Orange County is one of the best places to visit in California. Although one of the smallest counties, it’s home to some of the state’s top destinations, including Anaheim, Irvine, Laguna Beach, and Newport Beach.
Being so small, in comparison to its neighbors, Orange County surprisingly boasts a ton of fun things to do. While I’m partial to smaller hangouts with friends over boba in Little Saigon, this list includes many of the best places I would recommend for anyone visiting. Just in small county alone, you’ll get to experience some of the best theme parks, beaches, and unique attractions California has to offer.
Check out some of the best things to do in Orange County that you don’t want to leave off your travel itinerary!
Visit Anaheim to discover the “happiest place on Earth” at Disneyland Anaheim. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Orange County, where even adults get to feel what it’s like to be a kid again. Join the more than 18 million visitors who come to the park every year to see what magic lies within its gates.
Explore the themed areas like Main Street, Adventureland, Mickey’s Toontown, and Star Wars to see various rides, shops, restaurants, events, parades, and fireworks at night. You can easily spend a few days at the resort. One day per park minimum, especially with the addition of Star Wars Land.
Historic Old Towne Orange
Take a step back in time when you stroll the streets of the Historic Old Towne Orange. It’s one of the unique things to do in Orange County, where you can explore the largest National Historic District in California.
Old Town Orange is a one square mile district centered around Plaza Park. The architecture is truly incredible as you walk past buildings and homes built in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It’s a fun place to hang out with lots of antique shops and restaurants to check out.
International Surf Museum
The International Surf Museum at Huntington Beach immerses you into the surfer lifestyle, both past, and present. The museum showcases the best of the surf culture and a must-visit for everyone, regardless if you can surf or not.
Check out the unique exhibitions about notable surfers. Learn about the legends who popularized surf culture and see old surfboards. If you’re not in a rush, sit down and enjoy one of the vintage surf films.
Aside from the exhibitions inside, there are some exciting things to see when you arrive at the parking lot. Take photos at the large surfing murals and see the world’s largest surfboard.
Founder’s Park – Anaheim Heritage
Learn about the originals of Anaheim at Founder’s Park. The park is located near the original site of the Anaheim Colony and recreates the traditional community. It’s a popular day trip activity that significantly contrasts the Anaheim you see today.
The main sites in Founder’s Park include two historic homes built in the mid-1800s. You’ll be captivated by the beautiful architecture of the Victorian home and seeing the oldest house built in Anaheim. There is also a large Moreton Bay Fig tree.
Check the calendar before you visit – you might get a chance to catch an event, concert, or farmers market in the park.
Crystal Cove State Park
The preserved natural landscape of the Crystal Cove State Park is one of the most scenic areas in Orange County. Have some fun on the Pacific shoreline and enjoy the beautiful landscape within the park’s 2,400 acres.
Crystal cover extends over three miles along the shoreline. The diverse landscape also includes woodlands and canyons. It’s a popular destination for outdoor recreations. Enjoy popular activities like hiking, horseback riding, and camping. There are dozens of hiking trails to explore.
Also, take a walk around the Crystal Cove Historic District to see the traditional beach houses.
Laguna Art Museum
Laguna Art Museum is one of the popular Orange County tourist attractions where you will see art made by California artists or inspired by the state. Ever since opening in 1918, it’s showcased the best of California art, from historic to contemporary works.
Laguna Art Museum has the perfect location overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Laguna Beach. Its collection consists of over 3,500 works of art by some of the most notable California artists, including Lundeberg and Krasnow.
Every time you visit is a different experience thanks to rotating exhibitions every few months.
Muckenthaler Cultural Center
The Muckenthaler Cultural Center is one of the best free Orange County tourist attractions that’s fun for the entire family. Located in Fullerton, the 20th-century mansion is now used as a public cultural center.
The center is a place to check out art exhibitions, attend events, and participate in educational programs. It even hosts kids’ events and art classes.
Explore the multiple rooms to learn about the history of the mansion or see international art. After, take a leisure walk around the manicured gardens and admire the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. There is also an outdoor amphitheater used for festivals.
Spending a day at the beach is a must when you visit Orange County. There are lots of beaches to choose from, but one of the most popular in Newport Beach. Newport Beach gives you picturesque scenery with golden sands and pristine blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Newport Beach is a family-friendly beach. The gentle waves are ideal for swimming and boogie boarding. Grab your surfboard and catch some waves – it’s one of the favorite local surfing spots.
There are always people hanging out at the beach, so you’ll have a fun, exciting atmosphere to enjoy the day.
South Coast Plaza
Orange County has lots of places to go shopping. Located in Costa Mesa, the South Coast Plaza is the biggest shopping center on the west coast. The massive center has over 250 stores, restaurants, and popup boutiques.
South Coast Plaza has shopping for everyone. Browse popular retailers like Macy’s, Banana Republic, and H&M, or spend a bit of cash in the high-end boutiques like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
The plaza includes the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where you can see award-winning theater performances or the sculpture garden at Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario.
Old World Village
You don’t have to travel across the ocean to experience Europe thanks to Old World Village. The quaint village is one of the unique things to do in Orange County, where you’ll wander around an old German town.
Old World Village is an outdoor shopping experience set up like a small German village. Walk the cobblestone streets to explore the various venues – boutique shops, grocery stores, restaurants, and pubs. It’s one of the only places to taste authentic German sausages, apple strudel, and, of course, beer!
