Post Summary: Amazing Places To Go In Orange County For Your Sunshine Fix
Okay, let’s face it. Living in the Pacific Northwest is awesome (I mean, there’s literally SO much to do in the PNW!), but there comes a time every year where the dreary gray clouds can start to wear you down.
On average, it rains 40% of the year in Seattle, and some days Berty and I just crave a good dose of sunshine! Can you relate?
That’s why we were STOKED to get the chance to visit Southern California! Just a short plane ride away from the Pacific Northwest can bring you to sandy beaches, golden sunsets, and year-round opportunities to get outside.
If you’re looking for places to go in Orange County this weekend, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for a jam-packed weekend full of outdoor adventure, fun, and most of all – sunshine!
*This post is sponsored by Visit The OC and its hospitality partners*
Why Orange County?
Orange County is located in Southern California. Just south of Los Angeles, this area boasts gorgeous sandy beaches, great local eats, and a little less traffic, too!
For those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California is just a quick (and surprisingly cheap!) flight away, which makes it an incredibly convenient place to get that quick fix of Vitamin D in your life.
No need to fly into LAX – Orange County has its own airport! John Wayne Airport (SNA) located in Santa Ana is centrally located which means you can arrive and get started on your adventures right away.
Once you arrive, there are tons of outdoor activities in Orange County waiting to be discovered! From sandy beaches to adventurous canyons, there’s a little something for everyone who needs a dose of sunshine.
Where to Stay In Orange County
Within the area, there are tons of unique places to stay in Orange County! Consider the activities you’d like to do, and read our guide below to discover which area fits your desires best.
Laguna Beach: Known for local art galleries, secret oceanside coves, and gorgeous beaches. This is your destination if you like good food and great sunsets! Stay at The Ranch in Laguna Beach.
Newport Beach: Known for upscale boutique shops, fancy restaurants, and a gorgeous harbor, this is the place to go if you want to enjoy the finer things in Orange County. Try staying at the Lido House Hotel!
Huntington Beach: Known for surfing, shopping, and beach volleyball. Come here if you want to be by the ocean 24/7! Try the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel.
Anaheim: Yes, this is the home to DISNEYLAND! However, it’s also the hub for things like conventions and sports like the Anaheim Ducks (ice hockey) and Los Angeles Angels. Stay here for major events!
Buena Park: Buena Park is home to the incredibly fun Knott’s Berry Farm, the original Porto’s, and Medieval Times dinner show. Stay here if you like international cuisine, fried and delicious fair food, and nostalgic park rides!
Irvine: Irvine is one of the largest planned urban communities in the entire country! It is known for the University of California-Irvine, and it’s the home of many outdoor activities in Orange County like hiking Quail Hill and Bommer Canyon.
Outdoor Activities in Orange County
So what can you do in Orange County? There’s a ton you can do in just one weekend, and in this post, we’re sharing everything we fit into just three short days! Below are some of the best places to go in Orange County for some fun in the sun.
Surfing with Toes On The Nose Adventures
What better way to experience the outdoor activities in Orange County than by starting off with a surf lesson at Huntington Beach? From beginner waves to professional swells, this beach is a hub for learners and professionals alike. No wonder it’s named “Surf City, USA”!
During our stay, we visited Toes On The Nose Adventures located in the Hyatt Resort on Huntington Beach for our first surf lesson.
Not only do they teach surf lessons, but they also have a retail shop and board rentals located steps away from the hotel. You can outfit yourself for a perfect day in the sun!
Don’t have a surfboard? If you’re staying along any of the hotels near the beach, it’s worth asking if they have any complimentary boards for your use. Ours did!
Why is surfing so good here?
Because of the open ocean swells that surround the Santa Catalina Island and the movement of the constant wave year-round, a sandbar constantly forms in the shape of a tapered fan around Huntington Beach Pier. This boosts waves as they come to shore!
This makes Huntington Beach is a popular surf spot 365 days of the year. Hang ten!
Walk Around Huntington Beach Pier During Sunset
Huntington Beach is a popular place for surfing events, soaking up the sun, and playing at the beach! This 8.5-mile stretch of sandy beach is one of the most popular beach areas in Orange County, and even the great Los Angeles Area.
One of the most iconic ways to recognize Huntington Beach is by its popular pier, stretching 1,850 feet out into the ocean. Along this public pier are restaurants, shopping, and lots and lots of people-watching opportunities!
If it’s a nice evening, gather some friends and start a game of beach volleyball. There are several sandy courts, waiting for you to spike that ball!
Roast S’Mores By The Fire
S’mores are good year-round, whether they are on the beach or in your own backyard! Our hotel, the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel provided s’mores every night to cook on their outdoor bonfires. It was such a cozy experience!
There are also several beach bonfire pits along the shoreline. Ask your hotel for the nearest one and the best practices when making fires on the beach. Consider reading the LNT blog about safe fire practices, too!
