Orange County is one of the most beautiful and most popular counties of Southern California and there’s a good reason for that. Everything you imagine and associate with the ultimate California experience can be found in the OC. The local tourism industry accounts for $1.5 billion annually as millions of people come to see Disneyland, go whale-watching in Newport Beach, tour Angels Stadium, and see other world-wide famous attractions. However, OC has a lot more to offer. There are a lot of interesting hidden gems in Orange County that are just as worth-visiting as the main tourist attractions and the goal of this article is to show you some of them!
Victoria Beach and Pirate Tower
We’re starting off this list of hidden gems in Orange County with Victoria Beach, one of the most secluded beaches in the county. The main reasons for its status are 1) the limited parking spots and 2) the long stairway that you have to climb over in order to get to the beach. But if you don’t mind walking the long stairway, you’ll discover a beautiful, pristine beach with beautiful blue waters and strong currents.
Sitting on the edge of a cliff on the same beach, you’ll discover another hidden gem- the so-called Pirate Tower. The tower dates back to 1926 and its best days might be long behind it but it’s still one of the most photogenic places in Orange County.
Little Corona Beach is one of the most peaceful beaches in Newport Beach. The beach can be a bit tricky to find because there aren’t many road signs that point the direction to it but if you want to visit, you can get there by getting off the Pacific Coast Highway, pulling over on Poppy or Ocean Street and walking down the paved walkway that leads to Little Corona Beach. It’s one of the least frequented beaches in Southern California, and hence one of the best places to observe sea life. It’s also a perfect, peaceful getaway for some family fun.
And if you don’t mind walking long stairways to get to a peaceful beach, you’ll probably also like…
Thousand Steps Beach
We just can’t talk about hidden gems in Orange County and not mention a beach named “Thousand Steps Beach”. As its name suggests, this beach located near 9th Avenue has 230 steps that you have to walk through in order to get to it. It’s a great way to remain fit while traveling and even if the walk is too strenuous, you’ll forget all about it once you get the beautiful view of South Laguna towering over the beach. If you have a drone, this is one of the most beautiful yet, unfrequented recording spots in OC.
Treasure Island Beach
If you thought that you can’t find vibrant turquoise waters on the West Coast, think again. Tucked in at the bast of Montage Resort, Treasure Island is one of the last remaining hidden gems in this part of Orange County. The beach is filled with hidden coves, beautiful natural tide pools, and scenic rocks. If you like snorkeling, you won’t find many better places in Southern California than Treasure Island Beach.
Bolsa Chica State Beach
If you’re looking for a peaceful place to catch some waves or have a night bonfire, Bolsa Chica State Beach is the perfect place. This makes it a very popular destination among campers and people traveling with RVs and an inevitable overnight stop for people taking a Pacific Coast road trip. So, if you’re looking for a more peaceful, lesser-known hangout spot, definitely consider visiting this beach.
Explore the beauty of Crystal Cove
Located north of Newport Beach, between the Ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway, Crystal Cove State Park stretches across 4,000 acres and covers roughly 3 miles of rocky beaches. The park is home to a stunning marine Conservation Area, picturesque canyons, many steep cliffs, and a spectacular underwater park. Last but not least, the park is one of the best picnic spots in the whole county!
And speaking of parks, this list of hidden gems in Orange County wouldn’t be complete without…
California Citrus State Historic Park
Even though the fruit isn’t as prominent in the area as it once was, historically, the citrus industry has been a major part of the growth of Orange County. The California Citrus State Historic Park is here to remind us of the times when Citrus was King. The park has an array of citrus groves that still actively produce fruits, an impressive collection of farm equipment on display, an amphitheater, a picnic area, a visitor center, a museum, and a lot of interactive educational presentations.
Visit San Clemente, the Spanish Village on the sea
Located halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, San Clemente is a peaceful, small coastal town with charming remnants of Spanish colonial architecture. San Clemente is the southernmost town in Orange County and the LA metropolitan area. The town is located on a hill and offers amazing views of the ocean and offers not only beautiful, peaceful beaches, but also exciting trekking opportunities, and as we mentioned above, charming colonial architecture.
Relax at Fullerton Arboretum
The Fullerton Arboretum is a great place to unwind, relax, and reconnect with nature. The arboretum has a rich collection of diverse plants from different corners of the world and with more than 4,000 plants is the largest botanical garden in Orange County. Onsite, you’ll also find the Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage Museum (opened in cooperation with the California State University) where you can learn everything about the region’s agricultural history.
And speaking of museums…
Lyon Air Museum
If you’re looking for a great place to visit with kids, I warmly recommend the Lyon Air Museum. It’s a small museum founded by General William Lyon that contains a nice collection of military vehicles and airplanes. Some of the most interesting exhibits you can see here are a 1939 Mercedes-Benz that was used by Adolph Hitler, the iconic Divco Helms Bakery trucks that were used for door-to-door bakery deliveries between 1930 and 1970, a 1943 Japanese Rikuo Sidecar Motorcycle, one of the first motorcycles manufactured in Japan, and WWII Ford military jeeps.
