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?

31 Things About Me

Saturday I turned the big 3-1. This was the first year in 8 years I was able to spend with my family and girlfriends and they absolutely made it a wonderful weekend. We explored new restaurants, got a psychic reading, and found new breweries. I thought it would be fun to write down 31 things about me, but I did realize that it was harder than expected.

  1. My first job was at an ice cream shop and I have worked in all forms of customer service since. Restaurants, retail, as a travel agent and now managing a travel agency.
  2. Living in California pushed me into friendships that I would have never had staying in my suborn city in Connecticut. Those friendships mean the world to me.
  3. I am a complete cat person. I love their independence and sassy attitude.
  4. My drink of choice is red wine 80% of the time. Whiskey 20%.
  5. I love watching documentaries and tv shows about murders and cults.

  1. Being around creative people truly inspires me beyond belief. My closest friends are photographers, lighting designers and theater actors.
  2. I coached high school cheerleading for 8 years and at times I miss it so much. My cheerleaders were like my children and when I see they graduated college, got a job they wanted or even got engaged (yes, I have some that are already engaged, married, and some even have kids) I am so proud of the girls they have become.
  3. I am actually pretty introverted. I rather have a few quality people in my life than to collect friends that aren’t really there for me.
  4. Some of my closest friends have been my friends since I was 10, and the rest we met in early high school.

  1. One of the things I miss most about California is my hair stylist.
  2. The home I was born into was about 4 miles from my last apartment in Orange County, CA.

  1. I truly believe that travel can change your life. I decided I wanted to move to the west coast after a trip to Tuscan, AZ in 2008.
  2. In 2012 I went to Oregon for the first time and my life way changed in so many ways and showed me that bags, shoes, and name brands are not that important but experiences are.
  3. In 2016 I took a weekend trip to Las Vegas and that trip changed my entire career path and truly helped me learn what industry I should be working in.

  1. In certain situations, I can be extremely blunt and out spoken and in other situations I can be a complete push over. I’ve been working on finding a happy medium.
  2. I started college as an education major and wanted to be a high school History teacher. I graduated with a journalism degree.
  3. Yoga gives me strength and clarity. My weekly yoga class is a time for my mom and I to bond.

  1. I love road trips! The road trip I took in 2017 was originally planned for the summer after I graduated from high school but my friend and I never were able to take it. So when I decided to move home, I knew Michelle would drive with me.
  2. My ultimate road trip would be through Austria, Germany and Switzerland. And then a separate road trip through Ireland.
  3. My mom’s home cooking is definitely my favorite, but a good Italian meal from a restaurant is always a close second.
  4. I don’t usually watch shows from the beginning. I need to be swayed into watching anything that’s too trendy.
  5. I love going to country concerts. I’ve seen everyone from Alan Jackson when I was like 5 years old, to Garth Brooks world tour and Florida Georgia Line before they were anyone special.
  6. Les Mis is hands down my favorite on stage production.
  7. I was once on a pilot of a game show that never got picked up. But it was so much fun.

  1. A summer day at a winery is my idea of a picture perfect day.
  2. Growing up I went to day camp in the town next to mine. It was a huge, historical home that I swear to this day was haunted.
  3. I love that I was able to spend a good amount of time on the other side of the country. It pushed me to explore small areas of the country that I would have never explored otherwise.

  1. I need to push myself to explore New York City more. I take the city for granted and don’t know enough about my own backyard.
  2. I have a stupid obsession with Bravo. Give me Vanderpump, give me Housewives, I love it all.
  3. I am the most uncomfortable taking photos. I want to get better… and I see my growth, but I want to be better.
  4. This was terrible to write. And hard. Talking about myself is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do on this here blog. But I am all about being uncomfortable and pushing myself.

Weekend in Lincoln, NH

Here along the coast in Connecticut, we have had a pretty mild winter. I mean, it’s been beyond cold here, but this week was only our fourth snowfall of the season. So last weekend a few friends and I decided to head north to Lincoln, NH, a small town at the base of White Mountain National Forest known for their ski resort, Loon Mountain, and their Ice Castles.

Besides the New Hampshire location there are also ice castles in Midway, UT, Stillwater, MN, and Dillon, CO. You can also check out the Canadian locations in Edmonton and Winnipeg.

When you visit the Ice Castles I would recommend buying your tickets ahead of time as they do sell out. We took one of their last time slots and spent about an hour wander the castles, taking pictures, sliding down the ice slide. I am so happy we decided to go at night. The lights add so much beauty to the structures.

I loved that the Castles were sold out, but it never felt busy. There were definitely people there but you didn’t feel it. I don’t know what it would have been like during the day with kids around. I’m sure the feel at night is much more chill since everyone is just wanting to grab their photos and move on.

Where we ate

The Riverwalk Resort has an amazing Italian restaurant where we ate dinner: La Vista Italian Cuisine Restaurant. A-maz-ing. We started with Maine lobster ravioli, fried risotto balls and a duck confit flatbread special. For dinner I had probably one of the best chicken piccata with fresh pasta I’ve ever had but I was also able to taste their scallop pasta special. Literally delicious! But if you are visiting, without a doubt make a reservation. There aren’t many restaurants in town and this place is packed!

La Vista Italian Cuisine Restaurant also serves Riverwalk Resort’s own winery’s wine, Seven Birches. Before dinner we ran into the tasting room, just down the hall, for a quick tasting of some of their wines. I even ended up buying their Curico, a Chilean Malbec that is amazing. (So much so that I’m drinking a glass right now.)

