Orange County Attractions
Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Irvine, Tustin, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach now challenge Anaheim and Santa Ana for county leadership. Those relatively new cities anchor southern Orange County with wealth that supports many attractions and bistros.
A few decades ago, Irvine was simply 170,000 square miles of Irvine Ranch. Today, its the business hub of OC with 14 hotels, including a few in the AAA four-diamond category, plus the landmark 108-foot tall Giant (Ferris) Wheel at Irvine Spectrum. Irvine allocated a vast tract of land to the University of California at Irvine. It also preserved one of Southern California’s largest coastal freshwater marshes, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, that is a must visit for nature lovers. Irvine boasts more than 40 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.
A web of freeways connecting to over a dozen major shopping centers – each with the requisite collection of gourmet restaurants, state-of-the-art cinemaplex and enough upscale shopping to make you drool. Ladies can find every designer boutique of note at MainPlace in Santa Ana, The Block at Orange, Irvine Spectrum, and Newport Beach Fashion Island to name a few purveyors of grand shopping experiences.
South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is an exceptional shopping venue with more than 280 retailers, including some of the world’s finest brands. If you prefer more intimate shopping, consider Laguna Beach. It features an enclave of fine art galleries, the annual Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters, which is the world’s most famous presentation of tableaux vivants (living pictures).
Despite many patrons sporting discretionary income in the form of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls Royce, the waterfront bistros dotting Newport Beach and Marine Avenue in Balboa Island accomodate all budgets. You can take the kids to Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina that features inflatables such as giant icebergs and water trampolines to rock climbing walls. Paddle boats, surrey bikes, electric boats, hydrobikes, catamarans and stand-up paddle boards and private beachside cabanas also are available.
No romantic getaway to Newport Beach is complete without dining at a waterfront restaurant and SOL Mexican Cucina fits the bill perfectly. Its low-slung Spinish tile architecture welcomes you to an interior that marries Baja Mexico charm with upscale SoCal amenities. Tequila lovers rejoice at their expansive list of inventive tequila drinks. They grill fresh meat and Pacific seafood over mesquite wood in the open kitchen. You can taste the bounty of freshness in their salsas and sauces made every day. From the seasonal menu, check out the Kobe Steak with sliced guacamole and organic brown rice. The meat was so tender it practically melts in your mouth and much to love on the menu. You might even rub shoulders with OC-resident Kobe Bryant, who includes SOL on his roster of local favorites.
What if visitors bought a multi-day family pass at Disneyland and want intersperse other sights and activities with the kids? Buena Park has you covered there too. You can’t go wrong with the pizza, games and fun atmosphere of John’s Incredible Pizza. If you haven’t seen one of their venues around the country, your kids will enjoy Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. Some of their amazing horseback stunts will have you wondering how they pull it off without injuries. Fair warning though, Medieval food is an acquired taste, if at all.
One of the biggest complaints leveled at suburbs is a lack of fine arts and culture. No such problem in the OC. Known as the “City of the Arts,” Costa Mesa is home to the critically acclaimed Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Segerstrom Concert Hall, Samueli Theater and Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory. In this cultural enclave of Orange County you can attend jazz concerts by touring groups like Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, touring Broadway musicals, symphonic concerts and stirring repertory dramas. Artists from around the globe regularly perform on stage here – enough to rival Pantages Theatre and the Hollywood Bowl in LA. I can’t imagine a more perfect place to enjoy live Jazz than intimate and architecturally brilliant Samueli Theater.
Costa Mesa takes pride in placing spectacular artworks by Richard Serra, Jean Dubuffet, Henry Moore, Joan Miro and Charles O. Perry, among others on display in the cultural center and office park. A centerpiece is Isamu Noguchi’s 1.6-acre collection of sculptures and plantings called CALIFORNIA SCENARIO, a horticultural landscape that presents an abstract vision of the Golden State.
Nearby in Santa Ana is the Bowers Museum, which displays the fine art of indigenous peoples from the Americas, Pacific Rim and Africa. Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach is no slouch either with its fine collection of nineteenth century and contemporary art.
