There are some cities in the U.S. that offer popular tourist attractions with fun events for the entire family, and others that include some of the best shopping, concerts, and local cuisine to be found. There are some places that offer all those things in one spectacular, gorgeous package, however, and Orange County is one of them.
Whether you’re looking for a specific vacation destination, are moving to a new city, or simply need some suggestions on the best places to hit during a visit with friends or family, here are some of the best.
The Irvine Spectrum Center
No matter what time of year you visit, this place is one of the best destinations to keep in mind. Chock full of stores, restaurants, and game areas, the Spectrum Center is inclusive to all ages and features versatility in attractions and stores. In warmer months, a ferris wheel, water play area, Imax theater, and kids’ train keep the little ones happy, while adults can shop and relax in a clean, safe environment. In the winter, an ice skating rink holds court. Not only are there more upscale stores to choose from, there are smaller shops and even a Target so you can pick up last-minute, inexpensive items. Parking is ample and made even easier by a sign at the entrance that lets visitors know how many spaces are left.
If you’re looking for a unique dining experience with a hint of familiarity, check out this pizza restaurant co-created by Mario Batali. The pizza crust is crunchy sourdough, and the salads are made with the freshest ingredients–including tomatoes on the vine. There’s also a wonderful Italian wine list, making this a perfect destination for date night. Pricing is reasonable, but plan ahead and make a reservation to avoid a long wait.
Dolphin and whale watching
It may sound touristy, but even the locals can’t resist checking out the wildlife, especially when it includes gorgeous scenery. Dana Point Harbor is a beautiful place to go, and double-plus bonus: if you don’t see a whale, sea lion, seal, or dolphin on your first trip, your next one is free.
Carbon Canyon Regional Park
If a connection to nature is what you crave, check out this gorgeous, massive park that includes a butterfly garden, four playgrounds close to one another, and a Redwood forest that pops up like something from a movie after a bit of a hike. There is a fee to park–anywhere from $3-$5 depending on the day–and if you’ll be having a family gathering there for a picnic or party, make sure to plan ahead and reserve a spot, because it gets pretty busy.
If possible, rent a convertible to drive along the coast in–it only makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Start at Laguna Beach, then head to Crystal Cove for lunch or dinner on the sand and finish the day at Huntington Beach, where surfing conditions are always excellent.
No matter what you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it in Orange County. There are plenty of things to keep the kiddos busy and entertained, and tons of attractions that even the adults will love.
Main picture by Eric