While most parts of the country are getting into a cozy winter state of mind, Southern California is mild all year long. With weather that requires only a sweater—no jacket, scarf, and gloves—lots of outdoor and indoor activities to choose from, a plethora of shopping opportunities and no shortage of amazingly delicious food spots, Orange County, California is the destination to put on your travel list.
Spread along the mesmerizing Pacific Ocean, Orange County is made up of a few cities all within a short drive from each other. The area is experiencing a design boom, making it the perfect vacation destination for the interiors lover. Be it beach time, a shopping spree, cultural activity, outdoor fun or a wellness day, Orange County has something for everyone. Here, Domino contributor and founder of californiaweekendmag.com, Ana Kamin, picks her favorite OC California dreamin’ spots.
When in OC, you want to wake up to the sound of soothing waves and be able to step out for a sunset walk on the beach. So pick one of the beach towns as a home base. My favorites are Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, or Huntington Beach.
2510 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach
Located in Laguna Beach and separated from the beach only by the famous Highway 1, Casa Laguna is the ideal place to embrace the California lifestyle. A historic building that started out as a home to architect Frank Miller and his wife, it developed over the years into today’s charming Casa Laguna. With bold colors and Mediterranean-inspired pattern and textiles, Casa Laguna is your elegant home away from home. Take long naps in the plush bedding or treat yourself to a wellness day at the in-house spa. You deserve it.
211 N Pacific Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach
If you don’t even want a crosswalk to separate you from the beach, I recommend you check in at the Inn at Laguna Beach. Directly on the beach with rooms looking onto the ocean, Inn at Laguna Beach is your coastal stay with bright, airy rooms and even a pool for those days when the Pacific is too cold.
THINGS TO DO
Now that you have settled in, it’s time to get going and explore the area. Whatever your pastime preferences are, OC has got you covered.
I personally love to kick off my vacation with some outdoor activity, to get me into a good mood and ready for all the delicious food that comes with a vacation. Kayaking in Laguna Beach is great to enjoy the nature, see this cute coastal town from another perspective and get your sweat on. There are few kayak rental places and tours to choose from; I did my tour with La Vida Laguna. They were super helpful and friendly.
If you prefer a motorized boat, that’s fine, too; it’s your vacation. Start your day with a stroll around the man-made, yet super charming Balboa Island. Part of Newport Beach, Balboa Island is sprinkled with delightful homes and cottages, with boats parking on the bay and just big enough so you can walk around it in less than 20 minutes. Grab a few pastries from the Blue Chair Bakery and juice from Juice Crafters, located next to each other the Marine Avenue. Have a seat at one of the many benches and watch a neighborhood wake up. Balboa Island might be small, but definitely not short on food and shopping opportunities. The Marine Avenue is home to almost 75 businesses on only three blocks. From clothes to home decor, tattoos shop, restaurants, and bars, there is everything you need. Even if you just had breakfast, treat yourself to a chocolate covered frozen banana tossed in everything from Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop. Get the everything topping, it’s the best, believe me. Savor your treat while you walk along the beach promenade, have a seat on the beach and peek into the many streets to pick your favorite home. Walk over to the Balboa Fun Zone, an adorable, old-school boardwalk amusement park with cotton candy, Ferris wheel and salt water taffy shops included.
Duffy Boat Tour
And now comes the motorized boat part. Book a tour with a Duffy Boats for a mini cruise around the bay. Duffy boats are small, private, comfortable, electric boats that will take you on an hour long trip on the water. You will float by some serious mansions, where instead of cars, huge yachts park in the water driveway, and your guide will have plenty of celebrity stories. If the hunger strikes, Duffy boats are allowed to dock on many rear docks of restaurants where you can place your order, get your food and enjoy lunch on the boat. Cool, right?
Lido Marina Village
3434 Via Lido, Newport Beach
The newest addition to OC California shopping scene is Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach. Old buildings are getting new life with lots of white and black paint, modern font quotes on the walls, a patio area for music and gatherings, and cool shops. Jenni Kayne, Serena & Lily, Warby Parker, Alchemy Works, Claire Vivier, and many others have already secured their spots.
Bear Flag Fish Company
3421 Via Lido, Newport Beach
If you need to fuel up while shopping at the Lido Marina Village, have lunch at the Bear Flag Fish Company. This place will have you covered with everything the seafood menu has to offer. From sushi to fish tacos to clam chowder to fish N chips to fresh fish with vegetables. Their menu is amazing and the prices extremely reasonable for seafood.
Cruising Newport Beach
Cruiser bikes are a thing in Southern California. They bring you easily from point A to point B, or better yet from your beach blanket to the next ice cream shop. The long bike trail along the wide beach stretch of Newport Beach is an optimal workout if you feel like getting active. Get your bike from the many bike rentals close to the pier, and get cruising. Don’t forget to stop at the small beach shack, Stuft Surfer, for some super yummy chocolate milkshake and their surprisingly good burgers. The place is so California Dreamy.
A, 1617 Westcliff Dr #112, Newport Beach
It’s time to enjoy some nourishing bliss. Cafe Gratitude is taking California by storm with its plant-based menu offering delicious and healthy salads, bowls, sandwiches, and so much more. My current favorite is the Gracious salad: a plate packed with crunchy grains, butternut squash, cashew mozzarella and other good things. All items have funny names (brilliant, dynamic, magic, committed, and so on). And when you order, you say: “I am… brilliant, dynamic, magic…” You see, not only do they take care of your hunger, but also encourage a positive attitude.
1360 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach
The Portland-based outdoor equipment company Poler has opened its first CA location in Laguna Beach, directly on Highway 1. The exterior of the space is absolutely Instagram-worthy, and the interior even more so. Next to super cool camping stuff, books, and outdoor clothes, they also have a huge indoor space with canoes hanging from the ceilings. A huge bench and tables invite you to rest for a moment and treat yourself to a cup of Stumptown coffee or a pint of Salt & Straw ice cream. Two of my favorite Portland exports.
Anaheim Packing District
440 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim
Anaheim is so much more than only Disneyland. The biggest Orange County city is becoming a travel destination on its own. Especially the Anaheim Packing District, which is drawing foodies from all corners of the country. What used to be Sunkist packing plant has been converted into a two-story food hall. Come hungry and come thirsty. From doughnut bites to shaved snow to ice stuffed crepes to overpacked tacos— there is so much to try. And if you are riding the current craft beer wave, Anaheim has more than 20 breweries. My two favorites were the Anaheim Brewing Company, a pretty traditional German-style brewery, and Unsung, a modern, comics-inspired approach to beer.
Soco Collection & The OC Mix
3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa
Head to SoCo Collection & The OC Mix in Costa Mesa for an afternoon full of shopping and eating. The outdoor center is focused on interior design concept stores but also features fashion and home decor as well as many restaurants. It’s great to stroll around, get some inspiration for your next home upgrade and have a bite or two on the center patio. A place you don’t want to miss is Taco Maria—it was voted best OC restaurant, and I can confirm the deliciousness of their tacos.
South Coast Plaza, 600 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa
If you are looking for some culture and entertainment time, check out the events at the Segerstrom Center. World-class singers, bands, and musical acts are performing there regularly. For a nice dinner before a show, get a reservation at the Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge. The light-filled bistro offers creative dishes made with seasonal ingredients. Don’t miss the chocolate tiramisu for dessert.
1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim
Ok, ok. This is just optional, but now that you know you have other options, I must say, keep Disneyland in mind, too. I haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t love to spend a day at the “happiest place on Earth.” Put your Mini Mouse ears on, grab a turkey leg, and ride with Indiana Jones.