Orange County:
Beyond surfer dudes and Mickey Mouse, an ethnic melting pot with artistic energy

By Christine Delsol and Maribeth Mellin

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Disneyland put Anaheim, and thus Orange County, on the travel map, but visitors lost no time following locals to the warm, idyllic beach cities dotting 42 miles of postcard-worthy coastline. Celebrities and surfers alike congregate on now-famous beaches enhanced by historic missions, art colonies, scenic marinas and renowned surf breaks.

Its teeming freeways reveal little more than mirrored office buildings, sprawling malls and cookie-cutter residential developments, but behind that facade, “The OC” is surprisingly diverse. Even Anaheim has established its own identity apart from the “Magic Kingdom,” with a massive convention center complex offering outdoor dining and concert space, the Center Street Promenade revival of its historic commerce district and the bustling Packing House food hall and market.

The seductive beach towns also have their own identities, from surf-centric Huntington Beach to tony Newport to artsy Laguna to serene San Clemente. In addition to inland cities that grew of their own accord, master-planned communities have supplanted great swaths of orange groves. Primary among these is Irvine, encompassing a University of California campus, the still-developing Orange County Great Park and several “villages.”

These varied communities host distinctive festivals, farmers markets and events. Cultural attractions and performing arts venues, such as the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the South Coast Repertory, are sprinkled throughout the county. When retail therapy is required, destination shopping malls such as Irvine Spectrum, Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island in Newport Beach vie with dozens of out-of-the-way local shopping districts.

For sports fans, the Los Angeles Angels play at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim and the Anaheim Ducks hockey team speeds over the ice at Anaheim’s Honda Center, which also hosts concerts with major acts such as the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. More than 40 championship courses and a year-round temperate climate lure golfers. Hotel and day spas help the OC’s beautiful people maintain tone and tan.

City & Town

Orange County encompasses 34 cities and several master-planned communities but lacks a single distinctive downtown. Disneyland makes Anaheim the most famous, but history buffs enjoy San Juan Capistrano’s mission, Yorba Linda’s Nixon Presidential Library and the restored Victorian homes and historic commercial centers in Santa Ana and Orange. Huntington Beach offers the most vibrant downtown beside the sea.

The Great Outdoors

For a mega-suburb, Orange County is packed with natural wonders. Its coast contains world-famous surf spots (Huntington Beach, the Wedge at Newport Beach, Trestles in San Clemente), yacht harbors (Newport Beach, Dana Point) and Crystal Cove State Park’s protected underwater reserve. Doheny State Beach, California’s first, is adjacent to one of several wetland reserves filled with birds. Wild inland canyons and parks offer countless hiking and biking trails.

Family Fun

Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm might be all most kids need to hear about Orange County, but there’s plenty more. Thrills await parents and kids at Sky Zone Anaheim’s indoor trampolines and the 100-plus hands-on exhibits and 4D theater at Santa Ana’s Discovery Science Center. And what better way to learn about marine science and maritime history than on a tall ship or a research vessel with Dana Point’s Ocean Institute?

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