30 Best Things To Do in Orange County (From A Local!)

four pictures of the best things to do in Orange County

I’ve lived in Orange County for over 15 years now and can say that Orange County has a lot to offer–way more than you could pack into a single day. It has a load of beachside options, music and show venues, and shopping at just about every corner.

And when you want to grab a bite, there’s a very competitive and innovative food scene, and a dizzying amount of craft breweries and specialty coffee. See more of my food coverage on my post covering the Best Food in Orange County!

Most activities on this list are family-friendly and kid-friendly except for a few options with alcohol. Everything is great for a date, or going out with some friends though. For a wider variety of fun activities to spend a few days or even a week if you’re looking for some fun in Orange County, keep reading my list below!

Lido Marina Village

Make time on your visit to Balboa Island to go to the Lido Marina Village, an outdoor mall of very high-end shops and restaurants that runs along the harbor’s pier. If Martha Stewart designed a pier-side village, it might look like the Lido; all shabby-chic, gleaming-white shops. 

Once you’ve exhausted your window-shopping experience – and maybe dared to purchase something –, stroll along the beautiful boardwalk and gawk at the yachts docked at the pier. At sunset, all locals know the place to be is at one of the al fresco restaurants on the pier. 

Nobu Newport Beach is architecturally beautiful, and the sushi is famous (and very expensive). The elegant Malibu Farm serves fresh juices and smoothies throughout the day and beautifully prepared steak and seafood for lunch and dinner. Zinqué offers reasonably priced French bistro fare and a fabulous happy hour from 4 pm til closing. The photos above are the coffee and pastries from Herst Coffee at Lido which I love!

Type of venue: Outdoor mall

Price: Free. Metered parking

Address: 3434 Via Lido, Newport Beach, CA 92663

Website: https://www.lidomarinavillage.com/

Laguna Beach

One of the most famous and picturesque beaches in Southern California is Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach has long been a haven for hippies and artists but also the mega-rich. Along the beach, you’ll find the usual touristy shops you’d find in a beach town, but you can also stroll through the many art galleries featuring work of local artists. 

The beach itself is usually pretty crowded, but if you walk a bit along the coast, you’ll come upon lovely coves that are less populated. Driving up the hills, you’ll see the enclave of mansions on the cliffs that enjoy beautiful views of the ocean below.

The main downtown area is loaded with restaurants offering any type of cuisine you’re in the mood for. However, if you want to enjoy a good meal while watching the sunset, try Skyloft or The Rooftop Lounge, where you can dine on the rooftop balcony.

Tanaka Farms

During October, you might think that the only thing Tanaka Farms in Irvine sells is pumpkins. The 30-acre farm’s pumpkin patch is famous in the OC because you can actually pick pumpkins off their vines. Combined with wagon rides and face painting, you’ve got a great family activity.

But Tanaka Farms grows and harvests seasonal produce throughout the year, which you can purchase at their produce stand. They also sell dried fruits, jams, and breads crafted by local artisans. For special occasions – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter – Tanaka Farms hosts farm-to-table hilltop luncheon buffets.

For schools and groups, U-Pick Farm Tours can be scheduled. You’ll be driven around the farm in a wagon and given the opportunity to pick fruits and vegetables along the way.

Type of venue: Farm

Price: Free

Address: 5380 3/4 University Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

Website: https://www.tanakafarms.com/

The Lab Anti-Mall

The Lab Anti-Mall hallway

Bordering Newport Beach and Costa Mesa is The Lab Anti-Mall, a quirky outdoor venue with trendy shops and interesting eateries. The mall is laid out with woodsy buildings, winding paths, and wooden beams festooned with lights, and is charming especially at night. All the shops are privately owned by small business owners, which The Lab promotes on their blog.

Locals head to the Anti-Mall for casual window-shopping, special events and band jams, and the great food. Barbanzai is a family-run business that serves healthy Lebanese food. Bred’s Hot Chicken serves up incredibly crispy and spicy chicken and other Southern specialties. If you’ve never had Cuban food, then definitely check out Habana. It’s a little pricey but really authentic.

