What? Go to Orange County, home of Disneyland, without the kids? Yep! And here’s why you need to go with the fellow grown-up of your choice (and what you need to do):

Orange County without the kids:

orange county

Orange County has recently surprised me with mixed use buildings, a more urban flare, and a departure from the beach-and-theme-park vibe I’ve long been used to. Here’s what not to miss in four Orange County cities, including Anaheim.

Spend a day in San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach:

Located on the southern end of Orange County, San Juan Capistrano lies adjacent to the beach towns of Dana Point and Laguna Beach, but offers something different than sand and sun. One of the oldest communities on the west coast, visiting San Juan Capistrano adds a layer of history and old-world beauty to your Southern California vacation. Start at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, and try to time your visit to coincide with one of their tours. The powers that be currently at the mission are taking great care with preservation and history, and provide excellent tours for just a nominal fee over the entry fee.

From the mission, peruse the shops adjacent, then cross the railroad trips to the neighborhood of Los Rios. This oldest neighborhood in California is tucked away amid an almost garden-like network of quiet streets, and the cafes, boutiques, and clothing stores here are all run by owners who live on premises.

san juan capistrano

Head up the coastline through Dana Point to the artist haven of Laguna Beach. Take in the pretty streets and impressive art galleries, stroll through the Festival of the Arts or the fun and funky Sawdust Festival if you’re visiting during the summer season, then throw all your impressions of elegant art and refinement out the window during a counter-culture tour of Laguna with Doug from La Vida Laguna. This fascinating walking tour is a new offering from this company that also leads kayak, surf, and paddle board tours and rentals, and talks visitors through the (slightly) dark and completely fascinating underbelly of Laguna, from the time it served as a hotbed of the LSD craze of the 1960s and housed the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, championed by infamous Timothy Leary.

laguna

Enjoy at spa day in Huntington Beach:

Treat yourselves to a spa day a the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. There are many spas in Orange County, but I recommend this one because of the value proposition: with a spa treatment, you can stay at the property all day, enjoying not only the spa amenities but the pools. Valet parking is included, room service can be brought to the spa, and the Watertable, the Hyatt Regency’s on-site dining venue, is a perfect compliment. And if you crave some beach time, it’s right across the street via pedestrian bridge.

Experience world-class theater in Costa Mesa:

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts, located in Costa Mesa, offers all full line-up of theater productions. Whereas I might have assumed I’d need to travel to Los Angeles for quality theater, the Segerstrom impressed. Begin your night with the fixed pris menu at Silver Trumpet, located directly across the street from the theater. Try one of their craft cocktails or ask for the impressive wine list.

Wine and dine:

Speaking of good food, if you explore only one Orange County dining and shopping mixed-use space, make it the Packing House, located in the Packing District of Anaheim. Just minutes from Disneyland, the Packing House is located on the site of an orange packing plant, now converted to two stories of fun, funky, and locally-sourced food, art, and handmade items.

urbana

Be sure to get to the Packing House with plenty of time to stroll, then endure the hard part: picking just one or two places to eat. Split up, and return to the central tables with bites to share. Cuisine is quick-serve, and ranges from Indian and Vietnamese fare to Southern comfort food and boba tea and smoothies. If you visit in the evening, be sure to visit The Blind Rabbit, an authentic speak-easy, with an unmarked door (ask for directions).

Outside the Packing House in the greater Packing District, take your pick between breweries with plenty of outdoor seating and live music, and a selection of wine bars.

Similar to the Packing House, OC Mix is located nearby in Costa Mesa, with more craft and handmade items, plus a smattering of unique home decor and design offerings. An outdoor space with Adirondack chairs and other seating is a good place to chill with a tea or coffee, and two wine bars, including LCA Wines, with unique offerings from around the world for excellent prices, offer tastings.

ARC

Eat at ARC if the weather is on the cooler side; this warm-hued venue makes meals entirely on open flame and in a wood-fired oven, in an open-concept kitchen. The casseroles and meat dishes are rich and comforting, and the craft cocktails are on point. If you’d rather eat outside, head to Taco Maria for some of the best upscale tacos in the OC (these are not street tacos, by any means). Take them to the courtyard to eat al fresco.

orange county

In nearby Irvine, Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine is tucked away in a largely corporate-looking business district, but has a hopping happy hour, as well as truly spectacular cuisine. Start with one of the artisan cocktails, then pursue the extensive wine list (two days a week, Monday and Tuesday, there are no corkage fees if you want to bring  bottle of your own). The best thing about Andrei’s: 100% of its profits goes toward retinal eye disease research, in honor of Andrei Olenicoff, the owners’ son and brother. Yes, 100%.

Where to stay:

Treat yourselves to a truly sleek, new hotel with a beautiful lounge and excellent fully-catered breakfast, right in the heart of Irvine. The Marriott AC Hotel Irvine is a business-leisure hybrid with a second-floor outdoor pool and lounge area, a full bar and lounge indoors, and an upscale breakfast buffet (not complimentary) that serves two additional made-to-order offerings per morning as well.

ac hotel irvine

While the AC Hotel does charge for breakfast and parking, it makes up for these factors in its ambiance and convenient central location. The hardest thing to plan during an Orange County vacation is drive time with traffic, and by staying in Irvine, you’ll be within 15 minutes of Costa Mesa and Anaheim, and less than 30 minutes from Laguna and San Juan Capistrano. I enjoyed the ‘city’ vibe of the hotel, since so often, Orange County is equated with ‘beach’ or ‘Disney’.

About the author

Amy Whitley

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.