Orange County, California, is known for its amusement parks like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm and famous beaches like Laguna Beach, but those are really for tourists. If you want to experience the real Orange County, seek some of the secret spots that locals frequent.
If being outside is your thing, Orange County is the place for you. It has 25 parks with 230 miles of trails for biking and hiking. Locals tend to favor Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea, Craig Regional Park in Fullerton and Irvine Regional Park in Orange for hiking and picnics. For biking, try Fullerton Loop, the boardwalk at the Newport Pier and Huntington Beach. There also are several neighborhood districts that make for a fun day trip, such as the Santa Ana Arts District and Little Saigon in Westminster, which has the largest number of Vietnamese stores outside of Vietnam. Be sure to check out the Asian Garden Mall there.
By the Water
Orange County is home to more than 42 miles of coastline, a mix of beach and beach towns. Laguna Beach might be filled with tourists, but there are many beaches in Orange County that attract locals year round, like Little Corona in Corona del Mar, Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point and San Clemente State Beach. If you are traveling with your dog, Huntington Beach has a dog-friendly section. For those that can't decide between the park and the beach, try Crystal Cove and its 3.5 miles of beach and 2,000 acres of park lands. Alternatively, go whale watching at Newport Beach; it's only $30 for a 2½ hour cruise as of June 2011.
If you are looking for fun things you can do that don't cost much, parks and beaches are a good idea but Orange County has much more to offer than that. For instance, you could check out one of Orange County's many museums. Good choices include the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art or Bowers Museum, both in Santa Ana, or the Fullerton Museum Center. If art isn't your thing, check out Starplex Woodbridge Movies 5 in Irvine, which as of June 2011 offers movies at just $2 per person ($1 on Tuesdays). Cinema City Theaters in Anaheim has a popular classic movie night. Group dance lessons at the Imperial Academy and Ballroom in Fullerton also are popular.
Most people end up shopping at some point their travels. While you could go to one of the many malls in Orange County, like Fashion Island or South Coast Plaza, there are other options. Aside from garage sales, which can be a lot of fun, Orange County offers something a little different -- an outdoor swap meet. For $2 per person, you can go to the Orange County Market Place at the Orange County Fair and Events Center in Costa Mesa, held every Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parking is free and there are hundreds of vendors (almost 1,000 to be exact), including artisans, crafts, farm produce, butcher shop and general merchandise.
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