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The best Hotels, Restaurants, Shopping, Art, Cultural Attractions, and just plain Fun Stuff to do and see in Orange County, California.
HOTELS: ORANGE COUNTY
Check into an Ocean Surf guest room for $945 per night at the 5-year-old Montage Laguna Beach. At this 30-acre, craftsman-style fantasy, you’ll retire to a room decked out in feathertop beds, turn-of-the-century furnishings, and California Plein Air artwork, lulled to sleep each night by the natural ocean soundtrack.
Overnighters and beach-umbrella types will want to stake their claims up to six months in advance to a cluster of 1930s-era cottages available for rent in Crystal Cove State Park.
Fall asleep to the sounds of the crashing Pacific just 20 feet away at Laguna Beach’s original oceanfront getaway, the Surf and Sand Resort.
Birdwatch from a bay-view room at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, located across the road from Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve and Nature Preserve.
RESTAURANTS: ORANGE COUNTY
Customize your own three-tiered, iced seafood tower in your private dining room at Mastro’s Ocean Club, lower Newport’s most distinguished seafood and steak restaurant.
Enjoy brunch at local favorite Café Jardin in Corona del Mar. Start with a charcuterie platter or omellette aux herbe appetizer. Save room for the main entrée—try the popular grilled salmon with béarnaise sauce—before the dessert tray arrives.
Order the President’s Choice—chile relleno, chicken enchilada, and a taco, O.C. native Richard Nixon’s favorite combo—at the California State Historic Landmark El Adobe restaurant in historic San Juan Capistrano.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast of waffles topped with fresh fruit in the 1920s historic Mission House at the small Casa Laguna Inn and Spa in Laguna Beach.
After a long sun-and-fun-filled day at the beach, everyone will want to relax at the Beachcomber Café right on the sand in Crystal Cove State Park. The cafe raises its happy hour martini flag in the summer at 5 p.m., a long-standing tradition.
Order the signature date shake at Crystal Cove Shake Shack, a 50-year-old institution that sits along the west side of the Pacific Coast Highway. 949-464-0100
Order fresh-caught fish and an oak-grilled artichoke at Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach.
SHOPS: ORANGE COUNTY
At South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, you’ll find the highest-grossing mall in the country. But you don’t have to shop alone; book an on-site fashion consultant to navigate Armani, Tiffany, Christian Dior, and their fabulous friends.
CULTURAL/HISTORIC: ORANGE COUNTY
Make the pilgrimage to Mission San Juan Capistrano, a stone-and-garden quadrangle that Franciscan monk Junipero Serra established in 1776. Stroll the 10 acres of bougainvillea-draped archways, rose- and lavender-filled gardens, and the ruins of the Great Stone Church. Keep an eye out in the early morning or late afternoon for the swallows that return to the mission in March and leave in October. You’ll find their mud nests under building eaves. Then take the digital audio tour that leads you into 200-year-old adobe buildings, old soldiers’ barracks, and a trio of museum rooms that include a signed document from President Lincoln. Up early? Make the 8 a.m. Sunday mass in Latin at the Mission’s showpiece, the small but ornate Serra Chapel, the state’s oldest standing functioning church.
Stroll through 1790s-built adobes along Rios Street, the oldest preserved residential road in the state, on a 90-minute Sunday walking tour with the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.
The best-kept secret haven for coastal wildlife in Southern California, Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, hides out on 965 acres of remnant saltwater marsh. Sign up at least two days ahead for a reservation-only tour run by the Friends of Seal Beach Wildlife Refuge on the last Saturday of every month to explore one of the country’s most restricted preserves. During the two-hour, docent-led walk along a flat path, keep an eye out for indigenous O.C. natives like brown pelicans, peregrine falcons, and light-footed clapper rails. Besides black-bellied plovers, egrets, and ospreys, you might also spot sea turtles, sea lions, and lone leopard sharks cutting through the refuge’s culverts from the coast.
Check off more bird species at the 1,350-acre Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach.
FUN STUFF: ORANGE COUNTY
Board a Venetian gondola and glide through Newport Harbor with blankets, music, and a nice bottle of Montrachet (BYOB) with the Gondola Company of Newport.
Zip up the coast in a Ferrari 360 Spider for $2,500 per day from Showcase Exotic Car Rentals.
Stow your golf clubs in the trunk and head to Newport Beach—home of Fashion Island and one of the largest small-yacht harbors in the world. Tee off for $235 and up at the recently re-opened, Tom Fazio-designed Ocean North and Ocean South links that overlooks the ocean at Pelican Hill Golf Club, where a brand new resort opens this fall to complement one of the most prized public courses in the country.
For O.C.’s best beach, head to the large preserve of rolling surf and hilly riparian woodlands known as Crystal Cove State Park. On its 3.2 miles of pristine, mansion-free coast, you can find a crowd-free adventure that suits you, from snorkeling to sunbathing. Surfers head to Scotchman’s Cove or Pelican Cove to try the maximum 6-foot swells. Marine biology buffs stroll the length of Crystal Cove at low tide, when the craggy areas near Rocky Bight and Treasure Cove turn into tide pool cities teeming with Technicolor anemones, seastars, and ink-squirting sea hares. Snorkelers and scuba divers swim through the fish- and ray-filled kelp forests off Reef Point, a favorite site in the protected marine sanctuary that spans the length of the park. Paddleboarders glide out a few hundred yards for the chance to spot pods of friendly dolphins.
Mount your first wave during a private, 90-minute surfing lesson with local surf gurus at Toes on the Nose.
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