KNOWN AROUND THE world as “The OC,” Orange County, California envelops you in the ultimate Southern California lifestyle… casual sophistication, pristine beaches, and endless options for fun in the sun or cultural exploration. I’ve lived here my whole life and even when I’m deciding what to do this weekend I still have a hard time choosing! With sun-soaked days and star-filled nights, you’ll be immersed in the real California dream. It’s easy to think of theme parks such as Disneyland Knott’s Berry Farm but what if you’re looking for something more unique and on a budget for ‘date night’ or a day trip with the family. Orange County offers an innumerable amount of fun destinations, events, sights, and so much more. Let your own imagination go at renowned art festivals and celebrated performing arts centers. OC Parks offer sprawling wilderness and nature reserves, perfect for recreation of the sun-soaked variety, with miles of trails and coastal preserves to explore. Discover for yourself that the sun just seems to shine longer here. Summer is the best time but in The OC, it’s always summer!
Take a ferry to Catalina
The Island of romance, relaxation, adventure and family fun where endless crystal clear waters and dramatic vistas surround you. With its year round Mediterranean climate, and plenty of activities to enjoy, it’s no wonder more than one million travelers choose Catalina Island as their getaway each year. Catalina Island can be enjoyed for the day or for an overnight stay. Fast boats make the trip in about an hour and operate every day, year-round from three mainland ports. Catalina Express operates its ticketing and docking from the offices of Dana Wharf Sportfishing in beautiful Dana Point Harbor. This port is located just off the 5 Freeway and is convenient for travelers coming from San Diego or Orange County.
Dana Point Harbor has two marinas inside a one-and-a-half mile jetty and offers plenty of shopping, more than 20 restaurants and a hotel. If you go on a Sunday try to snag a table at Proud Mary’s for brunch before setting sail – they have the best Bloody Marys! There’s also a park with picnic shelters, barbecues and wide open green belts.
Explore Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is Southern California’s premier coastal destination. Located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, this seven-mile stretch of sand and surf offers a year-round retreat for art lovers, nature enthusiasts and beachgoers. There are tons of cute shops filled with antiques, coastal décor, vintage clothing, and delicious restaurants. Some of my favorite memories were going to the Candy Baron off Forest Avenue and filling my straw bucket with gobs of salt water taffy and Bit-O-Honey’s. Whether it’s brunch at Las Brisas or bringing a sandwich to Main Beach you have a wide array of food options and something that can work with any budget.
Go to an Angels baseball game
I may or may not have had to do a quick Google search to see if it’s even baseball season so clearly I am not a sports girl. But to my pleasant surprise there are games happening – so grab your peanuts and cracker jacks! Angels Stadium is a unique way to experience America’s favorite pastime. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been working to perfect their sport since 1961, entertaining millions of fans over the years in Angels Stadium. There are a variety of ways to customize the baseball experience, and Angels Stadium offers many economical options. Single, group, military and first responder, season, and discount tickets are all offered as well as special promotions and events that can be found on the Angels website. Day and evening games are available depending on the schedule, but both offer a great way to experience a day out at a ball game.
Take the kids to Balboa Fun Zone
I take that back, take yourself and the kids! The Balboa Fun Zone is one of Southern California’s oldest and last great coastal amusement areas and a popular family-friendly attraction for visitors to Newport Beach. Visitors can enjoy rides on the waterfront Ferris wheel, take out some aggression on the bumper cars, play games in the arcade or tour the nautical museum while enjoying your favorite beach treats. The world famous chocolate dipped bananas are my personal favorite.
The Balboa Fun Zone is located on Balboa Peninsula across from Balboa Pier off Balboa Blvd. A public parking lot is available across Balboa Blvd next to the pier. Or the Balboa Fun Zone can be reached by the Auto Ferry located on Balboa Island.
Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park is one of the largest remaining natural seashores in Orange County. With almost 2,500 acres of land and over 3 miles of beach, Crystal Cove State Park is a peaceful respite from the rest of busy Southern California, with 15 miles of established trails ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Lovers of trekking, bike riding, or even equestrian sports will never be bored on Crystal Cove State Park’s expansive trails, while those who love the water will adore the beaches and the offshore underwater area. For the more historically inclined, the park contains a federally listed Historic District. Visitors will also an old seaside colony of picturesque cottages from the mid-20th century.
After all the hiking and trekking be sure to treat yourself to a shake at the infamous Crystal Cove Shake Shack. With its stunning views and authentic wooden seats and tables this ‘40’s-style chain diner is fun for the whole family —the Oreo milkshake is a must!
Explore San Clemente
San Clemente offers a rich Southern California experience with plenty of activities for people of all ages. World-class beaches, excellent dining, four breweries, and a handful of attractions are part of what makes this beach city such a hidden gem. San Clemente quietly impresses travelers from around the world with a rich history of surfing culture, unlimited sunshine, and the best weather in the world.
If you are 21 and older make sure to take the day to explore the shops and cruise Del Mar. Then you must go to The Cellar for Happy Hour and order the D’Affinois cheese platter and change your life. At sunset head a little further down to The Fisherman’s Restaurant, hover over someone sitting on the patio until they get up (as they do not take reservations) and enjoy the most incredible views right on the water. Complete your evening with a bucket of clams and homemade sourdough bread- I’m hungry just thinking about it!
Visit the Sawdust Art Festival
Explore your artistic side at selected “Best Art Festival” by OC Weekly. The Sawdust Art Festival features 200 local, Laguna Beach artists along with live music, great food, and an all-around fun casual atmosphere. Browse paintings, jewelry, ceramics, photographs, sculptures, art glass and textiles native to the area. Demonstrations, workshops, entertainment and refreshments await you – the art glass blower is a sight to see! The festival runs every summer, with seasonal events held throughout the year.
Every summer my mom would take my sisters and me to look at the local artists and their work, with popcorn in hand, we would admire all the pieces– especially the hand crafted jewelry. Then at the end we would hop up on the high-rise benches to get toe rings. It was a true mother-daughter bonding experience I will never forget, we felt so cool, and I’m still wearing those toe rings now!
Tanya Schwied is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.