Orange County Travel Guide

This is something I’ve been working on for a long time. Orange County is a place a lot of non-Californians want to visit but don’t really know where to begin. Since moving home and working in a travel agency in Connecticut, I’ve had a lot of people come in and say they want to visit Southern California but they don’t know where to begin.

“What’s there even to do there?”

So much! But if you visit without doing your research, you can definitely miss out on why so many locals love their little piece of paradise.

How to get there and get around:
Flying into Orange County really depends on where you are beginning and ending your trip, and also, where you are coming from. John Wayne Airport (SNA) is Orange County’s main airport, but there isn’t always the best options for flying in and out of the OC.

The Southern California airports are a beast in themselves so much so that I did a post on just the airports a few weeks ago. You can check that out here to see which airport is best for you.

Without a doubt, rent a car. Parking will probably be an additional cost at most hotels so take that into consideration, but there is no easy way of getting around in Southern California besides a car. And plan to be sitting in some traffic at some point during your trip.

Where to say:
There are tons of places to stay in Orange County but again, that really depends on what you plan on doing while you are there. If you are going for the theme parks, there is really nothing better than staying on property at Disneyland, but since there are only three hotels, availability isn’t always the best. (Don’t worry, they’re building another hotel soon so there will be more options.) But staying around Katella in Anaheim is always a good back up. I’ve stayed at a lot of hotels in Anaheim but here are my favorites:

Country Inn and Suites by Carlson
Hotel Indigo Anaheim
Sheraton Park hotel at the Anaheim Resort
Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort
SpringHill Suites at Anaheim Resort
If you’re not planning on visiting Disneyland, staying closer to the beach may be better for you. Key is to stay closer to where you are going to spend the most time. Or splitting your time between Anaheim and the beach. Most of the beach hotels are absolutely amazing. I mean you’re on the Pacific Ocean but here are some of my favorites:

Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, Huntington Beach
Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, Newport Beach
The Resort at Pelican Hill, Newport Coast
Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas, Newport Coast
The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach

What to do:
Orange County is really broken down into the Beach Cities, and the rest of the OC. Most people when they think Southern California, they think beach, but if you are willing to explore inland OC, there is so many hidden gems most visitors don’t know too much about.

Inland:
Spend a day or two at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Parks (Anaheim)
Eat or go bowling at Downtown Disney (Anaheim)
Enjoy dinner and a show Pirate’s Dinner Adventure or Medieval Times (Buena Park)
Cheer on the home team at a Anaheim Ducks Hockey game (Anaheim)
See LA’s second best baseball team at a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game (Anaheim)
Take a bike ride along the Santa Ana riverbed (Anaheim and Yorba Linda)
Take the kids to Discovery Cube OC (Santa Ana)
Check out a show or grab dinner at Anaheim GardenWalk (Anaheim)
Explore some history at the Nixon Library (Yorba Linda)
Ride some roller coasters at Knotts Berry Farm (Buena Park)
Shop or play at Irvine Spectrum (Irvine)
Antiquing and window shopping in Orange Circle (Orange)

Beach Cities:
Explore the art galleries near Main Beach (Laguna Beach)
Eat a chocolate covered banana at Dad’s on Balboa Island (Newport Beach)
Shop the outdoor mall at Fashion Island (Newport Beach)
Rent a Duffy Boat (Newport Beach)
Golf at Pelican Hill or the Ranch (Newport Coast, Laguna Beach)
Have a beach day at Doheny State Beach (Dana Point)
Window shop at South Coast Plaza (Costa Mesa)
Paddle board at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort (Newport Beach)
Shop island style at Lido Marina (Newport Beach)
Relax on the beach at Main Beach (Laguna Beach)
Go Whale Watching (Newport Beach)
Hike Crystal Cove State Park (Newport Coast)
Watch the surfers or hop on a board yourself at Salt Creek Beach Park (Dana Point)

My favorite restaurants:
There are so many restaurants in Orange County! This is defaintely a great place for big time foodies who love to explore and try new things. These are by no means every option for reastaurants between LA and San Diego. I think I’d be here all day if I listed that, but these are just some of my personal favorite resturants from my three years living there.

