A visitor looking at an art installation at Laguna Art Museum
Courtesy of Visit California

The Sophisticated Side of Orange County

The Sophisticated Side of Orange County
Take a helicopter ride, shop at world-class boutiques, and enjoy the seemingly endless bounty of this SoCal destination

Orange County  is famous for its epic coastline and year-round sunshine, but what may not be as well-known are its world-class shopping, influential art galleries, and acclaimed restaurants. Travelers can experience the best of Orange County by building a personalized itinerary based on the recommendations below.

Get your bearings during a custom helicopter tour offered by OC Helicopters. Flights depart from John Wayne Airport (SNA) year-round, weather permitting, and fly north to south (and back) over the county’s postcard-perfect beach towns. In July and August, you have a chance of spotting the world’s largest creature, the blue whale, on its migratory path in the Pacific.

Once you’re back on terra firma, make the short drive from the airport to Costa Mesa. Some of the best shopping in the world is located in Orange County, including Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, home to more than 250 luxury boutiques and restaurants. From Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Hermès, and Harry Winston to Gucci, Fendi, and Prada, the concentration of high-fashion shops here is unparalleled—making South Coast Plaza the largest mall on the West Coast. This upscale shopping experience includes concierge services and personal shoppers who offer wardrobe consultations.

After a day of shopping, enjoy a meal at one of the hottest restaurants in Orange County, Vaca, specializing in Spanish cuisine with some unexpected Japanese twists. Chef Amar Santana may be familiar from his turn on Top Chef.

Further west, Newport Beach is one of Orange County’s culinary hot spots. At Royal Hen, gastropub fare gets a California-meets-France approach. Don’t miss the hanger steak tacos and craft ale fish & chips. The Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens, helmed by chef Richard Mead, is a leader in farm-to-table cuisine. Here the dining experience is taken to a literal level: Guests enjoy seats overlooking the seven-acre farm, where many ingredients are grown.

Orange County has a long artistic tradition. In Laguna Beach, the Laguna Art Museum focuses exclusively on California art, covering a huge range from 19th-century landscape to Pop Art. The beach community is also home to 100 galleries and artists’ studios. Travelers should take advantage of the First Thursdays Art Walk, held monthly from 6 to 9 p.m., to get a sense of the contemporary art scene.

Admiring Orange County’s art, food, and shopping should be on your list, but no trip is complete without experiencing the region’s natural beauty. Crystal Cove State Park—located just north of Laguna Beach—will make visitors feel they’ve taken the road less traveled. The park encompasses 3.2 miles of Pacific coastline, but the scenery continues beyond the shore. There are more than 15 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, plus a 2.5-mile paved trail along the bluff. The park includes a Historic District consisting of 46 coastal cottages built in the 1930s and 1940s around Los Trancos Creek. This site provides a remarkable and rare surviving example of early 20th-century Southern California coastal design. Several cottages are available for overnight rental, and travelers can grab a bite at the seafood-focused Beachcomber Café.

In Partnership with Afar.

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Scott Mansfield

Discover Orange County

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 Pelican Hill

The Resort at Pelican Hill

Indulge in Mediterranean elegance, world-class golf courses, and five-star service at this Newport Beach resort

Tuscan elegance paired with panoramic ocean views is central to the eternal allure of...

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Mitch Diamond/Getty Images

Irvine

This centrally located Orange County city is the perfect home base for shopping, dining, and kid-friendly exploring

Irvine’s central location—45 miles from Los Angeles, 85 from San Diego, and 15 minutes from...

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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

The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-...

Orange County

4 Incredible Resorts in Orange County

Enjoy unparalleled views, world-class golf, fine dining, and much more at these high-end destinations

With long stretches of golden sand, prime surfing spots, excellent dining, and top golf courses, the good life doesn’t get much better than along...

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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”

Southern California is known for its sunny, open-air shopping centers, but this outdoor mall in the heart of Orange County ups the ante with...

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Jon Bilous/Alamy

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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Carsten Erler/Getty Images

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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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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Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, was the first winery in California.
A Surfer in Newport Beach, California
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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...

Santa Ana
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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...

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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
Orange County is the cultural center of the surf world and Huntington Beach is like the heartbeat.
Corky Carroll (Orange County surf legend)
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Courtesy of Brian Huskey

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...

SPECIAL FEATURE
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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California Questionnaire: Greg Long

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

California native Greg Long has carved out a name in the world of competitive big wave surfing by conquering the most challenging waves on the...

SPECIAL FEATURE
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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Lucas Himovitz
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Golf in Orange County

Tee up at top courses, with some ocean views

With ideal Southern California weather and some of the country’s most celebrated courses, Orange County justly earns the nickname “California Golf...

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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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William Fovall/Flickr
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SPECIAL FEATURE
Get into the coastal vibe

Maybe it’s the sun-streaked hair, the frequent smiles, the eyes always gazing west, looking to the horizon to see when the next set might roll in. It’s the unmistakable look and vibe of a...

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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
SPECIAL FEATURE
Discover the awesome sports scene in the Golden State

With nearly twice as many professional teams as any other state, California is big league all the way. But the state’s sports scene goes far beyond football and baseball, with a diverse line-up of...

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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...

SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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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. Santa Barbara, nicknamed “the American Riviera,” may have a burnished antique look of much of the...

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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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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...