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Orange County Drive Tour
A Week-Long Southern California Road Trip
After an unforgettable Disneyland visit, take Highway 1 to coastal communities like Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Balboa Island – and check out Knott's Berry Farm, Movieland Wax Museum, and Medieval Times. Enjoy more seaside towns like Laguna Beach, Oceanside, and Carlsbad, plus SoCal cities like Escondido, Temecula, and Riverside.
Day 1 & 2: DISNEYLAND
To see and enjoy Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure Park, off I-5 and Harbor Blvd, plan for at least two days. There are admission options for single or multiple days at Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure Park. Tickets are available from Disneyland Guest Relations, P.O. Box 3232, Anaheim, 92803, (714) 781-4636.
If going more than one day, you save money with multi-day tickets or Park Hoppers. Guided tours are also available. The parks are open year-round but their hours vary according to season. Call or check online for hours.
Day 3: HUNTINGTON BEACH / NEWPORT BEACH
From I-405 south in the Westminster area, take Bolsa Chica Avenue to Highway 1 for Bolsa Chica and Huntington state beaches. The two are connected by a bike trail giving you five miles of beautiful public beach area to enjoy. The International Surfing Museum at 411 Olive Street, (714) 960-3483, tells the California surfing story. The Huntington Pier is directly across from Main Street. Built in 1904 for drilling oil, it has been rebuilt four times after storms demolished it. There are neat shops along the beachfront.
The Newland House Museum, 19820 Beach Blvd, (714) 962-5777, with its 1898 farmhouse and barn reflects life here in the 19th century. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Go south on Highway 1 into Newport Beach, Balboa Peninsula, and Balboa Island. Taking Balboa Blvd. off Highway 1 brings you to Balboa Peninsula. The Newport Pier was built in 1888 and is a great family fun place.
At the end of the peninsula is Balboa Pavilion, 400 Main St, built in 1904 and a favorite big band dance site during the 1940s. Catalina Passenger Service/Pavilion Paddy Cruises will take you on a 45 minute tour around the ritzy area of the rich and the famous. The tours run mostly year round and Sunday brunch is usually available in every season. Here you can take 45 and 90-minute harbor cruises on the Pavilion Queen and Pavilion Paddy, 949-673-5245. You can ride the vintage Balboa Island Ferry, (949) 673-1070, from here to Balboa Island. Return to Newport Blvd and take it to Highway 1, then south to Newport Center Dr. and Fashion Island, one of the area’s largest shopping complexes.
The Newport Harbor Art Museum, 850 San Clemente Dr, (949) 759-1122, with an outstanding collection of California art since WWII, is on northwest corner of Fashion Island. Round out the day by taking 55 (Costa Mesa Freeway) north to I-405 and follow it north to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center, off Bristol and I-405. The surrounding sculpture gardens include the highly acclaimed California Scenario by Noguchi. Across Bristol is the South Coast Plaza, another shopping paradise.
There are many great restaurants in Orange County. Ask your Best Western host for suggestions. On the weekend, enjoy the 1,500 booths at the Orange County Market Place, (flea market), (714) 751-3247, Orange County Fair Grounds, Fairview and Arlington Drive, southwest of the 55 and 73 interchange.
Day 4: KNOTTS BERRY FARM
Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., off I-5 & Beach Blvd. in Buena Park, (714) 220-5200, was the first theme park in southern California and the U.S. It began as a roadside fruit stand in the 1920s. The atmosphere is pure fun; the rides and quality entertainment have the Old Western touch.
Open year-round, call for hours of operation. One block north is the Movieland Wax Museum, 7711 Beach Blvd., (714) 522-1154, where over 292 lifelike wax figures of movie and televisions stars are on display in familiar stage settings. Across Beach Blvd, at 7662, is the uniquely entertaining Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament Castle, (866) 543-9637, where you can watch authentically recreated medieval tournament competition while dining on a four-course meal.
Day 5: LAGUNA BEACH / DANA POINT / SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
Head for Chapman Avenue where it crosses 57, Orange Freeway, to see the Angel Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 2000 Gene Autry Way, (714) 940-2000. You can get on Chapman from 55, Costa Mesa Freeway or I-5, Santa Anna Freeway. Continue west on Chapman to the Crystal Cathedral, corner of Lewis and Chapman in Garden Grove, (714) 971-4013. Under the leadership of Dr. Robert H. Schuller, noted author, television minister and motivational speaker. Crystal Cathedral is a unique congregation with a uniquely designed church building. Guided tours available daily.
Return to I-5 and head south to Main Street exit in Santa Ana and the Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main, (714) 567-3600. Housed in a beautiful mission-style facility, it is the largest museum in Orange County and features Native American, African, Pre-Columbian and Oceanic art collectiocns. The Santa Ana Zoo, 1801 E. Chestnut Avenue, (714) 647-6575, with an excellent collection of primates and tropical birds is right on I-5 at 1st Street. From I-5 in Santa Ana, take 55 south to 73, Corona Del Mar Freeway and follow it to Laguna Beach and pick up 1 south. The Laguna Beach Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, (949) 494-6531, is the county’s oldest, having begun in 1918.