Type of venue: Outdoor mall

Price: Free

Address: 2930 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Website: https://www.thelab.com/

Visit A Fun Annual Festival / Show

homemade tray for Tustin Chili Cookoff

Throughout the year, there is always a fun festival in the OC. The Tustin Street Fair and Chili Cook Off happens in early June in Old Town Tustin, and it’s the largest single-day chili cook-off in the U.S. There’s lots of free entertainment, exhibitions, and of course, chili and beer.

The OC Greek Fest is in May in Anaheim. You can sample Greek foods and pastries and learn traditional Greek dancing. Admission is $3, but seniors and kids get in for free.

In early December, the Tamale Festival Orange County features different types of tamales from all over the world. Tamale vendors are set up around the downtown plaza of Old Town San Clemente. Admission is free.

The Santa Ana Art Walk showcases local artists in galleries and street vendors the first Saturday of every month in downtown Santa Ana. This free event also has live bands and dancing under the stars.

Perhaps, one of the most unusual exhibitions you’ll ever see is the annual Pageant of the Masters at the Laguna Beach Arts Festival from July to August. The pageant is a live show in which locals are meticulously costumed and choreographed to portray famous paintings. The Arts Festival is free, but admission to the pageant is $35. 

The CAMP

The CAMP in Costa Mesa is an eco-friendly retail campus – they don’t call it a mall – that supports environmentalism and bolsters the local community. The half-dozen shops – mostly women-owned – have been curated by The CAMP to ensure that their goods are sustainable, whether it be clothing or handmade jewelry. 

Places to eat are also local businesses, and they’re all worth stopping into. Some have pet-friendly patios, like Blackmarket Bakery, Boba Guy’s, and East Borough, a California interpretation of Vietnamese street food. Mesa is an excellent restaurant for delicious Spanish cuisine. Shown above is our meal at Folks Pizzeria.

One of the best liquor stores in the OC is Hi-Lo Liquor Mart, where if you can’t find a particular bottle of wine anywhere else, if it’s not on the Hi-Lo shelves, the knowledgeable staff will order it for you.

Type of venue: Outdoor mall

Price: Free

Address: 2937 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Website: https://www.thecampsite.com/

South Coast Plaza & Crystal Court 

Crystal Court shopping center

The largest shopping mall on the West Coast is South Coast Plaza, a mind-boggling mall of over 270 stores and restaurants. Anchored by Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, the architectural masterpiece is the three-story atrium, formerly known as the Crystal Court, which during the holidays is outlandishly decorated.

South Coast Plaza is nearly 3 million square feet, so it’s easy to spend an entire day – or days! – window-shopping. You’ll be mingling with international travelers, who have lots of disposable income for luxury brands like Christian Louboutin, Armani, Ferragamo – pretty much every world-famous fashion designer.

There are also some excellent restaurants, like Capital Grille and Seasons 52, and if you check out their websites, you’ll find out that many of the high-end places have super-reasonable happy hours.

Type of venue: Shopping mall

Price: Free

Address: 3333 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Website: https://www.southcoastplaza.com/ 

The Orange Circle

matcha latte from Play in the Orange Circle

The Old Towne Orange District (aka Downtown Orange) has the second largest collection of historical buildings in the state. In the center of downtown is a plaza that’s surrounded by a one-mile circle, constructed in the late 19th century. 

Around the perimeter of The Orange Circle you’ll find bars, restaurants, and famously, antique shops, where Hollywood prop-hunts for movies. In 1980 an abandoned building was transformed into the Orange Circle Antique Mall that’s filled with 125+ antique dealers, where you’ll find mid-century treasures.

The Orange Circle has a vibrant nightlife, and you can bar-hop at some of the best places in the OC. Haven Craft Kitchen+Bar serves up creative cocktails, craft beers, and scrumptious food. The District Lounge gives off vintage bar vibes with its leather booths and beer-hall chandeliers.

