Orange County is comprised of 34 cities and while some of those cities have a reputation for being master-planned within an inch of their lives (*cough*, Irvine, we’re looking at you), several Orange County cities have historic or newly-restored downtown districts that are drawing in visitors, residents and tourists out to play.
Most of Orange County’s downtown districts have free and easy parking, and are worth discovering. These are four of our new and old favorites.
Calling the “Orange Circle” the best downtown in the area may be considered a safe pick, but there’s a reason why it continues to be recognized as the top dog.
Long known for its antique shops and old town feel, which it certainly does still have, the circle also offers a number of different bars like The District Lounge, O’Hara’s Pub and Paul’s Cocktails. You’re covered day or night for dining and imbibing options.
On Glassell Street and Chapman Avenue, the antique malls are filled with individual vendors who have plenty of curios, including ornate furniture, paintings, clothing, art, glass and ceramic wares.
My personal favorite restaurant in the Circle is Taco Adobe, a tiny Mexican restaurant situated in a house just around the corner from The District Lounge. I doubt the place holds more than 15 people at a time, which can make it a bit tricky to get in, but that’s the mark of a great restaurant.
Downtown Orange will always be a great pick for meeting up with friends, date night and bringing visitors.
2) Huntington Beach
It’s tough to beat a downtown that literally sits a few hundred yards away from the ocean. Huntington Beach’s downtown bars can be infamously rowdy, but downtown still appeals to all ages, especially on a perfect California day of 70-degree weather and sunny skies.
Huntington Beach also has a brand new massive retail hub, Pacific City, situated just around the corner from Main Street.
While many stores and restaurants within the 191,000-square-foot open-air center have yet to open, including Backhouse Yakitori Sushi and the artisanal gelato shop Gelataria Zomolo, that doesn’t mean the center can’t be enjoyed right now. Ola Mexican Cuisine and Simmzy’s Gastropub have both been drawing big crowds thus far, as well as retail spots like Tommy Bahama, H&M and West of Camden.
Lot 579, a food hall consisting of local independent eateries, is expected to open in about a month. Among the shops that will be included:
- PieNot, an Australian style bakery, will offer meat pies, gluten free pies and desserts.
- Bear Flag Fish Co. will have a full bar and serve fish tacos, burritos and sushi.
- The American Dream will have a menu comprised of 60 burgers and over 60 IPA beers on tap.
In terms of food, Huntington Beach’s downtown has whatever you’re looking for.
Want a good old fashioned burger and fries? Head down to TK Burgers.
Dying for some killer tacos? Walk a few blocks over to Sancho’s Tacos, take your order (I recommend the O.G. Tacos) and be sure to grab a seat out front.
Incredible ocean views, beautiful weather and plenty of drinks, eats and treats to choose from make Huntington Beach’s downtown one of the best in Orange County.
Fullerton has everything you would like in a downtown district (minus the beach). A big plus is the ability to hop on a Metrolink or Amtrak train and be dropped off a block away from the action. It’s not uncommon to brush shoulders with someone who has come from as far as San Diego just for the day.
Although the SOCO district took a huge hit with the closing of Steamer’s Jazz Club and Cafe, Heroes Bar & Grill remains an excellent choice for anyone on their first visit to Fullerton. With humongous servings, a diverse menu and more than enough space to move around, you’ll be sure to enjoy yourself at Heroes Bar & Grill.
However, if you’re not necessarily in the mood to visit a bar, head over to Burger Parlor–a modern, chic restaurant that specializes in gourmet burgers. While a bit on the pricier side, you’d be hard pressed to find a better burger in Fullerton. I recommend the Smokey Burger and an order of beer battered onion rings.
4) Santa Ana
Downtown Santa Ana (#DTSA on Instagram for the latest) has seen the most change in the last few years, and one of the best parts of those rapid changes for visitors and residents has been several new markets and restaurants that are making Santa Ana a serious foodie destination. You know the names– Playground, 4th Street Market, Lola Gaspar, Chapter One, seriously, there’s a lot to try here. As exciting as the new places are, we love Santa Ana for its heritage, and there are plenty of real deal taco trucks (shout out to La Carreta and their $1 tacos!), Chicano murals and local markets with hot food counters that keep Santa Ana more than just a row of restaurants to take pictures at for Instagram (not that we don’t love doing that).