually uncrowded, but it’s also used for the sports field below the stairs, so it fills up when kids are playing after-school sports. Most games take place between 3-5 p.m., so stick with mornings or evenings.
If leg day isn’t on the menu, still check out Hillcrest Park. The renovated fountain emits vibrant colors at night, and the pathways are pleasantly lit.
Past 10 p.m. on weekends, the bar-hopping crowd thickens. Bars like Hopscotch and Roscoe’s Famous Deli are more low-key, but it’s shoulder-to-shoulder dancing in Matador Cantina. Also, don’t stress if you hear someone say “DTF” — it means downtown Fullerton.
The Pirate Tower
Said history isn’t as magical as the tower looks. In 1926, it was constructed as a simple shortcut to get from the house on the bluff down to the beach. At the time, State Sen. William Edward Brown and his family used the house as a vacation retreat.The tower’s unusual architecture is said to be inspired by the family’s time in France assisting with relief efforts after World War I.
Since it’s further down the bluffs, the tower is only viewable (and safe) during low-tide. You can’t go in, but you can explore the base and peer in through the metal-grate door. The wooden staircase is still inside, and nearby is a weathered circular stone wall, formerly a pool.
Beside the tide, your other enemy is parking. The staircase to Victoria Beach is in a residential neighborhood at the end of Sunset Terrace, which is difficult to park on. There’s street parking on PCH, or you can park farther down and take the free trolley to the neighborhood. If you only want to glimpse the Pirate Tower and not stay to enjoy the beach, there are a couple of 10-minute parking spots at the staircase entrance.
Newport Duffy Boats
There are several companies that rent Duffys, but I normally use Newport Fun Tours. An eight-person boat rental costs $185 for 90 minutes. Upgrade to two hours for $250 and three for $380, with prices rising based on time of day. If a Duffy boat isn’t your speed, rent kayaks and paddle boards instead.
Balboa Fun Zone
Off-season, the beach below the pier isn’t usually crowded on weekdays, and weekends are busy but manageable. Parking is hourly and depends on the season. In the Balboa Pier parking lot, it’s $3.10 per hour from May through September. Parking can be challenging on weekends.
Bonfires in Huntington Beach
Instead, plan a weeknight bonfire and avoid the hassle. I recently visited Huntington State Beach at 3 p.m. on a Monday, and plenty of firepits were available. Huntington Beach has over 500 firepits across three beaches — 200 at both Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica Beach and 100 at Huntington City Beach (which is also home to the Huntington Beach Pier).
After a beach day, watch the sunset then snuggle up on the sand. Don’t forget s’mores, snacks and blankets. For the fire, you need wood, kindling and a lighter. Don’t panic if you forget something, most bonfire neighbors are happy to offer their extras or help you start your fire.
Pro tip: Parking at state beaches is free if you have a California parks pass.
Irvine Great Park
At no cost, ride the hot air balloon 400 feet up (first-come, first-served) or spin around the carousel. Sports fans can play at dozens of soccer fields, tennis courts, baseball and softball fields.
The park is unfinished, with additions popping up now and then. In early July, Wild Rivers water park opened on the property. Every time you visit, it might be a bit different than before.
Irvine Farmers Market
It’s busy too, but you won’t have to wait too long to buy something — unless you’re at La Bahn Ranch’s booth, which tends to have a line of more than 30 people for its eggs and chicken meat.
Pro tip: Don’t confuse this market with the Certified Farmers Market, which is every Sunday at Irvine Great Park.
Downtown Santa Ana Art Walk
While you’re downtown, glimpse a mural or two - finding one won’t be difficult. And if you’re looking for something to do any other day of the month, check out the Frida Cinema, a nonprofit showing old movies (and some new ones) and occasional local theater.
Aside from the waterslides, which I’ve never seen functioning, Camelot is a well-groomed time capsule. Mini golf is scarce — besides Camelot, you can get a full 18 holes in O.C. at the Irvine Boomers. (It has fewer courses, but does offer batting cages and small rides).
A Camelot round of golf is $13. Laser tag is $10 for 7.5 minutes and the racetrack is $10 for six minutes.
Downtown Disney District
Parking is $10 for the first hour, and you get an additional three hours free with a $20 purchase — easily achieved after a meal at the Jazz Kitchen or La Brea Bakery. Don’t lose your parking ticket or you’ll be out $66. Yikes.
