Situated between Los Angeles and San Diego, Orange County boasts 42 sun-kissed miles of surf and sand. This string of picturesque seaside towns has been compared to the French Riviera, and each has its own distinct vibe. Amid the area’s legendary surf breaks and tide pools, you’ll also find some lesser-known cultural gems, including a historic mission and one of the country’s largest performing arts venues.
A launching point for local whale watching tours, Dana Point features a bustling marina with many nautical activities, from sailing to deep-sea fishing. In early March, the Dana Point Festival of Whales celebrates the passing gray whale migration with two weekends of activities.
Approximately eleven miles south and inland of Laguna Beach, San Juan Capistrano is home to what is known locally as the “jewel” of California’s missions. With a history dating back to 1776, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is graced with beautiful arches, gardens, and courtyards—and is well worth a visit.
North of Laguna Beach, this Orange Country suburb is known for two of the area’s top attractions: South Coast Plaza—Southern California’s largest mall—and the landmark performing arts venue Segerstrom Center for the Arts. It’s also known as an up-and-coming culinary destination, counting James Beard Award-nominated restaurants among its eclectic eateries.
Southern California’s Pacific coast is rich with marine life, from mighty whales to tiny hermit crabs. It’s not uncommon to spot dolphins and sea lions frolicking amid the waves, while closer to shore, kelp gardens provide food for fish, birds, otters, and other animals. Between December and March, gray whales can be spotted offshore as they make their annual journey from the icy waters of Alaska to their birthing grounds in Baja California. During summer and fall, humpback whales and blue whales can also be seen.
Terrestrial wildlife abounds in the canyons of Laguna Beach, with coyotes, bobcats, and mule deer counted among the local residents. In the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, which encompasses 4,500 acres, bird life flourishes as well, and hawks, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles have all be sighted here.
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