Refreshingly cool and with enviable amenities, Orange County is the newest playground for mixed groups and families to easily get away from it all.
With its postcard-worthy harbors and city comforts, Orange County is a chic, yet beachy paradise - with some fantastic new amenities that have sealed the deal on its becoming a new hot spot for a fun, quick getaway. It's got retro cool spots like the Newport Beach's Balboa Fun Zone and boardwalk at the Pier, plus family favorites like Irvine's Adventure Playground and Spectrum Center mall, which is extra sparkly thanks to a working Ferris Wheel ride, the Big Wheel. Nearby, Boomers! amusement park also offers an array and kid-friendly activities, from go karts to mini golf, games and water slides. So if you're looking for a good spot for a family trip - or just an activity-packed weekend for those of us who are kids at heart, take a look at the "new" Orange County.
Since I'm a girl who loves to eat, I have to start with Tackle Box and Oak Grill. Tackle Box is a casual beach joint in Corona del Mar run by Top Chef's ultra-cool Brian Huskey. I still dream of their breakfast sandwich. Oak Grill at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach, offers yummy food and drinks on a beautiful patio that's been re-done in the past few years. I could linger there for hours.
For vacationers looking for a place to lay their heads, few of its hotels are as "quintessential California cool" as the new Hotel Irvine. A remodel of an older property, Hotel Irvine is now a colorful resort that pairs chic, comfy rooms with a host of enviable extras that make for some seamless trip-planning. Seasonal activities take some stress out of entertaining - summer boasted movie nights with bbq, popcorn, and wine.
Guests can also take advantage of Club 12, a VIP-style concierge service that's worth the small upgrade fee. The best perk: a daily roof-top wine and cheese happy hour. Speaking of chowing down, there's enough amazing food (thank chef Jason Montelibano) so that you'll never need to leave (although if you're in Orange County, you had better get down to the harbor!). My favorite was all-day EATS, a modern gastropub, where I had the most delicious spicy egg and veggie breakfast, which I've now dubbed literally my ideal breakfast. (At night, don't miss the house-made gnocchi and sauce with a wine flight).
Oh, and Hotel Irvine has adopted a "mini-bar" (or lack thereof) system that I can only dream of spreading to the rest of my favorite hotels. Instead of offering a mini-bar full of things I never want, and thus having zero fridge space for the stuff I do want, Hotel Irvine welcomes you with a fabulous 24-hour, lobby level Marketplace. The prices were half of what you'd pay to rob a mini-bar in most hotels, and the stylish market sold everything from wines and locally sourced snacks to salads and hot entrees to go--perfect for stocking up your room's empty mini fridge.
When you drag yourself out of the hotel, go straight to Newport Harbor Marina and its famous Duffy Boats. I have yet to drive one myself (it was explained to me that it's as easy as driving a golf cart), or take a tour with a company such as Duffy Electric Boat Tour, which leave every two hours. The boats are totally chill and comfortable for travelers of all ages, and provide for a beautiful afternoon out on the water--plus it's an unforgettable and efficient way to see the city. Make sure there's bubbly and yummy snacks onboard, then relax for a day on the water.
Ready, set, sail.