Anaheim Packing House
The Packing House is part of the Packing District, which includes five other complexes within walking distance. But with two stories of succulents and seating, the airy Packing House is my favorite.
Hanson designed the city of San Clemente as a “Spanish Village by the Sea,” and this house is a reflection of that goal. Tour the gardens and gorgeous historic home that overlooks San Clemente Pier (also commissioned by Hanson). Pass under the outdoor archways into the Ocean Terrace, but don’t stop there. Keep going to the Story Circle, where you follow a short path to a secluded bench. It’s a great viewing spot to watch surfers catch waves below.
Los Rios Historic District
Most shops have been fashioned out of houses, kitchens and bedrooms brimming with art or ceramics for sale. Pony rides and a guinea pig pen wait at Zoomars, a petting zoo on the street’s end (Adult admission is $15; child admission is $12). Near the road’s middle, “Old Mr. Tree” looks great for being over 220 years old.
Customers flock to the Tea House to dine on a charming patio, wearing their best floral dresses and collared shirts. It’s popular, so be sure to reserve in advance. While the street is historic, don’t worry: most of the buildings have AC.
Essentially Cal State Fullerton’s backyard, this largely volunteer-run botanical garden has faced closure scares before, but it hasn’t budged. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is suggested to sustain operations.
There’s usually a community event going on — jazz festivals, yoga or chats with local artists. Adult admission is $15.
Sender One Climbing
For 20 minutes, the attendant operates the drop slide. You don a jumpsuit and cling on to handlebars above your head, which drag you up the massive, near-vertical slide. I only made it 10 feet before chickening out at the height and dropping early, so the attendant encouraged me to go again.
“Why are you scared? I did it,” a seven-year-old asked me.
“Yeah, well, you’re much cooler than me,” I said.
I felt my back leave the wall and then my feet, dangling limply on the handlebars with tiny people watching below. The slide caught me, and though it wasn’t cushioned, I can confirm the impact doesn’t hurt.
There’s side-by-side partner walls that are impossible to climb until you activate the steel handholds. You press a button that releases the next set of your partner’s handholds, then wait for them to climb and activate yours, use those to ascend to the next button, and so on. Just check to make sure your partner’s face isn’t near the wall when you press your button — the handholds whip out almost instantly (I almost took out my partner’s jaw.) Ask about a hidden activity: Behind a black curtain inside a tower of climbing walls is a glow-in-the-dark wall.
You clip your harness into auto-belays — meaning a machine slows your descent instead of another person holding the rope — so it’s easy to move between activities. And fair warning: Sender City is both kid and adult-friendly, but my recent session was almost all children. However, it’s totally worth it. An hour-long session is $30.
Mission Escape Games
Staff will “lock” you in a room with one hour to escape, but they watch you via cameras in case you need a hint (so don’t do anything embarrassing). While an hour might seem long, you’ll likely need every minute you can get, unless you’re the Scooby Doo gang. Be sure to bring your best team — some of the puzzles require serious brainpower. On weekdays, a room is a flat rate of $120 for 2-3 players or individually pay $32 per person with 4-10 players. Other escape rooms have lockers for your bags, but you get to keep them in a basket in the room here.
The GardenWalk offers plenty of activities to supplement the rest of the day. Fire+Ice has great mixed drinks and a DJ on weekends while bands rock out at the House of Blues. Catch a movie, go bowling or simulate driving a fighter jet or Boeing 737 at the Flightdeck Flight Simulation Center.
The LAB Anti-Mall
Record shop Creme Tangerine and jewelry shop May Martin are both run out of what looks like ‘60s trailers. Sell your used clothes to vintage shop Buffalo Exchange, then sip an IPA at the laid-back Bootlegger’s Brewery.
Shipley Nature Center
When you enter, hang a left before the Interpretive Center to see the egrets nesting in the trees, then follow the trail to spot them flying above. A volunteer will help point them out if you’re struggling to bird watch. If you can’t find a volunteer, they’re usually in the Interpretive Center, which includes exhibits about Huntington Beach history, flora and fauna.
Parking is free with a nature center sign and gate on the edge of the lot, but don’t be thrown off if it’s shut. The main entrance is to the left, deeper in Huntington Central Park. Hours are slim, only operating on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., but a summer nights program runs from 4:30-7:30 p.m. with performances and presentations through August 27. Admission is free, but a $3 donation is advised.
