An Orange County Itinerary

What to do, things to see, places to eat, hotels to stay... in Orange County.

1 Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon, CA 90704, USA
For the time it takes most Angelenos to commute to work, you can be ferried into the alternate reality of Catalina Island, a romantic escape far from the daily traffic jams and urban sprawl. The evergreen-shrubbed hills spotted with an artists palette of summer homes and surrounded by bright hues of blue waters, coves and marinas feels more like the islands off the coast of Spain than the United States. It is rejuvenating to arrive at a place so close to the city yet feel so completely removed.
6410 E Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92869, USA
This restaurant is truly a gem in the fine dining scene of Orange County. Nestled atop Orange Hills, this restaurant offers breathtaking panoramic views of glamorous Orange County. To see it in all its illuminated glory, you’ll have to visit during the evening hours. We entered the gated restaurant complex and proceeded up the hill along the windy road, feeling like we were on a treasure hunt as we inched up the knoll. Everything from the service to the lavish decor was perfect and highly praiseworthy. Menu items included dishes such as prime rib, New York strip steak, rack of Colorado lamb, Chilean sea bass, ruby red ahi, and much more. I tried the Chilean sea bass, and was highly impressed by the quality of preparation and presentation. At the end of the meal, the only words that came out of my mouth were culinary perfection.
Newport Beach, CA, USA
A hole a day keeps the vet away... Quiet winter morning on the beach
30801 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
This five-star beachfront hotel toes the line between being a hub of activity and a luxurious, only-in-Southern-California hideaway. For restoration, head to the sprawling spa for a customized wellness-oriented treatment or a meditation class. Mind cleared, make your way to the on-site outfitter Compass Sports—where staff will coordinate local mountain biking, paddleboarding, hiking, and surfing expeditions—or to the palm tree–lined, mosaic-tiled pool. Big ocean views and a light, airy design define the 250 rooms; for guests seeking extra solitude and space, there are bungalow suites, which are essentially private beach houses. At the hotel’s three eateries, it’s all seasonal all the time, from the fresh morning juices to evening cocktails. That ethos peaks at the fine-dining restaurant Studio, where executive chef Craig Strong creates elegantly plated French-meets-California dishes using locally sourced fish and meat, along with vegetables picked from the hotel’s 1,000-square-foot garden. Pro tip: In a setting this transporting, you almost want to break into song. Good news—the hotel will rent out mini guitars to guests for the duration of their stay.
26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, USA
I recall this church from my elementary school days but it wasn’t until I visited the site when I was older that I fully appreciated it. The mission is one of the oldest European settlements in Orange County and boasts so much historical significance for the area. A few hours spent visiting the crumbling mission gives a better understanding of how things were back in the 18th century. You will find a pavilion of ruins on one end, but fully functional buildings on the other end with a museum, a small chapel, and educational programs for children and adults. It is the seventh of 21 missions in California, and one of the most beautiful.
3333 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, USA
Seasons 52 allows you to leave your calorie counter at the door with a seasonal menu that has a ceiling of 475 calories for every item. Serving contemporary American cuisine, Seasons 52 prides itself on using only the freshest produce, and feature not only an impressive array of healthy (and flavorful) food, but also an exhaustive wine list, with over 100+ varieties from all over the world. Those with special dietary needs and/or allergies, this is where you can heave that sigh of relief, as you navigate your way through six alternative menus: lactose-free, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, garlic-free, and low-sodium. Recommendations: cedar plank-roasted salmon, and all the mini indulgences—chilled lobster and shrimp spring rolls, lemon verbena mojito, and Sonoma goat cheese ravioli.
13011 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780, USA
The Lost Bean is one of those rare finds in the greater Orange County area. For some reason, there’s a dearth of independent coffeeshops in Orange County, but when you do find one, it almost always compensates for the lack of establishments. The Lost Bean knows how its done when it comes to gourmet and organic coffee and tea. The flavors are intense and delicious, while the ambiance is lively and inviting. If you’re in the area and you need your caffeine fix, please gloss right over Starbucks and head into this gem of a place. And the cherry on top: free WiFi!
2937 Bristol St A102, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, USA
Tucked away by the Wine Bar at the Lab in Costa Mesa, Old Vine Cafe is one of those hidden gems in the Orange County dining circuit, with both tasting and a la carte menus. The service was excellent and our waiter’s vast knowledge of wine was commendable. The Lab area of Costa Mesa is known for its organic restaurants, locally-grown food, and overall chic bohemian vibe. Old Vine Cafe falls perfectly within those parameters, with food that is innovative, delicious, and fresh. With year round sunshine in Southern California, eating outside on the patio is always a good idea, and I would highly recommend it here. The outdoor seating area is encased by rustic decor and bountiful greenery, making it the perfect place to enjoy a great meal with a glass of fine wine. Recommendation: Handmade Ravioli—Ravioli filled with smoked duck, goat cheese & porcini mushrooms, sautéed in brown butter with sage. Also rave-worthy is its brunch menu: the caramel-apple French toast is too good for words!
3333 Bristol St SUITE #1870, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, USA
If you ever find yourself in southern California, you must visit the shopping haven that is South Coast Plaza! It is the THE mall of Orange County and offers an eclectic range of shops to fit every wallet size. There are low-end clothing stores such as Wet Seal and H&M. And for the ultimate splurge, there are flagship stores of all the major fashion powerhouses--Prada, Louis Vuitton, Roberto Cavalli, Burberry, Escada, St. John, Fendi, etc. For the gadget and gizmo aficionados, there’s a flagship Sony Style Store, Game Stop, Windows, and Apple. I can spend hours and hours in here and still find something new to do (or to buy!) Across the street, there are home furnishing stores such as Macy’s Home, Sonoma, and Crate and Barrel, and a carefully-chosen food court that provides food from all different regions of the world--Persian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and more. It’s truly a retail microcosm!
1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA
Disney’s California Adventure is right across from Disneyland and is worth the park-hopper pass. And if you’re in town for long, the best deal would be an annual pass. I think California Adventure complements Disneyland very well in that it has more intense, turbulent rides than Disneyland. I loved the water rafting ride, the California Screamin’ rollercoaster, and the Hollywood Tower of Terror. And we went on a random Wednesday in October, so the lines were less than a 5-minute wait and allowed us to ride all the good rides multiple times. Going during fall on a weekday is probably the best time to go in terms of lines and weather. And if you go on an off-peak day, you can definitely cover both parks if you start early in the morning.
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