Camp at Crystal Cove State Park (Moro Campground) 

Moro Campground ocean view

On the far edge of Newport Beach is Crystal Cove, one of the most beautiful beaches in Orange County. Its calm turquoise water and rocky tide pools are isolated from the crowds, and it often serves as a backdrop for a bride and groom. 

The beach is part of the Crystal Cove State Park, and a favorite camping site, the Moro Campground, is high on the bluffs, offering spectacular views. The campground was developed to hold 38-feet-long RVs and can get crowded at times during the summer. Make sure you have a reservation before camping there.

In the nearby Crystal Cove shopping center, you’ll find several excellent places to eat. Parakeet Cafe offers healthy-ish breakfast and lunch. If you want to treat yourself to superb French cuisine, in the same shopping center is Marché Moderne

If you hike along the beach, you’ll come to The Beachcomber, a great place for brunch/lunch. It’s extremely popular, so unless you have a reservation, you’ll wait at least an hour.

Type of venue: Campground

Price: $55/night

Address: 8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Website: http://www.crystalcovestatepark.org/ 

Catch a Film at Irvine Spectrum’s IMAX Theater

Irvine Spectrum's IMAX theater

When the Edwards Cinemas opened in 1995 at the Irvine Spectrum shopping mall, it was the first megaplex in the U.S.. Edwards Cinemas were bought by Regal Entertainment, and the eight large main theaters – of the 21 theaters in total – have been upgraded technologically.

The Spectrum’s crown jewel has always been its IMAX Theater. The Spectrum IMAX’s massive screen is 90’ long and 65’ high. Certain films are shot with IMAX cameras, which gives the director a broader range of detail. 

Most recently, Christopher Nolan entirely shot “Oppenheimer” in IMAX 65 mm, using the highest-possible resolution cameras. He also innovated shooting black-and-white sections in IMAX, which contributed to the extraordinary experience of viewing “Oppenheimer” in IMAX theaters. The photo above is from my first visit to this IMAX theater to catch this film. I was seated waayyy on the left side of the theater and it the film was still enjoyable!

Fashion Island

Fashion Island shopping center

Take in the ocean views while shopping for just about anything you could possibly want at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island. This indoor-outdoor mall has large department stores – like Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and Nieman Marcus – and upscale boutique shops with items ranging from jewelry to specialty men’s and women’s wear.

Surrounded by all the glitz and glitter, you’ll be surprised that the dining options at Fashion Island are so affordable. But if you want to keep the extravagance flowing, stop into Rick Bayless’ Red O for high-end Mexican cuisine or Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse for luscious – and pricey – steaks.

The Lot movie theater at Fashion Island is also great for catching the latest film releases while relaxing in reclining seats and enjoying meals and alcoholic beverages.

Type of venue: Outdoor mall

Price: Free

Address: 401 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660

Website: https://www.fashionisland.com/

Downtown Disney District

World of Disney store at Downtown Disney

The Downtown Disney District is an outdoor shopping center that connects the parks to the Disneyland Resort hotels. Downtown Disney is its own separate attraction, and it’s free, so you don’t need an admission ticket to the parks. The first hour of parking is $10, and you’ll get an additional three hours if you spend $20 at one of the many shops and restaurants.

The District has live entertainment day and night as you stroll the pedestrian mall and shop at clothing and shoe boutiques, surf-and-sand fashion, “Star Wars” paraphernalia at the “Star Wars” Trading Post, and the enormous World of Disney store where you can buy anything Disney-related. There are also several sweet shops, like Sprinkles, Marceline’s Confectionary, and Salt & Straw.

Downtown Disney gets super busy at night, so if you want to have a meal, make a reservation ahead of time because wait times can be very long, especially at popular spots, like Tortilla Jo’s, Jazz Kitchen Coastal Grill and Patio, and Ballast Point Brewing Co., the District’s first onsite brewery. Disney is constantly making changes and additions to the center, so check the website for anything that’s new and exciting.