Pirates Dinner Adventure
This unique experience is best enjoyed with lively friends and a souvenir cup in hand. In true swashbuckler fashion, the bar serves primarily rum-based cocktails. Tickets cost $65 per adult, but get 20% off through recurring Groupon deals.
Requiem: Coffee, Tea, and Fantasy
Technically, this hidden gem qualifies as an eatery, but the gaming area helped it secure a spot on this list.. Expect to spot wild rounds of Dungeons and Dragons and people playing both board and video games, while others snap photos in the fairy forest. “H2O: Just Add Water” — the 2006 mermaid TV series — is just one throwback show that runs on the television.
The Outlets at Orange
Parking is bountiful but can still get cramped on busy weekends. Don’t worry, you’ll find a space.
Holiday Skate Center
Admission is usually $12 with a $5 skate rental. Feel free to bring your own skates!
Sawdust Art Festival
Inside his booth, artist Cliff Wassmann displays fantasy paintings that cross into reality, like a spaceship over the Ruby’s Diner on the pier. John Lucero scatters 3D glasses around his booth so visitors can better glimpse his vibrant, abstract 3D paintings of otherworldly creatures and shapes. Drew Weir sells gorgeous bronze doorbells.
Live musicians play at two stages, sometimes to a dancing crowd. Though the festival stays open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. all other days, activities like ceramic and painting classes are usually over by 4 p.m. Entry is $10.
Nearby is Laguna Art-A-Fair, a $10-entry showcase of over 100 artists, and the renowned Pageant of the Masters, an outdoor performance featuring powdered performers who pose as living paintings (and somehow never sneeze.) Pageant of the Masters tickets are anywhere from $30-$300, but open seats can sell for 50% off the day of.
Sherman Library and Gardens
If a peaceful walk isn’t enough to warrant a visit, join a mosaic butterfly workshop or watercolor class. Events are posted on their website, and few things are more relaxing than painting in the gardens. Basic admission is $5.
Oso Creek Trail
On one segment off Marguerite Parkway, the Mission Viejo library is just across the street — a nice add-on activity to get some AC.
Davey’s Locker Whale Watching
Arrive 30 minutes early, and if you have motion sickness, prep accordingly. Though it might be warm on land, bring a jacket for when it gets windy. The boat rocks with the waves, so brace yourself on the boat’s many handrails. (My grandma is frequently teased for falling into a trash can.) It’s $38 per person, but it’s usually half-price on Groupon.
Santa Ana Zoo
The zoo recently broke ground on a river otter exhibit and a treetop system for its monkeys, expected to open next year. In the meantime, adult admission is $12. If you bring your own food, you can picnic under shady trees near the playground.
Evening is undoubtedly the best time to go as the summer’s scorching heat ebbs and the fair lights dazzle. Buy 16 tickets for $20 and ride what you please, but save six. Toward the end, cash them in at the sky ride. At night, your feet dangle as you glide over the fair’s neon lights, overlooking the people below you for 10 minutes before it deposits you near the park’s exit. Just be sure you take it the right direction.
Adult admission is $12 on Wednesdays and Thursdays and $14 on Fridays-Sundays. It’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, as I learned the hard way. Tickets aren’t sold at the door, so be sure to buy them online in advance.
Beach Town Books
Sip complimentary coffee or hot chocolate as you browse. My friend fell in love with a century-old book, whose first page had a handwritten note from Santa Claus to a little girl in the 1920s. I found “The Hunger Games” in great condition on the $1 rack. If you love cheap book hauls, this is your place.
Great Wolf Lodge
The lodge’s biggest asset is its year-round indoor water park. During peak summer months, a day pass is higher than the temperature at $75-$175, but it dwindles to $50 in late August. Half-days are also available. Even when SoCal’s winter weather kicks in (a freezing 65 degrees), heat up at the 84 degree water park.
The Spectrum also has an 18-foot climbing structure that looks like someone taped Lays chips together, a carousel, a VR space, escape room, movie theater and DIY cake decorating.
Beside the Giant Wheel sits the Hello Kitty Cafe, a pink wonderland of frosted cookies and iced americanos. Grab a latte with Hello Kitty’s face in the foam or splurge and reserve Afternoon Tea in the Bow Room — a $60 package of sweets and tea.
