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  • Writer's pictureSarah S.

What To Do In Orange County

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

San Juan Capistrano

We, or should I say, thought it might be fun to take a drive to San Juan Capistrano. We have passed through it numerous times on our way to various destinations throughout Orange County. It isn’t anything crazy exciting, but I have always wanted to stop and check it out.

Facts on San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano is a quaint little town just off of the 74, with a population of roughly 35,000. It is known for the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which is in the heart of town. This mission contains a chapel, landmark, and museum, all complete with beautiful grounds. I usually love visiting the missions in Southern California, but this time we were on a purely low budget, stroll through town “mission” of our own. Complete with our own homemade lunch and snacks on hand. Feel free to check out their website for more information and ticket prices. We will return for a tour there on the next trip.

Our Visit

We found street parking relatively easy considering it was a Saturday afternoon. We walked around eyeing all the restaurants serving patrons outside. The plates looked delicious and smelled even better. Lots of Mexican and Italian dishes lined the streets. The town is pretty small and the main drag can be strolled in a few blocks.

If you love antiques then you will be in all your glory. We stopped at the Old Barn Antiques Mall. This connects you through many mazes and buildings of antiques offered by an eclectic mix of vendors, most of whom aren’t present. You are welcome to browse around each section. The mall staff is onsite to help you with questions and purchases. It was fun, nostalgic, and educational. However, the kids got about halfway through the mall and were done with “shopping.”

That was about it for San Juan Capistrano. If you are a family and not looking to shop or browse for antiques, I suggest just coming for the mission. It is small enough of a town, it can be a stop before heading somewhere else. Which was exactly what we did.

Dana Point Harbor

We just love Dana Point Harbor. It is one of our favorite places to bring our family from out of state. It is about a 10-minute drive from San Juan Capistrano off of the 5 freeway.

Our timing was random, but we arrived in Dana Point, as the sunset was drawing near. We headed straight for the harbor to walk alongside the boats.

There is a coffee and ice cream shop called The Coffee Importers and Scoop Deck. The kids had ice cream as we strolled along the harbor doing a little people and dog watching. Folks were tailgating in their parked boats in the docks, others were locking them in for the night. As we walked along the water, an elderly gentleman had his microphone and prerecorded music loaded with Frank Sinatra tunes, belting out songs of his generation. There were seals swimming and resting on rocks. The kids enjoyed playing and running, as the sun was setting. The restaurants were filled with customers enjoying dinner and the view.

It started getting chilly and we were ready to head back home for the evening. Really cute for a visit. If you are in the area I definitely recommend paying a visit.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach encompasses Southern California in so many ways. It’s eclectic, artsy, quaint, laid-back, bohemian, surf, and posh all rolled together.

What To Do In Laguna Beach

If you are in the Orange County vicinity it is worth a visit. You can plan ahead if you are looking to catch the annual Sawdust Festival or a whale cruise. Otherwise, just show up unannounced to have some fun in the sun. Check the Laguna website for info on all these events and more including an array of shows at the Laguna Playhouse.

Head To The Beach

Our family loves the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. This is a rescue and rehabilitation center that cares for seals and sea lions that have gotten sick or injured. Once the mammals are strong and healthy they are released back into the ocean. Additionally, they focus on education for greater eco-awareness.

The tide pools are so much fun for kids and adults. My kids get a kick out of all the creatures hanging out in the rocks. From sea anemones and sea urchins to hermit crabs, small crabs, mussels, and barnacles the pools are alive. Plan on wearing sneakers as the rocks are mossy, wet, and slippery. I have found it difficult navigating the tide pools in flip-flops.

The boardwalk is nice, as it runs the length of the beach. It is close to both the water and the street. This makes it convenient to hop on and off to dip your toes in the water, but stay dry to walk around town. Laguna offers basketball courts, volleyball nets, and a playground on the beach. I recommend having your kids wear bathing suits even if you were not planning on having them get wet. Ours always seem to weasel their way into the water and have had soaked clothes. The water is just too irresistibly close. No need to worry, there is a lifeguard, showers, and restrooms nearby! We’ve learned to come prepared.

Another great place to visit is my personal favorite Dolce Gelato. If you are looking for ice cream, look no further. The ingredients used here are so fresh and sometimes seasonal, like plum flavor. Really top-notch gelato. They even offer non-dairy options (almond milk), which is awesome! They are pricey but worth it! I always plan on a visit here when I am heading to the area.

Art In Laguna

Laguna Beach and art are synonymous. If you walk the quaint downtown area, besides the plethora of beautiful outdoor restaurant/eateries, boutiques, kitschy novelty shops, souvenir shops, local furniture stores, home decor outfitters, and more you will run into one of many art galleries. Art is abundant in Laguna. You can’t help but be awed and inspired by local artists. Some are less kid-friendly than others, but it is still fun to window shop and get into the minds of some brilliant visionaries.

This leads me to the Annual Sawdust Festival. This is a non-profit organization that features artists from Laguna Beach. They offer demonstrations, children’s booths, live music, complimentary hands-on workshops, refreshments, and more. Last time I checked the website tickets were $9/adult, $4/child 6-12, and 5 and under free. They offer 2 festivals, the summer, and winter fantasy festival. It is a fun time for the whole family.


One thing to note, Laguna Beach is very popular and parking can be a challenge when trying to ditch your car. The town is made up of metered parking. Just know that when you go there. Don’t be in a rush. Eventually, a spot will open up. Take a deep breath, keep circling the various streets, someone always leaves. They do accept debit/credit cards in the parking meter so you don’t have to worry about having loads of change in your wallet. See the “parking” link at the beginning of this paragraph for details on hours, costs, etc.

Hope you enjoy your visit to Orange County. My goal is to offer affordable tips for having a great time and making great memories with your family. Nothing says Southern California like the O.C., enjoy!

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