Type of venue: Pedestrian shopping mall

Price: $10 parking for first hour, 3 hours free with $20 purchase

Address: Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, CA 92802

Website: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/destinations/downtown-disney-district/ 

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

If you’re in the OC around Christmas, then a must-see is the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. This annual event began 115 years ago, and it’s blossomed into a spectacular – and gaudy – display of festively decorated boats and yachts that sail around Newport Bay. You can be in the parade by purchasing a ticket to one of the boats offering cruises. (Tickets sell out fast.)

It’s not only the boats that are brightly decorated but also the multi-million dollar homes along the perimeter of the bay. Standing around the Ring of Light, as it’s called, is free, but you do need to get there early because parking can be a nightmare. Several restaurants in the harbor do offer prime seating for viewing, but again, book ahead.

County Fair

From July to August in Costa Mesa, the Orange County Fair is a popular annual event. In full swing, the fair has 40+ carnival rides and over 20 rides for kids in the special Kidland area. County fairs are famous – or maybe infamous? – for their imaginative fast foods, and the OC Fair is no exception. Recent fare at the fair includes Campfire Breakfast On A Bun, Eggroll Turkey Dog, Hot Cheetos Cheese Chicken On A Stick, and a bucket of cookie dough.

The fair site has a working farm, and you’ll see livestock exhibitions – lots of pigs! – dairy demonstrations, and fruits and vegetables competitions. When the fair isn’t in residence, the event center’s Heroes Hall hosts a museum dedicated to World War II veterans and art installations related to the military.

Type of venue: Outdoor carnival and fair

Price: $15 admission, $10-$20 parking

Address: 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Website: http://www.ocfair.com

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Built in 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano is one of 21 missions in California. Originally used as a garrison by the Spanish, the mission’s priests attempted to assimilate the indigenous Native Americans into the Catholic faith. But the Spanish brought disease, and the indigenous people were nearly wiped out. 

The Mission fell into private hands and was left to decay. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln restored the Mission to the Catholic Church, and since then it’s been beautifully restored. You can tour the chapel, gardens, and the vast collection of Native American artwork in the Mission’s museum.

Throughout the summer, the Mission has outdoor concerts and events, and during the holidays, the Mission and Chapel are gorgeously illuminated. The Mission offers self-guided audio tours (free with admission) and a VIP guided tour that delves deep into the Mission and its history.

Type of venue: Mission and museum

Price: $18 adults, $10 children, VIP tour $35/$30

Address: 26801 Old Mission Rd, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Website: https://www.missionsjc.com/

Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm is sometimes considered to be second-rate compared to nearby Disneyland. But it does have decent amusement park rides merged with a charming pioneer motif. Knott’s, though, really kicks into gear at Halloween with its series of frightening mazes and ghoulish shows.

Knott’s has four themed areas – Old West Ghost Town, Camp Snoopy, Fiesta Village, and The Boardwalk – each with thrill rides and themed shows. Adjacent to Knott’s Berry Farm is Knott’s Soak City, a separate water park, open May-September, with slides and raft rides.

Knott’s had been a working berry farm before converting into an amusement park, and if it’s one thing that Knott’s has over Disneyland, it’s Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, with 1890’s decor and yummy fried chicken that locals love.

Type of venue: Theme park

Price: $64.99 adults/kids 3+, $30 parking

Address: 8039 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620 

Website: https://www.knotts.com/ 

Newport Beach Duffy Boats

If you’re in Newport Beach with a few friends, a delightful afternoon can be spent by renting an electric Duffy Boat. Basically, a Duffy boat is a large motor boat with a canopy for protection against the sun. Each boat seats up to 12 people, and you can bring picnic baskets onboard for the two-to-four-hour ride.

The boats are equipped with cushioned benches and a table with four cup holders for beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. It’s not illegal for the passengers to imbibe a cocktail, but the person in your group who volunteers to drive the boat can’t get intoxicated. 

