48 Fun Things to Do in Orange County, California

Updated 17 min read

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A beach with sandy shores and blue ocean, with a hillside town and greenery behind it
Orange County is an exciting destination with amazing beaches, parks, and more

Orange County is a coastal county in California. The beautiful destination features the most amazing beaches, unique attractions, and easy access to national parks. If visiting, you’ll find an array of fun things to do in Orange County, California, from going to theme parks to enjoying wildlife hikes and relaxing on the beach.

Traveling to Orange County is also very convenient. It’s located six hours from the hub of San Francisco, and just under an hour from Los Angeles. The area also has an airport, John Wayne Airport, making flying into Orange County from other places on the West Coast of the United States low hassle.

To find out all the exciting things you can do in Orange County, keep reading!

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48 Fun Things to Do in Orange County, CA

  1. Explore Balboa Island
  2. Plan a beach day at Doheny State Beach
  3. Admire the coastline at Crystal Cove State Park
  4. Tackle the El Moro Canyon Loop Trail
  5. Go on a Dana Point Harbor dolphin watching tour
  6. Discover marine life at the SEA LIFE Aquarium
  7. Walk along the Huntington Beach Pier
  8. Wander around breathtaking gardens at Fullerton Arboretum
  9. Have a fun day out at Legoland
  10. Spend a magical day at Disney California Adventure Park
  11. Discover the pretty Laguna Beach Tide Pools
  12. Go on wildlife hikes at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
  13. Spot Californian wildlife at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
  14. Learn about Orange County history at the Old Courthouse Museum
  15. Watch the sunset at San Clemente Pier City Beach
  16. Take your kids to the Pretend City Children's Museum
  17. Visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano
  18. Spot wildlife at the Shipley Nature Center
  19. Climb the many steps at Thousand Steps Beach
  20. Shop at South Coast Plaza
  21. Whale watch at Newport Beach
  22. Learn about surf culture at the International Surfing Museum
  23. Appreciate the coastal views from Heisler Park
  24. Stroll along the Surfing Walk of Fame
  25. Ride roller coasters at Knott's Berry Farm Theme Park
  26. Enjoy shopping and dining at Fashion Island
  27. Venture through Joshua Tree National Park
  28. Learn about Nixon at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
  29. Visit Channel Islands National Park
  30. Look around Old Towne Orange
  31. Take a scenic stroll through Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park
  32. Hike at Oak Canyon Nature Center
  33. Play sports at Salt Creek Beach Park
  34. View amazing artworks at Bowers Museum
  35. Drive to Pasadena
  36. Attend an event at the OC Fair and Event Center
  37. Go on a day trip to Los Angeles
  38. Look around the Muckenthaler Cultural Center
  39. Enjoy the Orange County Fair
  40. Meet sea lions at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center
  41. Bird watch at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary
  42. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway
  43. Wander through the fields and woodlands at Fairview Park
  44. Go on an Orange County beach tour
  45. Learn about Los Rios Historic District
  46. Follow the San Clemente Coastal Trail
  47. Walk through the art galleries at Laguna Beach
  48. See the sunset at Seal Beach Municipal Pier

Show all

A Map of Orange County California

A map of California. Use the map to explore all the things to do.

One of the fun things to do in Orange County, California, is visiting Balboa Island
Visiting Balboa Island is one of the fun things to do in Orange County, California

Explore Balboa Island

Balboa Island is found in trendy Newport Beach, California. This bustling human-made island has independent shops, outstanding restaurants, and stunning coastal views. It is a fun thing to do in Orange County even at night!

Having shopped and grabbed something to eat, also check out the amusement park here. This exciting attraction is a fun place to visit for kids and adults.

Plan a beach day at Doheny State Beach

One of the most enjoyable activities in Orange County is spending the day at the beach. Heading to Doheny State Beach is highly recommended.

At this tranquil beach, you can sunbathe, swim, and play beach games. Hanging out at Doheny State Beach is ideal for all occasions, from a day with friends to a family get-together.

View of a sandy beach and the ocean from a greenery-covered cliff
Crystal Cove State Park is a stunning coastal area

Admire the coastline at Crystal Cove State Park

Beautiful Crystal Cove State Park is a coastal park that runs along 3.2 miles of the Pacific coastline. At the park, you can appreciate the rolling waves, explore wooded canyons, and walk along sandy beaches.

You can also bring your dog with you, as long as they stay on paved paths. No matter what you do at Crystal Cove State Park, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the most breathtaking seaside vistas.

