I’ve lived in California’s Orange County for 40 years. Here are the 8 best things to do here besides going to Disneyland.

wendy lee hiking (left), huntington beach (right)

As someone who’s lived in Orange County for over 40 years, I’ve thoroughly explored all six beach towns.Wendy Lee

  • People travel to California just to visit Disneyland, but the surrounding area has so much to offer.

  • Orange County is home to six beach towns with delicious food, impressive art, and great shopping.

  • Bike along Newport Beach or catch a wave in Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA.

Many people travel to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and leave before experiencing all of the attractions that the surrounding area offers.

General view of the Walt Disney 'Partners' statue at Disneyland on May 27, 2022 in Anaheim, California.

Disneyland is located in Anaheim, California.AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is one of the most-visited theme parks in the world, attracting millions of people to Orange County each year.

Even though Disneyland is great, there’s a whole other world waiting to be explored in this part of California. I’ve lived in Orange County for most of my life (over 40 years) and adore it.

Here’s what I recommend doing in the area around Disneyland, regardless of whether or not you plan on visiting the theme park.

Rent bikes to ride along the Newport Beach Boardwalk.

bike on beach

Newport Beach has a ton of bike-rental stations.Wendy Lee

Last year, my husband and I moved to Newport Beach, one of Orange County’s six main beach towns. We immediately purchased bikes and started exploring our new home.

Our favorite ride is along the Newport Beach Boardwalk, which begins at E Street and continues to 36th Street. This 3-mile stretch is fully paved and flat, making it easy for a beach-cruiser bike.

If you have more time or want to go further, continue biking north to Huntington Beach.

Bike rentals are easy to find in both Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. I’ve found some of the best rental prices at Newport Bike & Beach Rentals. If you prefer an electric bike, head to Beach & Bikes.

Catch a wave and hit the bars in Huntington Beach.

sunset over huntington beach

We watched the sun go down in Huntington Beach.Wendy Lee

Huntington Beach is known as Surf City USA for good reason. Each year, it hosts the Vans US Open of Surfing and, in September, it is home to the International Surfing Association World Surfing Games.

If you have a chance to attend a surfing event during your visit, I highly recommend it. Those interested in catching a wave themselves should definitely check out the surfing opportunities, and the best spot to do so is along the pier.

Visitors looking for a weekend party scene will definitely enjoy Huntington Beach.

Main Street is lined with dozens of restaurants, bars and breweries, with a few musicians and performers mixed in. Currently, our favorite stops are The Ria for Detroit-style pizza and 4 Sons Brewing for beer.

For something more upscale with an ocean view, I recommend Duke’s, a restaurant named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a surfing legend.

Board the ferry to Balboa Island, where you can shop and dine at leisure.

balboa island ferry

We prefer the ferry over the drive to Balboa Island.Wendy Lee

Located in the middle of Newport Harbor is the tiny, man-made Balboa Island. Even though you can drive onto the island, we prefer to ride the ferry.

In operation since 1919, the Balboa Island Ferry transports cars, bicycles, and pedestrians from the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach to the island in under 10 minutes. No matter how many times I ride this ferry, the view never gets old.

Once you arrive on the island, head to Marine Avenue to go shopping and dine.

For generously sized breakfasts, grab a table at Wilma’s Patio. Later in the day, enjoy a meal or a beer at Snipe Island.

And whatever you do, don’t leave without trying a Balboa Bar, which is chocolate or vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in an assortment of nuts and sprinkles.

Immerse yourself in music, art, and theater in Costa Mesa.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Catch a performance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.Wendy Lee

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Orange County significantly expand its cultural offerings over the past four decades. Many of the area’s music venues, theaters, and art galleries are conveniently located on one campus in Costa Mesa.

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts boasts multiple performance halls, and the South Coast Repertory is home to three stages.

Rounding out the campus is the Orange County Museum of Art, which recently opened its new building. Thanks to a donation from Newport Beach-based business Lugano Diamonds, admission to the museum will be free for the next 10 years.

I’ve enjoyed theater, concerts and shows at all of these places and encourage visitors to check them out as well.

Exercise outdoors by hiking through the canyons.

wendy lee on a hike

Active travelers should take advantage of the area’s many hiking trails.Wendy Lee

Like so many Orange County residents I know, I love to get outdoors to work out. Luckily, I have a plethora of places to choose from.

My husband and I enjoy hiking through the canyons in and around Laguna Beach. After a steep climb, we love to be rewarded with an ocean view and an occasional breeze.

Head to Crystal Cove State Park along Pacific Coast Highway and look for the El Moro Canyon Trail. You can make this hike an easy out-and-back or connect to surrounding trails for a more significant elevation change.

Another great option is to hike through the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and choose from its 40 miles of trails.

Appreciate the art and green spaces in Laguna Beach.

beach coastline

Laguna Beach is known for its water, but it also has a lot of art and green space.Wendy Lee

Artists have been drawn to the oceanside town of Laguna Beach since the early 1900s.

Now, it has over 100 galleries, an excellent art museum, and a lot of public art. The town really comes alive in the summer when several festivals, like the Pageant of the Masters and Festival Of Arts, kick off.

Our favorite thing to do in Laguna is stroll through Heisler Park, a mile-long green space perched just above the water.

Within this park, you’ll find about a dozen sculptures set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, there are a few staircases that lead to small, sandy coves that are worth exploring when the tide is out.

Explore Los Rios, one of California’s oldest neighborhoods, in San Juan Capistrano.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, Landmarks, Chapel, Museums and Gardens

If you visit San Juan Capistrano, head to the Mission, a historic landmark and museum.Wendy Lee

When someone drives around Orange County, it may appear as if everything here is brand new, but that’s an illusion.

In fact, one of California’s oldest neighborhoods, Los Rios, is located in San Juan Capistrano, a city in Orange County.

Start with an audio tour of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, a historic landmark and museum, to learn about life here in the late 1700s. Then, continue on to the historic Los Rios district to explore its old adobe houses.

When you get hungry, head to Ramos House Café or Five Vines Wine Bar for excellent food.

Shop for antiques in Old Towne Orange.

antique shopping Old Towne Orange

There’s spectacular antique shopping in Old Towne Orange.Wendy Lee

For a great day of antiquing, there’s no better place to go than Old Towne Orange, which locals often call the Circle of Orange. Here, dozens of locally owned shops and restaurants surround Plaza Park, a small green space dominated by a large fountain.

Nearby residential streets feature hundreds of beautifully maintained Craftsman homes.

Browse through one of the antique malls, like Country Road Antiques & Garden, my personal favourite. And when you get hungry, order Cuban food at Felix Continental Cafe or Mediterranean fare at Byblos Cafe.

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