You can take the Duffy boat all around the perimeter of Newport Beach Bay and ogle the extraordinary mansions, gardens, and docked yachts. There are three companies on Balboa Island that rent Duffy boats, and the rental rates and rental times vary, so check out all three for the best pricing.

Price: $240-$499 (based on 2 to 4 hours) per 8-12 people

Website: https://newportfuntours.com/electric-boats/ 

Dana Point Harbor Whale Watching

Dana Point has a gorgeous coastline, but it also has a unique quality. Over 450,000 dolphins live off the coast, more than anywhere in the world. The area also teems with several species of whales, which is why Dana Point is a Whale Heritage Site, the first in the U.S.

Blue whales migrate from May to November, and gray whales migrate November to April, and you can book a spot on a boat that takes you to the areas where you’ll see the most whales and dolphins. 

Dana Wharf Whale Watching offers a two-hour tour for $56 per person on a 45-person boat. You can also book a private tour for up to four people for $550.

Captain Dave’s Whale Watching offers a 2.5 hours tour on a catamaran or a Zodiac for $71 per person. Captain Dave’’s boats have see-through pods so you can watch the marine life below.

Brunch at The Montage

The Montage is an exquisite resort in Laguna Beach. The main building and the rooms were designed for expansive ocean views and openness to allow sea breezes to circulate. Such beauty comes with a price, and the Montage is exceptionally expensive.

The Montage’s main restaurant is The Loft, and you can have a wonderful brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows and indoor and outdoor seating. Although The Loft doesn’t have a prix-fixe brunch menu, prices run pretty much the same as other restaurants in Laguna Beach that have a lesser view.

Type of venue: Restaurant

Price: Entree range $26-$50

Address: 30801 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Website: https://www.montage.com/lagunabeach/menus/the-loft-brunch-menu/ 

Roger’s Gardens

Busloads of tourists are dropped off every day at Roger’s Gardens, Orange County’s most famous nursery. Filled with thousands of plants, the huge indoor-outdoor space is a gardener’s haven. The outdoor area has bucolic pathways that take you through different types of plants for different growing environments with the trickle of fountains in the background. The nursery has special areas for potting – potting lessons are held regularly – and outdoor furniture rooms where you can relax and people-watch.

A major highlight during the Halloween and Christmas seasons is the garden’s boutiques. The largest shop is decorated in a theme – haunted house, graveyard, Winter Wonderland – with large animated displays and well-curated seasonal decor for purchase that you won’t find anywhere else. 

Christmas is especially festive, as the nursery is decorated with millions of lights, which locals come to view every year. Best of all, this delightful experience is absolutely free.

Type of venue: Garden nursery

Price: Free

Address: 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd, Corona del Mar, CA 92625

Website: https://www.rogersgardens.com/ 

Sawdust Arts Festival

From June to September, the Sawdust Arts Festival in Laguna Beach transforms into an artist village, where over 160 local artists and craftspeople exhibit and sell their work. The artists are set up in a winding rabbit’s warren of booths where you can find paintings, sculpture, statuary, jewelry, weaving, and handmade clothing. 

You can also watch many of the artists actually create their work on the spot, such as weaving, pottery making and glass-blowing. As you wander around, you’ll come upon three performance stages where different bands play throughout the day. 

In November-December, Sawdust has a beautifully decorated Winter Fantasy where you can enjoy strolling performers – and Santa Claus, naturally – and take free pottery classes. 

Type of venue: Outdoor art gallery

Price: $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 children

Address: 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Website: https://sawdustartfestival.org/ 

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament is a unique venue you should experience at least once. Housed in an 11th-century “castle,” you’ll be seated at long tables around an arena that somewhat resembles a bull-fighting ring. Once you’ve settled in, you’ll be welcomed by “Queen Isabella” who invites you to dine with her and her “court.” The meal is pretty standard fare – roast chicken, potatoes, corn – so don’t worry about gnawing on a turkey leg. 

But you’re not really going to Medieval Times for the food; it’s all about the show. Medieval Times is famous for breeding pure Spanish horses – Andalusians – and you’ll watch these truly magnificent creatures leap, jump, and gallop around the arena. 