Breakfast:
Kimmie’s Coffee Cup, multiple locations around OC
Bruxie, Brea
Latte Da Bagelery, Anaheim Hills
Pepe’s Finest Mexican Food, Brea

Lunch:
Slaters 50/50, Anaheim Hills
House of Blues, Anaheim
Kopan Ramen, Fullerton
The Hat, Brea
Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico, Laguna Beach

Dinner:
Salt and Ash, Placentia
Reunion Kitchen + Drink, Anaheim Hills
TAPS Fish House & Brewery, Brea
Roman Cucina, Fullerton
South of Nick’s Mexican Kitchen + Bar, San Clemente
Bruno’s Italian Kitchen, Brea
Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, Brea
Napa Rose, Disneyland
The Ranch, Anaheim

 

Temecula Day Trip

One of my favorite parts of living in another part of the country from where I grew up is that I was able to explore areas of the US that I wouldn’t have normally gone to. El Captain Canyon campground, Pismo Beach, Catalina Island, and one of my favorite places, Temecula, were just a few of the places I was able to explore in my seven years living on the west coast.

Temecula is a little wine region, about an hour north east of San Diego that is still a great little find for anyone living or visiting Southern California. It is definitely much lesser known that it’s big sisters to the north, Paso Robles, Napa, and Sonoma, but it my eyes, Temecula sure holds her own. If you are heading to San Diego, or even Orange County soon, take a trip inland to the desert. There’s so many fantastic restaurants, wineries, and breweries any food would be happy.

The wine is fantastic, the views are amazing, and the community is amazing and supportive. Visiting Temecula pretty often, we got to meet and know a lot of the wine makers, pourers, and employees at the wineries we visited often.

My favorite part of Temecula is that each winery had it’s own feel and style. There were a few that were great for socialization, sitting outside, grabbing a bottle of wine, and relaxing with either snacks you brought on your own, or something you grabbed there. Then there were the wineries we would visit if we wanted to try multiple wines, sit along the bar in a tasting room and talk about the wines. And then there were wineries that we would visit if we just wanted to sit in the corner of the wine club’s lounge and relax alone.

Where to Drink Wine
My absolute favorite winery is Wilson Creek. Wilson Creek is owned by the Wilson family, with the matriarch and patriarch living on site. If you hang around enough, you will see the Mr. and Mrs. scooting around the property on their golf cart with their labs following. Wilson Creek has it all. They have a fantastic staff that know their wine, and can tell you exactly what you are tasting but is also a fantastic space where you can bring your own food and sit at one of their many tables outside, have the kiddos play at their play ground, or go inside their restaurant and enjoy an amazing early dinner, or late brunch.

Across the street is Weins, a great small winery with fantastic reds. To be honest, if you don’t like reds, this probably isn’t your place, but I love reds! While they don’t have a hugely fantastic outdoor space, you can grab a bite from one of the food trucks they usually have during the weekends, and sit at a table over looking the Palomar Mountains.

Along the De Portola Wine Trail there are smaller wineries that have fantastic spots to enjoy a glass on your favorite wine. Doffo, Masia de la Vinya, and Robert Renzoni are some of my favorites. But my absolute favorite along the De Portola Wine Trail was Danza del Sol. While if you want to hang out and eat here you’ll have to sit outside, and bring your own food, I love each and every one of their wines. Whites, reds, they’re all good here.

Where to Eat
After a long day of drinking, you definitely need to stop for a good meal before heading home. There are a ton of restaurants along the wine trail. Many of the wineries have their own restaurants including Robert Renzoni, Wilson Creek and Ponte Winery.

But most of the wineries’ restaurants close pretty early, so I like to head down to Old Town where you have plenty of options for meals. Public House, the Bank Mexican Restaurant and Bar, and 1909 are some of my favorites. And if you’re heading into Temecula earlier in the day and want to start your winery hopping of with a good brunch, you need to check out Blackbird.

Where to Drink Craft Beers
Temecula, and inland San Diego county are not just known for their wines, but also their beers. One of the largest craft breweries in the country is headquartered just 30 minutes south of Temecula along Route 15, Stone Brewing. I love that I can still find Stone at most restaurants, bars, and stores here in Connecticut. Whenever I want a little taste of the west coast, this is my go to.

A much smaller winery in Temecula is Ironfire Brewing Co. I heard about this winery because an old coworker’s son was their beer master. My favorite is the super hoppy 51/50 IPA.

Where to Play
It may not seem like it but there is a lot more to do in Temecula besides just food and drinks. (Those are just my favorites =]) For the golfers in the family there is Temecula Creek Inn. A beautiful resort with a huge golf coarse.

If you are a gambler, want to spa, or even just relax by the pool there is also Pechanga Resort and Casino at the south end of town. Not too far away is also Harrah’s Resort Southern California which is known to have one of the best pool parties in So Cal.

For the adventurous and hikers there are a ton of nearby trail heads and hikes to go on and explore the area. One of my favorites is the nearby Lake Hodges Trailhead for Dam Trail. Located right between Rancho Santa Fe and Escondido there are hikes for the most experienced to the most novice of hikers.

Where in Temecula would you want to visit first?