So you’ve lived in Orange County for a really long time and you know all about its hidden gems and less-than-obvious charms. Things to be discovered? Done – every last one of them. Places to find? Complete – every last square inch. Or could there be more to the story? We believe there is, mainly because, even as familiar with OC as we consider ourselves to be, we are constantly surprised by new places and people that inspire us to never stop learning about the place in which we live – and we bet you’ll feel that way, too, especially after we get through with this list of our favorite “discoveries” found… right in our own backyard.
Yes, fitness instructor Katie Osumi will tighten your thighs and strengthen your core and all those other fitness things, but we’ve never known a fitness instructor who also leaves us feeling like we’ve just eliminated every bad thing in our lives with a single exhale. Whatever it is, we’re grateful she’s teaching Pilates and spin classes throughout OC, because not only will you leave feeling strong and uplifted, it’s very possible you’ll also have a few new leads for your playlist. :: coreplay.biz
Not only is iSpa the best deal in spa treatments ($100 for a 100-minute body scrub and aroma massage? Sign me up. Twice.), but entry into the Korean spa in Irvine is much more than a massage and a bathrobe. Included in your treatment is access to countless saunas and hot tubs, and a visit to the co-ed jimjilbang is like no other spa experience in OC. Various rooms, such as the Himalayan sea salt room, the ice room, fire room, and forest room are designed to aid in the type of relaxation one craves, and sprawling grounds offer everything from quiet TV-watching to conference rooms and sweat lodges. And did we mention the cafeteria? Refuel with fresh watermelon juice or any number of freshly prepared Korean specialties – we especially love ordering one of the soups on the menu and sitting on the heated wood floors to eat. 949.260.9988 :: ispaus.com
Lyon Air Museum
Airports serve a primarily utilitarian purpose: Get passengers safely from point A to point B, preferably on time. So we understand why few have heard of Lyon Air Museum, which is located at John Wayne Airport. The museum’s exhibit contains authentic historical aircraft and educational exhibits that highlight the history of aviation, with a particular focus on memorabilia from World War II, as well as a collection of military vehicles. 714.210.4585 :: lyonairmuseum.org
Portola Coffee Lab
By now, judging by the line to get a coffee most mornings, everyone has caught wind of Portola Coffee Lab and its dedication to quality coffee of all preparations. But did you know there are off-menu drinks that may satisfy espresso longings you didn't even know you had? We love the Gaspar, a 5.5-ounce mix of espresso and velvety steamed milk. There’s also the Flat White, which is similar to a latte but smaller, and the Macchio, a skimmed espresso with a splash of hot water. 949.284.0596 :: portolacoffeelab.com
We lived on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach for nearly a year before we “discovered” this coffee shop on accident. Originally an old bookstore turned coffee roasting warehouse, Alta is now a full-scale coffee shop with all the fixings: freshly roasted coffee (tip: try the Highland Cream, a shot of espresso with sweetened whipped cream), delicious breakfasts and an entertainment calendar packed with everything from live music performances to poetry readings. 949.675.0233 :: altacoffeeshop.com
San Diego may be the hotbed for microbrews, but Rancho Santa Margarita’s very own Cismontane Brewing Company is helping to give OC some beer cred of its own. Stop by the tasting room for a sample of their core brews, plus anything seasonal they may have on tap. Additionally, beginning Wednesday, November 13, Cismontane Brewery will take over all eight of Pizzeria Ortica's beer taps for the duration of the week. Menu items, beer pairings and tap takeover pours are TBD. 949.888.2739 :: cismontanebrewing.com
714.445.4900 :: pizzeriaortica.com
Drunken Udder Ice Cream
To put it bluntly, we weren’t that excited about alcohol-infused ice cream. Dairy plus booze plus sugar didn’t sound like the best idea ever – but we were wrong. Very wrong. One taste of the Fertreuse, a combo of Fernet and Chartreuse, and we were instant converts.
Café del Sol
It’s a short walk from Trestles. Service is fast and casual. We think about their Works taco at inopportune times. We plan road trips around picking up one of their acai bowls. And we will drive 20-plus miles to feast on a torta. Can’t find it? Follow the surfers.
