Things To Do In Orange County This Summer.
For much of our married life weekends were spent attending to the kids. There was always a baseball game, birthday party, or school project that claimed much of our time on Saturdays and Sundays.
Now our kids are grown and weekends have a different pace. Jason and I have more time on our hands and since the weather in Orange County is usually nice, we look to get outside. I’ve noticed many of our friends doing the same thing.
So whether you’re local and looking for something to do, or visiting, I’m happy to share outdoor things to do in Orange County for couples. We’ve done all of these personally, often dozens of times, so I’ll share some insider tips.
Bike Along The beach
Just yesterday Jason and I rode 24 miles roundtrip from our home in Newport Beach to Sunset Beach, a quiet stretch of sand north of Huntington Beach. We rode past miles and miles of beach, saw dozens of volleyball games in progress, and smelled many BBQ’s, all while dodging other bikes, joggers, surfers, and strollers.
Three Possible Beach Bike Routes
- Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach to Huntington Beach. The distance between the Newport and Huntington Piers is 6 miles and will take about thirty minutes.
- Newport Pier to The Wedge (the tip of the peninsula). This route is 3 miles and should take about twenty minutes.
- Newport Pier to Balboa Island. Ride towards Balboa Pier, cross the harbor on the ferry, then ride to Marine Ave., the island’s main street. This route is 2.7 miles and should take about 30 minutes, including time to cross the ferry.
If you don’t own bikes, or don’t want to transport your own, no worries, there are loads of places to rent bikes near Newport Pier.
- Newport Beach Bike & Rental has the best prices for standard bikes.
- 20th Street Beach and Bikes is a good place for renting electric bikes.
Pro-tips: The bike paths in Newport Beach are more narrow than those in Huntington Beach. If you’re riding on a weekend, or during the summer, head north to HB for more room to spread out.
Kayak In The Harbor–Or Beyond
Kayaking is a much loved activity in Orange County, especially throughout its beach communities. And maybe I’m biased since I live in Newport Beach, but I think ours is the best city for this sport. The city is home to the largest recreational harbor on the West Coast, so there are miles of channels to explore, all with flat, easy to navigate waters.
Our favorite place to rent kayaks is through the city of Newport Beach at Marina Park. The rates are reasonable and the staff very friendly. You’ll start and end at Mother’s Beach, an easy place to get comfortable with paddling if this is your first time.
Once you’re in the water choose a direction and start exploring. Along the way you’ll see boats of all sizes, seriously impressive waterside homes, and many other people enjoying the harbor alongside you.
Marina Park has a large, paid parking lot, something that is definitely needed when visiting Newport Beach. Be sure to pay for your spot and don’t allow your time to expire–this city does love to give parking tickets.
Additional kayaking locations in Orange County;
- Newport Back Bay
- Dana Point Harbor
- Huntington Harbor
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Rent A Duffy Boat
Motoring through the harbor in a Duffy Electric Boat is a quintessential Newport Beach activity, and for good reason. It’s a fun way to explore this harbor with minimal effort. Just turn on the boat and steer. It can be a fun activity with a group of people or a romantic excursion for couples.
In case you’re not familiar with Duffy boats, they are small, electric powered boats that typically seat eight to twelve people around the edges with a small table in the middle. Most have a cover and many also have clear vinyl “curtains” in the event it’s cold or windy.
We’ve hosted out-of-town friends on a Duffy boat, celebrated birthdays, and last year Jason and I enjoyed watching the sunset on Valentine’s Day. You are welcome to bring any food, decorations, and even liquor on board.
Here are some places to rent Duffy Boats
Tips For Renting A Duffy Boat
- Groupon frequently offers discounts on rentals, especially off season
- I recommend renting for two hours, less doesn’t give enough time, and longer can get boring.
- Go around sunset, especially if this is a romantic outing.
- Bring wine and some snacks and then head to a local restaurant for dinner.
Ride the Balboa Ferry
The Balboa Ferry has been transporting cars, bicycles, and pedestrians between the Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island for over one hundred years. This slow moving boat is a fun and cheap way to see the harbor, especially on a sunny day. Just three cars can board at a time, so the wait for the ferry can be long on the weekends. Come early to avoid this. Or, board as a pedestrian which rarely involves a wait.
Jason and I started riding the ferry together in high school, so for us it’s both romantic and nostalgic. After moving to Newport Beach last year, we started walking or riding our bikes to the ferry on the peninsula side, crossing to the island, and then exploring Marine Ave., the island’s main street, lined with boutique shops and restaurants.
Explore Balboa Island
A small, man-made island in the middle of Newport Harbor, Balboa Island is a charming place to hang out for half a day. Its top attraction is Marine Ave., lined with shops and restaurants. You’ll also find a small, but very informative museum about the island’s history on this street.
You can drive onto the island or take the ferry (explained in detail above). Then stroll through the shops and when you get hungry, grab a bite to eat. Here are some restaurants we’ve tried and recommend.
