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Your guide to Orange County: More than amusement parks

UPDATED: Tue., March 26, 2019

 (Photo by Mark Rightmire/Orange County Register)
(Photo by Mark Rightmire/Orange County Register)

Awesome eats at Anaheim Packing District

It’s a throwback to when oranges actually ruled Orange County.

But the Anaheim Packing District isn’t a museum. It’s one of the coolest places to eat in the region. It just happens to be where Sunkist used to pack oranges.

Now it’s one of the coolest food halls in the nation.

The options are almost endless. When you’re done eating, head to Popbar for delicious homemade gelato on a stick. Or maybe you’re looking for something a little sneakier? There’s a hidden speakeasy somewhere in there. If you’re thirsty enough, you’ll find it.

440 S. Anaheim Blvd.

Anaheim, Calif., 92805

Shopping meccas: The Outlets at Orange, South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island

The Outlets isn’t what you’re expecting. It’s not really named correctly. The highlight is the home of Orange County’s own Vans store and skatepark.

The skatepark is something to see – a 20,000-square-foot indoor concrete and wood street course – with a separate area for beginners. For those of us who aren’t inclined to put on a helmet and pads and hop on a board, there is a viewing area to take it all in. That’s fun, too.

The Outlets at Orange

20 City Blvd. W.

Orange, Calif., 92868

South Coast Plaza is where you shop when you’re not really worried about cost, as in that if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it. Think Bloomingdale’s, Cartier, Harry Winston, Christian Louboutin, for starters.

Even if you can’t afford it, it’s still a blast to go. One of the best places to go people-watching anywhere in Orange County … and that’s really saying something in a place loaded with beaches and theme parks.

South Coast Plaza

3333 Bristol St.

Costa Mesa, Calif., 92626

Fashion Island also has lots of high-end shopping, only in a magnificent outdoor setting. This is your best chance for a “The Real Housewives of Orange County” sighting.

Fashion Island

401 Newport Center Dr.

Newport Beach, Calif., 92660

The center rotunda at the South Coast Plaza is circular in theme and form. ( MICHAEL GOULDING / RANGE COUNTY REGISTER)
The center rotunda at the South Coast Plaza is circular in theme and form. ( MICHAEL GOULDING / RANGE COUNTY REGISTER)

Wait, wasn’t that something else?

If you’re in Anaheim, Garden Grove isn’t far away. In fact, chances are you won’t even know you’ve left Anaheim.

And going to see the Diocese of Orange Christ Cathedral probably doesn’t seem like something to do.

Hello! Gonzaga. Don’t forget this is a religious school. Plus, this doesn’t look like the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in Spokane. It’s a whole lot sparklier.

It was once known as the home for the Rev. Robert Schuller and his “Hour of Power” television evangelization, it was purchased by the Diocese of Orange in 2012.

There are self-guided and docent tours available of the 34-acre grounds. They typically last 30 to 45 minutes. It offers mass at a variety of times on the weekends in English, Vietnamese, Chinese and Spanish.

Interestingly enough, the place has the nicest and most glamorous bathrooms you’ve ever seen. I may or may not have visited them many times on my long walks around the area.

13280 Chapman Ave.

Garden Grove, Calif., 92840

Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove is photographed  June 29.  (Paul Bersebach / Orange County Register)
Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove is photographed June 29. (Paul Bersebach / Orange County Register)

The beaches and ocean

Some of the world’s most-famous beaches are in Orange County.

I’m not about to start a holy war and tell you which are the best, but here are four good ones.

Huntington Beach is known as “Surf City, USA” and is the home to the U.S. Open of Surfing. With its beautiful pier, the beach looks exactly like you hope it will: filled with volleyball players, joggers and sunbathers. It’s been named the best beach in the world numerous times by numerous publications.

Then there’s Laguna Beach. It’s basically an Instagrammer’s paradise. You won’t believe how beautiful it is. The area also is home to one of the area’s great downtown shopping areas.

Newport Beach. Yep. It’s real. High-end, beachfront dining. Waterfront shopping. Whale-watching tours. Beach bonfires. And more yachts than you see over at Coeur d’Alene. OK, maybe that’s not the best comparison, but it’s really something to see.

Balboa Beach is a little more laid back but also is home to The Wedge, the intense shorebreak that draws lots and lots of bodysurfers.

So much more

Knott’s Berry Farm. America’s first theme park is still one of the best non-Disney, non-Universal theme parks in the world. And home to the Boysenberry.

Then there’s Little Saigon. And if you love American history, a visit to the Nixon Presidential Library is absolutely worth your time.

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