The Top 7 Cities to Visit in Orange County

Southern California is a travel hotspot. Los Angeles is ripe with edgy culture and Hollywood glam, offering sights like the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Sign, plenty of prestigious theaters and the Santa Monica Pier.

Down south, San Diego offers a more laidback lifestyle, perfect for surfing, paddleboarding and visiting museums filled with naval history.

Somewhere in the middle lies Orange County. With the laidback atmosphere of San Diego paired with the glitz and glam of Hollywood, O.C. has plenty of cities worth visiting on your next trip to the Southland.

Newport Beach

One of the most bustling beach cities around, Newport Beach is easily one of the most famous parts of Orange County—but with good reason. There are sprawling beaches with velvet sand, two piers, a fun zone with rides, upscale seafood restaurants, plenty of seaside boutiques and even an island to explore. There are plenty of Orange County vacation rentals, especially given the proximity to the ocean, but the cute cottages in Corona del Mar can’t be beat.

Anaheim

Move further inland and you’ll come across Anaheim. Home to the Angels baseball team and the Ducks hockey team, it’s a spot that’s already known around the world. It also happens to be home to the Disneyland Resort, making it the most visited city in O.C. If Disney and sports aren’t your scene, you’ll still find plenty to do. The Downtown Disney outdoor complex offers a variety of al fresco dining options and shopping experiences, while the nearby GardenWalk offers artwork and live music at the new House of Blues. The nearby convention center also offers special events for varied interests throughout the year.

Huntington Beach

For a more laidback coastal retreat, visit Huntington Beach. Also known as Surf City U.S.A., it’s the perfect place to get in the water and try your hand at surfing. Near the pier, you’ll find hip bars and restaurants with delicious appetizers, perfect for a seaside lunch or late afternoon happy hour. With an extensive beachside bike path and fire pits, you can exercise by day and warm up to the sound of the waves crashing at night. A wetland region, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserves, lies right near the beach and Huntington is also home to the botanical gardens at the Huntington Library.

San Juan Capistrano

A visit to San Juan Capistrano will make you doubt you’re in Orange County at all. The city is the best for history buffs, as there are plenty of places and events to delight in throughout the year. The main attraction is Mission San Juan Capistrano and its famous swallow migration. The birds travel to Southern California from Argentina, and special activities at the mission help mark the occasion along with a Swallow’s Day Parade in town. A variety of other citywide events throughout the year transform the city into a town straight out of the Old West. 

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is, quite possibly, heaven on earth. You won’t find a more beautiful spot in all of Southern California. An artist colony for the last century, Laguna has picturesque coves, blue water, art galleries and independently owned clothing shops. It also happens to be the ideal spot for snorkeling and paddleboarding. With a marine protected area just offshore there is a plethora of sea life you won’t find elsewhere in O.C. Every once in a while, you’ll also spot whales on the horizon. As the sun sets, head to one of the city’s rooftop bars for drinks and appetizers. The vibrant colors are unbelievable.

Costa Mesa

Although Costa Mesa and Newport Beach kind of intertwine, Costa Mesa has some of its own claims to fame. Like Newport, it’s filled with hip restaurants, but those in Costa Mesa are just a little more trendy. They lack the waterfront seafood spots, but instead feature innovative menus and indie interiors full of succulents and reclaimed wood. Aside form the culinary scene, Costa Mesa is known for being a shopping mecca with the famed South Coast Plaza. The shopping destination is celebrating its 50th anniversary. With stores like Gucci and Hermes, it’s credited for giving Orange County a luxury fashion scene.

Dana Point

The pristine cliffs and beautiful ocean scenes make Dana Point a great pick as well. There are plenty of places to spend time outdoors. Doheny State Beach is perfect for sandy fun while many parks provide more grass for a seaside jaunt. The former also doubles as a venue for outdoor music festivals as of late, featuring music from various genres. There are also plenty of luxury hotels in Dana Point so you can live large. Dana Point is home to both the Monarch Beach Resort and the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. Another notable point of interest is the Festival of Whales that takes there each March.