Fun things to do in Orange County aren’t limited to beaches and theme parks, although there are plenty of those. In addition to theme parks, and amazing beaches, Orange County, California is filled with amazing dining, historical sites, and plenty of other activities to keep both visitors and locals busy. So let’s take a look at everything this wonderful county has to offer and dive into all the fun things to do in Orange County.
Fun Things to do in Orange County for Everyone
Whether you love history, bumming it on the beach, or exploring amusement parks, this area of California has something for you. With a plethora of activities ranging from educational to the simple pleasure of shopping, if you come to Orange County, you’ll find something – probably more than one something – to pique your interest.
Must-Visit Beach Towns
Of course, when we think Southern California, we think beaches, and Orange County has some of the best beaches in the country. However, these towns have a lot more to offer than just sandy shores. Each town is an adventure in its own right, offering a cultural experience unique to its area.
Nestled between seven miles of hidden coves and majestic caverns, Laguna Beach waits to greet travelers with the natural beauty of its crashing waves, white-sand beaches, and surrounding wilderness, as well as eclectic city life. It’s a year-round destination for beachgoers, art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, families, couples, and singles.
Laguna Beach is the name of the beach and the city itself. This artist colony, filled with beautiful art and a care-free vibe, is flanked on one side by the beach and the other by over 20,000 acres of protected wilderness. With seven miles of coves and beaches, visitors can explore tide pools, ocean-side bluffs, and sandy beaches, all while watching or swimming in the beautiful waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Pageant of the Masters
Lovers of art and culture must see Pageant of the Masters. This annual festival, held by the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts, is an eight-week festival held each summer. Originally called Festival of Arts at its inception in 1933, it became the Pageant of Masters in 1934 after a local developer was put in charge of the festival due to his vocal criticism of its low quality. Over the years, the festival has grown in scope and pageantry to become a beloved yearly event.
Known for its 90 minutes of “living pictures”, the festival combines actors, a professional narrator, an orchestra, and period songs to bring both contemporary and classical works of art to life. The actors are made to look nearly identical to the paintings, creating the feel of art come to life. It’s a must-see for anyone who loves culture and the arts.
Laguna Art Museum
Situated on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Laguna Art Museum offers a feast for the eyes with its view as well as its art collections and exhibits of California artists. The museum’s collection features pieces from all periods and styles going as far back as the 19th century, offering a unique look into California’s art scene from the historical to the contemporary.
LAM, as it’s also called, features only California art and is the oldest cultural spot in the area. Founded in 1918 by a small group of artists, The Laguna Beach Art Association, as it was originally called, was eventually developed into an exhibition space showcasing the best of the current artistic works of the time. Over the years, with the introduction of more and more pieces and exhibitions, it began to increase in size and eventually became an established museum.
Due to its ever-expanding collection and reputation, its name was changed to The Laguna Beach Museum of Art in 1972. In April of 1985, the museum underwent an extensive $1.6 million expansion, doubling its size from 9,000 square feet to 19,000 square feet. After this expansion, its name was changed yet again to make it what’s known today as the Laguna Art Museum.
Sawdust Art Festival
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The Sawdust Art Festival, also known as The Sawdust, is an annual art festival held from late June through early August. Featuring crafts as well as traditional fine art, this non-juried festival draws around 200,000 visitors each year. In addition to the summer art festival, the Sawdust Winter Fantasy festival is held on weekends from mid-November through December and open to non-resident exhibitors.
The Sawdust Art Festival has its roots in the battle against “the man”. In 1965, a group of hippie artists held their first exhibit on the vacant Peacock lot near Park avenue. Calling it The Rejects Festival, the artists used this exhibit as both an artistic outlet and a protest to the juried Laguna Beach Festival of Arts, which they maintained was rigged and a part of The Establishment. Over the years, what began as a festival-type atmosphere, complete with streakers and religious fanatics preaching amid the booths, has become the Sawdust Art Festival, a highly respected non-juried art showcase.
