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The Sophisticated Side of Orange County

Take a helicopter ride, shop at world-class boutiques, and enjoy the seemingly endless bounty of this SoCal destination

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Orange County  is famous for its epic coastline and year-round sunshine, but what may not be as well-known are its world-class shopping, influential art galleries, and acclaimed restaurants. Travelers can experience the best of Orange County by building a personalized itinerary based on the recommendations below.

Get your bearings during a custom helicopter tour offered by OC Helicopters. Flights depart from John Wayne Airport (SNA) year-round, weather permitting, and fly north to south (and back) over the county’s postcard-perfect beach towns. In July and August, you have a chance of spotting the world’s largest creature, the blue whale, on its migratory path in the Pacific.

Once you’re back on terra firma, make the short drive from the airport to Costa Mesa. Some of the best shopping in the world is located in Orange County, including Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, home to more than 250 luxury boutiques and restaurants. From Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Hermès, and Harry Winston to Gucci, Fendi, and Prada, the concentration of high-fashion shops here is unparalleled—making South Coast Plaza the largest mall on the West Coast. This upscale shopping experience includes concierge services and personal shoppers who offer wardrobe consultations.

After a day of shopping, enjoy a meal at one of the hottest restaurants in Orange County, Vaca, specializing in Spanish cuisine with some unexpected Japanese twists. Chef Amar Santana may be familiar from his turn on Top Chef.

Further west, Newport Beach is one of Orange County’s culinary hot spots. At Royal Hen, gastropub fare gets a California-meets-France approach. Don’t miss the hanger steak tacos and craft ale fish & chips. The Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens, helmed by chef Richard Mead, is a leader in farm-to-table cuisine. Here the dining experience is taken to a literal level: Guests enjoy seats overlooking the seven-acre farm, where many ingredients are grown.

Orange County has a long artistic tradition. In Laguna Beach, the Laguna Art Museum focuses exclusively on California art, covering a huge range from 19th-century landscape to Pop Art. The beach community is also home to 100 galleries and artists’ studios. Travelers should take advantage of the First Thursdays Art Walk, held monthly from 6 to 9 p.m., to get a sense of the contemporary art scene.

Admiring Orange County’s art, food, and shopping should be on your list, but no trip is complete without experiencing the region’s natural beauty. Crystal Cove State Park—located just north of Laguna Beach—will make visitors feel they’ve taken the road less traveled. The park encompasses 3.2 miles of Pacific coastline, but the scenery continues beyond the shore. There are more than 15 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, plus a 2.5-mile paved trail along the bluff. The park includes a Historic District consisting of 46 coastal cottages built in the 1930s and 1940s around Los Trancos Creek. This site provides a remarkable and rare surviving example of early 20th-century Southern California coastal design. Several cottages are available for overnight rental, and travelers can grab a bite at the seafood-focused Beachcomber Café.

In Partnership with Afar.

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