Orange County California Travel Guide

where to stay in orange county california

Orange County California is my home! If you’re new to Visions of Vogue, I grew up there. Now that we live in Chicago, it was so nice to go back over the holidays and visit the places I spent so much time at growing up! This destination is the perfect spot to relax and catch up on sunshine, almost year round!

Getting to and around Orange County.

Orange County has it’s own airport but you can also fly into any of the other Southern California airports. We usually fly into Ontario because it’s near my family but there are usually better flight deals to LAX from most cities. If you can find a cheaper one to SNA, grab it! The SNA airport is relatively small but so incredibly fast to fly through. It’s every travelers dream.

Since Orange County lacks a downtown area, I’d recommend renting a car if you’re planning to move around a lot. If you’re looking to head to the beach and stay there for the week, you can get away with just using Uber. However, if you’re staying longer than a few days, I’d strongly recommend a car. There isn’t any public transportation system and most destinations are 20-30 minutes apart!

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Where to stay in Orange County.

When it comes to hotels, I’d recommend mapping out where you want to go and staying relatively close! There are so many hotels and so many cities within Orange County that I tend to recommend staying near the beach unless you’re heading to Disneyland. After all, that is why you go to Southern California, right? For the beaches!

Over the holidays, we stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel. It’s one of my favorite hotels – I’ve stayed there many times and it was so nice to take Matt there! This was the first stop on our trip and a great reminder of just how much I miss the food in Southern California. Everything has the perfect amount of flavor and is so fresh! The Ritz has all the amenities, beautiful views of the ocean, and the perfect amount of luxury. I love it. It’s a 5 minute walk down to the beach!

We also stayed at Pasea Hotel which is located in Huntington Beach. Knowing that we wanted to see more of Orange County and had friends in various places, we moved around a bit! The location couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a short walk to the pier and I loved getting to explore this area more. I didn’t spend much time there growing up but it’s developed so much. There was the cutest food court (but a high end one) right next to the hotel which had everything from a trendy brewery pub to a popsicle bar. Hungtington Beach is also the center of surfing so if you’re trying to catch some waves, this is a great option!

The Montage and Pelican Hill are also amazing options!

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Where to eat in Orange County.

As I hinted at above, I love the food in Orange County. Everything is incredibly fresh and healthy without tasting like you’re just eating raw kale. I don’t know how they do it! There are just so many options! Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with Mexican food. It is home to some of the best flavors in the world with just the right amount of spice in my opinion (when it comes to Mexican food). Here are more restaurants that stand out to me:

  • Cafe Gratitude. This is a vegan spot but I promise it’s worth a trip. There is also a location in Venice Beach!
  • Las Brisas. Go for brunch! This is one of those really classy places and it’s right on the water!
  • Puesto. Plan to eat all the Mexican food when you go to Southern California!
  • Nobu. If you’re not planning on being in LA, go to Nobu. It overlooks the water and is such a cute spot. There are tons of other restaurants in the area too. If you are headed to LA, skip this location and go to the Malibu one instead!
  • Nick’s and South of Nick’s. Whether you’re looking for a good steak or upscale Mexican food, try one of these restaurants especially if you’re staying in Laguna Beach.
  • In-N-Out. Some people say In-N-out makes their favorite burger. With the simple menu and distinct branding, stop by and see how it compares for you!
  • Raya. Located in the Ritz Carlton, we were so impressed by both meals we had here. We didn’t expect to find such a gem in the hotel!
  • True Food Kitchen. This is a chain restaurant and I was so happy when it came to Chicago. I love the fresh, California food!
  • Healthy Junk. This was a vegan spot located in the chicest food court I’ve ever been to. There are a lot of other spots too that aren’t vegan! We passed through Anaheim on our way to the Ritz. If it’s near where you’re headed, I’d say stop by! Matt tried the poke place!
  • Pelican Hill. Being that it’s one of the most luxurious resorts in Orange County, there are several good restaurants on the property!

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What to do in Orange County.

The first thing that comes to mind are the beaches! Orange County is definitely a place to relax and catch some sun. There isn’t a downtown or as many historical sites as Charleston, Boston, or New York. It’s just a place to slow down, breathe a little, and enjoy warm weather. Plan to spend most of your time near the beach!

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Disneyland.

I grew up with the Disneyland annual pass so it will always hold a special place in my heart! Matt and I like to go back every couple years just to have an excuse to act like a kid for a day! We usually go with friends and it’s a nice change of pace. It’s smaller than Disney World in Florida but it’s definitely one of the most visited attractions in Orange County! Even if you don’t want to go into the park, visit Downtown Disney for a taste of the magic.

Balboa Island/Newport Beach.

This is one of the cutest little spots I’ve every been to. It’s not as much of an island as it is a quaint little town accessed by a ferry from Newport Beach. Newport is really close to where I grew up and it was the beach I went to all the time! There are tons of great restaurants and it would make for a great place to stay for the week if you’re looking for an Airbnb or hotel! Grab lunch on Balboa and walk around to see the homes afterward!

Angels Game.

You know I had to add baseball to the list! If it’s baseball season, pick up a few tickets and enjoy watching the Angels play. The stadium is really nice, spacious and I promise you’ll enjoy. There is a cute downtown area right around the corner too!

1,000 Steps Beach, Huntington Beach, The Wedge. 

Orange County is all about the beaches! There is no shortage of them either! Each beach has a cute little beach town next to it so I’d recommend spending a day at the beach and walking about the town. Try a new beach every day! Huntington Beach is amazing to watch the surfers and The Wedge is where the best surfers go!

Irvine Spectrum.

Like with most of the shopping centers in Orange County, this is an outdoor mall. If you’re looking to see a movie, ride the ferris wheel, or do a little shopping, this is the place for you. It’s nothing particularly unique but it’s just the best part of Orange County.

Fashion Island.

This is another outdoor mall but it’s worth a trip. It’s really close to the beach and is home to some of the best stores!

South Coast Plaza.

This is one of the biggest and best malls in the United States. They have everything from high end designers to budget friendly buys. Over the years, it’s actually grown into 2 malls that are connected by a bridge! We used to go hang out there in high school! Check out the Lab Anti-Mall right down the street for something more edgy.

Missions.

If you’re into history, check out the missions located all along the California coast! Growing up in California, we studied the missions in 4th grade. They are stunning and a bit of the history you might be looking for.

Top of the World.

If you’re looking for a hike, try this one! It’s near the Ritz hotel too!

Have you been to Orange County? Do you have any favorite spots?

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Let me know what you think!