Coastal Orange County is known for its string of upscale, yet laid back beachside cities featuring fine cuisine, sunny skies and plenty of ocean activities. It’s offerings go well beyond the theme park-centered vacations happening inland and attracting more than 16 million visitors annually. Here’s an itinerary that will take you to the most sought-after hotels, restaurants and adventures along the Southern California Riviera.
Three days will give you time to explore San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach, all of which have their own vibe. Begin your journey in the adorable beach town of San Clemente with crepes at La Galette Creperie. This ocean-front eatery is popular with locals and serves amazing breakfast and coffee drinks. Afterwards, stroll along the San Clemente Pier to watch surfers and fisherman, and take a selfie or two.
Next up is a midday surf session at Doheny State Beach. The waves are soft and manageable for novices; just be sure to wear booties and a wetsuit, as this part of the ocean tends to be rocky. There is a $15 entrance fee, but surfing is part of Southern California’s history, so you’ve got to try it. Afterward, head to Boneyard Café, the on-beach snack shack, for a burger and brew.
Next, head to Dana Point to check in to the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. This five-diamond seaside resort offers the finest accommodations, service and dining. Enjoy a relaxing treatment at the spa, take a leisurely swim in one of two pools, book a whale watching tour, schedule tee time on the golf course or just chill on the sand and take advantage of the beach butler service. Afterward, dress for a delicious dinner at the on-site Raya or EnoSteak. For first-floor guests, wind down the day with roasting s’mores over the patio fire pit.
Start the day by having breakfast at Zinc Café in Laguna Beach, a vegetarian restaurant with a beautiful dog-friendly outdoor patio. They’re known for their homemade granola and their avocado breakfast toast with smashed avocado, butter, radish salad, chives, and lemon zest.
After breakfast, head to Crystal Cove State Park for an uphill hike boasting expansive Pacific Ocean views while encountering the endangered coastal sage scrub plant. The reward for such an excursion is lunch at the oceanfront Beachcomber Cafe, located in the historic district.
After an afternoon of canyon and beach exploration, head to the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach for an evening of lavish accommodation. This waterfront resort offers Mediterranean-style lodging with California casual oceanfront dining and a full-service spa. Consider spending the evening with a picnic dinner aboard a Duffy boat while cruising the Newport harbor.
Rise and shine and head to Seal Beach for out-of-this-world cinnamon rolls at Sweet Jill’s, then stroll along Main Street to shop for kitschy beachside souvenirs, bikinis or seaside home décor.
Next, head to the new Pacific City Mall in Huntington Beach for boutique shopping and a gourmet lunch at places such as Ola Mexican Kitchen or The American Dream.
After a day of shopping, check in to the newly opened Pasea Hotel & Spa, conveniently connected to the Pacific City Mall. This beach chic resort features oceanfront views, a full-service spa, and dining with floor-to-ceiling views. Spend your last night in Orange County with a beach bonfire courtesy of Waterfront Adventures.