My Visits to Orange County, California
Orange County, California is a vacation and luxury hotspot. The natural beauty and laid-back feel of Orange County, the OC, is why so many people continually come back to visit and recommend it to their friends. My family has vacationed in Orange County several times.
Although many towns make up Orange County, my favorites are Irvine, Anaheim, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Juan Capistrano, and Dana Point. All of these areas will delight both travelers and locals. Southern California is packed with all sorts of treasures. See for yourself!
Irvine’s Spectrum Center is a wonderful place to stroll around, browse shops, and have a good meal. It is home to 150+ shops and a movie theater. When Taylor and I visited, we enjoyed meals at both the Cheesecake Factory and Melting Pot, two of her favorites. The biggest attraction is the Giant Wheel, nestled right between the palms and stylishly decorated mall. I have heard that you can see the Giant Wheel from the 5, 405, and 133 freeways. Surprisingly, Irvine has more than 250,000 residents and is home to several corporate headquarters.
A great place to stay at in Irvine is the modern Hotel Irvine, located minutes from the John Wayne Airport. Taylor and I were upgraded to the concierge level on our visit and loved it! For a small additional fee per night, per person, you can use Club 12 and have breakfast, coffee, unlimited bottled water, and soda, plus access to an Apple computer station and printer. Premium WiFI is also a big plus; well worth the extra fee.
This town is bursting with bougainvillea, palm trees, huge yachts, and some of the nation’s most expensive real estate. A fun activity for families is to take the sea lion and harbor cruise that showcases celebrity homes on the waterfront. Fans of “The OC” TV show should ride the Ferris wheel at the Balboa Fun Zone, featured in “The Heights” episode. There are tons of restaurants in the area, but I recommend the Rusty Pelican and Red O Mexican Cuisine (Rick Bayless).
Nearby Fashion Island is an awesome place to go window shopping. Some of my favorite stores here are the Tommy Bahama Home Store, original Penguin, Nordstrom, and Johnny Was. While you are there, feast on some ‘Lette Macarons, offering 14 flavors including Passion Fruit and Sweet Wedding Almond.
We enjoyed staying at the stylish and trendy Island Hotel Newport Beach and the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa. The Island Hotel is super elegant and located steps from Fashion Island. I feel the value for the Newport Beach Marriott is the better bang for your buck; it is a quality establishment with a killer outdoor terrace and spa.
Disneyland was the original park behind Walt Disney’s genius, and I cannot imagine a visit to Southern California without walking down Main Street at this iconic property. Take a spin on the King Arthur Carousel, ride on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and fly through the air on Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
Living in Florida and becoming Passholders at Disney World has spoiled us. Disneyland has better access to the characters for pictures and a far better “It’s A Small World”, but the rest suffers drastically by comparison. What is Disney without a magic band?
The California Adventure Park is across the street. Shop at the Downtown Disney District until the park closes. Taylor and I grabbed a patio table at La Brea Bakery Cafe and enjoyed dinner while watching Disneyland’s firework spectacular.
Laguna Beach is a haven for fishing, outdoor adventures, and boat excursions. Many fine dining restaurants are in the area, most with superb wine lists. There are many food tours in the area if you would like to sample them all. I recommend Sunday Brunch or the finger-licking Seafood Tower at Las Brisas or Tortilla Republic’s Flautas and Pollo Tinga.
When my family visited, we stayed at the luxurious seaside Montage Laguna Beach. It is one of the most incredible resorts that I have been to in the United States. The views from the Montage’s coastal perch are awe-inspiring! What a place to indulge all of your senses!
This family-friendly beach town is home to fabulous resorts, incredible scenery, and a plethora of outdoor activities, with surfing being #1. It is also one of the only California coastal regions with a harbor.
We stayed at the sophisticated St. Regis Monarch Beach, a stellar resort with all the luxury amenities one could dream of. The stylish accommodations will spoil guests; one look at the outdoor swimming pools and your heart will flutter. Marble bathrooms with oversized soaking tubs are one of my favorite parts of the hotel. California style cuisine from their private oceanfront beach restaurant, Monarch Beach Club, was utterly divine. The St. Regis Monarch is famous for their championship golf courses, which my husband thoroughly enjoyed. Kids can enjoy playing volleyball in the sand while parents sip cocktails by the fireplace. Make sure to visit the Dana Point Harbor for lovely photos. Bonus, it is incredibly romantic!
San Juan Capistrano
We visited Mission San Juan Capistrano, the 7th of the 21 Spanish missions that was established to spread the Catholic faith around the state of California. This historic landmark was opened in 1776 and has been my favorite mission to visit. Take a guided tour with a docent as they will explain the history of the mission. Religious services still take place at the chapel and are open to people of all denominations.
Be sure to inquire about the migrating swallows which arrive each spring from Argentina. Cross the street and enjoy a tasty meal from The Mission Grill. Grab an outdoor seat and enjoy handcrafted cocktails as well as their San Juan Fish Burrito. Yum!
Orange County is a California Jewel in Itself
Orange County, California is the most beautiful area in the United States. It is sure to please the luxury traveler, foodie, and nature lovers.
FYI: Orange County is home to the ultimate shopping experience at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. It is my favorite mall in the United States, full of upscale shops including Apple, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nordstrom.
Check out our other California posts:
- Driving Pacific Coast Highway
- San Luis Obispo
- Carlsbad, California
- Carmel by the Sea
- Reagan Presidential Library