Orange County is famous for so many places and things to do. Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Disney California Adventure, and so much more. These destinations are great for visitors to Orange County or new residents to the area.
But have you ever thought of getting off the main road of Orange County tourism and checking out some of their hidden gems and secret spots. From secret outdoor spots like beaches and parks to hidden shops and restaurants Orange County has it all.
So if you're a long-time resident of Orange County looking for a change, a tourist who isn't afraid to go on the unexplored path, or just looking for new destinations to explore then keep on reading. There's something for everyone.
FEEL FREE TO SIMPLY JUMP TO ANY OF THE HIDDEN GEMS BY SIMPLY CLICKING ON THE LINK AS WELL! Thousand Steps Beach | Pirate Tower | Victoria Beach | Marina Park | Great Park Balloon | Juliette Kitchen and Bar | Shake Shack | Pirates Cove | Carbon Canyon Regional Park | The Noguchi Museum | Back Bay Loop Trail | The LAB | Sawdust Art Festival | Crescent Bay Point Park | Pitcher Park | The Blind Rabbit | Black Star Canyon Trail | Heisler Park | Fairview Park | The Wedge
Location: Laguna Beach, CA
Victoria Beach is the first destination that is hidden away from the general tourist population. It is usually occupied by locals who love the blue water and the seclusion from the chaos of the busy beaches.
This beach is one of the more secluded beaches of Southern California making it a great place for any explorer. You will find people doing a variety of activities while on the beach from skim boarding, swimming, fishing, and playing beach sports.
Victoria Beach is also home to a famous stone structure called the 'Pirate Tower', but you can learn more about that later.
As for the Beach it's a beautiful place for anyone that is willing to make a small trek down some stairs to the beach. Unlike the popular beaches, Victoria Beach is only accessible from the stairs since you park up higher, but many locals and others say the stairs are worth it for the amazing views and the sunsets.
Location: 2713 Victoria Drive, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Pirate Tower is located right on Victoria Beach. The tower shoots up to 60 feet high and was built in 1926.
It is more than a spectacle for visitors to Victoria Beach. The tower serves as a enclosed staircase to a private cliff-top home. Some owners of the home have been William E. Brown, a California state senator, Naval officer Harold Kendrick, and Bette Midler.
Many people love to come to see the Pirate Tower. It makes for an excellent feature piece of photographs. They say it is worth the drive or the walk down the stairs to see it.
Though unless you knew about this little feature of Victoria Beach you could probably end up missing it.
Location: 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
This isn't your typical shopping mall. The LAB or as some call it the Antimall is a secluded and easy to miss hidden gem of Orange County.
To a passerby or a quick glance you'd think behind some trees it was nothing more than an industrial park. If you look further though you'll find yourself in something way different.
In order to get access to the "mall" you walk through a small, shaded pathway that opens up into a marketplace.
The market is filled with little boutique shops, restaurants, and art such as live music, art galleries, poetry readings, and sometimes seasonal festivals.
An eye catching and worth seeing feature of the LAB is the one art gallery called ARTery. Unlike other art galleries that are normally in buildings or shop fronts, ARTery is a gallery that displays artists’ works in a shipping the container. If you don't have a thing against small places be sure to check it out because the container is only 8 feet wide.
The best part of this hidden gem is that all the shops and restaurants are locally owned giving it a true local experience.
Location: 1600 W Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, CA 92663
Marina Park is a wonderful place for families. Unlike most parks, or beaches for that matter, Marina Park offers a safe and memorable experience for children while on the lovely Newport Beach Harbor.
For parents and kids alike swimming in the ocean while wonderful sometimes poses some challenges. A few examples might be that the water may be rough that day, you could have a strong undercurrent or if you are like my wife and are afraid of "sea monsters". Well at Marina Park you don't have to worry. Swimming in the calm waters of the harbor perfect for little ones. Little to no waves, plenty of boats to look at driving by and If your kids prefer to run around and play rather than swim, Marina Park has a gorgeous playground for young ones. They can run, jump, climb, and slide on all the playground equipment including their very own light house.
Even if you don’t have kids take the time to visit. Nothing is more fun and picture perfect than letting your inner child come out as you play and take pictures on the park’s playground.
Many people love to travel to Marina Park because it’s a clean, safe park in an amazing location. There are also picnic tables available for a day out or you can sit and look out at the boats in the water.