See the place where the largest bank heist in the US took place
On March 24th, 1972, the United California Bank in Dana Point was robbed by seven Ohio natives. Allegedly, they were trying to steal money from President Nixon. They blew up the vault using dynamite, went through the deposit boxes, and got out of the bank with somewhere between $15 million and $30 million USD. Nominally, there were bank heists that featured higher amounts. However, if we take inflation into consideration, this is the greatest bank heist in American history. The funniest part of the whole story is that they actually hit the wrong bank; Richard Nixon was keeping his savings in another bank in San Clemente.
Today, the bank isn’t in that location anymore; instead, at this location, you’ll find the Monarch Bay Plaza. However, if you love visiting lesser-known historical places, you’ll surely love this hidden gem of Orange County.
Check out the place where Toastmasters International started
Speaking of hidden gems in Orange County, only a few people know that the now worldwide-famous Toastmasters International started off in a basement in OC. The educational director of YMCA, Ralph Smedley, started the project to help young, tongue-tied people become good public speakers. The classes initially took place in the basement of a public building but news about it quickly took off and Toastmasters International grew to 300,000 members in more than 120 different countries.
If you want to visit the building (and its basement), you still can. You’ll find the old building at 205 W. Civic Center Drive but don’t expect to find a sign or a board pointing to it.
If you like this post, then you might also want to check out our list of hidden gems in Sacramento.
Unexpected Art at Sherman Library & Gardens
Sherman Library & Gardens is a charming horticultural garden, worthy of the nickname “The Oasis of Orange County”. The gardens are decorated with conservatories, colorful flowers, and fountains, and are linked together by brick wall ways but amidst all of this lies the library where you can see a rare collection of Plein-air and local art.
Enjoying this post? Then you might also like our list of hidden gems in San Francisco.
Crescent Bay Point Park
This Laguna Beach blufftop park is famous for its stunning ocean and tide pool views. The park has a nice small sitting area, an amphitheater, and a lot of picnic spots. All this makes this park one of the most romantic places in OC. So, if you’re looking for an ideal place for a romantic day, check it out. You’ll thank us later!
If you want to get to similar remote places in the region, the best way is to rent a car. Use AutoEurope to compare deals from local rental car providers and save as much as 25% every time you use their platform!
Listen to old records at The Ranch
Speaking of unusual things to do in Orange County, all of you antiquarians out there will just love The Ranch in Laguna Beach. The Ranch is an old-school bar with lounge chairs, a nice selection of small bites and drinks where music is played on old, original Vinyl records. According to the owner of the place, Mark Christy, the goal of The Ranch is to remind people of the special feeling one would get when listening to a new album on a vinyl record for the first time.
Discover the caves of Pirate’s Cove
The caves at Pirate’s Cove beach are a definition of hidden gems in Orange County. The beach is dotted with a myriad of cliffs along the shoreline. Behind the cliffs, you’ll find cave alcoves where kids usually play and pretend to be pirates searching for lost treasures. And if you get bored, Lookout Point Park is only a short walk away. In addition to this, the quiet beach is said to have one of the best sunset views in the area.
Oak Canyon Nature Center
In the end, we have a couple of hidden gems in Orange County for all hiking lovers out there. Stretching across 58 acres and three canyons, the Oak Canyon Nature Center is the perfect place to escape the dreadful summer heat of Southern California. The nature center is home to several relatively-easy trails, perfect for families or people traveling with dogs.
And if you’re looking for something more challenging, I suggest you check out…
Black Star Canyon Trail
Located on the hills of Orange County, the Black Star Canyon trail is home to some exciting trekking routes, thick forests, and elusive waterfall. The trail starts near Black Star Creek and ends at Black Star Canyon Falls; one of the most elusive falls in California because you can only see it when/after the area gets heavy rain.
The trail consists of two parts. The first part consists of relatively-easy to follow dirt roads; the second half is much more strenuous with a lot more strenuous sections, as well as mud and water. Obviously, this trail is a lot more difficult than the ones you’d get in the Oak Canyon Nature Center (but also a lot more rewarding), so make sure you wear comfortable shoes and have proper trekking gear.
Helpful resources for traveling to Orange County
Flying to anywhere in Orange County? I suggest you take a look at Air France’s Discover the World at a low price program. You can save as much as 25% on your flight.
For some great accommodation deals in Orange County, use this Booking.com voucher, and get up to 15% off on all accommodation bookings.
If you want to rent a car in Orange County, use AutoEurope to compare the deals from all rental car providers in the area. You can save as much as 25% every time you use their platform!
If you want to get your US visa online, check if you’re applicable and apply for one here.
Finally, get yourself a good travel insurance. Personally, I always use WorldNomads. I know they are one of the most expensive travel insurance providers but there’s a good reason for that; their packages cover anything that can happen to you on the road and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
How did you like this list of hidden gems and unusual things to do in Orange County? Are there any other secret places you think we didn’t mention? Feel free to share them in the comments and we might feature them in the future!
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