Queen Isabella’s knights are introduced, and a jousting tournament begins. You’re asked to select your favorite knight to cheer on, and they do battle, culminating in a sword fight. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy, but lots of fun for families and groups of friends. Matinee shows are offered on the weekend.

Type of venue: Indoor arena

Price: $67.95 adult, $40.95 children 12 and under

Location: 7662 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620

Website: https://www.medievaltimes.com/ 

Pirates Dinner Adventure

A few doors down from Medieval Times is the Pirates Dinner Adventure. Rather than jousting knights, you’ll find dueling pirates aboard a fully rigged 18th century schooner in a 250,000-gallon lagoon. With a huge cast and lots of special effects, you’ll feel like you’re in “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

The pirates – men and women – are actor-acrobats who’ve been trained to leap and dive off the ship’s mast without a net. They’ve also learned some serious sword-fighting skills to make the experience as real as possible. Similar to Medieval Times, you’re seated at long tables around the lagoon, but rope and wood bridges are strung overhead, so the pirate show happens around and above you.

The dinner menu has more variety, but they do a lot of upcharging for a special entree or appetizer and VIP seating. Pirates Dinner Adventure has about 20 nautical-themed cocktails that are not included with the price of admission. 

Type of venue: Indoor arena

Price: $68.95 adult, $41.95 children 11 and under

Location: 7600 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620

Website: https://piratesdinneradventureca.com/ 

Anaheim Packing House

cocktails at The Blind Rabbit

The Anaheim Packing House is a former Sunkist orange-packing facility that’s been renovated into a 42,000-square-foot gourmet food hall. The beautiful Mission Revival-style building, built in 1919, currently houses 25 multi-cultural restaurants, where you can nosh on Indian burgers, Japanese crepes and ramen, French pastries, or Thai coconut milk fried chicken, among many other cuisine choices.

You’ll also find several cool places for a craft cocktail, like BXCR Underground, Hammer Workshop and Bar, and the popular The Blind Rabbit Speakeasy. The airy glass-and-steel atrium is also a great place to hang out and have a drink while listening to jazz and DJ mixes. The Anaheim Packing House has something for everyone, and it’s free to just wander around.

Type of venue: Food hall

Price: Free

Address: 440 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92805

Website: https://www.anaheimpackingdistrict.com/ 

Pacific City

Pacific City is an outdoor retail center with stores and restaurants that’s situated across Pacific Coast Highway along Huntington Beach. Although it’s not as populated with shops as other outdoor malls, you can still find upscale beach apparel, jewelry, and clothing. 

Food choices at Pacific City run the gamut from fancy coffee to burgers to organic juices. But the best places to chow down are Pacific City’s LOT 579, an eclectic food hall with communal tables and great ocean views

Bear Flag Fish Co. is a popular OC hotspot (there are four locations), serving up fish tacos, burritos, and sushi. Another eatery to check out is Phans55, where you’ll find reasonably priced Vietnamese cuisine.

Type of venue: Outdoor mall

Price: Free

Address: 21010 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Website: https://www.gopacificcity.com/

Great Park

The Great Park in Irvine is a public park and recreation center on the site of a former Marine Corps Air Station Base. Irvine is continually expanding Great Park with the goal of transforming it into 1300 acres. There’s lots to do for the sports-minded, like hiking and biking trails, tennis, and pickleball. 

Great Park is also an arts venue with the Palm Court Arts Complex, where you can view artwork by an artist-in-residence, or go to a concert at the 10,000-seat Five Point Amphitheatre.

A main attraction – that’s completely free – is the Great Park Balloon, a tethered balloon ride that soars up to 400 feet over the park. Another fun thing to do is the Great Park Carousel, a beautifully restored vintage-style carousel.