Tackle the El Moro Canyon Loop Trail

A must-try hiking trail in the OC is the El Moro Canyon Loop at Crystal Cove State Park. Luckily, this trail isn’t too challenging, so most people can give it a go. Walking the route will allow you to appreciate coastal views and stunning wildflowers.

An aerial view of a marina with blue water, piers, and docked boats
A Dana Point Harbor sail will allow you to see dolphins and whales

Go on a Dana Point Harbor dolphin watching tour

For marine life enthusiasts, one of the best things to do in Orange County is going on a dolphin-watching tour. An eco-tour dolphin-watching cruise from Dana Point Harbor is an ideal one to try!

On this tour, you’ll board a catamaran and sail to areas known to be home to dolphins as well as whales. Watching these majestic sea mammals frolic in the water is incredibly memorable.

Discover marine life at the SEA LIFE Aquarium

The California SEA LIFE Aquarium is on the same site as Legoland in Carlsbad. At the aquarium, you can see over 5,000 sea creatures. Animals to spot range from tropical fish to stingrays, octopi, and more.

You will also get to admire vibrant colored coral reefs and watch feeding sessions. A trip to SEA LIFE Aquarium is definitely one of the most exciting kid-friendly activities near Orange County.

A long pier stretching into the ocean, with seawater and sand to the side
The Huntington Beach Pier is one of the most well-known landmarks in Orange County

Walk along the Huntington Beach Pier

The iconic Huntington Beach Pier is found at Huntington Beach. This landmark stretches for 1,850 feet and is notably one of the West Coast’s longest piers.

Seeing the pier and walking along it is a must when in the area. You can visit the attraction at your leisure or see it on a fun best beaches in Orange County tour.

Wander around breathtaking gardens at Fullerton Arboretum

Fullerton Arboretum is one of the pretty places to see in Orange County. The 26-acre botanical garden houses a vast array of plants, flowers, and trees.

Flora to see includes endangered plant species and exotic plants that you may never have seen before. Wandering around the stunning gardens is the perfect laid-back OC date idea.

Lego figures from Toy Story on the front of a store with a Lego sign
Discover a world made of Lego at Legoland

Have a fun day out at Legoland

You can discover numerous theme parks near Orange County and Legoland is one of the most exciting. Found close to San Diego, the park houses an array of attractions made completely from Lego blocks.

From riding roller coasters to building lego designs and buying a range of fun lego merchandise, you’re guaranteed to have fun at Legoland! You’ll even get to see Lego replicas of world landmarks.

Spend a magical day at Disney California Adventure Park

The world-renowned Disney Adventure Park is in Anaheim, is just a 15-minute drive from Orange County. A trip to Disneyland is a dream for kids and adults alike! When visiting this North American landmark, you’ll be spoiled for choice with a range of Disney-themed roller coasters to ride, shows to see, and restaurants to try.

Of course, you’ll also get to meet all your favorite Disney characters. Spending a day, or more, at this exhilarating and magical attraction will create lifelong memories.

A rock shore with tide pools and ocean water surrounding them
Exploring the tide pools at beaches like Treasure Island Beach is a fun activity

Discover the pretty Laguna Beach Tide Pools

Laguna Beach features multiple beaches with fascinating tide pools, including Treasure Island Beach and Diver's Cove. When in the area, checking out these pools is a must. These unique marine ecosystems feature clear waters, ocean plants, and small sea creatures.

Ocean animals you may see in the pools include crabs, octopi, urchins, and sea snails. Wading birds also like to spend time around these tranquil pools.

Go on wildlife hikes at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is a 7,000-acre wilderness park near Laguna Beach. Found in the San Joaquin Hills, you can discover coastal canyons and the only natural lakes in Orange County.

While visiting, you can hike or bike on one of 44 trails and are guaranteed to see wildlife, like deer and red-tailed hawks. A trip to Laguna Coast Wildlife Park is one of the best Orange County, CA, activities for nature lovers.

A dirt path and wet coastal land under a blue sky with some clouds
The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is home to birds, reptiles, and mammals

Spot Californian wildlife at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Located close to Huntington Beach, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a 1,300-acre coastal wildlife reserve. If you enjoy seeing local animals in their natural habitat, a trip to the reserve must be on your Orange County bucket list.

Creatures you may see include a range of birds, raccoons, snakes, coyotes, and much more. There are also various hiking trails to walk along.

