Orange County beach cities attract visitors from around the globe due to consistently sunny skies, alluring ocean activities, and picturesque sunsets. Each beach city has unique and various activities. From surfing and shopping to fine dining and scuba diving, find out which one is the best fit for you.

Landscape of a blue ocean with homes in along the shore and palm trees and shrubs in the foreground
Laguna Beach is perfect for art lovers looking for a beach vacation © Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images

Laguna Beach: Best for art lovers

Laguna Beach is a great home base for exploring beach cities to the north and south along Pacific Coast Highway. This charming beach town has a history as an artists’ colony, which is still evident with the numerous galleries sprinkled throughout the town and popular summer art festivals. 

Don't miss: Visit on the first Thursday evening of the month to take part in the Art Walk, when galleries serve free wine and appetizers and typically have local artists on hand to showcase their latest pieces. 

Where to Eat: One of the staple restaurants in this part of town in the Mandarin King. This Chinese food restaurant, established in 1984, has stood the test of time and is a hit amongst locals and tourists alike. Select from sweet and sour chicken, Szechuan shrimp, egg foo young, pot stickers are more. 

Where to Stay: If you pick Laguna as your home base for your California beach vacation, The Art Hotel – located in North Laguna – offers comfortable accommodation with a pool and ocean views. Not only does it showcase ocean-inspired art, but the best perk is that it is located across the street from beautiful Crescent Bay beach, which has great snorkeling. Just be sure to pack a wetsuit.

Surfers in black wetsuits hit large white waves against a blue and green ocean with a long pale wooden pier in the background topped with a red-roofed pavilion
Huntington Beach is a surfer's paradise © Robert Landau / Getty Images

Huntington Beach: Best for surfers

Huntington Beach, known as Surf City USA, is home to some of the best surf breaks in Southern California. You can rent a board and catch a wave, watch a world-class surfing competition, take a selfie in front of the bronze Duke Kahanamoku statue, or just stroll along the pier

Don't miss: After spending the day in the surf, head to the International Surfing Museum to pay homage to surfing’s pioneers and superstars. It’s home to some impressive memorabilia, including the world’s largest surfboard.

Where to eat: Take a stroll along the iconic Huntington Beach Pier to grab a bite at the 1950s-inspired Ruby’s Diner located at the end of the pier. Watching dolphins playing in the surf as you devour a Super Burger, fries, and an Oreo shake is a true Huntington experience. 

Where to stay: An overnight stay at the Waterfront Beach Resorts offers convenience and luxury. The oceanside accommodations are perfect for walking across the street for a nighttime bonfire at the beach. It’s also walking distance to Pacific City, an urban outdoor mall with a kick-ass food hall and tons of low-vibe surf gear as well as top-notch fashion.

a canal between rows of colorful houses lined with boats
Newport Beach is great for people who love boats of all kinds © Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images

Newport Beach: Best for yachties 

Newport Beach is known for its nautical lifestyle with access to sailboats, mega-yachts, SUPs, and Duffys. Explore the ocean from above by any means possible – or enjoy a bike or walk around the charming Balboa Island where you can snack on an original” chocolate covered banana on a stick (dipped in peanuts, if you want).

What not to miss: Cruise the calm waters of Newport Bay in an adorable electrical Duffy Boat. Covered to keep the sun and wind at bay, bring your friends, some tasty bites and fabulous cocktails for an afternoon of food, fun, and friendship. You can hire a driver if you’d rather not be bothered to tend the wheel. 

Where to eat: Located on the Balboa Peninsula, the Lighthouse Bayview Café is bright and airy with an unobstructed view of Newport Harbor…and it looks like a lighthouse. Dine on grilled artichoke, New England clam chowder and chipotle marinated shrimp tacos as you watch the boats glide in and out of the harbor. Just steps away is Marina Park, which features a nautical-themed play structure.

Where to stay: The Cape Cod-style Lido House hotel, located on Lido Island, offers elegant guest rooms and three-story private beach cottages. Take a dip in the salt water pool or enjoy a sunset cocktail from the rooftop lounge. The hotel is also just steps away from Lido Marina Village where you’ll find upscale boutiques and farm-to-table dining.

Three kids sit on the front of a boat as it cruises through the harbor
Dana Point offers the chance to see marine wildlife of all kinds © JLPH / Getty Images

Dana Point: Best for marine life enthusiasts

Dana Point offers a laid-back local vibe with the opportunity to explore tidepools, go whale watching, kayaking or enjoy deep sea fishing. One of the favorite recreation areas in Dana Point is the Dana Point Harbor where you can lounge on the beach, go for a dinner cruise, rent a jet ski, or enjoy plenty of shopping and dining options. 

What not to miss: While in Dana Point, be sure to stop by the Ocean Institute, an ocean education center that focuses on marine science and maritime history. Check out the coastal waters adjacent to the Ocean Institute, which are teaming with marine life due to its designation as a Marina Protected Area and State Marine Conservation Area. 

Where to eat: For fresh seafood and a view of the bustling harbor, head to the Harbor Grill restaurant. Enjoy grilled prawns, smoked halibut, king crab legs served with a smile. The restaurant, which was established in 1984, has been a longtime favorite for visitors and regulars.

Where to stay: For a luxurious overnight stay, check in to the Monarch Beach Resort. Sip cocktails by the pool, play a round of golf, or indulge in a relaxing spa treatment. Hop on the chauffeured golf cart shuttle to the Beach Club for a pampered day at the beach that includes chair and towel service, surf lessons, fireside s’mores and fine oceanfront dining.   

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