Parking at South Coast Plaza
Instead of circling around, head to the north parking structure between Nordstrom and Sears, go up to the top, entrance is by Marche Moderne. You can even charge your electric car here.
Black Gold Golf Club
Sure, some golf courses have ocean views to die for and big name designers who mulled over every fairway, but do they have Taco Tuesday? No? Then you may want to consider booking a tee time at Black Gold Golf Club in Yorba Linda, where they have their priorities straight: gorgeous scenery, reasonable fees, a great course, and, of course, Taco Tuesday. 714.961.0060 :: blackgoldgolf.com
San Onofre State Beach
San Onofre Bluffs is a known surf spot, but for the non-surfing-inclined, the area is also a treasure trove of coastal OC exploration. Six rugged trails wind down to the beach below, varying in difficulty and length, all ending at the beach below. Camping is allowed. In the off-season, it will seem like your own private beach. :: parks.ca.gov
You either love this place or you don’t – and either way, Jean-Paul, the proprietor of Jean-Paul’s Goodies in Laguna Beach, is fine with it. Affectionately known as the “coffee Nazi” who will scoff (or maybe even yell) at you in his very French way if he so much as thinks you may order something other than an espresso or café au lait (or, heaven forbid, utter anything related to Starbucks), Jean-Paul has gained a loyal local following that flocks to his über-Euro shop for all manner of French delicacies, including sweet and savory pastries, cheeses and select imported grocery items. If you’re willing to suffer the textbook French condescension – my most recent exchange with him went something like this: Q: “Are those pears on that tarte?” A: “If it looks like a pear, those are pears” – you will be amply rewarded; his coffee is delicious and his pastries divine. Plenty have decided it’s worth the abuse. :: 949.494.7832
It’s not just that The Corner has excellent food that exceeds all expectations, it’s that the Huntington Beach restaurant is a place we find ourselves wanting to go back to over and over again. Innovative cocktails; a casual, chef-driven atmosphere; and a constantly changing menu that feels like it’s always comprised of your favorites are part of the allure – the rest is all magic.
714.968.6800 :: thecornerhb.com
Crowds come in droves in the summer to see the work of Laguna Beach arts and crafters at the Sawdust Festival. A better idea? Go in the winter. While it’s lesser known, the Winter Fantasy festival exhibits the work of over 175 artists, who sell everything from jewelry to woodwork to blown glass, photography, and much more. Christmas shopping: complete. Winter Fantasy runs from November 23 through December 15.
949.494.3030 :: sawdustartfestival.org
Irvine: Nature Abounds!
More than 40,000 acres has been preserved at the Irvine Ranch, which stretches from Anaheim down to the coast in Laguna Beach. Landmarks such as the 5,500-acre Limestone Canyon have been called a “miniature Grand Canyon,” and a variety of wildlife, including eagles, mountain lions, rare birds, and badgers make this preserved area a hot spot for biodiversity. A variety of programs and activities are available, such as hiking, bird- and butterfly-watching, farm harvests and maintenance, yoga, BYOH (bring your own horse) equestrian rides, habitat restoration, and much more. Almost all activities are free. :: letsgooutside.org
Look past all the construction in Irvine and you’ll find Tanaka Farms, a green refuge in a sea of development. The 30-acre farm grows organic fruits and vegetables that are sold at its produce stand, and also offers CSA (community supported agriculture) programs for weekly or bi-weekly pick-up. During the month of October, the pumpkin patch is open, where kids can go on a wagon ride, visit with animals in the petting zoo, pick a pumpkin, and find their way around the corn maze. Open every day until 5 p.m.
949.653.2100 :: tanakafarms.com
San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
Home to the Sea & Sage Audubon Society, this wildlife sanctuary in the heart of Irvine is home to a bevy of birds – great blue heron, osprey, egrets, hummingbirds, swallows, and mallards – as well as the long-tailed weasel and cottontail rabbits. In the winter, be on the lookout for 10 or more species of ducks and geese, which have arrived after their migration from northern breeding grounds. If you go in the summer, make sure to book a spot on one of the bat walks. Sign ups begin in March. 949.261.7963 :: seaandsageaudubon.org
Unexpected Al Fresco
Lovely restaurant patios with ocean views are de rigueur in OC, along with less lovely long lines to get a table. But there are also lesser-known outdoor refuges, places to pause while shopping or exploring. These are a few of our favorite no-view verandas and out-of-the-way decks in unexpected places.
