Some folks who live in Orange County refer to it as The Bubble, for a few reasons. One of the main reasons is political; Orange County is the most conservative place in liberal California. Another is wealth; the area is one of the wealthiest counties in the USA. The last reason is geographical: Orange County is built in the middle of a desert. All of our water is imported through an aqueduct. All of our trees, grass, and flowers are imported, too. Everything green is planted by human hands; the natural landscape is brown and dry, an easily forgotten detail.

Often thought of as a small, clean, pretty suburban area just an hour’s drive south of Los Angeles -- perhaps because of its safe streets with more family friendly entertainment options -- Orange County is really a metropolitan hub of its own, home to over 3 million people in just 2,400 square kilometers.

One feature most folks know of is Disneyland. Many people who live in Orange County have year round passes, which they take advantage of often. For those who don’t like long queues or crowds, some tips to avoid these include using the free Fastpass system, which allows you to bypass queues, or to go when it is raining. It rains rarely, and most locals won’t go out on rainy days, as it is seen as an inconvenience that ruins the whole day.

The Irvine Spectrum Center is a massive open air mall, built in a style inspired by Moroccan architecture, with many large fountains. The Spectrum offers a wide range of shopping and dining options to fit all budgets. Sometimes local musicians play on small stages in the many courtyards.

Huntington and Laguna Beach are so popular that it can be extremely difficult to find parking. Many locals know to park their cars on the streets in the nearby neighbourhoods. At night, Laguna Beach is a favourite spot for bonfires. While the air feels hotter in Huntington, Dana Point Harbor has a cool breeze. It’s also nice to go fishing off the rocky jetties that protect the harbour.

Be sure to sample food from the many family owned restaurants that dot the county. I recommend S&W Seafood BBQ in Irvine, a Chinese restaurant with a misleading name and hundreds of items on the menu; they offer their superb dishes for half price at lunch time. San Juan Capistrano offers fine French food at L’Hirondelle, which can be enjoyed outside on a lovely patio, or for a unique local experience, try El Champion, a small, authentic Mexican restaurant where the food is served cafeteria style.

Catharina Satola
Image: Lyght