Mild year-round temperatures and the pristine beaches of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach invite you to indulge in beachcombing, kayaking, fishing or boating. Arguably, the real heartbeat of OC is surfing. And that heartbeat is preserved at the Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach. This 100-year-old city maintains a lively surf culture and more than eight miles of golden sand beaches and waves that always attract visitors and a wide range of events. Volleyball players hit the beaches nearly every Spring and summer day. When the sun goes down, beach bonfires light up the sand for miles. And if you visit Huntington Beach in September, you must attend the slammin’ BB Jazz Festival.
DESCRIPTION: An American icon since 17 July 1955, “The Happiest Place on Earth” still looks the same; resist the urge to immediately stroll down Main Street USA, instead ride the steam locomotive just above the entrance to get a first impression of the park; upon return to the entrance, you’ll better appreciate MAIN STREET USA’s glimpse of late 1800s-early 1900s Americana filled with popcorn, ice cream, fudge, chocolate and novelty gift shops on each sidet; visit the Opera House for stirring animatronic performance by President Lincoln; if your timing is right on Main Street, catch the Parade of Stars marching towards the roundabout in front of Disneyland Castle — the home of Sleeping Beauty and sometime Pixie fairies; at that juncture, choose the order to visit to Mickey’s ToonTown, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Critter Country and Fantasyland; note that it takes three 12-hour days to experience every attraction at a relaxing pace; NEW ORLEANS SQUARE features old Crescent City courtyards, walkways, and cafes mingle with Dixieland jazz, the Haunted Mansion and marauding buccaneers at Pirates of the Caribbean; the square presents the best views of Believe Fireworks and Fantasmic spectaculars — weather permitting; ADVENTURELAND is a collage of the world’s uncharted regions to discover such as Polynesia (Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room), the wilds of Africa (Tarzan’s Treehouse), exotic rivers of the world (Jungle Cruise) and the steamy jungles of India (Indiana Jones Adventure); CRITTER COUNTRY , nestled in a lazy corner of the backwoods offers Guests thrilling rides on Splash Mountain, the Hundred Acre Wood of Winnie the Pooh; FRONTIERLAND is a robust panorama of America’s pioneer past, from the bustling riverfronts of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers of the late 1700s (Columbia Sailing Ship, Mark Twain Riverboat, Tom Sawyer Island) to the dusty southwest deserts of the 1880s (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Golden Horseshoe Stage); TOMORROWLAND offers discovery and wonder from a 1950-80s perpective of whirling spaceships (Astro Orbiter), zooming rocket vehicles (Star Tours, Space Mountain), racing roadsters (Autopia), visions of the future (Innoventions Dream House), Michael Jackson’s Captain EO from 1986 (still a great 4D experience), amazing inventions (Honey, I Shrunk the Audience) and the highly recommended submarine voyage (Finding Nemo Voyage); guests often forget to catch the Disney Monorail next to Finding Nemo Voyage – it circles both parks and Disneyland Resort; FANTASYLAND features enchanted tales from classic Disney animated films adapted so guests can fly over NeverLand (Peter Pan’s Flight), see an elephant fly (Dumbo the Flying Elephant), navigate an out-of-control motorcar (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride) or attend a mad tea party (Alice in Wonderland) and the ever-popular, its a small world!; at the end of the day, remember that 20,000 Cast Members made your visit enjoyable
MEALS & DEALS: budget $8-$13 for adults and $5-$6 for kids at various restaurants, cafes and kiosks around the park; stroller rentals are $7 per day
ADMISSION: Adult for a single day/single park up to $119 for a 5-Day Park Hopper Pass which allows visits to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Thu 9a-8p, Fri 9a-10p, Sat 8a-12a, Sun 8a-11p; extended operating hours during holiday periods and summer
ADDRESS: garage at 1313 South Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, CA MAP
PARKING: $15, garage shuttle transports you to entrance
Disney California Adventure
