Orange County is a prominent suburban region in Southern California, south of Los Angeles and part of the extended Los Angeles metropolitan area. A patchwork of 34 independent municipalities, Orange County has a very culturally diverse population and a terrific and irrefutable reputation as a tourist destination given its mild climate, its miles of beaches, its famed surfing, and its two popular amusement parks: Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.
- Beach Cities - One of Orange County's most prominent attractions is its numerous beaches that offer access to the Pacific Ocean for sunbathing, swimming, a famed surfing scene, fishing piers, and dining and bar scenes in the beachside communities catering to beachgoers.
- Inland Cities - The inland suburban cities with many business districts, shopping malls, and some major attractions scattered around the region, including O.C.'s two amusement parks.
There are many cities large and small in Orange County – here are a few of the major tourist destinations.
- Anaheim - The most populous city in Orange County, home of the famous Disneyland theme park and two major sports teams: the Anaheim Ducks hockey team and the Los Angeles Angels baseball franchise.
- Buena Park - A gateway to Los Angeles known as the home of the popular Knott's Berry Farm amusement park and lots of used car lots.
- Fullerton - Home to Cal State Fullerton, the Fullerton Arboretum, and the shopping district of Downtown Fullerton.
- Huntington Beach - The most popular stretch of beach in Orange County, with a long surfing tradition and famous beaches.
- Irvine - A somewhat gentrified community with a significant Asian-American heritage, this is one of youngest and largest cities in Orange County. Home to UC-Irvine university and the large Irvine Spectrum shopping and entertainment complex.
- Newport Beach - One of the wealthiest communities in the nation, with a popular nightlife scene and one of the busiest beaches and boardwalks in the area, as well as a marina where you can go on a whale watching tour or take a ferry to Catalina Island. Within the city is Balboa Island, a community with its own unique beachfront vibe and a vibrant boardwalk.
- San Juan Capistrano - A charming and historic settlement that's home to the picturesque remnants of the only Spanish mission in Orange County.
- Santa Ana - One of the oldest and largest cities in Orange County, with a large Mexican-American population and cultural influences.
- Seal Beach - A small beach town with a host of cute shops, awesome local restaurants, and a handful of Irish pubs mostly situated on Main Street.
Comprised of 34 incorporated cities and various unincorporated regions, Orange County has a total population of more than 3 million, and is the fifth largest county in the United States. The population of these cities range from merely 6,200 (Villa Park) to over 300,000 (Santa Ana and Anaheim). Bordering Los Angeles on the north, San Diego County to the south, and both Riverside County and San Bernardino County to the east, Orange County is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the east by the Santa Ana Mountains. The area enjoys beautiful beaches and warm weather year round. Orange County has a reputation for being less liberal than the rest of California, with fiscal conservative attitudes dominating in well-off cities.
English and Spanish are the two most common languages spoken in Orange County. Most government agencies will have someone available who speaks Spanish. In North Orange County, many businesses will have someone who speaks Spanish on staff; however the further south one travels, Spanish speaking staff can be less common, though someone nearby who speaks Spanish is likely and will usually help translate if asked. Because of the ethnic diversity of Southern California, there are many neighborhoods where other languages are dominant, mostly from Asian countries. The third most-spoken language, Vietnamese, is widely spoken in Westminster and Garden Grove, and to a lesser extent, in Fountain Valley and Santa Ana. In Garden Grove and Fullerton, Korean is widely spoken. Japanese is more commonly spoken in Costa Mesa.
Several freeways provide access to Orange County. Interstate 5 is the primary north-south link, connecting to San Diego to the south and the heart of Los Angeles to the north. A mesh of freeways link Orange County to the greater L.A. region; in addition to I-5, Interstate 405 starts near Irvine and heads northwest to Long Beach and L.A.'s Westside, State Route 57 heads north from Santa Ana into the San Gabriel Valley, and State Route 91 cuts east-west across the northern portion of Orange County between the South Bay and Riverside.
John Wayne Airport (SNA IATA) in Santa Ana is the only commercial airport within Orange County, and is very pretty with its palm-lined entry road. Several major and regional airlines fly here, and most of the major car rental companies have locations at this airport. For general aviation, Fullerton Municipal Airport in Fullerton has fuel and overnight parking facilities.
Many locals and travelers find that it is often cheaper, albeit more time consuming (especially during rush hour), to fly into an alternate airport and then drive to their final destination in Orange County. Besides SNA, there are four major airports in the vicinity of Orange County: Long Beach Airport (LGB IATA) in Long Beach, 20 miles (32 km) west of Santa Ana; LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT IATA) in Ontario, 33 miles (53 km) north of Santa Ana; Los Angeles International Airport (LAX IATA) 40 miles (64 km) northwest of Santa Ana; and San Diego International Airport (SAN IATA) in San Diego, 89 miles (143 km) south of Santa Ana.
Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner service runs multiple times a day between San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Luis Obispo, with six stops in Orange County: the San Clemente Pier, San Juan Capistrano, Irvine, Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Fullerton. This is a particularly useful service for visiting San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano, and there are good bus connections between the Anaheim and Fullerton stations and Disneyland.
Two Metrolink commuter rail lines serve much of Orange County: the Orange County Line overlaps with the Pacific Surfliner between Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles and Oceanside in San Diego County, stopping more frequently than the Surfliner. The Inland Empire-OC Line overlaps with the Orange County Line north from Oceanside before splitting off in Orange to head northeast to Riverside and San Bernardino. A third (and less frequent) line, the 91 Line, skirts through the northern edge of Orange County on its run between Riverside and Downtown Los Angeles, stopping in Fullerton and Buena Park.
Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is the primary provider of bus service in Orange County, with lines that serve much of the county. Fares are $2 regular, 75 cents for seniors, with a day pass costing $5 ($1.50 for seniors). Within Anaheim is a tourist bus service called ART, and L.A. Metro Route 460 offers a direct link between Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and Downtown L.A.
Virtually every city in Orange County has a shopping mall. Among the most prominent are South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, one of the top-selling malls in America, The Lab and The Camp in Costa Mesa, two adjoined outdoor malls catering to the young and hip that are collectively known as "the anti-mall", the upscale Brea Mall in Brea, the outdoor Outlets in Orange, the upscale outdoor Fashion Island in Newport Beach, and the unique Asian Garden Mall in Westminster, the largest majority Vietnamese-owned and operated mall in America, with dozens of shops, restaurants, and wholesale stores with a wide variety of imported products and foods where buyers are expected to haggle with shopkeepers.
Orange County has quite a niche for award winning dining, signature California cuisine, and ethnic specialties. Burger joints and Mexican restaurants can be found throughout the county, Westminster is a paradise for Vietnamese food lovers with some Dim-Sum offerings as well, Irvine has many Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants, Fullerton has a thriving Korean scene, Costa Mesa has a very diverse dining scene, and the beach cities offer plenty of casual offerings as well as seafood restaurants.
For burgers, Orange County is home to three famous hamburger chains: Original Tommy's, Fatburger, and In-N-Out. Tommy's is famous for putting chili on all of its products. Fatburger is notable for its thick and juicy burgers and steakhouse-style "fat fries". In-N-Out is lauded as a California favorite, with thin yet flavorful burgers. There is heated debate but no general consensus as to which chain is best; one's personal tastes and preferences are the best guide.
Orange County is home to many great places to drink and very few options on how to get home after having a few. Getting around in Orange County is pretty tough without a car, unless you have a fat wallet to spend on taxis or limos. There are select areas where walking to a bar is viable option, with beach cities making up the majority of these such places; Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente have areas that are no more than a short walk from a bar. Most of the bars in these beach locations are not of the chain variety, so each has its own unique ambiance, with the exception of Sharky's, which has locations up and down the coast and the same frat crowd in all of them. There are a few micro-breweries in the area, for example in Bottle Logic Brewing and Phantom Ales in Anaheim and a number of sports bars with large selection of regional beers such as The Brew Kitchen Alehouse in Los Alamitos.
Most people visiting Orange County tend to stay in one of the Beach Cities, but these tend to be expensive, particularly over the weekend. The main hotel areas are Anaheim and Buena Park because of the amusement parks there, but you might want to also consider Costa Mesa and Cypress, which have some good hotels catering for business travelers during the week and tend to have good weekend prices. However, you may be highly disappointed when arriving to a city like Anaheim or Cypress.
Though the beach areas of the county are generally safe, localism among surfers can on rare occasions turn violent. Though the county is quite safe, street gang activity is comparatively common in areas such as East Anaheim and the La Jolla and Atwood neighborhoods of Placentia as well as Westminster and Garden Grove.
- Los Angeles County - Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a car to visit Los Angeles. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink's Orange County Line link various communities in Orange County with Los Angeles Union Station. The trip to Union Station usually lasts less than one hour depending on where you are departing from. From Union Station, the LA subway system takes you all through downtown Los Angeles, with trains and buses going up to 50 miles away in 4 directions. The downside of the train system is that it caters more to the commuter crowd and does not run all night.
- Long Beach is about 20 minutes west of Orange County and has several tourist attractions including the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific.
- To get to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, travel to LA Union Station and transfer to the Antelope Valley Line.
- San Bernardino County
- Riverside County - Bordering Orange County to the east, Riverside County's western portions include the far outskirts of Los Angeles, as well as more rural areas like Temecula, known for its wineries and hot air balloons. The majority of the county lies in the desert, with the most-visited portion being Palm Springs and its neighboring resort towns. Further east the county is essentially uninhabited, and includes the remote, rocky desert of Joshua Tree National Park, and the empty landscapes west of the Colorado River.
- San Diego County - San Diego may be reached via Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner from Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano. A one-way trip lasts approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Further north, Legoland California is in Carlsbad and can also be reached via train - get off in Oceanside.