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Secret Things to Do in Orange County, CA for Visitors

The author enjoys traveling the world and visiting educational attractions such as museums where he can learn more about the local culture.

Noguchi Sculpture Garden

Noguchi Sculpture Garden

The tourist things to do in Orange County, CA are well-known to Southern California travelers. Visiting Disneyland, shopping at South Coast Plaza, and surfing at Huntington Beach are written up constantly in travel mags and newspapers. But the county also offers secret delights known only to locals such as myself. Try them out on your next visit.

Noguchi Sculpture Garden

The Noguchi Sculpture Garden satisfies those interested in outdoor and art things to do in Orange County, CA. Six abstract pieces, created by famed artist Isamu Noguchi, represent the California landscape. You’ll find mixes of stone, tile, steel, water and desert foliage decorating abstract, natural and freeform shapes. Park for free in the east parking lot of Sears – South Coast Plaza, and cross the sky bridge over Bristol Street. Then head southeast for the black glass towers rising on the corner of Anton Blvd and Park Center Drive. The sculpture garden is buried behind office buildings, so ask a passerby to point you the way.

Summer Bat Walks

Like many outdoor areas in the county, the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine invites relaxing walks on its nature trails to enjoy waterbirds and other wildlife at the 300-acre wetland preserve. But the secret time to come is at night for the Summer Bat Walks. After listening to an indoor presentation by a bat biologist, you then walk about a mile-and-a-half on flat, unpaved ground to view the two species of bats that make their home here. You'll be able to hear and watch them swoop and dive as they feast on flying insects. These tours, given by volunteers of the Sea and Sage Society Audobon Society, are held only in July, August, and September but require advance registration by April because they fill up fast.

Lyon Air Museum

If you’d rather spend time indoors on one of your secret things to do in Orange County, CA, the Lyon Air Museumsatisfies across the street from the runways of Orange County Airport. Airplanes are certainly in abundance, including a B-17 Flying Fortress. a passenger DC-3 and a B-25 Bomber. But this idiosyncratic collection also includes military vehicles, military motorcycles and automobiles from the 1930s-40s. The museum is open nearly every day of the year, with tours available from volunteer docents.

Environmental Nature Center

Where can you find a freshwater marsh, Yellow Pine forest, foothill woodland, and Channel Islands flora in just 3.5 acres? At the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach. The 14 habitats represent what’s available in California, from the coast to the mountains. The 8,500-square-foot solar-powered main building is the first one in Orange County to receive LEED platinum certification, and houses a nature museum and classrooms. Make time for the Native Butterfly House in the spring and summer, so you can admire these local wonders at all stages of their life cycle, from egg to flying beauties.

Santa Ana River Trail

The Santa Ana River, typical of county rivers, is normally dry and paved with concrete. But it does feature a trail for biking, walking, or horseback riding that stretches 110 miles across three counties. You can enter at many of the roads that cross it and proceed south to Huntington Beach or north to the San Bernardino mountains. Several attached parks offer convenient rest stops and picnic tables. If you go after a heavy rain, you’ll be rewarded with flowing water and islands of wildlife such as pelicans, herons and ducks.

Orange County Model Engineers

Don’t forget to amuse the kids on one of your secret things to do in Orange County, CA. Take them on an excursion aboard miniature freight and passengers cars pulled by working miniature diesel and steam engines. The Orange County Model Engineers offer rides on the third Saturday and Sunday of each month, on the eastern side of Fairview Park in Costa Mesa. Five miles of 7.5-inch gauge track wind their way through stations, bridges, grasslands and hills. Rides are free, but donations are accepted to keep the hobby-built locos in top running condition.

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Beach time in Southern California generally involves sunbathing, sand, and surfing, but never sea lions. At the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, you can get up close to these playful creatures that you can usually only spy from afar. The organization focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals and then releasing them back into the wild. Because the facility is run primarily by volunteers, you're welcome to get involved as more than a spectator.

Downtown Santa Ana Artwalk

On the first Saturday of every month, the Downtown Santa Ana Artwalk thrills with its mix of street fair, dance party, and art festival. Local galleries and art museums stay open from 6 PM to 10 PM showcasing the best of paintings, sculpture, drawing, pottery, jewelry, and other visual forms. Live street music encourages dancing as street merchants hawk their wares and police officers on horseback keep a watch on everything. You can quell your hunger or quench your thirst at several restaurants and bars.

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© 2011 Aurelio Locsin


Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on September 05, 2012:

Aurelio, I'd love to visit the Environmental nature center to see how the 14 habitats exist in one amazing place. It would be an awesome sight.

Voted up and interesting.

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on August 02, 2012:


A very interesting hub you have here! I lived in Orange County (graduate of Fountain Valley High School...thank you very much) but it has been a very long time (22 years) since I have been back there.

I like to think these amazing placed were not there 22 years ago and that is why they are all a surprise (the alternative is that I was just clueless when I lived there).

If I make it back there I will be sure to check out the Lyon Air museum.



moonlake from America on July 27, 2012:

Love Orange County use to live there. Our son was born there. Great hub enjoyed reading it and voted up.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on July 27, 2012:

I love the idea of secret things to do in Orange County. The sculpture garden and environmental nature center especially interest me. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the area. Voted up!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 11, 2012:

Great ideas of things to do that might be out of the ordinary but still interesting in Orange County, California. Thanks for the ideas! Up, useful and interesting votes.

formosangirl from Los Angeles on January 26, 2012:

Interesting, Alocsin. I hope to spend more time in Orange County this year. Voted up and useful.

Aurelio Locsin (author) from Orange County, CA on January 26, 2012:

Thanks all for visiting my hub.

hoteltravel from Thailand on January 25, 2012:

Good suggestions. Will bookmark this for future use.

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on December 15, 2011:

Interesting hub! Lots of ideas here!

Evita Andrianni from New Zealand on October 04, 2011:

I wish I knew all that before I went. But will definitely come useful next time :-))

Suramya.K on July 08, 2011:

As I'm an aircraft lover, I'll definitely try to visit Lyon Air Museum if I happen to come by. Just as Brett said, hopefully, I'll be able to make it over that way but in the near future. See ya!

Brett C from Asia on July 04, 2011:

Voted up and Awesome.

Not sure I will ever make it over that way (maybe one day ... off in the distant future lol), but was an interesting read with some nice photos.

Cheers for sharing your tips.

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