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1. Orange County has a hugely different vibe from L.A.

Orange County is more suburban than L.A. For one thing, even though it’s sprawling, L.A. has a downtown, and Orange County really doesn’t. There are a few areas where you’ll find high rise buildings, but nothing compared to what you’ll find in L.A. And Los Angeles just seems to have a lot more concrete.

While OC’s Santa Ana is technically the county seat, it’s not a place where anyone congregates on a large scale (not that vast amounts of people congregate in downtown L.A.; that doesn’t really happen either).

OC used to be a lot more conservative than Los Angeles and, on the whole, probably still is, but more than that – it’s just mellower and, perhaps, a slower way of life. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to do, lots of things to see, places to eat, etc. – but it definitely has a different feel. Again, I think the best way to sum it up is suburbs v. city.

2. It can be chilly (bring a sweater)

Yeah, whoever said it’s always sunny in California lied. Or was a realtor. It can be downright cold here. Particularly on the coast. Even in the summer, especially in the morning.

We have what everyone here knows as “June gloom.” June gloom is a marine layer that blankets the coast, and even further inland, until around noon – and then burns off. True to its name, it happens in June, but it often occurs earlier than that (May grey) – and can last longer.

The other thing about Orange County, and SoCal in general – is that it generally cools off at night. I’ve lived in other areas of the U.S. where there was little relief after sunset, and the sticky, sticky heat stuck around all night long. Not so much the case here. No. 1, it’s not as humid as other places, and when the sun goes down, it usually (not always, but usually) cools off.

Bottom line: bring a sweater – no matter what time of year you’re planning to visit.

3. It’s multicultural

If you’ve ever watched anything about Orange County, you’ve likely gotten the impression that it’s hugely waspy and lacks any kind of diversity at all. And while there are pockets of less diversity in certain parts of Orange County (lookin’ at you Newport Beach), you might be surprised that it’s far more multicultural than what is portrayed in the media..

Westminster and Garden Grove, for example, are both home to a lively area known as Little Saigon and have the largest population of Vietnamese folks outside of Vietnam. And UC Irvine, a top-ranked university with more than 37,000 students and 222 degree programs, draws an incredibly diverse crowd from all around the world (in fact, 85% of its students are minorities or people of color). Santa Ana is largely hispanic/latino, and offers a thriving arts/restaurant scene.

4. Locals rarely visit the beach

Unless you actually live in one of Orange County’s coastal communities, or you’re a surfer/college kid/high schooler, it’s not all that common for Orange County locals to go there. Why is that? I don’t know. Traffic? Parking? The sheer exhaustion of being a working adult and having errands/life/laundry that seems to always trump fun? Maybe.

We typically visit the beach around Christmas, just to snap a photo and text it to faraway relatives with an annoying, “Hey, look! We’re at the beach on Christmas and we’re wearing shorts!” Occasionally we’ll go to dinner at the beach, or brunch, but that’s usually for an event or on some special occasion (like when those normally faraway relatives happen to be in town).

Every time we actually do visit the beach (when we can find parking easily), we’re always saying things like – “We live here, why don’t we come here more often?”

And then we drive the 20 minutes home and wait another eight months before returning.

5. There are mountains

I’m not sure why, but people seem to be surprised by the fact that we have mountains here. Perhaps they’ve been to Orange County, Florida, and it’s flat, flat, flat.

Here, there are definitely flat areas – in Old Towne Orange, for example…it’s pretty flat – but there are foothills in our city too…and in the distance, you’ll find the Santa Ana mountains create a backdrop. (In the winter, they’re often visible. In the summer – not so much.)

Those mountains take roughly an hour to drive to – and there are actually a number of decent ski resorts.

6. Orange County can be affordable…to visit

It’s not cheap – I couldn’t ever truthfully call it that, but it can be affordable…to visit. One of the highest costs anyone will pay here is if you choose to live here – rents are challenging. And even visiting – hotels will be expensive. But there are plenty of affordable food options – and often some of the best places, the most authentic, are also the most affordable.

7. There are quaint neighborhoods

Orange County has a reputation for having cookie cutter neighborhoods in planned communities where, if you change the color of your shutters the neighborhood association will come knocking on your door (and that may be true), but not all of Orange County is that way.

Tustin, Fullerton, Yorba Linda, and especially Orange, all have sections of their cities that have a midwestern feel – with tree-lined streets, craftsman-style homes, and walkable restaurants and shops.

And though they have more of a California-surfer thing going on, many of the coastal communities, including Laguna and Newport Beach, also have unique neighborhoods (amazing houses) as well as walk-worthy streets filled with boutiques and excellent restaurants.

Near the Mission San Juan Capistrano you’ll also find great places to dine & shop.

8. There are very few orange groves

Will you see oranges if you visit Orange County? Maybe, but these days most orange trees are found in people’s yards, rather than the sprawling groves the name “Orange County” inspires.

Up until 1889, when the county was incorporated and named, the primary crop was grapes. “Orange County” was an if-you-build-it-they-will-come kind of name, a sunny-sounding fabrication that would hopefully allure people on the east coast.

It takes about 10 years for an orange tree to mature, and just about 10 years after the county was incorporated, oranges became the predominant crop. We imagine the conversation went a little something like, “Well, Bill, we just named the place Orange County; s’pose we’d better plant some trees!” Those trees eventually gave way to housing and, today most oranges you’ll find are imported.

9. Strip malls are home to some great restaurants

Unpretentious, low-key and surprisingly great. That’s how I’d describe many of the restaurants that you’ll find in the thousands of strip malls that pepper Orange County (you’ll find much of the same in LA County – southern California is strip-mall heaven).

While most don’t offer the ocean views, if you’re willing to overlook the fact that your eatery is flanked by a gym and a laundromat, you’re going to find some fantastic food. Here in Orange, we have two first-rate bistros – Truffle Bistro and Jeff’s Inviting Food and Spirits – along with dozens of other excellent options for yummy, authentic fare.