North of the museum is Heisler Park, with unrestricted views of the rugged coastline. Continue on 1 south to Dana Point. Visit the Orange County Marine Institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, (949) 496-2274, to get a feel of the history of the town and its connection with Richard Henry Dana. The Dana Point Lighthouse, 24532 Del Prado, (714) 661-1001, is an intriguing museum with 18th and 19th century ship models, artifacts, and documents along with a 145 foot long replica of the Californian Tallship. Take Del Obispo north off 1 to Los Rios Street. Turn left for the Los Rios Historic District, which includes the O’Neill Museum, 31831 Los Rios, (949) 493-8444, and the Rios and Montanez Adobe houses. Pick up a walking tour map of the adobes in the area.
Check out the restored 1895 Spanish-style Capistrano Depot, 26701 Verdugo Street, that is still used by Amtrak. On the adjacent corner is the Mission San Juan Capistrano, Capistrano & Ortega Highway, open daily, call for hours of operation, (949) 234-1300, the 7th and most likely best known of the California missions.
Founded by Padre Serra in 1776, the mission became known as the “Jewel of the Missions.” Started in 1797 and completed in 1806, the Church stood only six years before being devastated by the 1812 earthquake. The remaining ruins have been preserved and stabilized through modern engineering techniques. Father Serra’s Chapel, the oldest building still in use in California was built in 1777 and houses the magnificent baroque “Golden Altar” which is over 350 years old. The mission is best known for the Swallows that faithfully return annually from nesting grounds in Argentina.
Day 6: SAN CLEMENTE / OCEANSIDE / CARLSBAD / ESCONDIDO
Depart on I-5 south to San Clemente. The late President Richard Nixon brought notoriety here by making a 25-acre enclave overlooking the ocean for his Western White House. San Clemente State Beach, (949) 492-3156, is off I-5 & Avenida Calafia exit. Continuing south on I-5 you pass through Camp Pendleton, a major U.S. Marine Corps basic training base, into Oceanside. Oceanside Beach is considered by surfers to be the world’s best.
Take Highway 76 east for five miles to San Luis Rey De Francia Mission, 4050 Mission Avenue, (760) 757-3651. It was the 18th in the chain and one of the largest facilities of the Roman Catholic Church in North America. Became known as the “King of the Missions,” it connected San Juan Capistrano with San Diego. Opened year-round, call for hours of operation. Among its prized collection of artifacts are old Spanish vestments and a padre’s hat and walking stick from the mission era.
On I-5, head to Carlsbad, “The Village by the Sea” and a major center for commercial flower growing… and great golf courses. From March through May or late November through December, don’t miss the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, (760) 431-0352. They are located east of I-5 at the Palomar Airport Road. Along the harbor, take in the great beaches, sidewalk cafes, seaside promenade, and historic district. The Visitor Center in the historic 1887 Santa Fe Depot, 400 Carlsbad Village Dr, (760) 434-6093 or (800) 227-5722, has information. Shopping galore at Carlsbad Premium Outlets, 5620 Paseo del Norte, (760) 804-9000. LEGOLAND Park, (760) 438-LEGO, now open daily.
Also check out the Alt Karlsbad-Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, (760) 434-1887. Take 78 east to I-15 and Escondido. Visit the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historical Park and Visitor Center, eight miles east on 78, (760) 737-2201, site of a little known battle on December 6, 1846, between Mexican and American forces during the Mexican War. Visit the marvelous 1,800 acre San Diego Wild Animal Park, Via Rancho Parkway exit off I-15, (619) 231-1515, fee. A preserve for over 2,500 animals in their natural habitat, it is affiliated with the San Diego Zoo. A 50 minute monorail tour gets you up-close-and-personal with exotic species of animals. On I-15 head north to Temecula.
Stop at the Lawrence Welk Theatre Museum, 8860 Lawrence Welk Dr, (800) 932-WELK (9355) or (760) 749-3448, and relive the glory days of this popular bandleader, browsing through his memorabilia. Temecula Valley is southern California’s wine country with twelve award-winning wineries. The Chamber of Commerce, 27450 Ynez Road, #104, 92591-4649, (909) 676-5090, has winery maps. Ask your Best Western host about balloon flights over the valley. Visit the antique shops in Old Town and check out the nearby golf courses. Lake Skinner, (951) 926-1541, northeast off 79, has hiking trails and is a popular site for skiing and sailing.
Day 7: PERRIS / RIVERSIDE / CORONA
Take I-15 north to Murrieta, a hot springs area, then I-215 north to Perris and Riverside. In Perris, the Orange Empire Railway Museum, 2201 S. A Street, (951) 657-0274, is great for railroad buffs, with their historic steam engines and electric trolleys.
Further north on I-215, exit on Ramona Expressway east to Lake Perris Drive and the 8,800 acre beautiful Lake Perris State Recreational Area for boating, fishing, rock climbing and the Ya’ Heki’ Regional Indian Museum, (951) 940-5603.
Between Perris and Riverside on I-215 is the March Air Force Base Field Museum, (951) 902-5949, with an excellent display of military aircraft. The University of California-Riverside is adjacent to I-215 and 60 interchange. Visit their Museum of Photography and Botanic Gardens. (Click here for other area attractions in tour CA 17 and tour 18.) Take 91 back to Orange County.