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Founded in 1932, this is likely the best all-around museum in Orange County. The complex has particularly come into its own since its re-opening in 1992 with expanded and improved exhibition spaces. Created with funds donated by Charles Bowers, the complex was built in the style of the California Missions, and is adorned with murals honoring that motif. Originally intended by Mr. Bowers to focus on local history, the museum has since enlarged its focus to incorporate artifacts from the cultures of Southeast Asia, Oceania, Mexico and Native America.
If you have long dreamed of piloting an airplane or a fighter jet, then a trip to Flightdeck Air Combat Center will be a dream come true. Offering simulations in F-16 fighter jets and Boeing 737-700s, visitors get to feel the rush of participating in air combat missions and aerial maneuvers. The friendly staff is well equipped to prepare you for your first flight and answer any questions you may have before the simulation begins.
If you are driving south along the coast for the day from L.A., this gallery is ideally situated near the popular Fashion Island shopping center, not even a mile from the Pacific Coast Highway. The subject of much controversy among Orange County's art crowd over the past few years, the museum expanded to almost double its original size when the Newport Harbor Art Museum (same location) and the Laguna Art Museum consolidated to form this larger complex, scandalizing the art-loving Laguna Beach community. The permanent collection focuses on late 20th-century and California art, but the museum enjoys exhibitions that have included works from artists such as Rico Lebrun and Pablo Picasso. The Plein Air Café serves lunch, and a meal will earn you free admission to the museum.
In this era of fluctuating gas prices, why burn precious fuel seeing all the wondrous and storied sights of the Golden State? This Disney theme park is your one-stop shop for everything California! Tour Hollywood back lots, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the San Francisco Bay Area, and a contemporary re-imagining of the party-pier amusement parks of 1940s Santa Monica - all without ever leaving the convenience of a single city block in downtown Anaheim. You can also pay a visit to Radiator Springs at Cars Land, the themed land dedicated to the hit movie Cars. Thrill rides here go above and beyond the kiddie fare at neighboring Disneyland, and the concession stands offer beer, wine and margaritas. The "oceanfront" bandstand plays host to classic California mainstays like the Beach Boys and Kool & The Gang, solidifying the location's reputation as a theme park destination truly fun for the whole family.
Disney's magic kingdom, the Disneyland Park in Anaheim is the original theme park; a labor of love designed by Walt Disney himself, the only one of the franchise to have been built directly under his auspicious care. Since its grand opening in 1955, this theme park has come to be renown as the place where dreams come true; where ogres, dragons and wizards roam, dazzling visions of the future are realized, and all are invited to experience a realm born of an imagination that knows no bounds. Expanded over the years, this whimsical wonderland now includes eight playfully themed lands like Critter Country and Mickey's Toontown. Here, fairytale princesses and Mickey Mouse greet visitors of every age, welcoming them into a world where magical lands are brought to life and there are thrilling experiences galore.
This place recalls the days when a Saturday night date meant a trip to the local amusement park, complete with a ride on the ferris wheel and a few games of skill where a boy could win a teddy bear for his sweetheart. It opened in 1936 and has remained a Newport Beach institution to this day. It's not that big, so don't count on a full day of activity, but it is a nice place to spend a couple of hours. Nights are especially festive here, so bring the family, a group of friends or special someone. There is no entrance fee, but each ride requires tickets.
Stretching 1853 feet (564.80 meters) into the Pacific Ocean, the Huntington Beach Pier is one of the West Coast's longest piers. This attraction is visited by millions of people each year, creating an eccentric crowd. It is home to several important events, such as the U.S. Open of Surfing in July, Kite Party in February and Huck Finn Fishing Derby in August. You’ll also find excellent oceanfront dining at both ends of the pier.
Black Star Canyon is a frequented sight for local bikers as well as for hikers. Located amidst wilderness, this mountain canyon also has a beautiful waterfall. However, it is plagued by a series of unfortunate occurrences, myths and spooky events, that are said to have taken place here. Ghosts, mysterious violent individuals, antique farm equipment and other cult gatherings have been reported to be seen here. Hence, despite its beautiful scenery and mountain trails, some locals are apprehensive of visiting this location.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is a locals' favorite for hiking and biking, particularly during spring when a spectrum of wild flowers bloom. Two entrances are available. One is at the junction of El Toro Road and Aliso Creek Road where limited street parking is available for free. Despite its isolation from the majority of the park, this area features Barbara's Lake, Orange County's only natural lake. The other entrance is across Laguna Canyon, by the junction of Laguna Canyon Road and El Toro Road. Although there is no free parking, you can head straight to Crystal Cove from here. With "wilderness" in its name, no pets are allowed in the park. Some residents you may have the pleasure of seeing are deer, mountain lions, and snakes.
Opening its doors in 1990, this complex was established to celebrate former President Nixon's accomplishments as a peacemaker and an international statesman. From the humble farmhouse built by his father in 1912, to priceless gifts from heads of state, to the peaceful memorials of the President and Mrs. Nixon, the museum and its beautifully landscaped grounds and gardens trace the long road from Richard Nixon's past. In addition to the 22 permanent galleries, the museum has expanded adding the Katherine B. Loker Center and Annenberg Court. At the center of the 47,000 square-foot expansion is a full-size replica of the elegant White House East Room.
Knott's Berry Farm, home to the Peanuts characters, has been a long-time favorite for families visiting the Orange County area. You'll find culturally-themed areas including Fiesta Village, Indian Trails and Independence Hall, where visitors get a look at the influence of these cultures on California life. There are also themed rides such as the Xcelerator and Montezooma's Revenge. Other areas such as The Boardwalk feature rides like Supreme Scream which, measuring in at an astounding 312 feet (95.098 meters), is the tallest structure in the county. Overall, if you're looking for something to please the kids (and maybe give yourself a rest), Knott's is a truly excellent choice. Operational hours vary from day to day, please check website for more details.
Historic Mission San Juan Capistrano is a California icon. Perhaps most famous for visits from its annual guests of honor, the swallows, the Mission means many things to many people. For Californians, it is a powerful symbol of the state's complicated colonial history. For Catholics, it is a profound religious site, indicative of the Church's own complex heritage. History buffs spend hours reveling in the facility's many exhibits and displays, connecting viscerally with the sights, sounds and feelings of generations long past. For visitors of any background, it is an undeniably gorgeous place to spend an afternoon--replete with striking architectural elements and lovingly cared-for gardens.