Best Unique Places Near O.C. & Special Activities To Do

January 11, 2018 5:56 AM

(Credit: William Short)
(Credit: William Short)

Located in the heart of the Southland, Orange County is just a short drive from plenty of spectacular day trips that are perfect for soaking up the summer sun. Whether you’re looking to explore the mountains, desert, beaches or cities, there are activities galore for local travelers interested in wandering outside of OC. Plan the perfect day trip with this guide to the best adventures in Southern California.

(Credit: Matthew Burlile)

(Credit: Matthew Burlile)


Hot Air Balloon Ride
A Grape Escape Balloon Adventures
33475 La Serena Way
Temecula, CA 92591
(951) 699-9987
www.hotairtours.com

While many think of Napa Valley’s rolling vineyards when they picture wine country, Southern California has its paradise for wine lovers. Wine tasting is definitely a plus to visiting Temecula, but there are so many other things to capture visitors’ interest. The Old Town area is full of deliciously modern restaurants and shops filled with vintage décor and wine barrel art. But, by far, the most exciting thing to do in Temecula is to take a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards. With beautiful sprawling hills below and wispy clouds above, the views are amazing—it’s an experience you won’t soon forget and it’s suitable for all ages. Sip champagne or orange juice upon landing to unwind further. A Grape Escape Balloon Adventures has balloons leaving from Europe Village every day. Choose from the standard package or the romantic couples package.

(Credit: William Short)

(Credit: William Short)


Rent Bicycles at the Beach
Breeze Bike Share
Various Locations
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 828-2525
www.santamonicabikeshare.com

Traffic in Santa Monica is almost always congested—especially in the summertime—so swap your car for a bike. With Breeze Bike Share, visitors can stop by one of 80 different stations in Santa Monica to rent a bike with ease. There are monthly payment plans for those looking to return often, but they also have rates of six dollars per hour for those who are only visiting for the day. Their app makes it easy to reserve a bike in advance and, once it’s in your possession, you’re free to roam. Ride down to the pier to ride the Ferris wheel, souvenir shop and grab some ice cream or simply to watch the fishermen. You can also cruise along the beach path for some exercise in the sunshine, and head south to reach Venice and explore the canals. If you’re feeling brave, navigate the streets to spend the afternoon at the Third Street Promenade, where you can take in a movie, sit down for lunch or shop while you take in local musicians and dancers.

(Credit: Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism)

(Credit: Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism)


Ride a Tram to Hiking Trails
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
1 Tram Way
Palm Springs, CA 92262
(888) 515-8726
www.pstramway.com

Palm Springs is one of the most popular getaway spots for Orange County locals. Whether you’re planning to stay for a week, a weekend or simply a day, there is plenty to keep you busy. Golfing is a popular pastime for Palm Springs travelers, but make sure to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to the top of the mountain. This is a great way to spend an afternoon—there are two restaurants and an observation deck at the top. There are also a couple different theaters showing films on the construction of the tram itself. Once you’ve had your fill of info, take to the hiking trails that crisscross the Mount San Jacinto State Park. In addition to hiking, they also offer guided 40-minute nature walks so visitors can learn about the plants and animals that are native to the park.

(Credit: Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce)

(Credit: Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce)


Stargazing in the Desert
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
200 Palm Canyon Drive
Borrego Springs, CA 92004
(760) 767-5311
www.parks.ca.gov

Another spot full of nature is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, though it offers a different experience than Palm Springs. Located east of San Diego in the California desert, visitors can also find spots to hike. While it gets hot during the day, the events are cooler, making it a great spot to beat the heat for some stargazing. You can, of course, see the stars from anywhere in the park; without city lights around, they’re easy to spot. Wander and stargaze to your heart’s delight. But there are also organized stargazing events that visitors can attend. Once a month, the park teaches guests about the importance of dark skies, visible constellations and stargazing in general. We live in an area filled with artificial light, making stargazing somewhat of a rarity for OC natives so this is a fun activity, especially for families with children interested in science and astronomy.

(credit: Ken Bohn/Getty Images)

(credit: Ken Bohn/Getty Images)


Wildlife Viewing
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
15500 San Pasqual Valley Road
Escondido, CA 92027
(760) 747-8702
www.sdzsafaripark.org

San Diego is known for many things, but the San Diego Zoo is easily one of their biggest tourist attractions. When you head south for the day, consider stopping by the zoo’s Safari Park instead. Rather than cages, the animals roam free and visitors are taken on safaris through the field exhibits. Both the Cart and Caravan safaris allow guests to sit back and relax as they’re driven past some of the park’s biggest enclosures filled with Asian and African animals. Other safaris include the Cheetah Safari, where the cheetahs immense speed is demonstrated live, and the Raptor Flight Safari, where visitors can watch a birds of prey demonstration and interact with a hawk. For something a little more adventurous, check out the Jungle Ropes Safari or the Flightline Safari—ropes courses and ziplines that offer views of the park’s animals. There are additional safaris as well—the guided Trike Safari through the African Plains, the Behind-the-Scenes Safari and the five-hour Ultimate Safari.

(Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce)

(Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce)


Snorkeling on Catalina Island
Snorkeling Catalina
107 Pebbly Beach Road
Avalon, CA 90704
(562) 472-4503
www.snorkelingcatalina.com

Catalina Island is a fun day trip in and of itself since it’s only reachable by sea or sky. Hop aboard a boat or helicopter for a quick jaunt over the Pacific to the island city of Avalon. The main cove—lined by the beach, storefronts and the distinctive casino building—is a parking spot for boats, cruise ships and more. Once you arrive, head straight for the snorkeling! Because the water near the island is calm and pristine, it is the ideal setting for spotting sea life. Snorkeling Catalina offers two different types of snorkeling tours: day trips and night trips. Both take visitors to Lover’s Cove, a protected area that offers a plethora of organisms. See colorful fish, sea stars, urchins and more. The fish are used to travelers so they’ll come right up to you, making for a fun experience.

(Credit: Big Bear Visitors Bureau)

(Credit: Big Bear Visitors Bureau)


Go On a Rock Crawl
Big Bear Jeep Experience
42011 Big Bear Boulevard
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
(909) 420-5828
www.bigbearjeepexperience.com

The dark blue alpine lake is a gorgeous site among the evergreen trees and hiking trails of Big Bear. A quick jaunt to the area provides plenty of eateries and shopping—but you can do that anywhere. Experience something new and exciting with the Big Bear Jeep Experience. Guests will be the ones driving the Jeep, following a guide in a separate Jeep over various miles of trails through the mountains. The educational tours teach guests about various aspects of the natural environment. You can choose from a few different tours. The beginner trip—perfect for families with children—travels through Holcomb Valley, the original Big Bear settlements and on a mining tour. An intermediate tour takes visitors on rougher roads, traveling to spots like Cactus Flats, Jacoby Canyon, Lake Arrowhead and the Santa Ana River.

(Credit: Ashley Ryan)

(Credit: Ashley Ryan)


Explore Hollywood
Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90028
www.hollywoodchamber.net

If you’ve never spent an afternoon in Hollywood, a day trip is a must. While it’s often thought of as a spot for celebrity sightings, what is really fun is seeing how Los Angeles honors actors and musicians of the past. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a popular activity that almost doubles as a game. Try and see if you can find your favorite celebrities’ stars. With almost two miles and over 2,000 stars, there is a lot to see. Also in this area is the TCL Chinese Theatre, formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. This iconic movie palace has some spectacular architecture but what is really exciting are the signatures, handprints and footprints out front. These concrete squares feature celebrities old and new and it’s fun to place your hands where theirs were or compare the size of your feet to theirs. Finish off your day with a celebrity home tour, a hike to the famous Hollywood sign or a visit to one of the nearby wax museums.

(Credit: Ashley Ryan)

(Credit: Ashley Ryan)


Visit Museums in the San Jacinto Valley
Various Locations
Hemet and San Jacinto, CA
www.visitsanjacintovalley.com

San Jacinto Valley is often looked at as a travel destination, but there is a wealth of history in this eastern valley. Cities like Hemet and San Jacinto are filled with interesting museums. Pictured is the Estudillo Mansion, a historic 1884 mansion that was built by the city’s first postmaster who later went on to become mayor. It showcases how the wealthy lived in the early 20th century. Right next door is the San Jacinto Museum, which gives an overview of the city’s history through the use of artifacts. In Hemet, visit the Hemet Museum located in the old Santa Fe train depot to learn about the history there as well as the Victorian Bridal Museum, filled with various wedding gowns from the Victorian era. Also in Hemet is the Western Science Center, a museum that delves into the history of the natural habitat surrounding the area and the animals that once lived there. There is also a children’s museum nearby for families to check out, though children are likely to have fun at the Science Center as well.

(Credit: City of San Diego)

(Credit: City of San Diego)


Kayaking in San Diego
Just Kayak
4260 Everts Street
San Diego, CA 92109
(619) 736-8663
www.justkayaksd.com

With some of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California, San Diego is a great spot for some fun on the ocean. Just Kayak makes it easy to kayak at some of the best beaches in the area. Operating out of Mission Bay, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Ocean Beach and some other coastal spots, the company offers all-day kayak rentals. They can drop them off or pick them up too, upon request, making it exceptionally easy to both obtain and return your rental. Kayaking is a fun activity that is great for all ages and it provides good exercise without extreme exertion. It’s also a great way to see spots along the coast that can’t be reach from the beaches, like coves and inlets. It’s easy to stop by the beach for the afternoon, but kayaking offers a different kind of adventure that doubles as a fabulous way to explore the San Diego coastline.

Ashley Ryan is an Orange County native that loves traveling, live music and photography. She blogs at Pure Wander and freelances for a variety of publications including Newport Beach Magazine and Laguna Beach Magazine.

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