- Village Inn–good food, full bar, and a charming garden seating area in the back
- Snipe Island Crafthouse–good local beer, burgers, sandwiches, and salads
- Ciao Balboa–delicious pizzas and pasta
Picnic At The Wedge
At the southeast end of Balboa Peninsula is a popular surf spot known as The Wedge. It was created when a jetty was built in 1916 to protect Newport Harbor from storms. The resulting waves make this a magnet for bodysurfers, skimboarders, and bodyboarders. It’s not a very large area, so it’s surprising how many people are in the water at one time. I’ve visited many times and am always amazed at how entertaining it can be.
I have no interest in trying any of the watersports performed at The Wedge, but it is a great spot to bring a picnic and enjoy the free entertainment, along with the lovely ocean views. You won’t have it to yourself since there is always a small crowd gathered, but there’s a fun vibe.
There is limited parking near The Wedge, so I recommend walking or biking there. There are large, public parking lots near the Balboa Pier, which is just a short walk to the end of the peninsula. There are no public restrooms at The Wedge.
Stroll Through Heisler Park
Laguna Beach is one of my favorite places in Orange County. Originally founded as an artist colony, this seaside town definitely has a different vibe than any of its neighbors. An excellent art museum and dozens of galleries can be found throughout this small town. It’s also a great dining destination.
But for outdoor activities in Laguna Beach I highly recommend Heisler Park. This one mile long oceanfront park is beautifully landscaped, dotted with artwork, and positioned high above the Pacific Ocean. Either stroll the mostly flat park, or walk down to one of the many coves along the way.
Our favorite time to visit Heisler Park is at sunset. You won’t be alone, dozens of other people will join you, but it’s a festive experience watching so many people enjoying something so simple and so lovely as a sunset over the ocean.
While parking in Laguna Beach during the day can be tough, we are usually able to find a metered spot in the early evening near Heisler Park. Like Newport Beach, be sure to pay the proper amount at all times, tickets are expensive. There are no public restrooms in the park, but there are several restaurants nearby as an alternative.
Hike Moro Canyon
I’ve been hiking with Jason and friends in Moro Canyon for over twenty years and it never gets old. Located in Crystal Cove State Park, you’ll find 18 miles of trails through 2,400 acres of wilderness. There’s no easy hike here. Instead it ranges from moderate to difficult.
If you’re willing to hike uphill at El Moro you’ll be rewarded with ocean views, albeit far off in the distance. So I don’t really focus on the view, we hike here to get a good workout or train for upcoming hikes while we travel.
Currently, you’ll need to pay $15 for parking, which does sound steep, however, you’re actually paying for a day pass to the state park and beach. So feel free to cool off at the beach after your hike or enjoy a picnic lunch. And there are plenty of clean bathrooms available.
Hike Or Bike Laguna Coast Wilderness
There’s no doubt in my mind that Laguna Coast Wilderness has the best hiking trails in Orange County. This 7,000 acres preserve is also one of the county’s hidden gems. While most people speed down Laguna Canyon road on their way to the beach, only a few stop to hike or bike in this collection of canyons that protects hundreds of plant, bird, and animal species.
My favorite hike here is Laurel Canyon, an easy to moderate 3.6 mile out and back trail. You’ll do a bit of rock scrambling at points, so be sure to wear your hiking boots or shoes. Park at the Willow Canyon Staging Area. This small lot fills up quickly so I recommend arriving around opening time at 8 a.m. There are no bathrooms here, only a port-a-potty.
If you’re a mountain biker, Willow Canyon trail is a serious challenge, but one enjoyed by many cyclists. I’ve also hiked this trail when I really want to push myself.
Watch The Sunset At Salt Creek Beach Park
Located in Dana Point, Salt Creek Beach Park features a large, sloped lawn dotted with picnic tables, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s perfect for watching a sunset, hopefully accompanied by a picnic dinner.
Below the park is Salt Creek Beach, a popular surfing spot thanks to a small, offshore reef that creates some of the best left swells along the entire coastline. This is also a great spot for a family beach day.
One of the best features of Salt Creek Beach Park is the very large paid parking lot. I can always find ample parking here. The downside is that it can be a long walk to the park or beach, and on the way back it’s a bit of a steep climb back uphill. If you’re bringing a lot of gear or food, consider using a wagon. There are four restroom facilities available throughout the park and beach.
Go Birdwatching At Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Jason and I don’t call ourselves bird watchers, but we were surprisingly interested in all the birds to be seen at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. This 1,300 acres coastal estuary, adjacent to Huntington Beach, protects several habitats including mudflats, salt marsh, and coastal dunes.
We went here for an easy hike, but found ourselves constantly stopping to watch egrets, herons, and plovers. In fact there are 186 regularly occurring species of birds to be seen in this protected area. If you are indeed a bird watcher, definitely visit Bolsa Chica.
There is a small, free parking lot available. There are no other services, and only a porta-a-potty is offered.
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