The outdoor tables in Fashion Island have views of the parking garage and the recently remodeled big Bloomingdale’s wall, but still provides an escape from the sports- and beer-fueled frenzy inside. :: yardhouse.com
The bistro across from Segerstrom Center added a micro patio this year, and though it’s right on a busy street it’s the perfect place for pre-theater cocktails. :: silvertrumpetrestaurant.com
Wahoo’s Fish Taco and Linx
Downtown Orange is a busy place, packed with pedestrians and parking space-hungry drivers confused by the traffic circle. The newish patio shared by fish taco favorite and the new gourmet sausage spot is the top patio near the plaza.
wahoos.com :: linxdogs.com
Oak Creek Café
The suburban Oak Creek Golf Course in Irvine is a far cry from Pelican Hill, but the café with a few outdoor tables is a relaxing and bucolic place for Sunday brunch.
Classes at Orange Coast College
Looking to hone your cartoon-drawing skills? There’s a class for that at Orange Coast College. In fact, there’s a class for almost every interest you may have. Browse the college’s 238-page 2013-2014 Course Catalog for inspiration.
Our Top 10
1. Cartooning (cartoon-drawing)
2. Helicopter Maintenance
3. Industrial Sewing Techniques
4. Public Speaking
5. Development and Understanding Happiness
6. Flamenco Dance
8. Family History and Genealogy
9. History of Rock Music
10. Principles of Baking
* Some courses may require pre-requisites. Consult the OCC catalog for more information.
Black Market Bakery
By now, Black Market Bakery’s secret is out: Their new, shiny digs at The CAMP in Costa Mesa have completely blown the lid off their insiders-only status – and rightly so. There’s no reason their apricot-ginger scone should be kept a secret. But what bakery-goers may not know is that Black Market has some of the tastiest and most affordable cakes for special events we’ve ever come across. Flavors like Youthful Crush, which layers vanilla buttermilk cake and Italian meringue buttercream with crushed berries, and the Metropolis, with chocolate and vanilla cake flavored with coffee extract and frosted with chocolate-caramel buttercream, are divine. The price? Two-tiered cakes start at $49, and three tiers goes up to $99. It almost seems wrong, but it’s so right. 714.662.3095 :: blackmarketbakery.com
Ramen houses are on the rise, and there’s no better in OC than Fountain Valley’s Shin-Sen-Gumi. Prepare for a boisterous atmosphere and a potentially long-ish wait. But what’s 30 minutes of waiting outside when the reward is steaming broth, toothy noodles and slices of flavorful pork?
714.962.8971 :: shinsengumigroup.com
If you’ve paddle-boarded, swam and canoed through Newport Harbor and are looking for a more luxurious harbor experience, consider renting a boat from Newport Pontoons. It’s comfortable and spacious and – get this – they do wine cruises: two hours chaperoned by a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain with 10 of your closest friends and plenty of wine to go around. What could go wrong? 949.631.3333 :: newportpontoons.com
Dory Fleet Fish Market
The Dory fisherman are an Orange County institution, whose fleet go out every day between midnight and 2 a.m., returning with the day’s catch. The Dory Fleet Fish Market is where you’ll find this daily sea harvest, which can comprise of everything from mussels to rock crab, spiny lobster, spot prawns, and sea urchin. Lobster season starts the first weekend in October. The market is located north of the Newport Pier off Balboa Boulevard.
Three words: floating fish shack. Pearson’s, which is located under the bridge on PCH that crosses over Newport Bay and opened in 1971, sells the freshest locally caught fish, which includes swordfish, tilapia, octopus, squid, scallops, white sea bass, and halibut, depending on what’s in season. :: 949.675.6771