Learn about Orange County history at the Old Courthouse Museum

The Old Courthouse Museum is in Santa Ana and has sat in the historic district since 1901. Today, the courthouse houses a museum where you can learn about the history of Orange County. Temporary and permanent exhibits are on display that are sure to teach you something new about the OC!

The sun setting over a pier that stretches out into the sea
Watching the sunset at San Clemente Pier City Beach is a must!

Watch the sunset at San Clemente Pier City Beach

Another of the cool things to do in Orange County is heading to the San Clemente Pier City Beach to watch the sunset. San Clemente Beach is a beautiful vast sandy destination, surrounded by shops and restaurants.

Having spent the day here, staying to watch the sunset is highly recommended. Watching the pink and orange sky over the ocean and quaint pier is breathtaking.

Take your kids to the Pretend City Children's Museum

If in Orange County with kids, a trip to Irvine to visit the Pretend City Children’s Museum is a must. This interactive attraction has 17 exhibits that mimic small cities.

Kids are encouraged to explore, play, and try various educational activities, from shopping in a mini grocery store to playing in a pretend fire truck.

A stone mission building with a green garden in front of it
You’ll learn about the mission and Orange County at Mission San Juan Capistrano

Visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano is a small charming city in Orange County. Within the town, you’ll find a Spanish mission that has been in the area since 1776.

At the mission, you can visit an on-site museum to learn about the history of the area and Orange County in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are also pretty gardens to explore, and you can go to the main chapel.

Spot wildlife at the Shipley Nature Center

Those who like seeing wildlife will love taking a trip to the Shipley Nature Center. This attraction covers 18 acres and houses a range of plants and animal species.

At the center, you can follow various trails and spot an array of creatures. The nature center is the ideal place to go birdwatching too.

A sandy beach with green palm trees and small houses
Thousand Steps Beach is a stunning beach that you have to visit when in Orange County

Climb the many steps at Thousand Steps Beach

Thousand Steps Beach is found along the Pacific Coast Highway, in South Laguna Beach, one of the best beach towns in California to visit. It is known for the over 200 steps you must climb to reach the sandy shore.

After tackling the staircase (which thankfully doesn’t really include 1,000 steps), you’ll be greeted by a stunning beach with white sand, turquoise water, and rock caves.

Shop at South Coast Plaza

Located in Costa Mesa, South Coast Plaza is the largest shopping mall on the West Coast. This shopping outlet features 250 boutiques, 50 high-end restaurants, and a range of other stores and attractions. Whether you window shop or splurge, a day a South Coast Plaza is time well spent!

Blue ocean water with a white sand shore and buildings in the background
Going out on Newport Beach Harbor allows you to spot some beautiful whales

Whale watch at Newport Beach

Go whale watching from Newport Beach KW There are a range of whale watching options around Orange County. Going on a Newport Beach whale cruise is one of the most popular options.

During your tour, you’re guaranteed to spot wild whales, and your captain will provide you with interesting information on these creatures. Getting out on the water to spot some whales is definitely one of the most fun activities in Orange County!

Learn about surf culture at the International Surfing Museum

The International Surfing Museum is a non-profit museum in Huntington Beach. The goal of the attraction is to teach visitors about surfing history and culture. Exhibits cover the world’s top surfers and significant events in the sport's history.

If you enjoy sports-themed attractions or are a surfing fanatic, don’t miss this museum!

A path with palm trees and greenery on one side and a beach on the other
At Heisler Park, you can appreciate breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean

Appreciate the coastal views from Heisler Park

Heisler Park is a beachside park with artistic sculptures, benches to relax on, and stunning coastal views. If you want to go down to the beach, you’ll be able to explore tide pools and walk along the tranquil sandy shores. Heisler Park is a calm oasis where you can completely unwind.

Stroll along the Surfing Walk of Fame

Another surf-related attraction, found near the International Surfing Museum, is the Surfing Walk of Fame. Like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, this landmark is covered in plaques for the most famous surfers. When in the area, stroll along the path to see all of these surf legends.

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A red and yellow roller coaster with trees around it, under a blue sky
You'll have a super fun day out in Orange County at Knott's Berry Farm!

Ride roller coasters at Knott's Berry Farm Theme Park

A great Orange County activity is spending the day at Knott’s Berry Farm. This exciting amusement park covers 57 acres and features a vast selection of rides, roller coasters, and games. There’s also a waterpark, and kids can meet a range of well-known characters, like Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

Enjoy shopping and dining at Fashion Island

Another of the places to visit in Orange County that lets you shop and dine is Fashion Island. Known as “Orange County’s premier shopping center,” this mall includes high-end stores and over 40 dining options.

