20 Things To Do In Orange County That Isn't Disneyland - backup

Southern California is the land of plenty when it comes to fun things to do.  When I previously lived in Northern California, I was like most people, and would plan my entire vacation in Orange County (the "OC") around Disneyland Parks.   When I moved to the OC a few years ago, I realized there's a plethora of fun things to do, which doesn't include Disneyland.  

Now that COVID has closed the amusement parks, I want to share with you some of my other favorite places and things to do in the OC.  I'm not getting paid to advertise.  These places are my favorites, and I'm hoping you'll enjoy them too!  Also, please due your own research before traveling to any location, since things have been closing and opening at unexpected intervals due to COVID. 

1. Hike or Bike the OC Trails

Orange County has over 55,000 acres dedicated to open land, reserves and parks. There are hundreds of wilderness and beach trails throughout the OC. Some of California's best hikes can be found in this County. Most of the trails are wide enough for walking and biking.  Many have gorgeous beach views.  My favorites are "Top of the World" in Laguna Beach with 360 views of the ocean and wilderness; and bicycling through "Upper Newport Trails and Reserve." https://www.destinationirvine.com/things-to-do/outdoor-recreation/biking-and-hiking/.

2. Explore World Famous Beaches

With over 42 miles of sandy coastline and a string of small, eclectic beach towns, fishing and whale watching, the OC delivers the perfect beach life experience. The most notable beaches are Huntington, Newport, Balboa Island, Seal, Crystal Cove, Dana Point and Laguna.   My favorite to visit is Crystal Cove Beach.  Crystal Cove encompasses 3.2 miles (5.1 km) of Pacific coastline, with jaw-dropping coastal cliffs, wide open trails, camping and adorable cottages.  https://www.californiabeaches.com/southern/orange-county/http://www.crystalcovestatepark.org.

3.   Shop Fashion Island

Located in Newport Beach, Fashion Island shopping is Southern California’s premier coastal shopping and dining experience. Stores include prestigious department stores as well as specialty boutiques, with more than 30 dining options and restaurants.  Fashion Island has panoramic ocean views and towering palm trees for a full coastal living experience. https://www.visitnewportbeach.com/shopping-and-malls/fashion-island-mall/.

4.  Charter A Boat in Newport Beach

Newport Beach is full of boats and boat charter companies.  One of the the best is "Sail Newport Beach" which helps you with the all your boat planning needs.  They specialize in captained charters, adventure charters and corporate events aboard beautiful yachts in Newport Beach, Catalina Island, and the Channel Islands. Their fleet consists of mid-sized yachts designed to accommodate private charters for couples, families, friends, or important clients.  "Don’t just dream of your yachting vacation – wake up and experience true serenity."  https://sailnewportbeach.com.

5.  Explore Balboa Island

The city of Newport Beach is known for its large, boat-filled harbor.  Balboa Island is located just inside the harbor.  It has 2 separate piers:  1. Newport Beach Pier and 2. Balboa Pier, plus the Balboa Fun Zone, an old-school amusement park with Ferris Wheel.  You can catch a ferry at Balboa Island and ride it across the harbor to the Balboa Fun Zone, located on the other side of the harbor.  Cars and bikes are allowed on the Ferry.  You can also enjoy walking around Balboa island, which has cape-cod style cottages and lots of great restaurants and beach boutiques. https://www.visitnewportbeach.com.

6.  Tour The Festival Of The Arts

This Festival of The Arts show includes a wide variety of mixed media such as paintings, photography, printmaking, sculpture, jewelry, handcrafted wood and furniture, ceramics, glass and more – all by 140 of Orange County’s finest artists.   This incredible Festival is a Orange County highlight every year!  This is the place to find that perfect art treasure for your home or business.  Tickets can be bought here:  https://www.foapom.com.

7.  Visit The Sawdust Festival

The Sawdust Art & Craft Festival is a exciting Festival dedicated to promoting the art created in Laguna Beach. This down to earth Festival is full of fun atmosphere, eclectic art, live music, friendly artists and great restaurants.  The festival takes place in an outdoor, barn themed venue, where the ground is covered in sawdust. Lending the to the name "Sawdust Festival". https://sawdustartfestival.org. 

8.  Rent A Paddle Boat

The OC has plenty of turquoise water and sunshine. Paddle boarding is the fastest growing recreational water sport in the country. It combines all of the benefits of strength training through balance and resistance, with an all around pleasurable and entertaining experience! One of the best ways to experience the vast beaches is by paddle board. https://newportfuntours.com/paddle-board/.

9.  Take Surf Lessons

Known as the "surf capital" of the world, Orange County's beaches are perfect place to learn how to "get your surf on!" Newport Beach Surfing is one of many surf schools who specialize in private and small group lessons for all levels of surfers. http://www.newportbeachsurfinglessons.com. or private lessons through https://lessons.com/ca/irvine/surfing-lessons/.

10.  Visit The Great Park

Explore the 1,300 acres that encompass the stunning Great Park area in the city of Irvine, The Great Park is made up of a farmer's market, sports complex, stadium, botanical gardens, a hot air balloon ride and a military museum. https://www.destinationirvine.com/things-to-do/orange-county-great-park/.

11.  Visit The Santa Ana Zoo

The Santa Ana Zoo is a mid-sized Zoo with a lot of personality.  It's very clean, shade-covered and not as many crowds as other nearby Zoos.  The Zoo's famous history started back in early 1900's, when a J.E. Prentice moved to Santa Ana with the vision that California had great possibilities. He arrived as a horse and mule trader, but later began citrus ranching.  Within a few years, he became one of Santa Ana's wealthiest men. In 1949, he donated 12 acres of his citrus ranch to Santa Ana for a park.  With this donation, he stipulated that the city must keep at least 50 monkeys at the Zoo at all times.  Now, there are birds, camels, parrots, monkey's, lemons and much more.  They also have a kid's area with carnival-like rideshttps://www.santaanazoo.org.

