Stunning Spots in Orange County, California You Never Knew

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.

Noguchi Garden

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.

Best Hidden Places to Visit in Prague, Czech

This post is all about Prague. A city so choc-a-bloc full of history, picture perfect architecture and arts and culture that it’s become a very popular spot for visitors from all around the world. Here, I want to talk more about the hidden parts of Prague. Places that are so tucked away you would never find them, or they’re hidden in plain sight such that you could just stroll by without even realizing it.

Don’t get me wrong though, some of the more popular spots in Prague are definitely worth visiting too. So before getting into hidden Prague, there are just a few I want to mention. Of course, there’s the main square in the center of town with buildings so colorful and gorgeous. Just don’t forget to bring your digital cameras,  so you can take a bazillion photos without running out of film. Prague is so photogenic that it could easily bankrupt you or, me at least, if I had a film camera.

The astronomical clock is nearby the square and it serves as a good reminder that even though Prague has narrow alleyways and cathedrals and that well preserved skyline might seem frozen in time, the city is very much still ticking. The clock has been measuring the passing of time since 1410. The clock measures time in more ways than one – not only does it track the hour, it also has a calendar that notes the days of the week, the month and the year as well as a zodiac ring that shows the path of the sun and moon through the sky.

To see the clock in all its glory, don’t miss seeing it strike the hour when you’ll get to see a little show. And the marking of time is a major theme in Prague because they also have an enormous metronome installed on the other side of the river. It’s 23 meters tall. So big that you can see it swing dutifully back and forth from quite a distance. The location of the metronome is also significant because it’s where a statue of Stalin used to stand watch over the city. Now the metronome serves as a clear reminder of Prague’s not-so-distant history and the enormous change that time can bring.

The nearby Charles Bridge is one of the most iconic sites in Prague and there’s very good reason. It’s over 500 meters long and it’s been bridging the river since its construction finished in 1402. The bridge tower used to display severed heads during a particularly violent bohemian uprising in 1621.

Across the bridge across from the old town is Prague Castle, which I enjoyed because it’s a gigantic complex of buildings and laneways. When you’re here, it makes it easy to believe you’ve stepped back in the long history of the castle. It’s the largest ancient castle in the entire world and the best part to me is that you can walk around the grounds for free without buying an entry ticket. It’s also a fantastic place to get an amazing view of the old town on the opposite side of the river.

Those are a handful of some of my favorite well-known spots in Prague and I just couldn’t make a post about the city without at least giving them a quick mention. So now onto the more hidden spots that don’t get as much attention, some of which you can literally stare at on the street without anyone else taking notice.

The first spot is for all my fellow book lovers and bibliophiles. If you’re like me and jump at the chance to visit bookstores and libraries, then this is perfect. It’s a giant tunnel made of 8000 books located inside the front entrance of the Prague Municipal Library. The tunnel measure more than 5 meters high and 2 in diameter. But the best part is that because of two mirrors installed on either end, when you look inside it appears that the tunnel is infinite. You can look up and down and all you see is this glorious tunnel of books. I can just imagine falling down like Alice in Wonderland and arriving in a new world that you can only reach through the pages of a good book.

Speaking of books, Prague is a city full of salutes to Franz Kafka who was born there and one of the absolute best is a moving sculpture of Kafka’s head that looms large at 11 meters tall. The head is made up of 42 layers that move around and around and around until they briefly reveal the proper physical form of Kafka’s head before breaking up again. This is one of my favorite installations I’ve ever seen. It’s instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever felt like their mind is spinning around torn to pieces like this and I think it’s a very fitting tribute to Kafka and his inner torment.

Outside the Franz Kafka Museum tucked into a cute little courtyard, you’ll find another animated sculpture. This one keeps a sense of humor and it’s a little controversial. It’s a fountain of two men made out of bronze holding their penny whistles, which spout a constant stream of pee. The statues swivel and the stream of pee is actually programmed to write out Czech literary quotes. You can interrupt the quotes, however, if you’d like by texting a number that goes straight to the fountain and instructs the statues to spell out your text message. And you might think that the controversy comes from statues peeing out messages but it’s actually more about the shape of the fountain basin itself. It’s shaped like a map of the Czech Republic, which means that those men are peeing on the country itself.

This is not the only mocking art you’ll find in Prague either. Another excellent example is hidden in a passageway of the Lucerna Palace. Prague is full of these passageways where you’ll find shops and places to eat and they’re worth exploring because you might find a gem like this. It’s a man proudly riding an upside down dead horse hanging from the ceiling. It’s a completely ridiculous and very provocative image that pokes fun at a famous statue of King Wenceslas in nearby Wenceslas Square.

The same artist is responsible for something so hidden that I stood on the street looking up at it and nobody else stopped. It’s a sculpture of Sigmund Freud hanging off of a long pole dangling above a busy street. It’s very lifelike and it’s quite disconcerting to see because at first you think it’s a real person. I saw it at night which made it extra difficult to spot but it’s a fun feeling to stand in a crowd and see something no one else takes notice of.

Prague is full of narrow streets but I found one so small that a traffic light has been installed to direct foot traffic. The passageway leads down to a restaurant and there’s only enough space for one direction to walk at a time. You press a button like a crosswalk and wait for the light to turn from red to green. It’s definitely not the easiest for moms with carriages or dads carrying the kids behind the carriages. I thought it was really fun and it’s got to be one of Prague’s cheapest thrills.

Not too far away in a nondescript street is the Lennon Wall, which has been a place for Beatles-inspired graffiti since the first image of John Lennon was painted after his death in 1980. The police tried to whitewash it many times but people just kept coming back. And now it’s a place for graffiti of peace, love and lyrics. You’ll find candles along the wall, people taking selfies with it, or asking people like me to take a photo for them and musicians playing.

If you’re in Prague and want a souvenir that’s unique and cool and made in the Czech Republic, then you need to go to Botas 66 for a pair of sneakers. The walls are covered in yellow boxes and it would be easy to walk by the shop without knowing the history behind these Czech shoes. Botas was a sport shoe brand in Czechoslovakia that created an iconic sneaker in 1966 called the Botas Classic, hence the name of the store, Botas 66. The shoes got a reboot in 2008 by two designers who wanted to bring back the shoes and make them over into cool streetwear. They’re super popular now and come in all sorts of designs and colors. It’s definitely a unique piece of history that you can take home on your feet.

I hope you enjoyed this tour around Prague and some of its more hidden nooks and crannies. I’d love to hear what your favorite places in Prague are. And if you happen to know of any more of Prague’s secret gems that you don’t mind sharing, that would be amazing so please make sure to leave a comment.