There are many other spots around the County where you’ll find a clustering of shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities. Certainly a drive along the many miles of Pacific Coast Highway will turn up lots of fine places to stop. There are other large shopping centers that we’ve not discussed above because of limitations in space and both of our attention span. So do check out the links presented below for dozens of options for food and fun.
Other Notable Orange County Shopping & Dining Recommendations
We do want to mention a small number of locales where the atmosphere or combination of activities is particularly noteworthy. Let’s start up north, since so far we’ve spent most of our vowels and consonants down further south.
In the late 1800s a bunch of farmers and small businessmen convinced George Fullerton, the President of the Santa Fe Railroad, to build a station near the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Spadra Road (now Harbor Boulevard). That meant a lot to their ability to ship their produce, and put the little town on the map. As you can guess, they named the city after their benefactor.
In recent years, downtown Fullerton has come to life with clubs and restaurants, shops… and a couple of tattoo parlors. All of this fun stuff is within easy walking distance of the Fullerton train station, which hosts Amtrak and Metrolink commuter railway stops. There actually were two train stations here at one time, and several years ago one was completely renovated and made into The Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant. Many of the other buildings are also quite old and charming, having been renovated and upgraded to earthquake codes.
Another great older town, built around a railroad station, is the city of Orange (yes, we have the city of Orange in the County of Orange). The old town was built around a plaza (sometimes erroneously referred to as the traffic circle) which does, in fact, have a traffic circle around the center plaza. But The Plaza is the preferred term. There are many historical buildings within blocks of each other, with many antique shops among the other businesses.
There are some great eating establishments in Old Towne Orange , but the emphasis would have to be on the antique shopping. So after you’re done buying antiques (they’ll ship for you) take a Metrolink train from the Orange station up to Fullerton for dinner.
San Juan Capistrano
Or, take the train down to San Juan Capistrano, where there is an even older historic section started hundreds of years ago around the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Known best for the annual return of the swallows from South America, the downtown district offers a variety of entertainment and dining options.
The theme in general is historic California and there are a great many buildings of interest. Of course, the building of greatest significance is the mission itself, one of a string of missions founded by Father Serra back in the 18th century. Check this link for a map of San Juan Capistrano. You can drive or take the train.
Another of the many worthy destinations is Main Street, at the pier in Huntington Beach. There are several blocks of entertainment, eating, drinking and shopping establishments. Jack’s Surfboards is just one of many stores offering beach-oriented apparel, products and souvenirs. There are over a dozen good restaurants and nightclubs.
Ruby’s is out at the end of the pier, and there frequently are merchants in booths along the walkways. There are events held regularly during the summer and, less frequently, throughout the year.
Pacific City is an exciting new open-air mall in the downtown area, not far from the pier. It will have over 60 upscale shops and restaurants by summer of 2016. The total size of the center is 191,000 SF and many of the stores are pretty unique.
Newport Beach / Balboa Beach
Going south along PCH, you might consider stopping at a different Main Street, down near the end of the Balboa Peninsula. Actually there are restaurants and shops near the north entrance to the Peninsula (The Crab Cooker being one); keep your eyes open as you drive. The area around the Fun Zone and the Balboa Pavilion offers an eclectic array of shops. This is kinda touristy, but there are some good restaurants and clubs to be found. You could take the ferry over to Balboa Island, where there is another commercial district.
Don’t forget downtown Laguna Beach. Here there is a heavy emphasis on art galleries, but there are many shops for finding that special gift for the neighbor who is feeding your iguana while you’re on vacation. If you are in town during the summer, check out the Festival of Arts, Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Festival.
You’ll also find dining choices scattered around downtown. Laguna is home to a rather substantial population of craftsmen and artists of all types—sculptors, painters, hand-crafted products. Some of them live in interesting homes tucked in along Laguna Canyon Road, heading east from downtown. You’ll see some shops and restaurants along PCH both north and south of the downtown district but with less “density.”
Santa Ana and Garden Grove / Westiminster
These are two areas where you’ll find ethnic shopping and dining, right in the heart of Orange County. We’ve provided some details and links on our own Melting Pot page, so check that out if you’re interested in these commercial districts; the navigation button will take you there pronto.
We should not forget to mention the new 500,000-SF Outlets at San Clemente, which opened in late 2015 after 18 years in gestation. It is still leasing up as of late 2015, but offers over 20 stores by brands for which this is their first outlet store; Nautica, Cole Haan, Le Creuset and 2XU among other cool brands. Of course there will be dozens of the usual names. This posh center offers great views of the ocean.
OK, folks, we’re about out of words for this page. Check out some of the links. There is no shortage of options for shopping, dining and night-clubbing in Orange County.