Open Volleyball Tournaments
Sports lovers will want to watch – or take part if they’re locals – the volleyball tournaments at Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach hosts annual volleyball tournaments which are open to everyone at Main Beach. These tournaments include a women’s and men’s tournament, as well as the Laguna Women’s Open, Laguna Men’s Open, Laguna Female’s in three age ranges, Competitive Round Robin, and Polar Bear Tournament.
Composed of ten distinct neighborhoods, each with its own unique personality, Newport Beach is like visiting several towns in one. It boasts the largest recreational harbor on the west coast, offering miles of fishing, swimming, surfing, and watersports possibilities, as well as an art scene, fine dining, and more.
Crystal Cove State Park
Encompassing 3.2 miles of Pacific coastline, Crystal Cove State Park is the place to go for beach lovers. This stretch of coastal cliffs and a beachfront cove offer unsurpassed views, beaches, and watersports and activities for everyone who loves the beach and the ocean.
In addition to the beach and the Pacific Ocean, the state park also boasts 2,400 acres of undeveloped woodland which is a popular spot for hikers and horseback riders. Guests can bike, hike, or ride on horseback on 17 different trails branching off of 3 centralized routes. There are also 34 different lots spread throughout 3 designated camping areas for avid campers to take advantage of.
This man-made island is one of the biggest draws for Newport Beach. Drive, walk, bike, or take the Balboa Island Ferry to this beautiful island and enjoy a quaint experience not to be missed. Visitors can walk Marine Avenue, taking advantage of coastal shops carrying everything from unique jewelry and beach fashions to art and bistros that boast amazing water views.
Orange County Museum of Art
For art lovers, Orange County Museum of Art is sure to be one of the most fun things to do in Orange County. The OCMA, as it’s also called, is a contemporary art museum consisting of over 3,500 objects, with a heavy focus on California and Pacific Rim art from the early 20th century to present day. At the OCMA, visitors will find paintings, sculptures, and photography, along with newer mediums like video, digital, and installation art.
The museum was founded in 1962 and was originally called the Balboa Pavilion Gallery. What began as rented space in the Balboa Pavilion was known as the Newport Harbor Art Museum by 1968. In 1972, the museum moved to a larger location, and in 1977, the museum opened its doors in Newport Beach. After its 1997 remodeling, it became known as the Orange County Museum of Art.
Hard against the Pacific Ocean, Dana Point is a city of many faces. Lovers of the ocean will be overjoyed with its marinas, while shoppers will enjoy the many boutiques the town has to offer. Nature lovers will be drawn to dolphin and whale-watching cruises, while beachgoers will want to see nearby Doheny State Beach and Salt Creek Beach. Along with water activities, shopping, and nearby beaches, Dana Point also offers a plethora of trails winding through beautiful Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area.
Dana Point Harbor
Dana Point Harbor is a testament to what mankind’s ingenuity can accomplish. While the harbor was initially thought to have poor anchorage, a large construction project turned it into what is now a premier watersport and boating location. The harbor offers whale watching excursions, sailing, parasailing, paddleboarding, diving, fishing, and more. In addition to its wide variety of water activities, visitors can also enjoy dining ranging from fine waterfront diving to grab and go options and shopping in boutiques filled with art, clothing, jewelry, and more.
Huntington Beach is also known as Surf City USA, and it’s easy to see why. With 10 miles of pristine coastline, the beach was named The Best Beach of California by USA Today. Huntington Beach is home to several luxury oceanfront resorts, as well as a historic downtown offering weekly farmers market. In addition, visitors can enjoy outdoor shopping and dining – all with a view of the Pacific Ocean.
The city is also home to several famous events such as the US Open of Surfing, Huntington Beach Air Show, and Coastal Country Jam. And of course, we can’t forget the famous Huntington Beach Pier.
US Open of Surfing
This annual surfing competition is part of the qualification process for the World Surf League and is a WSL WZ 10,000 event and is the largest surfing competition in the world. The event, then called the West Coast Surfing Championship, was first held in 1959. In 1964, it became known as the United States Surfing Championships, and in 1982, its name was changed again to the OP Pro for its sponsor, Ocean Pacific. In 1994, it was renamed yet again to what we now know as the US Open of Surfing.
