Santa Ana
Liz Boyd/Alamy

Santa Ana

Santa Ana
Orange County’s largest city boasts a walkable downtown with an emerging arts and culinary scene

Not showy or sassy like some of Orange County’s more touristy towns, Santa Ana serves as the county seat and the home of John Wayne Airport. But government center and travel hub are only two of this city’s many personas. Longtime residents know that Santa Ana’s heart lies in its artsy cultural downtown, home to a surprisingly fun-and-funky collection of galleries, theaters, boutiques, and sidewalk cafés.

Get to know Santa Ana’s artistic side at the bohemian-hip Artists Village, anchored by Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center, a partnership between the city and California State University. Filling an entire city block, the tri-level Art Center contains the Grand Central Theatre, dance studios, art galleries, and live-work spaces for artists-in-residence. Walk all 10 blocks of the surrounding Artists Village, or focus your gallery-hopping around Second Street Promenade’s central courtyard, gussied up with bubbling fountains and arching trees. ArtWalk happens on the first Saturday of every month, when more than 20 galleries open their doors, street vendors peddle their wares, and musicians play on street corners.

Strolling through this artsy neighborhood may leave you with an appetite, so drop in for Spanish-fusion tapas and tacos at hip-and-moody Lola Gaspar. Or wander into Gypsy Den for their vegetarian and vegan cuisine and funky vintage vibe. To make an evening of it, dine at The Ranch, where grand cedar beams and flagstone floors set the stage for upscale cowboy cuisine—Kobe beef carpaccio, bone-in rib-eye, and Castroville artichokes. Work off your dinner by two-stepping and line dancing next door at The Ranch Saloon.

Plan on a half-day to tour the Bowers Museum on Main Street, housed in a gracious Spanish-style complex built in 1936. Its permanent display contains 120,000 pieces—highlights of which include a collection of African wooden masks, personal items belonging to the Polish-American actress Madame Helena Modjeska, and a Papua New Guinea headband made of dog teeth. 

Got more time? There’s plenty more to see and do, including Santa Ana’s East End Promenade near historic Fourth Street, where Queen Anne Victorians set the architectural bar high and musicians perform at the Yost Theater. Across the street from the Yost, score a reservation for a communal meal at The Playground, owned by Great Food Truck Race winner Jason Quinn. Check the restaurant’s calendar to take part in a special meal next door at Playground 2.0, where the only sign on the door reads “Trust,” giving an indication of what’s inside: a multi-course, themed menu that requires you to simply trust the chef.

On the city’s west end, check out the Old County Courthouse on Santa Ana Boulevard, built in 1900 of Arizona red sandstone and granite. You might recognize the dark wood and ornate paneling in Courtroom No. 1—it’s been used as a set for a number of Hollywood films. Kids will enjoy the 100-plus science exhibits at the interactive Discovery Cube Orange County. The building is Santa Ana’s most recognizable landmark, easily spotted from Interstate 5—a tall black cube made of solar panels, balancing on one corner. 

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Scott Mansfield

Discover Orange County

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November
Average (°F)
Sept - Nov
89°
High
42°
Low
Dec - Feb
60°
High
37°
Low
Mar - May
80°
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41°
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June - Aug
96°
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52°
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Whether it’s manicured beach towns or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns and luxury yachts, “The OC” stands out as one of the state’s most iconic destinations. The always-amazing Disneyland Resort, roughly a 1-hour drive south of L.A. and 2 hours north of San Diego, continues to be one of the best-loved theme parks in the world, while Knott’s Berry Farms and other OC attractions amp up the fun meter.

“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.” — actor Dennis Quaid

Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA. 

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Courtesy of Disneyland Resort

Spotlight: Disneyland Resort

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Just saying the name sets a child’s face glowing

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OC Stock Photos 2016

Irvine Spectrum Center

With a Ferris wheel and Spanish ambience, this shopping center expands the definition of “mall”

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Orange County’s Best Beaches

Visit these four idyllic, sun-drenched stretches of sand in Southern California

With 42 miles of sandy coastline and a string of small, eclectic beach towns, Orange County delivers the quintessential Southern California...