12.  Visit The Irvine Regional Park And Zoo

 The Irvine Regional Park encompasses 477 acres of stunning lakes and wilderness.  This Park is unique in that it includes train rides, several lakes, paddle boat rentals, pony rides, horse rentals, bike and hiking trails, and the OC Zoo.  During Halloween, it includes a fun pumpkin patch.

The Zoo exhibits animals in natural habitats for the comfort of the animals and to enhance the education of visitors. Animals include black bears, mountain lions, bald eagle, ocelot, red-tailed hawk, great horned owls, porcupine, coyotes, turkey vultures, and more.  The zoo also features a petting zoo with domestic goats, chevoit sheep, jacob sheep, pot-bellied pigs, doves, chickens, and pheasants.  https://www.ocparks.com/zoo/ .

13.  Visit The Ocean Institute

Located in beautiful Dana Point, the Ocean Institute is nationally recognized for its excellent, hands-on environmental education and maritime history programs.  The Ocean Institute, founded in 1977, is a community-based organization that offers in-depth Marine Science, Maritime History and Outdoor Education programs. The facility includes state-of-the-art teaching labs, the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, two historic tallships, and an oceanographic research vessel.  https://www.ocean-institute.org.

14.  Visit The Anaheim Packing District

One of my favorite things to do on the weekend is visit the Packing District of Anaheim (just down the street from Disneyland).  It's a huge, industrial-chic, renovated warehouse district, and draws huge foodie fans every day to it's amazing restaurants and bars.  Both travelers and locals love its eclectic vibe and it's huge variety of cuisines.

The Packing House is over a 100 years old, newly renovated, and at the center of The Packing District, which now includes a former Packard car dealership (now called the Packard Building) and Farmers’ Park.  Those are located north of the Packing House and south of West Broadway.  The park south of Packard features locations for outdoor picnics and gatherings. https://www.anaheimpackingdistrict.com.

15.  Take A Brewery Tour

There are quite a few breweries in the OC.  The best way to visit as many of them as possible, and safely, is to take a tour.  There are several great tour groups in the area.  Many do both public and private tours.  Many tours includes tastings and limousine transportation, let you choose your pickup location and your favorite breweries.  !The best way to compare the tours is by checking them out on Yelp.  Here is a link of their reviews and contact info for your convenience:  https://www.yelp.com/biz/craft-brew-tours-orange-2?osq=brewery+tour.

16.  Take A Wine Tasting Tour

 For over 25 years the OC has been home to many beautiful wineries nestled in it's rolling hills. The wineries include private estates with amazing views and wine tasting rooms.  If you'd like to experience the wineries in a stress-free, safe environment, which includes multiple wineries in one day, taking a tour is a must!  Nothing captures the day better than being picked up and dropped off at the best wineries in town.  Many tours include private or public tours, along with limo rides, etc.  There are several wonderful tour groups to choose from in the OC.  To compare them, I've attached a Yelp review and listing:  https://www.yelp.com/search?cflt=winetours&find_loc=Orange+County%2C+CA

17.  Visit Sherman Library And Gardens

The Gardens is a 2.2. acre horticultural oasis. The gardens are set among patios and a conservatory linked together by wide brick wall ways, beds blooming with seasonal flowers and decorative tiled fountains. It also has a cute dinning area where you can eat overlooking the flowers. https://thesherman.org.

18.  Hike Or Jog The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a absolutely stunning nature reserve in the city of Huntington Beach, California.  It is designated by the California Department of Fish and Game to protect a coastal wetland, with its resident threatened and endangered species.  It has ocean view trails for hiking and trail running.  It's also a great place for photographing water foul, wetlands, coastal sunsets, and much more. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Lands/Places-to-Visit/Bolsa-Chica-ER.

19.  Take A Whale Watching Tour

Located in Newport Beach, Davey’s Locker has been providing whale watching cruises for over 40 years to both residents and visitors to Newport Beach. Davey’s Locker departs from the historic Balboa Pavilion in Newport Bay. Year round whale watching cruises view giant blue whales and finback whales during the summer and fall months. Giant gray whales are viewed during their annual migration during the winter and spring months.  https://daveyslocker.com/whale-watching/newport-beach/.

20.  Take A Day Trip To Catalina Island

At the time of this post, Catalina was just beginning to open up to visitors. Since this is definitely a must see location, but resides outside Orange County. I'm including it at the end of the my list. You catch the charter boats in Newport Beach. Please check before you go to make sure they are accepting people post-COVID.   Santa Catalina, one of California’s Channel Islands. It's known for its wildlife, dive sites and Mt. Orizaba, its highest peak. The resort town of Two Harbors lies to the north. To the south, in the city of Avalon, palm trees and cabanas line Descanso Beach. Avalon’s circular, art deco Catalina Casino is a cultural center with a movie theater, ballroom and museum. https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com.

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Tracy Heschong-McCrackin

Tracy Heschong-McCrackin is an award-winning writer and photographer. She started her photography studio 20 years ago and specialized in portraits, landscapes and commercial photography.    Tracy draws much of her inspiration from her travels. She has a passion for investigating off the beaten path locations, cultures and individuals. It is those moments of exploration that her creativity is ignited and much of her artwork is born.