Regardless of your age or family size Marina Park is one of those hidden gems of Newport Beach that you cannot pass up seeing.
Location: Marine Way and Sand Canyon, Irvine, CA 92618
Great Park Balloon is more than a hot air balloon. Unlike most hot air balloons that carry 2-3 people, this hot air balloon ride is meant for 25-30 people at once!
The ride itself isn't very long only lasting 25 minutes, but you get a great view. The balloon lifts to a height of 400 feet giving you and everyone else a 360 degree of the world around you. People say you can see for miles and on clear days all the way to downtown Los Angeles.
Don't worry though. This massive balloon ride isn't free to the breeze. The entire time it is attached to rope that is locked to the ground. No worries about floating away for longer than you expected.
Whether you want to do it for some great pictures or to just say you did it, be sure to check out this hidden gem on your next trip.
Location: 4442 Carbon Canyon Road, Brea, CA 92823
Redwood trees are a famous staple for tourists and many others when they think of California. These massive trees that shoot out of the ground to reach unthinkable heights. It's almost unreal.
The best part of Carbon Canyon Regional Park is that they bring the amazing redwoods to Southern California rather than them being concentrated up north.
The Coastal Redwoods of Carbon Canyon can get as high as 100 feet and to experience it there is 1.1-mile-long nature trail in the park.
The best part is that the trail is great for all ages. It's not too long, but not too short and you can get some amazing pictures in this mini redwood forest.
Location: 440 S Anaheim Blvd., Ste 104, Anaheim, CA 92805
Taking a step away from exploring nature and doing adventures, don't forget to stop by The Blind Rabbit. A great destination for any food or drink lover over the age of 21.
The Blind Rabbit can be hard to spot if you don't know about it. It is tucked away in the Anaheim Packing District. Once you do find it you'll find yourself thrown back to the time of speakeasys.
Filled with a great atmosphere and unique decor any customer will find themselves having an amazing experience here. By the words of past customers, the place has great food, great drinks, and great service.
If you do plan to stop by this little speakeasy be sure to call ahead. They do require reservations, but if you can only do the spontaneous stop in then between the hours of 2-4 it is first come first serve seating. Any time after will need a reservation.
Really don't let that stop you from checking out a great place to eat and get a drink.
Location: E Ocean Front, Newport Beach, CA 92663
The Wedge is a known spot of Orange County locals and surfers around the world. This hidden gem sits at the furthest tip of the Balboa peninsula and the views here are breathtaking.
Surrounding the Wedge are multimillion dollar beach homes that are more like beach cottages. Rocks scatter the shoreline and boats travel through the waters.
As for what make this place a worthwhile visit is the the waves basically break on the sand and they are BIG! When a large swell is coming in you can see 15-30 foot waves break 25 feet in front of you with world class surfers trying to catch a wave. Its not uncommon during a large swell to see 200-300 people just sitting on the sand watching the waves crash.
The Wedge is a hidden gem of Orange County. You can sit and watch the sunset or enjoy a picnic. You can take a long the sandy beach and jump along the rocks dotted about. You can take the time to take photos of the surrounding landscape or of you on your Orange County adventure. There is endless options as to what you can do here.
So while you’re in Newport Beach take the drive down the Balboa Peninsula to the Wedge.
Location: 1000 Bristol Street N, Ste 11, Newport Beach, CA 92660
Another hidden gem of a restaurant in Orange County. Juliette Kitchen and Bar has become a popular place for lunch and happy hour to the Newport Beach area.
Many people come for the delicious food and drinks while receiving great service from staff. The dishes are unique and compliment the amazing decor of Juliette Kitchen and Bar.
What makes it a great hidden gem is that it's not well known to people other than locals. So unless you knew a local, overheard someone, or found this place online you could end up missing it.
Be sure to call ahead to place your reservation and dine in a hidden gem.
Location: 611 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The Noguchi Museum is both a hidden gem and secret spot to Southern California. The place is filled with rocks of all shapes and size, fountains, and other water features. One of the most prominent features is shown above. A low pyramid with streams of water running beneath it.
It may be small in size so you probably won't be spending your whole day here. What does make it worth mentioning here is the fact you can take some awesome pictures here. Many people love to take a picture of themselves jumping across the streams with the pyramid in the background.