Having shopped, you can also catch a movie at the on-site theater. This luxury cinema allows you to enjoy alcoholic beverages and snacks as you watch.

Joshua Trees sitting on sandy desert tundra on the side of a winding road
Joshua Tree National Park features desert landscapes and hiking trails

Venture through Joshua Tree National Park

The breathtaking Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best national parks on the West Coast. Venturing through some of this stunning protected park is highly rated as one of the top things to do in Orange County.

You can head out to the desert park yourself, or why not try a Joshua Tree National Park driving or hiking tour?

Learn about Nixon at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

An interesting cultural activity in Orange County is visiting the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. This landmark houses Nixon’s presidential library and his burial site. At the museum, you can learn more about the life and work of the 37th president of the United States.

A coved bay with cliffs and turquoise seawater under a blue sky with some clouds
Going out to the five stunning Channel Islands National Park is the perfect activity

Visit Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park is an island chain off the Southern California coast, featuring five islands: Anacapa Island, San Miguel Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, and Santa Barbara Island.

Activities to enjoy on the islands include visiting a scenic lighthouse, spotting seals, and venturing through sea caves.

Look around Old Towne Orange

Old Towne Orange is a historic plaza in Orange County. This is one of the significant Orange County attractions and is an ideal place to spend some relaxed time exploring.

The plaza features shops with old-fashioned exteriors selling a range of products. You’ll also find quaint eateries and antique shops and markets.

Green grass in a park with a path to the side and trees surrounding
There are numerous trails to follow at Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park

Take a scenic stroll through Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park

Found next to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park is another amazing outdoor attraction in Orange County.

While hiking through the park, you can spot many tree species, including sycamores and elderberry trees. The park is also designated as a wildlife sanctuary.

Hike at Oak Canyon Nature Center

Hiking at Oak Canyon Nature Center is a lovely way to spend an afternoon in Orange County! This park consists of 58-acres comprised of four intertwining canyons. Trails are for varying levels of experience, so there’s something for everyone. There is also a stream that spans across the park.

While there, be sure to check out the live animal exhibit (it’s free!) to learn about the animals you may encounter on your hike!

A white sandy beach with ocean to one side and greenery and hills to the other
Salt Creek Beach Park is perfect for sunbathing as well as surfing and other sports

Play sports at Salt Creek Beach Park

Salt Creek Beach Park in Dana Point is popular amongst tourists and locals. The park features numerous sports courts, including those for volleyball, tennis, and basketball. The beach is also an ideal surfing location. If you like sports, be sure to head here to enjoy some sporting activities.

View amazing artworks at Bowers Museum

Bowers Museum is one of the finest art museums in Orange County. The museum has notably been voted “Best Museum in Orange County” for almost two decades.

Located in Santa Ana, the museum houses over 100,000 art objects. As you explore, you can view incredible art pieces, including Native American and Pacific Island art.

A city hall building with dome structure in the middle and trees in front
Pasadena is a stunning city located one hour from Orange County

Drive to Pasadena

Pasadena is a charming destination that's just an hour away from Orange County. Taking a mini road trip here has to be on your OC bucket list. In Pasadena, you can find many unique shops to visit and delicious restaurants and cafes to try. Going to the architecturally beautiful City Hall is a must too.

Attend an event at the OC Fair and Event Center

The OC Fair and Event Center is a 150-acre venue that hosts year-round events in Costa Mesa. The 150+ events draw in over four million visitors throughout the year. Some popular events include the OC farmers market and concerts.

The event center also features the Costa Mesa Speedway track and Pacific Amphitheatre. Check out the center's calendar to see what events are being hosted during your trip!

A city skyline with palm trees, a green park, and water in front of it
Los Angeles is just a one-hour drive away from Orange County, so visiting is easy

Go on a day trip to Los Angeles

Taking a day trip to Los Angeles is highly recommended, with the iconic destination found just an hour away from Orange County. Once you arrive, there is a multitude of things to do in Los Angeles, during the day and at night.

LA activities range from seeing the Hollywood Walk of Fame to shopping on Rodeo Drive and hanging at Venice Beach.

Look around the Muckenthaler Cultural Center

The Muckenthaler Cultural Center was originally an 18-room mansion that was built and owned by the Muckenthaler family in 1925. The family notably owned a citrus and nut farming business that served the local area.

