Outdoor Activities In Orange County – Okay, let’s face it. Living in the Pacific Northwest is wonderful (I mean, there is literally SO much to do in the PNW!), but there comes a time every year when the gloomy gray clouds can wear you down.
On average, Seattle rains 40% of the year, and some days Bertie and I just crave a good dose of sunshine! can you relate
Outdoor Activities In Orange County
So we had the chance to visit Southern California! Just a short plane ride from the Pacific Northwest, you can find sandy beaches, golden sunsets, and year-round outdoor fun.
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If you’re looking for places to go in Orange County this weekend, we’ve got you covered. Read on for a jam-packed weekend filled with outdoor adventure, fun, and most of all, sun!
Orange County is located in southern California. Just south of Los Angeles, this area boasts gorgeous sandy beaches, great local food, and a little less traffic too!
For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California is just a quick (and surprisingly cheap!) flight away, making it an incredibly convenient place to get some quick vitamin D in your life.
No need to fly to LAX – Orange County has its own airport! Located in Santa Ana, John Wayne Airport (SNA) is centrally located, meaning you can arrive and start your adventures right away.
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Once you arrive, Orange County has plenty of outdoor activities just waiting to be discovered! From sandy beaches to adventurous canyons, there’s something for everyone who needs a dose of sunshine.
There are tons of unique places to stay around Orange County! Consider the activities you want to do and read our guide to find out which area best suits your preferences.
Laguna Beach: Known for its local art galleries, secret ocean coves, and gorgeous beaches, Laguna Beach has so many amazing things to do! This is definitely your destination if you love good food and great sunsets! Stay at Rancho Laguna Beach.
Newport Beach: Known for its upscale boutiques, elegant restaurants, and gorgeous harbor. This is the place to go if you want to experience the finer things in Orange County. Try staying at Lido House Hotel!
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Huntington Beach: Known for surfing, shopping and beach volleyball. Come here if you want to be by the ocean 24/7! Try the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel.
Anaheim: Yes, this is the home of DISNEYLAND! However, it’s also a hub for things like conventions and sports like the Anaheim Ducks (hockey) and the Los Angeles Angels. Stay here for important events!
Buena Park: Buena Park is home to the incredibly fun Knott’s Berry Farm, the original Porto’s and the Medieval Dinner Show. Stay here if you like international cuisine, fried and delicious fair food and nostalgic rides in the park!
Irvine: Irvine is one of the largest planned urban communities in the entire country! Known for the University of California-Irvine, it is home to many outdoor activities in Orange County, such as hiking Quail Mountain and Bommer Canyon.
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(There are so many more wonderful places to stay in Orange County, we’re covering just a few!)
There’s a lot you can do in one weekend, and in this post we’re sharing everything we can do in just three short days! Below are some of the best places in Orange County for fun in the sun.
What better way to enjoy outdoor activities in Orange County than to start with a surfing lesson in Huntington Beach? From beginner waves to pro waves, this beach is a hub for students and pros alike. No wonder it’s called “Surftown, USA”!
During our stay we visited Toes On The Nose Adventures located at the Hyatt Resort in Huntington Beach for our first surf lesson. This is also a great option for people visiting Orange County with children. They provide a super fun, easy introduction to surfing to let your little one try a new activity!
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In addition to providing surf lessons, they also offer a retail shop and board rentals just steps from the hotel. You can dress yourself for the perfect day in the sun!
Don’t have a surfboard? If you’re staying at one of the hotels near the beach, it’s worth asking if they have free boards for your use. Ours did!
Due to the waves of the open ocean surrounding Santa Catalina Island and the continuous movement of waves throughout the year, a sandbar is constantly formed around the Huntington Beach Pier in the form of a narrow fan. This makes the waves stronger when they hit the shore!
Huntington Beach is a popular destination for surfing events, sunbathing and playing on the beach! This 8.5 mile stretch of sandy beach is one of the most popular beaches in Orange County and even the greater Los Angeles area.
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One of the most iconic ways to recognize Huntington Beach is its popular pier, which stretches 1,850 feet to the ocean. Along this public pier are amazing and iconic LA restaurants, shopping and lots of people-watching!
If it’s a nice evening, gather your friends and start playing beach volleyball. There are several sand courts waiting for you to poke that ball!
S’mores are good year-round, whether they’re on the beach or in your backyard! Our Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel offered s’mores to cook over the outdoor fire every night. It was such a comfortable experience!
There are also several beach bonfires along the coast. Ask your hotel for the nearest and best practices for burning fires on the beach. Also consider LNT’s blog on safe fire safety practices!
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Quail Hill is a 2 mile nature loop located in Irvine, California. Although it’s not like our typical forest hikes in Washington State, the Orange Country hike has brought its own peace and quiet to the middle of the city.
We decided to hike the trail at sunrise (its official opening hours are from dawn to dusk!) to add extra interest to the landscape. Like the Bolin Range in San Francisco, some places look great during golden hour!
This is a great walk for trail runners, casual walkers (like ourselves), or anyone who just wants to stretch their legs without leaving the city limits!
The trail also boasts wildflowers and green fields in the spring, so you’ll have to come back and experience it in the spring as well!
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Knott’s Berry Farm is located in Buena Park, about a 30 minute drive north of where we stayed in Huntington Beach.
One thing we heard the official say was that “the rides are the perfect amount of excitement where we want people to finish and say, ‘Wow! Let’s do it again!”.
If you’re looking for classic childhood nostalgia, this is the place for you my friend! From burgers and shakes to spinning roller coasters, this park has everything you could want for year-round fun!
Photographer’s Tip: Plan your trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in the evening, starting an hour before sunset. On a clear day, the color gradient with the roller coaster and lights in the foreground makes for a great setting!
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Be sure to stay after the sun goes down at Knott’s Berry Farm! The lights around the park create a magical scene with lights, illuminated attractions and neon signs spread throughout the park.
These pictures below were taken in the same area, with a completely different atmosphere after the sun went down!
Paddle Board Newport Beach is a board company that lets you choose your own adventure! While paddleboards are their main gig, they also provide patrons with bikes, kayaks, surfboards and other beach gear for a day of fun in the California sun.
Launched by Marina Park, this company gives you freedom in Newport Bay, sheltered from the open ocean waves.
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Paddleboarding lets you discover iconic Newport destinations like Lido Island and Balboa Island, both home to gated communities and colorful customs.
Crystal Cove State Park is one of Orange County’s best examples of nature and open coastline. From sandy beaches to 2,400 acres of countryside, there are plenty of places to fill your route with some fresh air!
The best time to explore tide pools is at low tide. That way, you can safely walk around and see the many organisms that live on the coast of Orange County.
The tide pools at Crystal Cove State Park are protected, so if you’re visiting the tide pools for the first time, read tide pool etiquette and how to enjoy them responsibly.
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The best beaches for exploring tide pools are Reef Point, Rocky Bight, Pelican Point and Treasure Cove. Be sure to wear water shoes with good grip (like Tevas), wear a hat, and apply sunscreen!
Read our guide to Ruby Beach in Washington and learn some of our tide pool etiquette tips.
While Huntington Beach always has easy RV sites available, Crystal Cove Campground offers a little more variety, including tent camping and backcountry hiking.