Orange County: Discover the SoCal lifestyle in the OC's surfing beaches, theme parks and wild canyons

By Maribeth Mellin

PHOTO: CharacterCentral.net

Seen from its many freeways, Orange County looks like a vast expanse of matching terracotta-tiled rooftops, mirrored office buildings and enormous malls. Behind the fa├žade, the county is compact yet amazingly diverse. Sure, it's got Anaheim's Disneyland, but that's just a blip on the OC map.

Several of Southern California's most famous beaches with historic missions, art colonies, scenic marinas and legendary surf breaks dot the OC's 42-mile-long coastline. Several master-planned communities sprawl through the inland areas including Irvine, where thousands of acres of citrus groves once filled the air with the scent of orange blossoms. Irvine now contains a University of California campus and several other universities, the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (undergoing a transformation into the Orange County Great Park) and several master-planned "villages" housing nearly 150,000 residents. Similar developments large and small, including some of the country's priciest enclaves, are surrounded by more established neighborhoods and cities.

Though it appears to be a jumble of crowded suburbs intersected by jam-packed freeways, the OC is also filled with cultural attractions and performing arts venues, such as the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the South Coast Repertory. For sports fans, the Los Angeles Angels actually play at Anaheim's Angel Stadium and the Anaheim Ducks hockey team speeds over the ice at Anaheim's Honda Stadium. More than 40 championship golf courses and a year-round temperate climate keep golfers happy. Hotel and day spas help the OC's beautiful people maintain their tanned and buff bodies, and everywhere you look you'll see people jogging, walking, biking and thoroughly enjoying their SoCal lifestyle.

City & Town

Orange County encompasses 34 cities but lacks a distinctive downtown. Disneyland makes Anaheim the most famous, but other cities offer interesting experiences. History buffs enjoy San Juan Capistrano's mission, Yorba Linda's Nixon Presidential Library and restored Victorian homes in Santa Ana and Orange. Shoppers head to glam malls in Costa Mesa, while Huntington Beach has the most vibrant downtown.

The Great Outdoors

Orange County is packed with natural wonders. Its 42 miles of prime SoCal coastline contain famed surf spots (Huntington Beach, the Wedge at Newport Beach), yacht harbors (Newport Beach, Dana Point), Crystal Cove State Park's protected underwater reserve and wilderness, and several wetlands reserves filled with birds. Inland, wild canyons and parks are filled with endless hiking and biking trails. In active OC, exercise options are always close at hand.

Family Fun

Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm make Orange County an ideal family vacation destination, and there are far more places to explore. Santa Ana's Discovery Science Center offers more than 100 hands-on exhibits, the Wild Rivers Park in Irvine (open summer only) has exciting waterslides for teens and toddlers and the sharks at Long Beach's aquarium offer plenty of thrills.

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