Over the past few months, I’ve been getting to know about the best Orange County layover for killing time if you’ve flown in to LAX, or SNA. My boyfriend, Dave, got a killer job opportunity in Southern California, and as a result decided to relocate to the Los Angeles/Orange County area. May and June so far have been whirlwind months trying to get him moved out there from Denver and settled, and then also starting the long-distance relationship thing since I’m still based in Denver. #Jetsetter
Here is my advice for the best towns to spend your Orange County layovers in.
- Redondo Beach: Specifically, check out Riviera Village especially if you’re looking to overnight as part of your Orange County layover adventure (and in this case, closer to an LAX layover) – stay west of Prospect, and south of Knob Hill, all the way down (south of Knob Hill) the beach to Malaga Cove. There is a piece of beach in here called Torrance Beach, but it really is just Redondo Beach and all the homes here have a Redondo Beach mailing address. Riviera Village is kind of like Shirlington Village (near where I used to live in Washington, D.C.), only bigger and on the beach! It is nestled just south west of the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Palos Verdes Blvd. The beach itself has this beautiful view of the houses in Malaga Cove and kind of feels like a European Beach.
- Hermosa Beach. Then Hermosa Beach is kind of funky but very, very crowded. It’s great layover from LAX if you have a few hours to kill. There’s always some excitement happening on the beach, even if it is slightly on the trashy/party side. (Hey, business in the front, party in the back, am I right?)
- Long Beach. Belmont Shore (and Naples Island) were a favorite of mine! The area was “affordable” and seemed to offer everything – the beach, shops, restaurants, boating, etc. all within close reach. The main street in Belmont Shore is kind of like Old Town Alexandria near Washington, D.C. (only instead of 30 blocks it is maybe 10 blocks) and is very fun. It was eclectic, wild, a little trashy, and LGBT friendly. I liked it much more than Dave. It was also very crowded, and reminded me a little of what Atlantic City must have been like. The advice we got was to stay south of Livingston. There’s plenty of funky shops and restaurants to keep you occupied on your Orange County layover.
- Seal Beach. Seal Beach was the cutest “small beach community” that we ended up seeing in our travels. It was hipster, friendly, had a mixed demographic, and was accessible to the freeway. We spent a good amount of time there because there were some apartments available, close to the beach, in our price range (but nothing perfect). We had some great sandwiches as a sandwich shack called Pierside Press, and everybody we talked to, including the rental agent, was friendly. What we didn’t love was the oil refinery – while safe, it makes a bleak backdrop. On the plus side, it wasn’t directly blocking the view to the ocean and was really just ominously looming in the periphery.
- Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach is kind of desolate and does not have a real “beach community”. It does have a pier and shops by that, but no real apartments/homes close by there, as it’s more of a drive to/destination type beach. That’s what makes it a great Orange County layover (better as a day trip then to spend extended time). We noticed that first hand as we walked around the residential area close to the main drag, which was very hit or miss in terms of how nice each street was. Huntington Beach seemed like a great for tourists, and gets very crowded in the summer as much of the LA trash descends on the town. Similarly, it has a youngish club/raver scene that can be hard to deal with as an old(er) adult. However, if you want surf culture, it certainly has that – nicknames Surf City, USA, it’s home to a huge surfing competition in July.
- Newport Beach. Newport Beach is really more about Balboa Island, which is fantastic. It’s also a pretty short hop to the Freeway going up the back way through Costa Mesa, and also has easy airport access (SNA, which you can read about for #layovertips here), but it does get very crowded. It’s a gorgeous, upper class, beach vacation rental type community with everything within walking distance on Balboa Island. Also worth checking out – Corona del Mar to the southeast.
- Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach has a more bohemian/campy feel, but has a lot of hills and narrow roads and makes it hard to navigate and hard to just walk around to the shops/beaches, etc. The cliffs also make it hard to just walk out of your place to the beach. That said, it was an artist’s community and it shows in the chic, now upscale vibe – art galleries and hipster restaurants are everywhere, and it makes a great day trip and Orange County layover.
- Dana Point. Dana Point has more of a resort/boating community type feel and is beautiful, sitting on cliffs in many parts. The beaches are really on both sides of Dana Point and not next to the town directly. Doheny Beach is a great place for a beginning surfer (and Dave did want to learn how to surf), but there’s a sewage pipe that spills right in to that area so a wet-suit is recommended. There’s a charming marina and easy access to boats that can take you whale watching, or to Catalina for another Orange County layover suggestion.
The night life is improving as the city is in the process of redeveloping the Lantern District on Del Prado Street. There are already quite a few neat places to go, and it’s only growing. Everyone we met in town was nice, not-pretentious, helpful, and fairly normal – it definitely had a sleepy, laid-back beach vibe, but with the anticipation of a burgeoning town. We especially enjoyed the scene at a little beach bar and grill called The Shwack.
- San Clemente. This was the last place we visited and we actually had already settled on a place prior to checking out SC. Here’s a picture of the SC pier, which is breath-taking. We had brunch at a cute restaurant on the pier called The Fisherman’s Restaurant, and went for a long walk from the water all the way onto the main drag, 6 blocks uphill and inland. While fun, and good for a day trip and an Orange County layover, we didn’t love San Clemente like we expected to. It seemed *slightly* run down on in the area around the beach, and honestly didn’t have as many options on the main drag as we thought it would. But, the flip side is that, like Long Beach, it was more “affordable”. We actually liked San Juan Capistrano way more, even though it was inland and did not meet our “within a mile from the beach” criteria.
Side note: weeks later we went back to San Clemente on a Friday and hit the “posh” side of town. It was hopping, impossible to find a seat at the bar, and 2 hours to get a table (at 730 PM). People were very nice and we had a great time. So maybe SC is cooler than we originally thought!
Best Orange County layover?
You must be dying to know where we ended up, am I right?
Maybe you deduced it from my descriptions above, but for us, all things considered Dana Point was the winner of the best Orange County layover competition for us. We found a great place to live (not to layover 😉 5 blocks from the water and 2 blocks from the main drag, Del Prado Street. The place is a charming beach bungalow with a killer yard and it honestly is just so peaceful, you don’t even want to leave.
I like Dana Point and the place we chose so much, that I have even set aside my previous biases and am starting to “like” the OC. Whether I will want to relocate from Denver remains to be seen, but for now, every time I visit, it’s paradise.
I hope you enjoy your Orange County layover and experience as well!