Orange County has points of interest and landmarks for everyone, from beaches to true western history. Here are some of the Orange County points of interest beyond the amusement parks that you won’t want to miss.
Victoria Beach, Laguna
Hidden away in Laguna Beach, Victoria beach is a point of interest that many don’t know about past their trendy Instagram feeds. Here, the waves splash against the Victoria Beach Tower – a spot that seems only to be found in a fairy tale… right on the sand in Laguna Beach.
Accessing this incredible slice of paradise can only be done by navigating to 2713 Victoria Drive, doing a little bit of fighting to get parking, and trekking down stairs to the sand. There is no parking allowed in the neighborhood, so visitors will need to find parking out on the main stretch of PCH and walk into the neighborhood.
All-in-all the trip is worthwhile. The Victoria beach tower is actually a private stairwell from one of the bluff-top homes, and is sometimes referred to as a lighthouse structure which wraps around the point, although the tower is not actually a functional lighthouse. Nearby, there is a man made pool which during the summer months it can fill up with sand and water. Truly a must see site to visit!
Old Town Orange
Old Town Orange is one of the most popular downtown destinations in Orange County. With a large population of registered historic buildings, the area maintains it’s old town charm with unique shops and restaurants, and more then 20 stores focusing on the sale of antique and vintage goods. Stop into Watson’s Soda Fountain for lunch, an Old Town Orange staple since 1899.
If browsing the antique shops and sipping root beer floats isn’t enough for you, check out the Haunted Orange County tour and explore Old Town after dark. You’ll learn all about the dark side of local sites, rendezvous with the dead, and step into the former parlor of the Orange Undertaker.
For California History buffs, head over to nearby Chapman College and visit the Huell Howser Archives. Here you can explore images, videos, exhibits, and artifacts collected by and donated to the legendary Mr. Howser during his years filming the docu-series California’s Gold.
Sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Orange County, The Sinks are are natural sandstone formations located in Limestone Canyon with red sandstone cliff faces that date back 20-40 million years. The Sinks is a must-see for those interested in the geologic history of the area and it’s a favorite hike for outdoor enthusiasts. Keep in mind that The Sinks is part of a preserve and can only be accessed on Wilderness Access Days offered by OC Parks Irvine Ranch Conservancy.
Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians can find dates to access the park at their own pace, or join one of the docent-led scheduled programs. This is not a quick out and back hike — round trip, adventures to The Sinks average 7 to 12 miles, and the regular 8-mile hike recommended for those on self-guided hikes can expect it to take 4.5-5 hours.
Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna Beach
Crystal Cove beach is picture perfect. Beach goers can drive down Pacific Coast Highway for beautiful views that awe tourists and locals alike. Crystal Cove is part of the California State Parks system so the parking costs $15 for the entire day. There are multiple parking areas and access points for camping, hiking, exploring tidepools, scuba diving and more.
Crystal Cove features 46 cottages built in the early to mid 1900s, some of which were redone in 2006. The quaint cottages portray the 1930s through 1950s in great detail and hold treasured memories for vacationers. One of the cottages was the setting for the movie Beaches with Bette Midler. The state park brings together mid century beach town feel and the beauty of California that can be seen from all angles on a hike through Moro Canyon.
Orange County Piers
Orange County has the most photographed piers in the country. From the Iconic Huntington Beach pier to the historic Newport Beach pier, here’s where you can find them:
Balboa Pier: Palm & Main Street, Newport Beach, CA – Originally built in 1906 and rebuilt several times. 920 feet long.
Dana Point Pier: Located in Dana Point Harbor — Originally built in 1970. 150 feet long.
Huntington Beach Pier: Main Street & PCH, Huntington Beach, CA – Originally built in 1904, but has been rebuilt several times. 1,850 feet long.
Newport Pier/McFadden’s Wharf: Court Street & 21st Place, Newport Beach, CA – Originally built in 1888-1889, rebuilt in 1940. 1,032 feet long.
San Clemente Pier: 611 Avenida Victoria. Originally built in 1928 and restored several times. 1,296 feet long.
Seal Beach Pier: Main Street & Ocean, Seal Beach, CA – Originally built in 1906, but has been rebuilt several times. 1,780 feet long.
The Arboretum sits on 26 acres at Cal State Fullerton. The botanical garden depicts numerous climates and habitats, including a Redwood Forest, and features over 4,000 different types of plants. The arboretum costs $5 upon entry, where you are welcomed by an Instagram-worthy waterfall. Each segment of the Arboretum is sectioned off by trees much like separate rooms, where you can get lost in different areas of nature, seasons, and geographical locations. Year round the ecological reserve offers classes to the community such as composting and yoga.
Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point
Salt Creek Beach is a high end sandy beach in Dana Point. Located below the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Salt Creek is the perfect beach to soak up the summer sun, body surf, surf, picnic, gather around the bonfire at sunset or take in the tide pools. Salt Creek Beach Park also features a large grassy area with picnic tables for those who want to enjoy the beach, without the sand. Parking here can be rough and steep, but the walk can be alleviated on busy days when there is a shuttle which beach-goers can utilize for $1.
Los Rios District & Mission San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano has deep roots in early California history. The mission was built in 1776 and was a pillar of religion as the seventh of nine missions by Saint Junipero Serra. The San Juan Capistrano mission is now a historical landmark which features artwork and period artifacts for all age groups to enjoy and to learn about California history.
The mission offers numerous ways to experience the history of the area including pre-recorded audio tours, guided tours, garden tours, field trips, swallow viewing, art walks and numerous other options. Parking is offered on site for free and admission is $14 for guests 18 to 59 years-old, $12 for guests over 60-years-old, $9 for students, and free for kids four-years-old and younger.
The nearby Los Rios Historic District is the oldest neighborhood in the state of California. There are 40 historic homes with three original adobes built by the Rios, Montanez, and Silvas. These adobes housed the builders and ranch workers of Mission San Juan Capistrano, and the oldest structures are over 200 years old dating back to the late 1700s.
The Montanez Adobe was built around 1794 and is open to the public. The Rios Adobe was also built around 1794 and has been occupied by the Rios family ever since, making it the oldest continually occupied home in the American West. The restaurant, El Adobe De Capistrano is also set in two historic structures, one adobe built in 1797 and the other, built in 1812, housed the jail and the court.
Historic Yorba Cemetery
The Yorba Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Orange County, and one of the oldest in the state. The cemetery was actively used from 1860 until its closure in 1939. Yorba Cemetery was originally Bernardo Yorba’s 13,000 acre Rancho Cañon de Santa Ana. The land was given to the Catholic Church after his death in 1858. The cemetery conducts tours the first Saturday of the month except for May, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The cemetery is believed to be haunted by Yorba’s own ghost, dubbed the Pink Lady. Legend says Alvina de los Reyes died December 10, 1910 on her way home from a dance at Valencia High in a buggy accident and rises on June 15th – however, family members say that Alvina was 31 when she died and passed during childbirth. But that doesn’t stop the paranormal-curious from keeping watch.
Whether you are one who enjoys history or the beach, Orange County is the place to venture out and experience the path less ventured.
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Rebecca has an undeniable love of writing and recently graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. She enjoys watching hockey, scuba diving, swimming, and working out.