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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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Huntington Beach by Scott Mansfield

Southern California

Discover Orange County

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Whether it is 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, about one hours’ drive south of Los Angeles and two 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 metre. 

“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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Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, was the first winery in California.
A ride at Adventure City
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 atmosphere and unbeatable attractions, this vibrant city on the north-west side of Orange County has become a popular...

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
Unleash the kid within at California’s ultimate play lands

From Disneyland classics to beachfront carousels, the Golden State’s best-in-class theme parks deliver something for everyone, from tots and teens to film buffs and daredevils. Find out what is...

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Lucas Himovitz
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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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...

Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you are in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you will find it here. Want to sample fresh fruits and...

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With a nickname like ‘Surf City, USA’, 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...

Surfers competing in the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing
William Fovall/Flickr
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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, five-star...

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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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...

From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders 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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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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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...

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 actvities...

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Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr
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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 green space, this Irvine park is as ambitious as it is beautiful. Though it...

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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.