Santa Ana
Liz Boyd/Alamy

Santa Ana

Santa Ana
Orange County’s largest city boasts a walkable downtown with an emerging arts and culinary scene

Not showy or sassy like some of Orange County’s more touristy towns, Santa Ana serves as the county seat and the home of John Wayne Airport. But government center and travel hub are only two of this city’s many personas. Longtime residents know that Santa Ana’s heart lies in its artsy cultural downtown, home to a surprisingly fun-and-funky collection of galleries, theaters, boutiques, and sidewalk cafés.

Get to know Santa Ana’s artistic side at the bohemian-hip Artists Village, anchored by Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center, a partnership between the city and California State University. Filling an entire city block, the tri-level Art Center contains the Grand Central Theatre, dance studios, art galleries, and live-work spaces for artists-in-residence. Walk all 10 blocks of the surrounding Artists Village, or focus your gallery-hopping around Second Street Promenade’s central courtyard, gussied up with bubbling fountains and arching trees. ArtWalk happens on the first Saturday of every month, when more than 20 galleries open their doors, street vendors peddle their wares, and musicians play on street corners.

Strolling through this artsy neighborhood may leave you with an appetite, so drop in for Spanish-fusion tapas and tacos at hip-and-moody Lola Gaspar. Or wander into Gypsy Den for their vegetarian and vegan cuisine and funky vintage vibe. To make an evening of it, dine at The Ranch, where grand cedar beams and flagstone floors set the stage for upscale cowboy cuisine—Kobe beef carpaccio, bone-in rib-eye, and Castroville artichokes. Work off your dinner by two-stepping and line dancing next door at The Ranch’s Saloon.

Plan on a half-day to tour the Bowers Museum on Main Street, housed in a gracious Spanish-style complex built in 1936. Its permanent display contains 120,000 pieces—highlights of which include a collection of African wooden masks, personal items belonging to the Polish-American actress Madame Helena Modjeska, and a Papua New Guinea headband made of dog teeth. 

Got more time? There’s plenty more to see and do, including Santa Ana’s East End Promenade near historic Fourth Street, where Queen Anne Victorians set the architectural bar high and musicians perform at the Yost Theater. Across the street from the Yost, score a reservation for a communal meal at The Playground, owned by Great Food Truck Race winner Jason Quinn. Check the restaurant’s calendar to take part in a special meal next door at Playground 2.0, where the only sign on the door reads “Trust,” giving an indication of what’s inside: a multi-course, themed menu that requires you to simply trust the chef.

On the city’s west end, check out the Old County Courthouse on Santa Ana Boulevard, built in 1900 of Arizona red sandstone and granite. You might recognize the dark wood and ornate paneling in Courtroom No. 1—it’s been used as a set for a number of Hollywood films. Kids will enjoy the 100-plus science exhibits at the interactive Discovery Cube Orange County. The building is Santa Ana’s most recognizable landmark—a tall black cube made of solar panels, balancing on one corner so it looms over Interstate 5. 

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Huntington Beach by Scott Mansfield

Southern California

Discover Orange County

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December
Average (°C)
Dec - Feb
15°
High
2°
Low
Mar - May
26°
High
5°
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June - Aug
35°
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11°
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Sept - Nov
31°
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5°
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From board shorts to mouse ears to designer clothes, what you wear in this sun-splashed corner of the state says everything about how you like to play. Whether it’s surf-perfect beaches or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns dotted with luxury yachts, “The O.C.” stands out as one of California’s—make that the country’s—most iconic destinations.

“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.”  --actor Dennis Quaid

Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA. 

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Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, was the first winery in California.
The magic of Disneyland, walking through the tunnel underneath the train station to Main Street, it just transports you to other places and other times.
John Lasseter

Trip 4-5 days 10 stops

Pacific Coast Highway - South

Beach Towns, Iconic Theme Parks
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Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun washed European look straight out of the Riviera. Santa Barbara, nicknamed 'the American Riviera,' has a burnished antique look like much of the Mediterranean,...

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End your trip with at this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village, pedestrian friendly...

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Unleash the kid within at California’s ultimate play lands

From Disneyland classics to beachfront carousels, the Golden State’s best-in-class theme parks deliver something for everyone, from tots and teens to film buffs and daredevils. Find out what is...

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Lucas Himovitz
Orange County is the cultural center of the surf world and Huntington Beach is like the heartbeat.
Corky Carroll (Orange County surf legend)
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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

O.C. Shopping

Discover boutique brands and bargains

Shopping in The O.C. is almost as legendary as surfing. Start at expansive South Coast Plaza, California’s largest luxury shopping complex, with...

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Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you are in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you will find it here. Want to sample fresh fruits and...

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Prayitno/Flickr
July/August

With a nickname like ‘Surf City, USA’, Huntington Beach is the obvious place for this 9-day, sun-and-wave extravaganza, the world’s largest surf event. Top pros including Kelly Slater and Rob...

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William Fovall/Flickr
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Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

Orange County's Luxury Resorts

Live like a star at posh getaways

The good life might have been invented in ‘The O.C.’—especially when it comes to resort destinations. With spas, elegant dining, five-star...

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Get into the coastal vibe

Maybe it’s the sun-streaked hair, the frequent smiles, the eyes always gazing west, looking to the horizon to see when the next set might roll in. It’s the unmistakable look and vibe of a...

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Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State
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Discover the awesome sports scene in the Golden State

With nearly twice as many professional teams as any other state, California is big league all the way. But the state’s sports scene goes far beyond football and baseball, with a diverse line-up of...

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Christina Lauren/Flickr
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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Crystal Cove State Park

Stroll a perfect beach with an intriguing past

In 1912, an early Laguna Beach artist described finding a rugged coastline “with cove after cove and headland after headland, golden cliffs and...

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From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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Golf in Orange County

Tee up at top courses, with some ocean views

With ideal Southern California weather and some of the country’s most celebrated courses, Orange County justly earns the nickname ‘California Golf...

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Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind the scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of actvities...

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Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Courtesy of Orange County Great Park

Orange County Great Park

Explore an impressive urban park

Turning former military land into a roughly 1,300-acre green space, this Irvine park is as ambitious as it is beautiful. Though it...

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Every year, the Orange County Great Park Balloon dons a smiling jack-o-lantern mask, marking the unofficial start of fall in Orange County.
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Mitch Diamond/Getty Images

Irvine

This centrally located Orange County city is the perfect home base for shopping, dining, and kid-friendly exploring

Irvine’s central location—45 miles from Los Angeles, 85 from San Diego, and 15 minutes from ...