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The Howlin’ Tornado water slide at Great Wolf Lodge near Anaheim is as tall as a six-story building.
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Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge

The hotel-meets-water-park chain brings its all-weather family fun to Orange County

At first glance, a completely indoor water-park hotel might seem unnecessary in sunny Orange County. Fans of the Great Wolf Lodge brand, however,...

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Spotlight: Anaheim

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Amazing attractions, shopping and dining in the one-of-a-kind Orange County town

With its laid-back vibe and unbeatable attractions, this vibrant city on the northwest side of Orange County has become a popular destination for...

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Newport Beach’s Surf Scene

Check out an epic bodysurfing mecca along the O.C. coast

Back in 1971, a Sports Illustrated article about bodysurfing not only anointed Southern California “the cradle of the sport,” but...

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Dana Point

Begin your Highway One odyssey in this scenic town with views over the ocean bluffs

The southern origin of California’s Highway One offers some gorgeous drama, like beach town...

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

O.C. Shopping

Discover boutique brands and bargains

Shopping in The O.C. is almost as legendary as surfing. Start at expansive South Coast Plaza, California’s largest luxury shopping complex, with...

The magic of Disneyland, walking through the tunnel underneath the train station to Main Street, it just transports you to other places and other times.
John Lasseter
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Knott's Berry Farm

Buena Park Playtime

Find family fun at Camp Snoopy plus pirates, Pig Pen, and more

Just northwest of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, the town of Buena Park offers more places to play. Knott’s Berry Farm features Camp Snoopy with kids...

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Courtesy of Brian Huskey

The California Questionnaire: Brian Huskey

The Top Chef alum loves riding his bike to work, taking road trips, and vacationing at Lake Tahoe

Brian Huskey first came to national attention in 2013 when he competed on season 11 of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, set in New Orleans. The...

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Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you'll find it here. Want to sample fresh produce? Try our farmers...

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CLIF Bar/Mason Mashon

The California Questionnaire: Greg Long

Although he’s traveled the globe in search of big waves, this professional surfer will always call California home

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Unleash the kid within at California’s ultimate playgrounds

From Disneyland classics to beachfront carousels, the Golden State’s best-in-class theme parks deliver something for everyone. Take a tram ride to tour movie back lots at Universal Studios...

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Golf in Orange County

Tee up at top courses, with some ocean views

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Courtesy of Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

Orange County's Luxury Resorts

Live like a star at posh getaways

The good life might have been invented in “The O.C.”—especially when it comes to resort destinations. With spas, elegant dining, posh lodgings,...

July/August

With a nickname like “Surf City, U.S.A.,” Huntington Beach is the obvious place for this 9-day, sun-and-wave extravaganza, the world’s largest surf event. Top pros including Kelly Slater and Rob...

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Get into the coastal vibe

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Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State
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Start in one of California’s sunniest destinations, not just in terms of the weather, but also in attitude. In the heart of the city, shop in Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods,...

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Finish your trip in one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to visit “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...

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Christina Lauren/Flickr
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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Crystal Cove State Park

Stroll a perfect beach with an intriguing past

In 1912, an early Laguna Beach artist described finding a rugged coastline “with cove after cove and headland after headland, golden cliffs and...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

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Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Every year, the Orange County Great Park Balloon dons a smiling jack-o-lantern mask, marking the unofficial start of fall in Orange County.
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Myles McGuinness

Trip 4-5 days 10 stops

Pacific Coast Highway - South

Beach Towns, Iconic Theme Parks
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Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun-washed European look straight out of the Riviera. The Santa Barbara, nicknamed “the American Riviera,” may have a burnished antique look of much of the...

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End your trip with at this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village—pedestrian-friendly...

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Courtesy of Orange County Great Park

Orange County Great Park

Explore an impressive urban park

Turning former military land into a roughly 1,300-acre/526-hectare green space, this Irvine park is as ambitious as it is...