To the south and east of Los Angeles sprawls Orange County, home to famous theme parks, pleasant residential neighborhoods and popular beaches. Starting just below Long Beach and stretching down the coast to San Clemente, this county finds its inland edges in Cleveland National Forest, which flanks the Santa Ana Mountains. Though an easy drive from downtown Los Angeles, Orange County has its own identity, more laid-back, beach oriented and well-prepared to handle the many thousands that descend annually to visit Anaheim's amusement parks. A vacation hot spot, the lively city of Buena Park is home to world-famous entertainment - including Knott’s Berry Farm, Soak City Water Park, Knott’s Independence Hall, Pirates Dinner Adventure, and Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. Whether enjoying the coastal bluffs and art galleries of Laguna Beach, shopping in Old Town Orange, or watching whales at Dana Point (or surfers at Huntington Beach), Orange County offers the discerning traveler a good mix of surf and turf.
Most visitors to the area put a trip to Disneyland at the top of any all-in agenda, but with time and cash to spare plan to do some coaster comparisons at other local big-name venues. Volleyball and surfing tournaments are a mainstay at Huntington Beach, as is happy hour, but with a little determination there are also a good clutch of cultural sights to catch while you're in the area (and no, pitchers of beer don't count). Look for interesting architecture and sandy beaches on Balboa Peninsula, in Newport Beach, peruse the collection on exhibit at Orange County Museum of Art and detour if you can out to Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, good for a glimpse of the county's natural side. Laguna Beach also has an art museum (Laguna Art Museum), but what really draws the crowds is this seaside city's annual Festival of the Arts, which runs through July and August and features, amongst other things, living reproductions of famous paintings as part of the Pageant of the Masters - mark this one on your calendar. San Juan Capistrano, near the south end of the county, is best known for its swallows (they return mid March each year) but it also boasts a lovely old Spanish mission, the Mission San Juan Capistrano, the state's oldest building.
In addition to this well-rounded selection of museums and historic sights find on hand a long list of conscientiously tended golf greens, a decent assortment of waterways suitable for boaters or anglers and a reasonably good cultural events calendar. For the most part, there's less traffic congestion here than there is in L.A. proper, making a cruise down the curving boulevards of Yorba Linda or the planned streets of Mission Viejo a pleasant way to see a bit more of the area. Convenient access to the Santa Ana Mountains provides outdoors enthusiasts a peaceful alternative to urban activities, and though the weather is relatively balmy in these parts winter ski resorts are an easy drive north of San Bernardino. California's only island resort, Catalina, is also readily accessible - ferries leave from Dana Point and Newport Harbor.
Orange County is located in southwest California in the L.A. metropolitan area. It is easily accessible on the extensive freeway system. Go-California also offers extensive coverage of Central Los Angeles and Coastal Los Angeles.