These are the hidden gems you didn’t know existed in Orange County. From its picturesque beaches to its exhilarating theme parks, Orange County has a lot to offer whether you’re just visiting or you live in Orange County. I encourage you to check out these hidden gems that make this place even more special.
First on the list is the Noguchi Garden in Costa Mesa. In 1979, Henry Segerstrom commissioned Japanese-American landscape architect, Isamu Noguchi, to complete this outdoor sculpture garden which is sandwiched between a couple corporate high-rises across the street from South Coast Plaza. Formerly known as California Scenario, the artwork symbolizes the unique characteristics of the multi-faceted indigenous California terrain. The work highlights the Segerstrom family’s contribution to the agricultural heritage of Southern California through Lima bean farming with a large centerpiece sculpture called the spirit of the Lima Bean. The garden is open free to the public from 8 a.m. to midnight and has become a popular backdrop for photographers.
Irvine Ranch Historic Park
Number two: Irvine Ranch Historic Park in Irvine. Like the Segerstroms, the Irvine family played a vital role in Orange County’s history. Currently the site of the administrative offices for OC parks, Irvine Ranch Historic Park beautifully preserves Orange County and Irvine ranches legacy of farming and agriculture. On display are 24 original ranch structures, remnants of old farming equipment and a sprawling orange orchard. Also located on the property is the Katie Wheeler public library which replicates the 1900s Irvine family home. Once the world’s greatest producers of Valencia oranges, Irvine Ranch was at the center of Orange County’s transformation, from farming to real estate development and urban planning. The park is currently open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pirate Tower of Laguna Beach
Up next at number 3 is the Pirate Tower of Laguna Beach. Nestled into the hillside of Laguna lies Victoria Beach which in and of itself is a hidden gem in Orange County. However, just past the beach where the shoreline begins to narrow stands a beautiful tower that will make you think you’re on the shores of medieval Ireland. The story behind this glorified staircase doesn’t quite live up to its mystical name, though. It was built in 1926 for California State Senator William E. Brown from Los Angeles as a means for accessing the beach below his estate. Still, it’s pretty cool to see in person and not many people know about it.
Dana Point Arches
Number four: the Dana Point Arches in Dana Point. After developing the Hollywood Hills with a flashy new sign in 1923, developer Sidney H. Woodruff set out to develop Dana Point in 1926. Los Angeles was prepping to host the 1932 Summer Olympics and Woodruff wanted a fancy luxury hotel to host a Grand Opening Ceremony. Centrally located between San Diego and Los Angeles, the Dana Point Inn was going to be the magnum opus of Woodruff’s new Mediterranean development. Unfortunately, the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression brought construction to a screeching halt. The half-built hotel was then eventually dismantled in the 60s.
A housing boom in the 80s prompted community members to create the Dana Point Historical Society, which played a key role in preserving the hillside foundation of the hotel now called the Dana Point Arches. A massive elevator shaft was dug through the mountain in the 30s to connect to a tunnel to the beach and the exit door is still visible from Dana Point Harbor Drive today.
Lyon Air Museum
Number five: the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana. Even if you’re not an aviation enthusiast, the Lyon Air Museum is a fascinating place to spend an hour or two learning about the United States important role in shaping world history. Located on the west side of John Wayne Airport, this museum was founded by retired Major General William Lyon of the United States Air Force. It offers dozens of exhibits featuring prominent aircraft from the early days of aviation such as: the Douglas DC-3 which revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 40s, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress which once carried then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and a North American B-25 Mitchell which successfully completed the first strike on Japanese soil during World War II.
Also on display are several old automobiles and military vehicles, even a 1939 Mercedes-Benz Model G4 Touring Wagon personally used by Adolf Hitler in over Saltzburg, Berlin and Poland. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and general admission is $12 per person. A knowledgeable staff of friendly volunteer docents are on site to guide you around and answer any questions you might have.
Well, that’s it for part 1 of my hidden gems in Orange County series. I hope you get the chance to check out all of these places. But before you go, please leave a comment down below and let me know your favorite hidden gems in Orange County. I just might feature your comment and location in a follow-up post. Thanks for stopping by and remember to never stop exploring.