Your mind might immediately jump to theme parks when you think of Orange County (and you wouldn’t be wrong), but there’s so much more than thrill rides when it comes to this cluster of Southern California beach towns and cities. Even on a short visit, you can still soak up some of that chilled out, sun-kissed vibe. Our local Orange County tour guides have put together the ultimate itinerary for spending just 24 hours in their home county.
Orange County is obviously the spot where you should take a surf lesson! Wake up early to catch the waves, but on your way to Huntington Beach, be sure to grab the best doughnut in town at The Donuttery, which is open 24 hours a day — so no matter what time you start your visit to the OC, you can get your hands on a delicious snack (they also have vegan options). If you don’t feel like something sweet, opt for a breakfast sandwich.
Once you’ve filled your belly, it’s time to surf. Nothing beats a dive in the Pacific and grabbing a ride on a wave. Even if you’ve never surfed before, Orange County has the best waves to learn. Try Banzai Surf for lessons.
Use a ride sharing service like Uber or Lyft for the 30-minute ride to The Bowers Museum. Since Orange Country is so spread out, ride-sharing is often your best option for getting around efficiently — something you’ll need to do with just 24 hours to visit. The Bowers Museum is Orange Country’s largest museum, with more than 120,000 works of art. The displays here include Native American art, Pre-Columbian art, Asian art, African art and art from the Pacific region. The museum also has an ever-changing roster of temporary exhibitions, and offers an ongoing calendar of cultural events and workshops. Just note that the museum is closed on Mondays.
Once you’ve toured the museum and started thinking about lunch, hop in an Uber or Lyft for the 20-minute ride to the largest Little Saigon in the United States. This is where you can easily find a spot to stuff your face with authentic Vietnamese food thanks to the array of options. Not sure where to start? Take a walk through the neighbourhood and see which eatery looks good. But if you need a recommendation or two, put Brodard Chateau (with over 100 items on the menu) or Pho 79 on your list.
After lunch, you can take a 15-minute ride-share or a 30-minute bus ride (OCTA buses 60 or 65) to Newport Beach Fashion Island, an open-air lifestyle centre that offers shopping, dining and entertainment options. It’s a great place to get a better feel for the OC’s laidback vibe. If you feel like a drink amidst your browsing and shopping, many of the restaurants and bars you’ll find here offer happy hour deals from around 3 to 6pm.
Next up, it’s time for some dinner and drinks on the beach. Take a 15-minute ride-share or 30-minute OCTA bus 1 or 60 to Newport Beach (hopefully you’ll catch the sunset!). We recommend setting your sights on Mama D’s Italian Kitchen, a fantastic family-owned restaurant serving up comforting Italian classics. Or, opt for The Village Inn, a locally owned American style restaurant with live music.
Alternatively, if you’re a craft beer fan, check out Newport Beach Brewing Company, which has a restaurant on-site. They offer daily specials so you might be able to bag yourself a bargain depending on which day you’re visiting.
After dinner, stop for a drink at one of the area’s many bars. We love American Junkie, the OC’s most popular bar right on the shore.
For travellers on a short visit, we’d definitely recommend having a layover that will allow you to spend two to three hours in the city centre, and another hour for travelling to and from the airport.
The best way to get from the airport to the sites is by using a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft.
If you want to see Orange Country in two hours in the morning or afternoon, head to Newport Beach Peninsula and walk on the pier. It’s a fast and easy way to get a feel for the OC on a tight timeline. Two hours are perfect to stroll along the coast, grab a coffee and shop for souvenirs.
If you’re in Orange Country for an evening or nighttime layover, Irvine Spectrum Center is a fantastic outdoor mall and entertainment centre. Two hours is ideal for strolling around and perhaps having a drink or some food.