DESCRIPTION: to those returning to the park, opened in 2001, you may be puzzled by change from the Golden Gate Bridge-California mosaic entrance to an Art Deco Los Angeles entrance — there’s a method to the madness; once SUNSHINE PLAZA completes its transformation to BUENA VISTA STREET, it will recall 1920s Los Angeles as encountered by the newly arrived Walt Disney — buzzing with energy and optimism with a Red Car Trolley to Carthay Circle Theatre; from there, major sections of the park unfold as A Bug’s Land, Paradise Pier, Hollywood Pictures Backlot, and Golden State; A BUG’S LAND lets you go underground and see what the buzz is all about in a 3D experience; at Flik’s Fun Fair, see how bugs have created a place of their own, then Hop on the hilarious Heimlich Chew Chew Train with your toddler or climb aboard Flik’s Flyers and take a whirl through the air in the ingenious ant’s latest invention; GOLDEN STATE has a ride that lets your feet dangle in the winds while discovering the breathtaking landscape in Soarin’ Over California; climb into a white water raft and crash over the rapids on the Grizzly River Run, set an achieve personal fun goals at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail; PARADISE PIER features a blazing fast California Screamin’ thrill ride that will leave you breathless; join Woody and Buzz Lightyear on Toy Story Mania!, a 4D family fun ride inspired by the Disney·Pixar films; swing on the Silly Symphony, Googy’s Sky School and The Zephyr aerial rides as Mickey’s band plays up a storm; if you are not afraid of heights, sail around the face of Mickey Mouse on the spin-sational Mickey’s Fun Wheel; when you come down, breeze over to the the prize game attractions along Paradise Pier Boardwalk; World of Color is the latest night-time spectacular in Paradise Pier featuring enormous screens of mist that come to life with timeless Disney tales such as The Lion King, Pocahontas, Finding Nemo, Princess & The Frog, The Little Mermaid, Alladin and plenty of pirates in an unforgettable light, sound, mists and flames extravaganza; nearby Pacific Wharf lets you grab a bite to eat and drink beverages; HOLLYWOOD PICTURES BACKLOT is home to the magical Aladdin Musical (get tickets early) and a haunted hotel and enter its cursed elevator for the ride of your life at The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror; for something a little tamer, take a scare-raising ride through Monstropolis on Monsters, Inc. with Mike & Sulley to the Rescue; if your child has an interest in drawing, learn how to draw a Disney character at the Animation Academy; Discover eye-popping technology spawned from Henson mayhem at Muppet*Vision 3D; last but not least enjoy ElecTRONica nightly dancing inspired by the movie TRON Legacy
MEALS & DEALS: Budget $8-$13 for adults/teens and $5-6 for kids; limited stroller rentals are available for $7 per day
ADMISSION: range from Adult $47 for a single day/single park to $119 for a 5-Day Park Hopper Pass which allows visits to both parks
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Thu 10a-7p, Fri 10a-8p, Sat & Sun 10a-9p
ADDRESS: garage at 1313 South Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, CA MAP
PARKING: $15 on premises, garage shuttle transports you to park entrance
Knott’s Berry Farm
DESCRIPTION: Nation’s oldest and first theme park, which no doubt influenced Walt Disney; in the 1920s, the Knott Family had a berry farmed on 20 acres of land and eventually started Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant for passers by; Mrs. Knott’s food became so popular and her husband built a Ghost Town venue to entertain waiting customers; one thing led to another as the family expanded Knott’s Berry Farm to 165 attractions and restaurants and now; though its includes California’s Spanish and Indian heritage theme areas, the main treats are roller-coasters, vertical drops, water parks, thrill rides, western shoot outs, stagecoaches and a steam powered train for the kiddies; the list of original rides goes on and on; Halloween Haunt is a not to be missed event for spook fans
ADMISSION: $52 Adults; $23 Seniors and Ages 3 to 11; tickets half-price after 4p
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 10a-6p, Sat 10a-10p, Sun 10a-7p; open later in Summer
ADDRESS: 8039 Beach Boulevard, Buena Vista, CA MAP
PARKING: on premises
Knott’s Berry Farm’s Soak City
DESCRIPTION: Pacific Spin, Harborworks, Tidal Wave and more will have you and the kids mesmerized. Other rides, particularly the Lazy River, are just the right speed for an afternoon of high quality family fun; admission ticket includes unlimited use of all water rides and attractions. General admission tickets are not valid for special ticket events; there’s plenty of lockers and cabanas available
ADMISSION: $30 adults; $20 Seniors and Ages 3-11
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 10a-7p
ADDRESS: 8039 Beach Boulevard, Buena Vista, CA MAP
PARKING: on premises