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The 20 Best Things to Do in Orange County for First Timers


The amazing climate and the many attractions make Orange County a popular place to visit. During your stay, you can enjoy a multitude of fun or interesting activities as there is something for everyone in this part of California. Regardless of whether you are into outdoor pursuits or historic attractions, you will find plenty to keep you entertained. To help you to plan your vacation itinerary to get the most out of your stay, the following is an overview of the 20 best things to do in Orange County for first-timers.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

20. Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

Most people who visit Orange County want to spend as much time outside as possible to make the most of the wonderful climate and to take in some of the spectacular scenery. According to BuzzFeed, one of the best places to enjoy the scenery is at Laguna Coast, which has miles of hiking trails with coastal views. This is a free activity, so it is ideal for those who want to explore the area on a limited budget.

Pretend City

19. Pretend City Children’s Museum

If you are traveling to Orange County with children, then a top attraction to include in your vacation itinerary is Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine. Almost everything in this attraction offers an interactive experience for children. The aim is to engage young visitors in a range of activities that show them how the world works. Each of the activities will encourage the children to use a variety of skills, such as teamwork, math, reading, and problem-solving. There are interesting sections that allow children to engage in imaginative play, such as pretend grocery stores, banks, and cafes. Other activities allow them to explore potential future careers, such as farming, medicine, and construction. Science plays a big role in many of the activities. For example, there is a pretend marina where they can learn about which items will float and which will sink,

Orange County Zoo

18. Orange County Zoo

Something that everyone can enjoy, regardless of their age, is a trip to Orange County Zoo on Irvine Park Road in Orange. The focus of this zoo is the nature, plants, and animals that are native to the southwest region of the United States. Therefore, some of the animals that you will see in the zoo include mountain lions, black bears, bald eagles, porcupines, ocelots, and much more. It is possible to take a guided tour of the zoo, which allows you to learn more about each of the species on display. There are also some hands-on programs that are aimed at younger children. The intention of this is to educate the children about the wildlife of the region.

Orange County Great Park

17. Orange County Great Park

Located in the City of Irvine, Orange County Great Park is one of the top outdoor spaces in an urban setting. It spans 1,300 acres and is used for arts, sports, and recreation. There are several features that make this park stand out from others in Orange County. These include a carousel, a viewing pier, a farmer’s market, an arts complex, and an aviation exhibition. Therefore, there is far more to enjoy than simply taking a stroll through the park. Another interesting feature of the park is The Great Park Balloon attraction. This gives visitors the opportunity to view the park from a bird’s eye perspective when they ride 400 feet into the air in a giant orange balloon. There are also special events and exhibitions that take place in the park throughout the year, so it is worth checking out what is one before heading for Orange County.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

16. Mission San Juan Capistrano

If you are interested in discovering more about the history of Orange County during your visit, then one of the top attractions to visit is Mission San Juan Capistrano. The Mission was founded in 1775 by Father Lausen, and it has now been a place of religious, historical, and cultural significance for more than 240 years. Now, the Mission is used to display art exhibits and it is possible to take a guided tour. You will find Mission San Juan Capistrano on Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano.


15. Knott’s Soak City

On a hot day, there is nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in the water to cool down. Rather than doing this at the beach, you can head to Knott’s Soak City where you can combine spending time in the water with having fun on the slides. There are 10 unique water slides at Knott’s Soak City, along with a range of other water-based features to keep everybody happy. If rides are not your thing, then you can take a dip in the pool before relaxing in one of the private, poolside cabanas.


14. Knott’s Berry Farm

Once a tiny, family-run farm on Beach Boulevard in Buena Park, Knott’s Berry Farm has expanded to become an exciting attraction for all the family. While it is not quite on the scale of Disneyland, this is an extensive theme park that offers a variety of rides, with options for both thrill-seekers and for younger visitors. There are also themed sections, including the Wild West ghost town. This attraction has an on-site hotel and a restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat during your visit. Knott’s Berry Farm is next to Knott’s Soak City, so you can visit both attractions on the same day if you wish.

Fullerton Arbor

13. Fullerton Arboretum

Although there are plenty of fun and exciting activities and attractions in Orange County, sometimes it is nice to do something calm and peaceful. A beautiful place that offers this type of experience is Fullerton Arboretum, says Vacation Idea. It is the largest botanical garden in Orange County as it covers 26 acres. It boasts more than four thousand plants, and it specializes in saving species that are close to extinction. The gardens are divided into sections including Mediterranean, Desert, Cultivated, and Woodlands. Not only is this an educational activity, but it is also a calming place that will evoke the senses.