The home was donated by the family’s son in 1965, with the intention of providing creative outlets to the community. The center today is known for its cultural museum, musical performances, and art classes and events.

stephstarr9363@gmail.com/Depositphotos.com
A Ferris wheel with a blue sky behind it
The Orange County fair is a fun event held every summer

Enjoy the Orange County Fair

The month-long Orange County Fair is one of the most popular events held at the OC Fair and Event Center. The OC Fair runs in July and August and is another of the fun places in Orange County to visit for a memorable day out.

At the fair, you can go on rides, eat yummy carnival snacks, and watch live entertainers. Taking some family photos on hay bales is highly recommended too!

Meet sea lions at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is a rescue, rehabilitation, and release center that takes in injured sea lions and seals. The organization's goal is to treat these aquatic patients and then release them back into the wild.

Currently, the center is home to 20 sea lions. When visiting, you can catch them swimming in their habitats, sunbathing on the rocks, or munching on some fish!

Bird watch at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary

One of the best Orange County places to visit for wildlife enthusiasts is the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. The 12-acre sanctuary and reserve features a bird-watching deck and several walking trails that allow you to peacefully observe the animals that live here.

A small natural museum is also on-site and includes exhibits on local plants and wildlife.

A road winding around a greenery-covered cliff with the ocean to the side
Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway has to be on your OC bucket list!

Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway features 656 miles of road that runs along the coast of California. As you drive along the iconic highway, you can appreciate photo-worthy winding roads and stunning ocean views.

Of course, you don't have to drive the entire highway, but doing so would make an incredible road trip! Along with admiring the views, you can stop at many central coast of California landmarks while driving the route.

Wander through the fields and woodlands at Fairview Park

Located in Costa Mesa, Fairview Park spans 208 acres. 194 of those acres are free-growing grass and woodlands, while the remaining are more manicured.

There are additionally two nationally recognized historic sites at Fairview Park, plus seven miles of hiking and biking trails. The park is quite isolated, making it ideal for people who need a break from the crowds.

Bright blue ocean with a pier to the side and a sandy shore with buildings on it
Huntington Beach is one of many beaches to visit in the OC

Go on an Orange County beach tour

Renting a car for the day and driving along the coast of California is one of the most fun things to do in Orange County! As you drive, you'll come across nine well-known beaches and dozens of other small ones.

At each beach, you can surf, tan, and walk down beautiful piers. Be sure to remember your camera too! Popular beaches to stop at include Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach.

Learn about Los Rios Historic District

Located in San Juan Capistrano, the Los Rios Historic District is a history enthusiast's dream! Many of the buildings in the district date back to 1794, and the area is the oldest occupied neighborhood in California.

As you walk around the town, keep your eyes open for plaques that will teach you more about the history of your surroundings.

A train track running past a beach under a blue sky
The San Clemente Coastal Trail takes your through scenic landscapes

Follow the San Clemente Coastal Trail

The San Clemente Coastal Trail spans 2.3 miles along the California coast. It runs from North Beach to Calafia Beach Park. Locals and tourists love to use the trail for walking and biking. The dirt trail is also dog-friendly, as are the beaches along the route.

Walk through the art galleries at Laguna Beach

One of the top things to do in Orange County for art enthusiasts is going to the galleries in Laguna Beach. There are dozens of exhibits and galleries to see, many of which offer free admission.

The galleries feature a range of art forms, including sculpture, paintings, photographs, and more. Live demos are frequently held in galleries too. You’re bound to find an artist you love as you explore and may even be inspired to take on a new hobby!

A pier stretching out into the ocean at sunset
Seal Beach Municipal Pier is the perfect place to watch the sunset

See the sunset at Seal Beach Municipal Pier

Seal Beach Municipal Pier was originally built in the early 1900s, and today, the pier remains a popular attraction with both tourists and locals. Watching the sunset at Seal Beach is highly recommended and is an activity you have to enjoy while in Orange County.

Seeing the sky turn orange and pink above the calm ocean waters is truly breathtaking!

In Summary

Orange County is a scenic and exciting destination on the West Coast of the United States. The county features many amazing places to see and things to do. No matter how many of these attractions in Orange County you visit, you're sure to have an incredible time!

This article was first published on Dec 20, 2021 21:52 UTC.

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Written by Alli Sewell

allisewell WRITER Currently based in Canada, I've also lived and worked in the UK and Brazil and travelled in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. I love finding the best photo-ops and food and drink locations wherever I go!


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