(credit: Joshua K./Yelp)

(credit: Joshua K./Yelp)


In many parts of the country, winter is a season for staying indoors next to a cozy fire, but not in Orange County. Mild winter temperatures in the southland allow residents and visitors to maintain their healthy, active lifestyle during the cool holiday season.
(credit: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

(credit: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)


Dana Wharf Whale Watching
34675 Golden Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629
(888) 224-0603
www.danawharf.com

In business for over 40 years, Dana Wharf Whale Watching is where the true fans of flippers and fins go to watch these gentle giants surface. Winter is the perfect season for whale watching in Orange County, since many whales and other marine life migrate south to escape the frigid northern waters. Dana Wharf Whale Watching gives visitors a choice of a two-hour cruise or a 2.5-hour deluxe catamaran tour that offers a more close-up experience with the whales and dolphins encountered along the way. Every Tuesday is half price all year, and if there is a poor whale showing, visitors can keep their ticket to visit another time.

(credit: ocparks.com)

(credit: ocparks.com)


O’Neill Regional Park
30892 Trabuco Canyon Road
Trabuco Canyon, CA 92678
(949) 923-2260
www.ocparks.com/parks/oneill

About 4,000 acres of pure beauty awaits visitors to the densely wooded O’Neill Regional Park. With 23 miles of trails and overnight camping available, this is a great place to go for a weekend camping expedition without the long road trip. There are even hot showers available for the less rugged adventurers. For hikers who love a challenge, the Vista Point trail reaches almost 1,500 feet and offers a spectacular panoramic view of Orange County, including Catalina Island on clear days. Visitors can also enjoy the trickling sounds of the Trabuco and Hickey Creeks that return in the cool winter months and add to the peaceful ambiance after a brief hiatus during the dry season.

(credit: OCParks.org)

(credit: OCParks.org)


Irvine Ranch Open Space
13042 Old Myford Road
Irvine, CA 92602
(714) 973-6696
www.ocparks.com/parks/irvineranch

A visit to Irvine Ranch Open Space, Orange County’s only natural national landmark, is simply a must-do activity this winter. With 20,000 acres of protected woodlands to explore, there simply isn’t enough time in one visit to experience all of the geological beauty and variety of wildlife. Luckily, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy plans plenty of free activities such as regularly scheduled hikes, asteroid and comet watching in December and habitat restoration outings. Due to conservation efforts, visitors can enjoy Irvine Ranch Open Space only through the scheduled activities offered. With a guided tour, however, guests have a chance to have a much richer interaction with this beautiful and expansive preserve.

Related: Best Places For Horseback Riding Near OC

(credit: Diane B./Yelp)

(credit: Diane B./Yelp)


Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
33401 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(949) 923-2210
www.ocparks.com/parks/ronald

Set in south Orange County, the 8,000-acre Caspers Wilderness Park offers year-round camping in a beautiful setting that will leave you wanting more long after you’ve left. Weekly guided nature walks through the wintry oak and sycamore woodlands offer visitors an intimate experience with Orange County’s natural beauty and with a ton of trails of varying difficulty to explore on your own, you’ll have a terrific time taking in the beauty and surroundings. Kids of all ages will enjoy searching for marine fossils in the riverbeds, as the sandstone canyons release their grip on the ancient marine animals that once lived in the area when it was covered by the Pacific Ocean.

(credit: Joshua K./Yelp)

(credit: Joshua K./Yelp)


Chino Hills State Park
4500 Carbon Canyon Road
Brea, CA 92823
(951) 780-6222
www.parks.ca.gov

Giving visitors a slightly different view of Orange County, the Chino Hills State Park provides over 14,000 acres of grassy hillsides, instead of densely wooded oak and sycamore groves. The park is an important biological pathway designed to connect several natural areas in order to avoid animal isolation due to development in the area. Guests to the park can visit the Discovery Center to learn more about this bio-link and the native flora and fauna. Ninety miles of trails and service roads also allows hikers, bikers and horseback riders to experience this biodiversity on a more personal level during the slower, more pensive winter months.

Related: Comfortable Wilderness Retreats Near OC

David McDonald is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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