Type of venue: Park

Price: Free

Address: 8000 Great Park Blvd., Irvine, CA 92618

Website: https://www.cityofirvine.org/orange-county-great-park 

Irvine Spectrum Center

The Irvine Spectrum Center is another Southern California outdoor shopping mall located in Irvine, just off the 405 freeway. There’s a Nordstrom’s, but overall, the stores aren’t as high-end as those at South Coast Plaza. If you’re looking for a Target or a Levi’s, you’ll find it at Spectrum.

There are a lot of dining options, and a few are pretty pricey, like Javier’s or Fogo de Chao. But overall, you can get a decent lunch or dinner without breaking the bank. If you’re a Hello Kitty fan, the Hello Kitty Grand Cafe offers adorable cookies and cakes and hot/cold coffees and teas.

The Irving Spectrum also has a small collection of rides and attractions, like the Giant Wheel ($8) or the Carousel ($4). You’ll get to see your favorite stand-up comedians at the Irvine Improv, a 490-seat comedy club that serves food and drink. If you’re into escape rooms, The Escape Game has 6 rooms to choose from.

Type of venue: Shopping mall

Price: Free

Address: 670 Spectrum Drive, Irvine, CA 92618

Website: https://www.irvinespectrumcenter.com/ 

Balboa Island

birdhouses on Balboa Island

Crossing a short bridge from Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, you’ll enter Balboa Island, a seaside community that manages to blend opulent McMansions with honky-tonk cottages. Harbor-side, you can walk the 1.7 mile paved walkway that skirts the perimeter of Newport Beach Harbor and get a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. If you head one block away from the harbor, stroll the streets and see the fronts of the mansions.

Ocean-side, it’s more of a beach community. You can walk the lovely Balboa Pier, then stroll along the boardwalk, where there are many shops, bars, and restaurants. Balboa is extremely crowded in the summer, when tourists and weekly cottage rentals are at their highest, so parking will be very challenging.

Another major attraction on Balboa Island is the Fun Zone, one of California’s oldest coastal amusement parks.Dating from the 1930’s, this family-friendly destination was a huge draw. There are arcades and a few rides, but the reason most people head to the Fun Zone is the vintage Ferris wheel. On a clear day, from the top of the wheel, the view is nothing short of spectacular.

Type of venue: Beach community and amusement park

Price: Free. Metered parking.

Address: 206 Marine Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92662

Website: https://www.balboaisland.com/

Segerstrom Center for the Arts 

Adjacent to South Coast Plaza is the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, an architecturally gorgeous complex of concert halls and theaters. The center comprises the 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall, 1,700-seat theater-in-the-round concert hall, famous for its pipe organ, and two theaters, one where the Tony-Award-winning South Coast Repertory is in residence.

The Segerstrom Education Center is the hub for several performance-art schools, including the American Ballet Theatre. There’s also a 46,000-square-foot plaza with restaurants, public seating, picnic area, and an outdoor stage, where concerts, theater productions, and other events are free to the public.

Address: 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Website: https://www.scfta.org/ 

Disneyland Resort

Disneyland Stormtrooper interrogating a customer

When you don’t want to rush around Disneyland and California Adventure in a single day, make it a weekend at one of three Disneyland Resort hotels. A perk of staying in a Disneyland Resort hotel is that you’re guaranteed early entry into the specific park you’ve purchased tickets for. You can enjoy alcoholic drinks in the hotels, and the food will be much better than what’s available in the parks.

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa features Craftsman-inspired architecture with a woodsy theme. You can escape the crowds in its Tenaya Stone Spa, unique amongst the Disneyland Resort hotels. The rooms are quite expensive, and you need to book way in advance.

The Disneyland Hotel has been massively updated since its opening. The rooms are themed to three of the original areas in Disneyland, Adventure, Frontier, and Fantasy. The hotel has two retro-styled pools, each with monorail water slides. Rooms aren’t as expensive – relatively speaking – but again, you need to reserve in advance.

Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel has rooms inspired by a 1920s seaside resort. A nice perk is watching the nightly fireworks on the hotel’s rooftop. The Paradise Pier hotel is currently being renovated and changed into the Pixar Place Hotel.

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