Orange County Activities...
Fun Beyond Disney, Knott's and the Beaches (DKB)!
The thing is, if you got rid of Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and the beaches (hypothetically speaking of course; I’m not sure how you’d really do that, nor would you want to…), there would still be the great weather, and lots of other things to do in Anaheim, Buena Park and the rest of Orange County. There are many other attractions worth visiting.
If you’ve visited Southern California several times before, you may not feel the need to spend a lot of time at DKB. If you’re not a theme park or beach person, we can offer many other rather significant historical attractions, parks, some of the most interesting Southern California museums, cultural events perhaps not found other places and plenty of shopping and dining choices as we’ve covered on another page.
There is some pretty challenging hiking to be had in the Orange County back country, as shown in the photo above (wear a light jacket in the winter). What if you’re looking for a Southern California wedding site? Many of the museums and facilities are available for that, and we’ve got a link for you later.
There are a great many web sites that offer information about vacation activities and attractions. We’ve found that no one site has all the answers, and you can spend a lot of time (as we have) in figuring out which web sites are most helpful.
Even with great, informative sites, you won’t get an idea of the relative importance of one option over the others. For that reason, our mission here is to link you up with a couple of the most concise and informative web sites, but also to give you an idea of which attractions you really ought to consider visiting if you have a limited amount of time.
First, some web sites to get you started:
So for starters, and in case you can’t resist taking a quick look at all the options for Orange County activities out there, let me steer you to some links. You can check them out and then return here for a dose of opinion and bias.
- The first independent web site for Orange County attractions and activities is
They have information on a lot of topics, including dining, but they only list a very small percentage of the restaurants and bars in the county. So I would not spend much time looking at that; we’ve given you another link for that on our O.C. Dining and Shopping page; check out the navigation button to the left. But this site does include a pretty good list of campgrounds, and an especially thorough summary of parks in each city. They give you ideas for some nice “getaway” hotels that might not show up on the larger travel sites like Travel Zoo.
Here you’ll find suggestions for day trips to other locales in Southern California and some further away. This can provide some good brainstorming if you’re thinking that this vacation may cover more geography than Orange County. The site includes information on sports venues and teams (but their reference to the Anaheim Angels playing at Edison Field is old news. Edison is out and it’s known as Angel Stadium—has been for a couple of years, as any Angel fan will tell ya’).
If you’re a baseball fan, we have two great university baseball teams often making the annual trip to the playoffs and even the college world series in Omaha: California State University at Fullerton and University of California at Irvine. Sometimes a good college game can be more fun than a pro game. Check the web sites for those schools in the spring for their college baseball schedules.
- Our next recommendation for Orange County activities is
These guys list activities and attractions by city, and include some cool, lesser-known options like the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin, among other museums. They list over 40 ideas, big and small (and some better than others), plus some of their own recommendations for day trips (San Diego Zoo, or ballooning in nearby Temecula or San Diego County) and longer excursions out of Southern California. It’s pretty easy to use this site for brainstorming purposes, and to get specific information about the various attractions.
- Finally, we’d send you to
Notice how they’ve combined Anaheim and Orange County in their name; the site is mostly about fun stuff throughout the county, but they probably did a little research to learn that Anaheim is a good Google search word. That’s OK, because they offer several dozen ideas, including information on Wild Rivers Water Park, a competitor to Knott’s Soak City. They mention some destinations like the Pirates Adventure and Medieval Times dinner shows near Knott’s Berry Farm, which aren’t always listed elsewhere (we talk about them on our Knott’s pages).
This site lists activities in various categories, which may be helpful to you. However, if you click on “All Attractions” over to the right, you’ll get a list of everything in their quiver; that might be a good way to brainstorm without limiting yourself to certain categories. Some of the ideas are in nearby areas within Southern California, but could be a good day trip.
Now, you've had a peek at the dozens of choices. Of those many great activities let us emphasize a small handful of ideas, mainly because they stand out a bit in their significance, prominence or entertainance (new word), or because we just really think you should give them strong consideration in your planning. These activities are quite different from one another as you’ll see:
Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, in Yorba Linda. Whether you loved him or hated him, President Nixon was one of our most significant leaders, with a very interesting personal and professional history. His early stomping grounds ranged from Yorba Linda over to Whittier in Los Angeles County.
The presidential library facility is very well done, and realizes that visitors include folks of all political persuasions. It covers his history, but of perhaps greater interest, are exhibits covering many of the significant events of his life in office. They are too many to start listing here, but the library does a good job of covering Watergate and the resulting catastrophe for President Nixon. There aren’t many presidential libraries around, so when you are so close to history, it’s worth a half-day visit if possible. Click on the photo of the presidential helicopter to jump over to the Richard Nixom Library and Birthplace.
Mission San Juan Capistrano. Back in 1775 there was a group of missions across California, one being in San Diego and another at San Gabriel, up in Los Angeles County. Apparently this was a long distance between missions; too long to be effective in their objective of reaching the local folks. Father Junipero Serra was able to convince the Spanish regional commander of this need, and shortly thereafter another priest founded the mission at San Juan Capistrano. Things got off to a shaky start, as you can better understand when you visit this beautiful and historic facility in south Orange County.