For breakfast we woke up early and made out way over to Flapjack’s Pancake House, a local breakfast spot that was worth the 45-minute wait. Besides the breakfast special, a chorizo and hot pepper omelet, we also split the cranberry, buttermilk pancake that was absolutely amazing.

After breakfast we headed across the street, to the same parking lot that the Riverwalk Resort is in, to One Love Brewery where we had a quick tasting and headed out of town.

Being that I am not a skier, I think Lincoln is defiantly a place that I would want to visit in the summer. There seems to be a ton of different hikes and places to visit in the White Mountains that a warm weather lover like myself would love. But for now, I am glad to have found Lincoln because of these georgous ice castles.

Tips for Lincoln

  • Buy tickets to the Castles ahead of time! The Saturday we went they sold out and had very little standby availability. Also, if you’re going with a group and buying tickets separately, make sure you pick the same time for entrance.
  • Bring a DD if you’re going out at night: there’s no Uber here. The hotel we stayed in recommended a shuttle service, which seemed to be the only service in town, and it was pricey! I’m talking $5 per person no matter where you go pricey, and the town is maybe a half a mile long. We used it to get to and from dinner and drove ourselves after that.
  • Make dinner reservations. There aren’t many restaurants in town and with everyone wanting a good dinner after a day of skiing or snowboarding, restaurants get busy.
  • Riverwalk Resort looks absolutely amazing, but they had a two night minimum and unfortunately we only had one night to stay there, so the Holiday Inn had to do for this trip. But good news was it was steps outside of the entrance to the Ice Castles.
  • Riverwalk Resort had sleigh rides and ice skating but they closed during our day trip due to the rainy weather.

Southern California Airport Guide

Flying into a new city can be pretty intimidating. Where is baggage claim? How do you find your Uber? Were is the rental car desks? And then once you finally get out of the airport, you actually have to drive where you’re going. People unfamiliar with a city, especially a city like Los Angles would just assume to fly in and out of LAX but if you are going to Orange County, Ventura County, the Valley or North OC you may save yourself a big headache and a lot of time flying in and out of another airport.

During my seven years that I lived in Southern California I used all of the local airports to fly in and out of, depending on where I was going and where I was living at the time. Today I’m going to help you figure out which airport will work best for you.

BUR – Hollywood Burbank Airport (Formally Bob Hope Airport)
Serves: With easy access to the 5 Freeway, the 170, 134, and 101, Burbank airport is easy shot to Glendale, Pasadena, Ventura County, Santa Clarita and the Valley. Honestly Burbank is even pretty easy for to get to the other side of the hill into Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Basically if you can fly into Burbank, do it.

Airlines: Mostly Southwest and my favorite is the one flight a day on Jet Blue roundtrip to JFK.

Where they fly: Pretty much most of the West Coast, Las Vegas, and once a day to New York City.

Transportation to and from the airport: Just outside of the airport is a train station where you can catch both an Amtrak or a Metrolink train. There are simple car rental options right at the airport and it is super simple for anyone, especially from the Valley or Burbank to pick you up. And of coarse Uber is really easy to get.

LGB – Long Beach Airport
Serves: Los Angeles and North Orange County. Once I moved to Anaheim I switched my favorite airport from Burbank or Long Beach. So simple!

Airlines: Jet Blue and Southwest are the two airlines that mainly fly in and out of LGB.

Where they fly: West coast flights, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and a few flights between Boston, JFK, and Fort Lauderdale.

Transportation to and from the airport: While there isn’t any public transportation too close to Long Beach Airport, there are car rental options around the airport. It is also a super simple airport to pick up or drop someone off at. Just don’t need to travel around rush hour. This airport is right off of the 405 so if you don’t have an easy route to the airport on surface streets your going to have to add an extra hour to your drive.

SNA – John Wayne Airport
Serves: Orange County

Airlines: Southwest, American and United are the airlines that have the most traffic in and out of SNA.

Where they fly: West coast flights are the most popular out of Orange County. They even fly into Santa Rosa for those Southern Californians flying up to wine country. But they also fly to Dallas, Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Denver, Chicago, Houston and Vancouver.

Transportation to and from the airport: Car rentals and ride shares are all super easy from this airport, just off of the 5 freeway. It’s location also makes it so easy for pick up and drop off but not around rush hour… per the usual. And if you’re heading to the OC for a Disneyland vacation, check into the Disneyland Resort Express.

LAX – Los Angeles International Airport
Serves: All of LA, Ventura County and Orange County

Airlines: Everyone and anyone. If you’re flying from somewhere I haven’t mentioned above, check here. You can pretty much go anywhere nonstop from LAX. (Pretty much.)

Where they fly: Again, anywhere and everywhere. Domestic and international.

Transportation to and from the airport: Any and all car rental companies have a location at or around LAX. There are plenty of Uber and Lyft options to pick you up at LAX, but good luck asking a friend. I’ve picked people up at LAX at 11:45 at night and there was still traffic getting into the airport. Don’t be fooled if your Google Maps app says there’s no traffic. The 405 may be clear but there’s only one way in and one way out so that is where you get backed up. But the Flyaway is always another option. Living in the Valley, many friends used the Flyaway to the Van Nuys parking lot but there are a few other drop off points around the county, including one at Union Station.