So for amateur photographers or someone who is looking for a great social media picture both are encouraged to check this place out.
Location: Crescent Bay Drive, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
Crescent Bay Point Park is another hidden gem to Southern California. The place offers relaxing views of the ocean in a nice, clean park. It is almost picturesque once you find yourself there.
The park tends to be pretty quiet with not many people walking through it. You can sit back and listen to the waves crash and spend hours here without even knowing it.
The park has become a popular wedding spot for couples who are looking for a smaller, more intimate location to share their special moment.
The park contains a small semi-circle sitting arena and a small amphitheater that overlooks the ocean.
Found in a little quaint and eloquent neighborhood is worth sitting down and unwinding here.
Location: 361 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Heisler Park is located in the heart and center of Laguna Beach. The park gives its visitors a remarkable view of the Pacific ocean and the California coastline.
The park has a path that leads to the beach where the water isn't too rough. For young swimmers, it's a great place to play in the ocean because the waves aren't too rough for them.
If swimming in the ocean wasn't something you wanted to do while there, then explore the park. There are little coves dotted along the water and tidal pools to look and explore in. They'll be filled with wildlife and give an opportunity to teach your kids, if you have any, about ocean creatures.
Spending an afternoon there is definitely a doable thing. There are grass areas to have picnics and BBQ grills for cookouts. If not, then there are some nearby restaurants to the park including a coffee shop.
With rocks to climb on, wildlife to find, and a place to relax Heisler Park is a worthwhile hidden gem for stopping by.
Location: 7703 East Coast Hwy, Newport Coast, CA 92657
The Shake Shack has been an icon to Crystal Cove Beach since the 1940s. The place became famous for their signature date shakes.
But other than their famous shakes, Shake Shack serves burgers, fries, snacks, and other sandwiches.
Customers of Shake Shack can walk up, bike up, or drive and park to get food from here.
Nothing beats a milkshake and a beach with a breathtaking view so check out a place that's been around since the 1940's.
Location: 600 Shellmaker Rd., Newport Beach, CA 92660
Back Bay Loop Trial explains itself really. The trail isn’t a traditional trail where it is an old dirt path or a hike through some trees, it is a trail through the bay.
Back Bay Loop Trail is part of one of Orange County’s nature preserves, Back Bay. Back Bay itself doesn’t just sit in the bay, but in an estuary giving people a terrific opportunity to see some of Orange County’s wildlife.
Now for the hidden gem that is the Back Bay Loop Trail. Many people love to frequent here because there are so many options as to what you can do and how you travel the trail. You will find when you arrive here that there are bikers, runners, walkers (and dogs as long as they’re on a leash), horses, and even hikers that explore the trail.
There are even some people in the waters of the bay that are using stand-up paddle boards.
At the Loop Trail you have options as to what direction you take. There is an upper and lower trail. If you’re up for the challenge you could do both!
The upper trail is more of the dirt path trail that gives you an overlook to the east section of Back Bay. The lower trail is better for seeing wildlife. You can encounter various bird species and other wildlife along here.
It’s best to keep in mind before you hop in your car to come check out Back Bay Loop Trail is that the trail can be a trek. The trail can be over 10+ miles at points depending on how you travel the trails so be sure you are prepared for this endeavor.
Other than that, this is a worthwhile spot to visit whether you do a quick walk and turn around or you want to walk all over. It’s an amazing time to be surrounded by nature while enjoying the scenery.
Location: 204 S Cambridge St., Orange, CA 92866
Pitcher Park is another small park found in Southern California. This isn't a typical park in terms of what it has. Rather than have places to run or field to play in, it is just a small, pocket park in Old Town Orange County.
But it isn't terribly small either. It's a perfect place for a picnic, some nice pictures, or learn about some of Orange County's history in the barn that gives small presentations on it.
This park makes for a great backdrop for pictures whether it be wedding or social media ones. You can take short walks and shake things up from your daily exploring routine to take a step back and unwind.
Location: 2501 Placentia Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92628
Fairview Park is great for everyone. Some of the best features of Fairview is that it is close by to the Talbert Nature Preserve and Santa Ana River Trail giving guests a ton of options as to what they want to do.
The park itself is filled with a multitude of different trails based on what you want. There are paths for walkers, joggers, runners, and special paths just for bikers.