Some of our favorite s’mores combinations:
- The Classic: Graham Crackers, Milk Chocolate, Marshmallow
- The PB & C: Graham Crackers, Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Marshmallow
- The S’Moreo: Oreo Tops, Marshmallow in the middle
- The Reese’s S’more: Graham Crackers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Marshmallow
Hiking Quail Hill In Irvine Is One Of The Best Outdoor Activities In Orange Country!
Quail Hill is a 2-mile nature loop located in Irvine, California. While it’s not like our typical forest-covered hikes in Washington State, Orange Country hiking brought its own peace and tranquility to the middle of the city.
We decided to take the trail during sunrise (its official opening times are from dawn to dusk!) to bring some added interest to the scenery. Just like at Bolinas Ridge in San Francisco, some places look gorgeous during golden hour!
This is an excellent hike for trail runners, casual walkers (like ourselves) or anyone who just wants to stretch their legs but not leave the city limits!
The trail also boasts wildflowers and fields covered in green in the springtime, so we’ll have to come back and experience it in spring, too!
Evening Fun at Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm is located in Buena Park, about a 30-minute drive north of where we were staying in Huntington Beach.
One thing we heard an employee say was that the “rides are the perfect amount of thrill, where we want people to finish and say, ‘Wow! Let’s do that again!'”
If you’re looking for some classic childhood nostalgia, this is your spot, my friend! From burgers and shakes to twirling rollers coasters, this park is everything you could want in some year-round fun!
Photographer's Tip: Plan your trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in the evening, starting an hour or so before sunset. On a clear day, the color gradient with the roller coasters and lights in the foreground make for some excellent settings!
Make sure to stay after the sun sets at Knott’s Berry Farm! The lights around the park create a magical scene with stringed lights, illuminated rides, and neon signs spread around the park.
These pictures below are taken in the same area, with a completely different vibe after the sun went down!
Stand Up Paddling (SUP) With Paddle Board Newport Beach
Paddle Board Newport Beach is a board rental company that lets you choose your own adventure! While paddleboards are their main gig, they also provide visitors with bikes, kayaks, surfboards, and other beach equipment for a fun day in the California sun.
Launching by Marina Park, this company gives you free rein of Newport Bay which is protected from the open ocean waves.
During your paddleboarding session, you can discover iconic Newport destinations like Lido Isle and Balboa Island, both of which host tight-knit communities and gorgeous custom houses.
Don’t forget to have lunch at the new Mayor’s Table, hosted in the gorgeous Lido House Hotel!
Discover Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park is one of Orange County’s greatest examples of natural and open seashores. From sandy beaches to its 2,400 acres of backcountry, there’s plenty of locations to fill your itinerary with fresh air!
Here are some of our favorite activities in Orange County here at Crystal Cove State Park:
Orange County Tide Pools:
The best time to explore tide pools is during low tide. This way, you can safely walk around and see the many organisms that live along the shores of Orange County.
The tide pools in Crystal Cove State Park are protected, so if it’s your first time visiting tide pools, read up on tide pool etiquette and how to enjoy them responsibly.
The best beaches to explore tide pools are Reef Point, Rocky Bight, Pelican Point, and Treasure Cove. Make sure to wear water shoes with a good grip, (like Tevas), wear a hat, and slather on some sunscreen!
Camping In Orange County
While there are always the easy RV sites along Huntington Beach, Crystal Cove camping offers a little more variety, including tent camping and backcountry hike-in options as well!
Click here for camping options in Crystal Cove State Park, to reserve and obtain permits for your next trip!
Crystal Cove Beaches:
- Moro Beach – Great for paddle boarders, bodyboarders, day-use and fishing.
- Reef Point -Great for surfing, tide pool exploring, and diving.
- Historic District – Great for walking tours and swimming.
- Pelican Point – Great for diving, tide pool exploring, and cove exploring.
Watch The Sunset On The Beach
Orange County is popular for many reasons, but one of the best reasons is its gorgeous sunsets over the ocean. With over 40 miles of public seashore, there’s a little slice for everyone to enjoy.
From marine layers to pockets of clouds to crystal clear skies, the evening always brings a fresh view! Don’t miss out on an Orange County sunset!
Here are some of the best beaches in Orange County to watch the sunset:
- Huntington Beach
- Sunset Beach
- Laguna Beach
- Newport Beach
- Table Rock Beach
- Dana Point Harbor
- San Clemente State Beach
- Crystal Cove State Park
- Lookout Point Park / Corona Del Mar Beach (Newport Beach)
Are These All The Places To Go In Orange County?
Absolutely not! On our latest trip, we only spent three short days in Orange County. However, we think you can even spend a week here and still have adventures waiting for you for next time.
We hope this post inspires you to discover all the amazing outdoor activities in Orange County, and escape to the endless sunshine the OC has to offer!
Originally appeared on The Mandagie's Travel + Adventure