When Temperatures Drop the Fun Heats Up in Orange County

Enjoy the Great Outdoors this Winter with Whale Watching, Polar-style Plunges and More

Orange County is aglow with sunshine, sandy beaches and outdoor activities that people in other parts of the country only dream of this time of year. The OC is the winter destination that welcomes you in shorts and flip flops but surprises you with more than just sun and sand. From seafaring excursions and ocean plunges to art walks and lessons in local history, here are the not to miss winter activities you can only find in Orange County.


Join the Holiday Hangout at Irvine Spectrum, a Moorish-designed outdoor lifestyle center brimming with shops, restaurants and entertainment. Beneath the giant Ferris wheel is the center’s seasonal ice skating rink featuring Theme Thursdays where skaters are encouraged to come dressed in the weekly theme to receive $5 off. The fun takes place every Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Themes include Star Wars Night, Ugly Holiday Sweater and New Year’s Sparkle. The ice rink is open through January 16.

Buena Park

Thrillseekers get a rush out of all that Buena Park has to offer. There are the hair-raising roller coaster rides that Knott’s Berry Farm is known for along with interactive dinner shows at Medieval Times, Teatro Martini and Pirates Dinner Adventure. But long before Walter Knott introduced the boysenberry at his sprawling farm, Buena Park, originally dubbed Plaza Buena (Good Park) by local settlers, was part of a large land grant from the King of Spain. Modern-day travelers can journey back in time by taking a free tour of the city’s Historic District featuring several preserved buildings dating back to the 1800s. Among the treasures is the Whitaker-Jaynes House which is now a historic museum, and one of Orange County’s oldest surviving buildings, the 1884 Bacon House as well as the Tice House and the Stage Stop Hotel.

Costa Mesa

Celebrating its fifth year is Winter Fest, held at the OC Fair & Event Center and featuring an array of dining and shopping as well as a petting zoo and more. Guests of all ages can glide across the ice at the Ice Skating Trail complete with a pair of interactive islands or do some ice tubing down a 150-foot, nine-lane slide. Winter Fest After Dark, which starts at 6:00 p.m., features live music, dancing and drink specials. The fun continues through January 5.

Newport Beach

Coastal Orange County is a playground for marine life with a menagerie of sea creatures frolicking just off the coast. One of the best vantages to get up-close and personal with sea life is on a winter whale-watching cruise. Winter is when these magnificent creatures make their journey from the chilly waters of Alaska to the warm seas of Baja, California, via the California coast. The mild Mexican climate is ripe for mating, giving birth and preparing their bodies for the long trek back north. There are several local companies in Newport Beach offering daily excursions for spotting whales and other marine life, such as schools of dolphins. Landlubbers can also take a seat on the beach, grab a pair of binoculars and scan the waters for marine life as well.

Laguna Beach

For more than a century artists have been drawn to the beauty of Laguna Beach with Plein air artists perched atop seaside bluffs putting brush to easel. Visitors can immerse themselves in the city’s art scene during First Thursdays Art Walk. For more than 20 years, this free monthly event, which takes place on the first Thursday of the month from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., includes more than three-dozen galleries with an open house-style setting featuring artist receptions, demonstrations, live music and refreshments. The Laguna Art Museum, known for its collection of California art, offers free admission during First Thursday Art Walk. A complimentary shuttle service is also available and links the participating galleries.

Huntington Beach

Take the plunge on New Year’s Day during the Surf City Splash, an annual ritual to usher in the new year and to help raise funds for the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. Participants must wear a swimsuit (wetsuits are considered cheating) and can enjoy a pancake breakfast before making a mad dash towards the pounding surf. Afterward, plungers can take refuge at the nearby Surf City Stillworks, Huntington Beach’s one and only distillery, offering tastings and cocktailing classes along with whimsically-named spirits, such as Shorebreak Vodka and Pierside Rum.

Orange County also offers an abundance of accommodations, from five-star coastal resorts to family-friendly and budget-friendly hotels and inns. John Wayne International Airport (SNA) serves the entire region and is centrally located just off the 405 Freeway near the 55 Freeway interchange.