Southern California adventures up and down the O.C.
Stunning views of the Pacific make coastal communities in Orange County prime real estate. Find out how to live like a celeb on your vacation as you visit these California beach communities.
There’s something for everyone in Orange County, an expansive area stretching along California’s Pacific coast. Hobnob like a celebrity at Newport Beach, discover your creativity and inner artist in Laguna Beach, or surf Huntington Beach. Regardless of the beach vibe you choose, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific, palm-tree-lined coasts, and cool waters where you can surf, paddleboard, kitesurf, or swim. Shimmy into a swimsuit, slip on those celebrity-sized sunglasses, and layer on the sunscreen as you explore sunny Orange County.
1. Get Barrelled at Laguna Beach
Beginner and intermediate surfers can excel at Laguna Beach, with its cove beaches featuring mild waves. If you’re a skilled surfer, head to Brooks Street Beach, in southwest Orange County, which serves up some south waves and long waves that break out at the second reef. If you’re still dreaming of becoming a surfer, sign up for a two-hour lesson with La Vida Laguna. A pro instructor will teach you the basics of paddling, equip you with the right gear, and send you out to Thalia Beach, where you can ride some gentle waves. Surf’s up!
2. Discover The Lesser-Known Side of The O.C.
Head to San Clemente, a less developed area of the county with a coastal rail-trail worth exploring. This sandy path is surrounded by high cliffs on one side and Amtrak rails on the other. Walk or bike along this trail, which offers views of waves crashing onto the shoreline and stunning beachfront abodes. Take a break as you approach the Pier Bowl, a palm-tree-lined entertainment district. Surprise your tastebuds with some musubi—that’s Spam sushi, a Hawaiian favorite—at The Pier Shack.
3. Trek The Cove State Park Coastal Trails
Visit Laguna Beach’s Crystal Cove State Park, which features 2,000 acres of undeveloped wooded canyons, as well as crystal-clear tide pools, sandy beaches, and rolling surf. Stroll through more than 3.5 miles of beaches or dive into the water, where you can scuba dive or snorkel alongside dolphins and orange garibaldi fish. Climb up the bluff’s stairs for a stunning view of Moro Beach. If you pay attention, you might see whales spouting up from the shore.
4. Go Back In Time at Balboa Island
Head off the coast of Newport Beach to Balboa Island, once a hotspot for celebrities. John Wayne’s house sits on the corner of Bay Shores; more recently, Nicolas Cage was a long-time resident. Perfect for pedestrians, the island is surrounded by a 1.5-mile loop for walking, jogging, and biking. Hop aboard the Ferris wheel on the harbor side of the island, or grab a bite to eat or cocktail at the Italian trattorias and cocktail bars along Marine Avenue.
5. Swing high in Anaheim
Sign up for trapeze lessons from respected daredevil and pro trapeze artist Nick Selvy. Located in Anaheim, the two-hour lessons at SwingIt Trapeze teach you the basics of swinging through the air like a true circus performer. Step into a harness and fly high above the safety net. By the end of your class, you just might be able to flip your body toward an instructor and nail a catch like a professional acrobat. This adventure will help you conquer that fear of heights, learn some choreography basics, work as a team, and enjoy some seriously challenging exercise as well.
6. Soak Up The Vibes of Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach Pier runs perpendicular to the Pacific Coast Highway and stretches 1,850 feet into the Pacific Ocean. Surfing legends George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku popularized this spot, which today serves as a free spot to surf, play sand volleyball, or go fishing. Cozy up to one of the 500 bonfire rings scattered throughout the 10 miles of nearby beach. If you’re visiting on a Tuesday night, swing by nearby Main Street for Surf City Nights, a weekly street fair and evening farmers’ market.
7. Explore Catalina Island by Sky or Sea
Twenty-two miles off the shores of Orange County, Catalina Island is an hour-long boat ride away from the coast and well worth a visit. Board the Newport Landing Whale Watching Cruise and sail through the Catalina Channel searching for whales of all types: blue, gray, humpback, and finback. If you’re lucky, you might spot a bald eagle or harbor seal along the way. For a view of Catalina Island from above, hop aboard a luxury helicopter with panoramic windows that deliver sweeping views of the Pacific coastline. Stay for an afternoon or a weekend—you create the itinerary for this adventure.
8. Take To The Air With A Kite and A Board
Get extreme by kitesurfing at Long Beach. The sport is like a mix of wakeboarding, windsurfing, and a little bit of gymnastics. Take kitesurfing lessons at Belmont Shore, the only beach where beginners can learn the sport. You’ll perfect your moves on the beach, using increasingly large kites as your skills develop. Then, your instructor will hop into the Pacific with you to teach you the art of kitesurfing on the water. Perfecting kitesurfing takes time—expect to complete at least a six-hour course, if not more.
9. Scuba Dive in Laguna Beach
Scuba dive with locals off of South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. This hidden treasure is quiet on the weekdays and attracts far fewer tourists, giving you more untouched ocean to explore. Get up close and personal with lobsters, eels, octopus, Kellet’s whelks, bat stars, and even the occasional dolphin. For a deep dive, head to the reef to the west. To stay in shallow water, dive in on the eastern shore, which is closer to the beach. You won’t have much beach left during high tide, when the sand disappears under water.
10. Mountain Bike through Canyon trails
East of Orange and Santa Anna sits Peters Canyon Regional Park, which features 340 acres of coastal sage scrub, freshwater marsh, and grasslands. Bike on Lake View Trail for a waterfront view of Peters Canyon reservoir. Keep an eye out for deer, bobcats, coyote, and the occasional mountain lion as you bike through the park. Drive about 10 miles north to Santiago Oaks Regional Park, where you can ride through 1,269 acres of interconnected mountain biking trails. Weave through trails adjacent to Santiago Creek and keep an eye out for one of the area’s last remaining orange groves.