Huntington Beach Pier
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No visit to Huntington Beach is complete without a visit to iconic Huntington Beach pier. At 1,850 feet in length, the pier is one of the longest on the west coast. Located at the intersection of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, the pier is the most photographed spot in town. The pier offers amazing views of both the Pacific Ocean and the surfers who take advantage of the local waves.
Historical Things to do in Orange County
Each and every town along the coast of Orange County has its own history and story to tell, but there is one site that stands out among all others in the county for its historical significance to the area – Mission San Juan Capistrano. Visitors to Orange Country will not want to miss this historical gem.
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Founded in 1776 by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan Order, Mission San Juan Capistrano is home to the oldest building still in use in California. Serra’s Chapel, or Father Serra’s Church, as its also called, was built in 1782. It’s one of the best-known missions in Alta and one of the few mission to have been founded twice.
What was once a mission is now a monument to California’s multi-cultural history, fully embracing its Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and European heritage. Know as the Jewel of the California Missions, its famous for the annual Return of the Swallows and draws over 300,000 visitors each year.
Visitors to Mission San Juan Capistrano can enjoy viewing one of a kind artifacts, visiting the iconic bell wall, and enjoy permanent exhibits like Mission Treasures: Historical Collection Revealed, which showcases historical artifacts, rare paintings, religious artifacts, and other pieces related to the Mission’s history.
Visitors can also learn about the Mission’s history with interactive, hands-on activities like basket weaving.
Fun Things to do in Orange County with Kids
Orange County has a lot going for it, but if you’re traveling to the area with kids, the name of the game is theme parks. Between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, this will be the only list of fun things to do in Orange County that you’ll need if you’re traveling with your children.
The first of the two Disney parks built in the US, Disneyland is a mecca for kids AND adults who love the magic of Disney. From classic characters to new areas like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disneyland offers more adventure than you can shake a talking candlestick at. Also, don’t forget to check out Downtown Disney, it’s free to explore.
Disney California Adventure Park
Explore all the magic at California Adventure Park, one of the parks inside Disneyland. Visitors can enjoy Cars Land, Pixar Pier, Pacific Wharf, Buena Vista Street, and more, all while making memories with their children that will last a lifetime.
Explore the world of Cars with rides like Mater’s Junkyard Jamobree, Radiator Springs Racers, and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. When hunger strikes, Cozy Cone Motel, Fillmore’s Taste-In, and Flo’s V8 Cafe offer tasty treats to keep the family gassed up and ready to go. At the end of the day, Ramone’s House of Body Art and Sarge’s Surplus Hut offer a variety of Cars-themed art, apparel, gifts, toys, and more to bring home the magic and memories.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Step into the world fo Star Wars at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disneyland’s newest theme park. Explore Black Spire Outpost, ride in the Millennium Falcon, and generally be immersed in the Star Wars universe. Visitors can head to Savi’s Workshop, where they can build their own lightsabers. At the Droid Depot, visitors can make their very own droid. Visitors can also enjoy themed dining at Oga’s Cantina, Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, Milk Stand, Ronto Roasters, and Kat Saka’s Kettle.
Before leaving, visitors will want to head to Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities and Black Spire Outfitters to bring home unique gifts that will commemorate the occasion forever.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knotts’ Berry Farm features amazing rides, a huge water park, and so much more. What started as a small family farm soon grew into a world-famous destination that’s been going strong for almost 100 years. This 160-acre theme park features dozens of rides, shows, and attractions in four different themed areas.
In addition to rides, the water park, and their famous fried chicken and berry dishes, Knott’s Berry Farm is also known for its Boysenberry funnel cake (that’s big enough to share), the Knott’s Berry Festival, Ghost Town, Knott’s Summer Nights, and Labor Day Sunday Fireworks.
On its own, the Bowers Museum (located in Santa Ana) offers a ton of fun things to do in Orange County for art lovers. This gargantuan art museum houses over 100,000 objects with an impressive collection of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Native American, Asian, African, and Oceania art. The museum hosts special exhibitions from institutions around the world and travels exhibitions both nationally and internationally.
