Orange County

Laguna Beach, Orange County by CC user gocardusa on Flickr

Introduction

When one flies into the Greater Los Angeles Area, the first reaction of many is sheer disbelief at the extent of the sprawl that comprises the smaller cities and suburbs that radiates outward from downtown L.A., as far as the eye can see.

Much of this territory sits in Orange County, where three million people live in more than twenty cities over 948 square miles. This portion of Southern California is home to some of America’s best known tourism attractions, surfing beaches, and its wealthiest citizens. If you want to embrace the lifestyle of this portion of the country, there are few places that are better than this corner of the Golden State.

Mission San Juan Capistrano by CC user rheinitz on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

To get a taste of the Spanish heritage that this portion of California holds, pay a visit to Mission San Juan Capistrano, whose ruins sits among the gorgeous flowers and vegetation that are commonplace across Southern California.

Founded by Catholic missionary priests from Spain in the latter part of the 18th century, the land around this religious outpost came to be very popular among the local indigenous people, with the population of the community around this church growing from 770 in 1790, to over 1,000 more than six years later.

While the mission withstood earthquakes and raids by pirates over the years, it couldn’t recover from the laws of the newly formed republic of Mexico, which sought to abolish the mission system by confiscating their assets.

After government agents carried out their work, the missionaries all but left their land, leaving the locals to plunder the building for construction materials. The 20th century have seen some retrofits to the property, giving you an idea of what it was like back in its heyday.

California was home to one of the most controversial American presidents in the 20th century, with Yorba Linda playing host to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. It is situated where President Nixon was born and raised, and it is on the grounds of this property where he is taking his eternal slumber.

Aside from containing the usual assortment from the former president’s personal and professional life, this institution also contains a number of bronze busts of world leaders which he interacted with during the course of his presidency, the limo he rode in, as well as the Sea King helicopter that he used to fly from the White House to Camp David.

Those that have have a love for theater and other performing arts will want to take in a show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts during their visit to Orange County. Ballets, Broadway shows and musicals all headline here throughout the year, and it is home to three classical musical groups: the Pacific Symphony, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the Pacific Chorale.

Huntington Beach by CC user sneddon on Flickr

Other Attractions

While there are a number of cultural highlights in Orange County, the vast majority of visitors that base themselves here want to enjoy the nationally famous theme parks that make their home in this portion of Southern California.

The best known of these is Disneyland, which was the theme park that changed how major amusement facilities would be conceived and built in the years thereafter. Created by Walt Disney in the 1950’s to serve as a park themed after the creations coming out of his highly successful animation studio in Burbank, it soon became one of the most popular amusement parks in the world.

With eight segments that possess thrilling rides, live shows, and opportunities to interact with characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck among others, it has retained its appeal over the years, ranking as the third most visited theme park in the world in 2013.

If you have been drawn to Southern California to explore the glamorous lifestyle of this part of the country, then a trip to Huntington Beach is in order, as it is the epicenter of Californian surf culture in the state.

In addition to watching skilled riders carve up the waves with the precision of a surgeon, lovers of this sport will want to check out the International Surfing Museum, which contains tons of classic boards and background of some of the legends of the genre, as well as the Surfing Walk of Fame, which physically honors these pioneers.

If the idea of going to an aquarium puts you into an internal moral dilemma that you have trouble reconciling, going to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center is a guilt free way to interact with sea lions that are in varying stages of recovery from injuries incurred in the wild. Once these creatures are healed, they are introduced back into their native environment instead of being made into an attraction in captivity.

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