Downtown Disney

12. Downtown Disney

The Disney experience runs through many parts of Orange County and continues in Downtown Disney. It is located close to both Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure on Disneyland Drive in Anaheim. It has shops where you can purchase Disney related merchandise, a variety of Disney-themed restaurants, and an exciting program of entertainment that runs throughout the year. It is a good option if you do not feel like the energy and excitement of the rides but you still want to enjoy the Disney experience.

Doheny State BEach

11. Doheny State Beach

This beach is a California State Park that aims to educate the public about marine and avian creatures that are native to Orange County. The visitor center within this park helps to improve the guest experience of visiting Doheny State Beach by providing maps, general information, and interpretive programs. Some of the activities that people can enjoy in this area include hiking, swimming, picnicking, and camping. There is also an aquarium that you can visit to see and learn more about some of the marine life.

Disney California Adventure

10. Disney California Adventure

The sister attraction to the more famous Disneyland, the Disney California Adventure offers many of the same types of attractions and entertainment. There are fun rides, various activities, live entertainment, and dining venues at this large theme park. Just like at Disneyland, the characters play a huge part in the experience. There is something for everyone to enjoy at Disney California Adventure, which is on Disneyland Drive in Anaheim. Seasonal events and entertainment take place throughout the year, so you may wish to check what is on before embarking on your trip.


9. Discovery Cube Orange County

A fantastic attraction to visit on a rainy day is Discovery Cube Orange County, where the three goals are to ‘Inspire, Educate, Impact’. Within this attraction, you will find a wide range of exciting exhibitions, galleries, interactive activities, research stations, and tours. Children are actively encouraged to explore everything within the building by using their senses. Discovery Cube Orange County is on North Main Street in Santa Ana.

Crystal Cove

8. Crystal Cove State Park

To make the most of the coastal location and get away from the busy tourist attractions, you should spend some time at Crystal Cove State Park. This is one of the largest remaining natural seashores in Orange County as it has three miles of beach and covers almost 2,500 acres of land. There are 15 miles of established trails that range in difficulty from easy trails to strenuous trails. Other than hiking, you can also enjoy bike riding, horse riding, swimming, and surfing.


7. Bowers Museum

Located on Main Street in Santa Ana, Bower’s Museum is one of the best museums to visit during your time in Orange County. The focus of this museum is celebrating world cultures through their arts. The museum has been open since 1936, and it is now accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. This attraction is suitable for people of all ages as there is a special section that is devoted to younger visitors that will keep them entertained.


6. Balboa Fun Zone

The Ferris wheel at Balboa Fun Zone has been a prominent feature of the landscape in Orange County since 1936. Located near Newport Harbor, the Ferris wheel is even visible at night as it is illuminated. Since the Ferris wheel was first erected, there have been other rides and attractions added to create a small amusement park. However, the Ferris wheel remains the highlight of a visit, and it offers spectacular views over Newport Harbor, the beach, Balboa Peninsula, and the historic pier.

Adventure City

5. Adventure City

A fun activity for all the family is a trip to Adventure City. This is a cheaper alternative to visiting Disneyland. There are rides to suit all ages, a climbing wall, an arcade, a party station, and a petting zoo. There are multiple dining options within the park, so you will not need to leave to grab a bite to eat. This is somewhere that you can spend anything from a couple of hours to a full day.

Bolsa Chica

4. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Nature-lovers should take a trip to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, says Vacation Idea. This covers more than 1,300 acres of a coastal estuary. Visitors can explore the seabird nesting islands, coastal dunes, freshwater marsh, salt marsh, open water, riparian habitat, and mudflats. You will see some of the 200 or more avian species during your visit, along with some of the other wildlife that lives in this habitat.

Crescent Beach

3. Crescent Bay Beach

All the beaches in Orange County are amazing, but one that people consider as one of the best is Crescent Bay Beach. Named due to its shape, this is a stunning patch of sand that encapsulates beautifully clear waters. It is a popular spot, so it sometimes gets busy. However, it is a nice place to spend some time with the children or to take a dip in the water.


2. Heisler Park

When people visit Orange County and post photographs of their trip on social media, it is often Heisler Park that they choose as the backdrop for their photographs. This scenic, oceanfront park is considered symbolic of the area and the lifestyle It offers. You will find beach coves, seaside gardens, towering palms, and meandering footpaths.


1. Disneyland

According to Time Out, the best thing to do in Orange County is to visit Disneyland. This internationally famous attraction is one of the biggest draws to this part of the world for global travelers. Aimed at families but suitable for people of all ages, there is something for everyone to enjoy at Disneyland. It is home to entertainment, rides, attractions, multiple dining venues, and much more.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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