Originally known as The Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum, it opened it 1936, as a city-run museum devoted to the history of Orange County. In 1973, it was renovated, adding 12,500 square feet. Later in 1986, the museum became its own nonprofit corporation. In 1989, it underwent a second $6 million renovation, which added a west wing of over 51,000 square feet. The following years saw a change in direction, focusing more on the cultural arts of the Pacific Rim, a new director hire, a focus on cultural diversity, and its final name change to the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art – Bowers Museum for short.
In February of 2007, Bowers Museum underwent another expansion, a $14.6 million affair which added an impressive amount of square footage and permanent Chinese and Oceanic exhibitions, additional galleries for special exhibits, event venues, and a 300-seat auditorium.
Today, the museum is a hotspot for lovers of art and culture, drawing thousands of visitors each year who take advantage of the various exhibits focusing on culture and artwork form various areas around the globe.
Anaheim Packing House
For foodies and history buffs, one of the most fun things to do in Orange County is visiting Anaheim Packing House. This 42.000 square-foot gourmet food hall in Downtown Anaheim is famous for its food, farmers market, and shopping center. Opened on May 31, 2014, Anaheim Packing House is located in a renovated 1919 Sunkist citrus packing house, hence its name.
Visitors can take advantage of a variety of shops, dining, and an interesting atmosphere. It’s a place where history, food, and shopping collide into one amazing experience.
Must-Visit Shopping Locations
Aside from theme parks, beaches, museums, and historical sites, one of the most fun things to do in Orange County is shop! With more boutiques and shops than you can count, shoppers will love exploring all the products to be found in Orange County. Among the shopping options in the county, two stand out – South Coast Plaza and Irvine Spectrum.
South Coast Plaza
South Coast Plaza (located in Costa Mesa), is the place to shop in Orange Country. This sprawling structure features a plethora of shops, dining options, and art. It’s a massive place in which shoppers can lose themselves in their shopping experience.
What began in 1967 as a 70-store mall has today become a behemoth with three levels and over 100 hundred shopping, dining, and artistic options available to the public. There is so much at South Coast Plaza, it can’t all be listed in one post. With names like Versace, Bloomingdale’s, Ambercrombie Fitch, BOSS, and a host of others, there’s plenty to keep shoppers occupied, and after a hard day of browsing and buy, the many dining options make for a great evening meal.
Irvine Spectrum Center
Irvine Spectrum Center isn’t just a mall, it’s an experience. In fact, it’s so massive, we can only give you the highlights here. Irvine Spectrum Center’s sprawling campus offers a huge variety of shopping choices from apparel to beauty and health products, accessories, and more. It also boasts an almost overwhelming selection of dining options including full service, casual, and grab and go fare. Visitors will also be treated to the Ferris wheel, carousel, the Irvine Improv, and other entertainment choices, as well.
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is filled with fun things to do in Orange County for the outdoor and nature enthusiast. this 1,300-acre coastal estuary features open water, mudflats, salt marsh, coastal dunes, seabird nesting islands, riparians, and freshwater marsh habitats to view and explore. Visitors can enjoy the beauty of the surrounding geography and the local wildlife while hiking and take in amazing views from scenic overlooks.
Pacific Coast Highway
Some of the best views to be found in all of Orange County are on the Pacific Coast Highway. With its Northern end at US 1010 near Leggett and its southern end on I-5 in Dana Point, the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful historic drives in California and the country. Beginning at Dana Point, drivers will find no end of fun things to do in Orange County and beyond as they make their way north along this famous stretch of highway.
The drive makes visitors’ cars a window to scenic views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as transportation to various historical spots, shopping, dining, and tourist attractions that dot the highway.
So Many Fun Things to do in Orange County
With so many fun things to do in Orange County, there’s no end to the adventure that travelers can have. From historic Mission San Juan Capistrano to beautiful Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and everything in between, there are fun things to do in Orange Country for kids and adult, alike. Every day is an adventure when visiting Orange County.