Not only that, but they do offer a small course and trail with some mounds for BMX bikers to enjoy.
Locals of the area love to go to here to fly model planes around in the expansive land.
There's a lot to explore in the park and some people describe walking around it as desolate and lonely, but not in a negative context. But a more respect and appreciation for nature as you stand out in the fields.
So check out Fairview park to do some bike riding or walking because it is a great place for families or anyone really.
Plus you can check out the nearby nature preserve and another trail to keep you entertained all day.
Location: 2900-2998 T St, Newport Beach, CA 92625
Up next on our list is Pirate's Cove. This place is quiet compared to other places on this list and it's a relaxing place if you enjoy a more secluded beach experience.
You can find yourself here all day if you wanted to. There are little caves dotted along the shoreline that you can spend the day exploring. There are also trees to provide shade to relax under as you listen to the crashing waves and look out over the ocean. By the end of day, you find yourself settled on the California coast watching the sun go down on a secluded beach.
The best time and the quietest time to come here is during the week when most people would be in school or at work. All it takes to get down to the beach is to go down a set of stairs or climb over some rocks for the more adventurous.
But whichever path you choose you'll find yourself in a small cove near the ocean that opens to the rest of the beach.
If anything is a worthwhile stop in Southern California hidden gems and secrets spots it's here. It's an unforgettable place that can give you an unforgettable experience.
Location: 9th Ave. & Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, CA 92652
It’s not called Thousand Steps Beachfor nothing. There are 230 steps you must walk both down and up to enjoy this beach. But don’t let that turn you away from the Orange County iconic hidden gem.
This beach is filled with things to do. Many people walk up and down the shoreline here to enjoy the ocean and the sun. Others love to swim in the California water’s, but be warned the water and waves can get a bit rough if you’re not expecting it.
Thousand Steps Beach is unique just like all the other beaches. It’s secluded, clean, and quiet which are the three key things to make something a hidden gem and not a tourist spot.
If you decide to take the challenge of Thousand Steps Beach then make sure you know where you’re going. It can be hard to miss sometimes if you’re not looking close enough. So take the challenge and visit another one of Orange County’s more secluded beaches for a memorable trip.
Location: 935 Laguna Canyon Rd, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
The Sawdust Art Festival isn't really a secret being that it attracts over 200,000 visitors each year but it is definitely worth a visit! Open each year for the months of July and August this festival was really created to feature all of the wonderful art created in Laguna Beach each year.
You will find all local artists creating ceramics, clothing, glass blown items, Jewelry, paintings, photography, sculptures and woodworks just to name a few.
You can easily lose yourself for a couple of hours walking the sawdust covered paths looking at amazing works of art and speaking with the local artists themselves.
Its a wonderful experience and located in Laguna Canyon its usually a very comfortable temperature.
Location: Black Star Canyon Rd., Orange, CA 92676
Black Star Canyon Trail is a wonderful walk through wilderness for any outdoor loving person or someone who enjoys walks and wants a challenge.
The trail spans 6.8 miles that has light traffic throughout it. Found in Silverado, California it has features along the trail such as a waterfall, but be warned the trail is rated by many experienced hikers as somewhat difficult.
Don’t worry though, just because it is rated difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It means that if you want to do it you just need to be in some physical shape and have the correct footwear to be able to traverse certain parts of the trail without too much issue.
If you also happen to have a pet they can come along on you day hike through the Orange County wilderness and see the waterfall too.
So, if you’re willing to take the journey on Black Star Canyon Trail you best be prepared. Many people who have hiked here recommend that you wear hiking shoes because running shoes or gym shoes aren’t as suitable for the terrain ahead. They also recommend wearing long pants to protect your legs from the low-lying shrubs on the forest floor.
Really though, this is most likely one of the best hidden gems of Orange County. Beaches are great, but after a while they can seem the same. So step out of beach tourism even if they are hidden gems and find yourself out for the day hiking.
Many amateur hikers and beginners were able to hike the trail so any level beginner to professional should make a day for this while in Orange County or as a day trip if you’re a local.
It’ll give you that feeling of satisfaction as you climb and hike your way through the forest. But most of all you can say you’ve explored one of Orange County’s hidden gems.
If you know of any more hidden gems or secret spots of Southern California leave a comment of where it is. Now add these places to your next visit and explore on!