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The Best O.C. Attractions

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Much of Orange County is carefully planned and prospected, and held between a handful of local developers. Over the years these developers -- along with other community leaders -- have established organizations, events and other attractions to meet the needs of the population and fuel the Orange County economy. From museums of science and history, historical landmarks, and a county fair, to theme parks, beach cities and performing arts -- Orange County is rich with culture and attractions to explore and enjoy. Here’s a guide.

Theme Parks

© Knott's Berry Farm
When it comes to attractions, theme parks -- of which the O.C. has several -- are an obvious draw. While Disneyland stands as arguably the most famous theme park in history, Knott’s Berry Farm managed to make a name for itself as one of the most popular amusement parks in Southern California. Both theme parks are located in North County cities and have adjacent theme park off-shoots, Disney’s California Adventure and Knott’s Soak City. Though peak season for theme parks is generally the Summer, Knott’s is also known for it’s Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Scary Farm, which attracts locals and tourists alike for the oldest theme park event of its kind.

The Bowers Museum

© Konrad Summers
Endowed to the city of Santa Ana by a 19th century Orange County developer and his wife, the Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum is surrounded by historic landmarks and an up-and-coming artist community. In addition to a large permanent collection of art and artifacts from various cultures including Native America, Asian and the Pacific Islands, the museum hosts special exhibits, lectures, cultural festivals and many other educational activities throughout the year. The Kidseum, which opened in 1992, offers kids an introduction to cultural arts and anthropology through Summer camps, educational tours and other school-age programs. Whether you’re visitor or an O.C. local, the Bowers Museum is a cultural arts experience, the No. 1 museum in Orange County and one of the most popular arts destinations in Southern California.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts

© Paul Khor
Originally called the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts is an 8.5-acre performing arts complex located in Costa Mesa. In January 2011, the Center became the namesake of the Segerstrom family and a testament to their continued dedication to the performing arts. With four main venues, three resident companies, and a full calendar of theater, dance, musical performances, educational programs and a host of other amenities, the Segerstrom Center has become a premier destination for performing arts and entertainment in the heart of South Coast Metro O.C.

The O.C. Fair

Photo courtesy Orange County Archives
The Orange County Fair started in the late 19th century, when a small group of community members hosted a local fair. The Fair was held at several temporary locations throughout Orange County during its first 60 years. But in 1949, the Fair organizers purchased a piece of military surplus land in Costa Mesa, dubbing the land the Orange County Fairgrounds and the permanent of the O.C. Fair. What started with a few livestock exhibits and horse races has grown into a month-long county fair, with live entertainment, a carnival, action sports, arts and other fun activities. The Orange County Fair has also become one of the most popular and beloved events in the county, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Discovery Science Center

© Discovery Science Center
In terms of fun and educational experiences for kids, science museums provide both in spades. This is true of the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, which has more than 100 interactive exhibits teaching ecological conservation, rocket science, archaeological discovery, and earth science. In addition to permanent exhibits -- including the Eco Challenge, Dino Quest, and the Boeing Rocket Lab -- the Science Center also offers a variety of educational programs, including guided research, lectures and Science Summer camp. In little over a decade, the Discovery Science Center has become the go-to in experiential scientific learning in the O.C.

Historical Landmarks

© Eli Pousson
With all it’s planned communities and suburban developments, many people see Orange County -- and much of Southern California -- as lacking history. In truth, there are landmarks and other pieces of history that tell the story of Native American peoples who once populated these lands; early European settlements, ecological evolution, and both political and military development. From the Orange County Great Park and Historic District in Santa Ana, to the birthplace of a former president, there is plenty for the armature history buff to explore.

Beaches and Beach Cities

© Curtis Fry
Not only are beach cities happy and active places to live, collectively, they could be considered one of the biggest attractions in Southern California and the O.C. Individually, each beach city has its own unique charm and character, providing locals and tourists alike with a variety of aquatic activities and other recreational pursuits, boutique shopping, waterfront dining and great people watching. Whether its catching a wave in Surf City, USA, whale watching in Newport or exploring the artist community of Laguna Beach, the beach cities are a crowning attraction in Orange County, California.
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