Irvine Regional Park
The shortest but most difficult hike that starts at the park is the unmaintained 1 mile Puma Ridge trail, and the longest are the moderate Lone Pine Ridge and easy Toyon trails at 4 miles each.
Park entry is $3 per vehicle on weekdays and $5 on weekends; $7 on holidays. Activities are individually priced. Many trees have grown sideways in a twisting grove, and every now and then a peacock struts past. It’s not uncommon to see a caravan of 20 dogs on a walk, four to five leashes per walker.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Check out the center’s other three theaters on the property, which churn out their own performances.
Knott’s Berry Farm
I used to work here, but serving six months as a Camp Snoopy ride operator isn’t what scored Knott’s a spot on this list. However, I do have pro tips to share. Tuesdays through Thursdays are the best days to go, especially when the summer and spring break crowds hit. Going mid-week in the off season means you can walk on most rides. Moderate rain shuts down coasters since they’re all outdoors, but it’s when the park is prettiest. The crowds clear out and lights speckle on the sidewalk.
Thrill seekers can’t miss Xcelerator, which launches 0-82 MPH in 2.3 seconds and subsequently sends you 205 feet up, Silver Bullet, one of its most loved coasters with 6 smooth inversions, or Ghost Rider, a classic wooden coaster that’s nearly three minutes and might send you to the chiropractor. The Calico Mine Ride and Log Ride are family-friendly classics. The stagecoach is a fun hidden gem, but don’t be surprised if the horses stop walking and you have to wait a bit.
It has been getting rowdy lately, but it’s usually a relaxed park. Be sure to buy tickets online — they’re $84 on peak Saturdays but only $69 most weekdays.
One last thing: This park is underrated for its holiday season decorations. Knott’s Scary Farm has never disappointed me, and if you go at opening during late September or early October, you can usually make it through all eight mazes. During Christmastime, the old timey buildings coupled with small vendors, quaint holiday shows in the Birdcage Theater, and the smell of hot chocolate brings the holiday Hallmark vibes.
I tried and failed to count how many TVs this place had, but the bar area alone has over 10 playing a simultaneous music video. If coming on a weekend night, be advised that its screens might not be super family-friendly but succeed at sustaining the party vibes. Price ranges from $30-$45 hours per lane depending on day and time, which isn’t much when you split it between your group. $5-$5.75 for an individual game is available anytime outside of after 5 on Fridays and all day Saturdays. Shoe rentals are $4.75-$5.75.
Lanes are divided into sections with black curtains, adding a nice element of privacy. If it’s busy, be prepared to share the space as there’s two lanes per section. If you forget socks, feed $3 to the vending machine, though it does give you cute patterned options.
South Coast Plaza
Crystal Cove Tidepools
Unless you arrive at high tide. The key to a great tide pool experience is a low tide of at most 1.5 feet, per state park recommendations. Check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Tides and Currents website ahead of time. While you might still glimpse marine life in moderate tide, starfish, urchins and anemones are best found when it’s lower. At Reef Point, shiny mussels usually scatter the sea line — a consolation prize if you miss the tide pools. In any case, it’s best to bring water shoes as the rocks are slippery (and no starfish is worth that medical bill.)
And if you do happen to arrive during high tide, hey, there’s still an ocean to gaze at.
Adult admission is $15, only open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.. When you leave the institute, hang a left to drive up the steep hill of Cove Road for gorgeous ocean views. For added fun, walk to nearby Harbor Beach and watch the boats.
Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center
If there’s time after a day trip, nearby is the Honda Center, one of O.C.’s central concert venues and sports arenas, and across the 57 freeway is Angel Stadium.
Canyon Acres Trail (Top of the World)
On a clear day, you can see the deep blue of the Pacific. Overcast days, like when I went, are a bit murkier but feel more mystical.
For those who want the view without the sweat: Just pull your car into Alta Laguna Park and walk 50 feet to the trail’s end. No incline necessary.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
The museum includes a replica of his oval office, where you can sit at his desk. Richard and Pat Nixon are buried side-by-side toward the back of the outdoor grounds — on the same property that Richard was born on. His small childhood home still stands, and you can usually tour inside if you just ask a docent.
The volunteer docents are exceptionally friendly and stationed around the grounds — and they’ll give you a personal tour of their zone when it’s slow, which is nice if you’re tired of all the reading. Adult admission is $25, but there are student, senior and military discounts.
Mission Viejo Library
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