There is the mission, and an historic district around it where homes and other buildings have been restored. There is the return of the swallows from South America each spring. You’ll be amazed to learn that there is also shopping and dining—and a Metrolink and Amtrak station that provides convenient access to all parts of Southern California. A half-day trip to the Mission would enhance your understanding of the lives of early residents and enrich your vacation. Kids will be fine and will be suitably entertained, as long as you don’t make them spend hours delving into every detail of every exhibit. Here is a
link to the Mission San Juan Capistrano web site.
Discovery Science Museum, Santa Ana. If your kids went with you to the Mission, you ought to reciprocate by taking them to "The Cube." This museum is right along the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5). You can’t miss The Cube because it looks just like, well, a cube. Inside are many cool exhibits related to science of all types. Hands on activities, demonstrations, etc. This is another great way to break up a vacation of sightseeing and theme parks with a few hours of educational fun. Adults will enjoy it also. Click on the big black Cube below for the museum web site.
The Discovery Science Center web site has a lot of good information, including details on many of the exhibits and activities.
The center is open from 10 to 5 each day, so this is not an evening excursion. It can get a little busy when there are multiple school field trips, but you can check the web site, where they list the field trips scheduled for the day and how many kids in the group. That way you can sidestep the busier hours if possible. All in all a fine opportunity to cool down on a hot summer afternoon.
Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa. Within walking distance of the South Coast Plaza shopping mall is this major venue for performing arts. Thanks to the leadership (and bucks) of the Segerstrom (real estate development) and Samuelli (high tech) families among many others with less-impressive financial statements, Orange County can offer a very impressive array of theatrical and musical events.
The Center includes a handful of individual theatres and concert halls, ranging in capacity from over 300 to nearly 3,000. Performances range from opera, to organ concerts (the center has a fabulous pipe organ in the Segerstrom Concert Hall) to Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers.
web site for the Orange County Performing Arts Center
has photos (one of which we’ve borrowed here), diagrams of seating, detailed schedules and a whole bunch of information about this highly respected bastion of culture. Even if you don’t have time or budget for a show or concert, you might want to wander over if you visit South Coast Plaza just to check out the architecture.
Anaheim Professional sports teams. Catching Angels baseball and Ducks hockey games are two more cool things to do in Anaheim. If you’re in town between April and October, there’s roughly a 50-50 chance the Angels will be playing somebody at Angel Stadium. They offer reasonably priced bleacher seats that aren’t half-bad. Day games can be pretty hot in the sun, but most of the games are in the evenings at around 7 pm.
Catching a major-league game is a kick, whether you come from a city with your own team, or especially if you live too far from a MLB stadium. If you’re visiting us from another country, come check out America’s pastime; you’ll see a real cross-section of people at an
Angels baseball game at Anaheim Stadium.
We’ll see how many of you baseball fans agree with this: The key about baseball, to you who did not grow up with it, is that one moment the field is quiet, perhaps almost somnolent (I think the word means sleepy). Then, in an instant you have this crazy action of a huge home run hit, or a diving catch by a fielder, or choreography between the shortstop, the second baseman and the first baseman in a double play that is like a dance.
There is admittedly a bit of danger to the game, as the ball is very hard and is moving very fast much of the time. So, at almost any point, there is the anticipation that something will happen that you won’t want to miss. And when Manager Mike Scioscia walks out to the mound and claps his hands twice, you know they are replacing the pitcher…
If you are here in the winter months, you’ll want to consider catching a professional hockey game at the Honda Center (Honda Ponda), home to the Anaheim Ducks. They used to be the Disney Company’s Mighty Ducks, but they dropped the adjective when the team was purchased from Disney. The Honda Center is much smaller than Anaheim Stadium across the freeway, so you might have more trouble getting seats to a home game. But check out the
web site for the Anaheim Ducks.
It includes a link to the Honda Center, where there are concerts and other events held when the Ducks aren't on the ice.
Generally speaking, hockey is a bit more pugnacious (I think that means friendly and forgiving) than baseball. The average percentage of a game spent watching a brawl or bloody nose is higher for hockey, although baseball does have its moments. If you’re not a regular hockey fan, you may notice the fans get a bit keyed up.
So these are the bigger draws, Orange County activities that we think you should at least think about including in your itinerary. The dozens of other opportunities may actually be more interesting to you, so please do spend some time on the web sites presented above.
We have one final source for your vacation planning. The SoCal Guru promises to tell you “what the locals know and where the locals go.” Of course we’ve tried to do that throughout this little site. But we’d be remiss to not tell you about an annual survey of locals performed by the Orange County Register newspaper.
It’s called the “Best of Orange County” and includes the results of the survey—the peoples’ preferences in dozens of categories. With this, you can get other opinions on shopping, dining, and some the best places for wedding receptions in Southern California, the best museums (we only mentioned one of the many here in O.C.!). For an online version of the survey results, click on this
link to the “Best of Orange County.”
Who's your Daddy? The Socal Guru, that's who!
Let's return to the Home page from Orange County Activities.