The village hosts Oktoberfest annually and traditional Dachshund wiener dog races.
Laguna Beach is one of the top beach destinations in Orange county. When most people talk about visiting Laguna Beach, chances are they’re talking about Main Beach. It’s the best local beach where you can spend your time hanging on the boardwalk or in the water.
Main Beach has beautiful coastal views of the Pacific Ocean where you can enjoy swimming near shore or surfing. It’s one of the cleanest beaches in the OC.
When you need a break from the ocean, walk the boardwalk. From people-watching to dining at the incredible restaurants, there’s plenty to keep you entertained all day.
You’ll experience the surfer lifestyle all around Orange County, but one of the top surfing spots is at Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach is famous for its perfect waves. It hosts many surfing and volleyball competitions.
If the beach life is what you’re seeking, look no further than Huntington Beach. The scenic beach extends 3.5-miles long, giving you plenty of room to pick a spot to lounge for the day. Rent a beach cruiser and ride along the bike trail or enjoy views from the Huntington Beach pier.
It’s one of the best places to watch the sunset while surfers catch wave after wave.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Orange County isn’t only about surfing and beaches. The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is an excellent alternative where you’ll get to explore some of the best hiking trails in the county.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park covers approximately 7,000 acres of wilderness area near Laguna Beach. The San Joaquin Hills dominate most of the landscape, which also includes views of the ridgeline along the coast and Orange County’s only natural lakes.
Choose your favorite hiking trail based on your experience level – there are suitable trails for everyone – and enjoy the natural scenery. And don’t forget to bring lots of water on hot days.
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano for one of the unique things to do in Orange County. The mission was founded in 1776 to promote Spanish Catholicism. Much of it is restored to its original appearance and open to the public to explore the historic landmark.
Mission San Juan Capistrano was one of the first established in California. The site includes the main mission, a museum, the Serra Chapel, and cathedral ruins. Take a free audio tour in the museum to learn about the mission’s history and see exhibitions showcasing religious artifacts, paintings, and other objects.
The famous Pirate Tower is one of the must-see Orange County tourist attractions in Laguna Beach. It’s one of the best photography locations for a sight that you don’t get to see every day.
The Pirate Tower was built in the early 1900s to access Victoria Beach from the cliffside home at the top. The stairs were once open to the public where it earned its name, but it’s now closed.
Although you can’t walk up the tower, you can still enjoy the sights of the attractions. The 60-ft tall tower will look great in your photos. Access to the tower depends on the water levels during high tide.
Since the Grand Canyon is a bit of a distance from Orange County, Limestone Canyon is the next best thing. Limestone Canyon is located in a nature presser to protect the canyon landscape and ecosystem.
Limestone Canyon is a fun destination for outdoor recreation. Explore some of the hiking trails or go on a guided horseback riding trek along the canyon floor. You’ll see wildlife, like coyotes and deer. Be sure to keep an eye out for snakes.
There are several viewpoints along the canyon rim for incredible views overlooking the canyon. And the best part is that it’s free for the public to visit.
Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Visit the Wood Canyons Wilderness Park if you need a change of scenery from the major cities in Orange county. The park gives a sense of remote wilderness thanks to its diverse landscape that’s ideal for hiking and biking.
Wood Canyons Wilderness Park is established in the San Joaquin Hills, covered with woodlands, canyons, grasslands, and the coast. There are a couple of natural landmarks to check out, including the Aliso Creek and Dripping Cave.
Go hiking or biking on the designated trails around the park to see wildlife and other sights.
House of Blues Anaheim
The famous House of Blues has a location right in Orange County in Anaheim. You can enjoy all the familiar southern-inspired food and live music.
California is known as one of the entertainment capitals in the country, and House of Blues is one of the most legendary venues in Anaheim. It hosts a variety of live music shows across multiple genres.
Check the calendar during your visit to catch your favorite band playing in the intimate setting. It’s also a great place to drop by after visiting other Orange County tourist attractions for dinner and drinks. You’ll indeed have a night of fun at the House of Blues Anaheim.
If you’re looking for something to pair with a trip to the OC, and in particular Disneyland, I would recommend checking out the other two big parks in the area:
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is a theme park that takes visitors behind the scenes of their favorite films. Tour the original film studios and explore the grounds that create film studio magic.
You can be one of the millions of people to tour one of the oldest operating film studios. It’s a theme park that combines film set tours with amusement park rides for one of the most fun things to do in Orange County. There are also 4D and virtual reality experiences.
You’ll enter different park sections dedicated to popular shows and movies like The Simpsons, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park. You might even catch a glimpse of your favorite characters walking. Don’t hesitate to grab a photo!
We’ve all played with Legos as kids to create our imaginary worlds – well, now, you can experience the Lego world brought to life at Legoland California. Opened in 1999, it’s one of several in the Legoland chain and the first established in the US.
Everything is made from Legos at Legoland California. It features over 60 Lego-themed rides, including roller coasters and water rides. The park includes multiple themed sections – visit Explorer Island where you’ll encounter Lego dinosaurs; DUPLO Fun Town is a place where kids can be adults; and Miniland USA exhibits famous American landmarks reimagined as Lego structures.
Don’t forget to try the apple fries. I still have fond memories of munching on the deep-fried, cinnamon goodness of that theme park snack.