Parks, pageants and cathedrals: lesser-known treasures of the O.C.

crystal cathedral

A famed county of California roughly south-east of the greater Los Angeles area, Orange County is recognized for a great many things. First of all, perhaps, it has a reputation for cities like Newport Beach, which are famously lived in and enjoyed by many of the wealthy. As well as, of course, the likes of Anaheim’s globally iconic Disneyland Resort, Buena Park’s Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park and the surfing paradise that’s Huntington Beach.

And yet, others of this diverse, beautiful state’s lesser-known delights are just as worthy of being checked out. So, whether you’re passing through the place or likely to be joining us by Good Nite Inn check in time for an unbeatable stay, here are some O.C. suggestions you really shouldn’t miss…

Crystal Cove State Park

It’s no surprise so many people travel from far and wide to this beautiful park, given it’s blessed not just with numerous panoramas of natural beauty but a plethora of opportunities for enjoying outdoor pursuits. Boasting several thousand acres, Crystal Cove welcomes visitors on foot, horseback, and bicycles, in addition to offering stunning three-and-a-half miles of coastline for folks who love nothing more than swimming, scuba diving, surfing and checking out the awesome marine life in tide pools. Worthy of mention, too, is the delicious dining to be had at Ruby’s Shake Shack, located at the top of the park’s bluff.

Ocean Institute

This Dana Point Harbor attraction, although open to the public at weekends(pandemic-willing!), is indeed a significant place when it comes to marine-life and ocean-going-life observance and research. Intrigued tourists, though (having booked at one of the hotels in California open this summer), are more than welcome to pop along on Saturdays and Sundays and do their own observing of marine animals in all its aquariums and touch-tanks, as well as witness the fascinating creatures being fed and enjoy the place’s ocean-themed exhibits.

Moreover, the venue’s Pilgrim tall ship can be toured by all and sundry on a Sunday, while the research vessel that’s R/V Sea Explorer is unmissable for its educational and sightseeing cruises, especially for gray and blue whale-watching cruises.

Pageant of the Masters

A summertime arts festival that’s worth experiencing (frankly, whatever year it is), the Pageant of the Masters is something truly unique. Held annually in Laguna Beach – thus, easily reachable from AAA discount hotels Buena Park – and dating all the way back to the 1930s, it features nightly 90-minute shows hosted in an outdoor amphitheater, in which some of history’s greatest paintings are quite magnificently recreated.

To explain, art comes to life in this festival, thanks to talented performers posing as world-famous ‘living paintings’, bedecked out, as they are, in elaborate costuming, and aided by the exceptional set design and technical components, and marvelous music and narration. Indeed, you’ll find that it’s a broad spectrum of a show, too, with both classic and contemporary artworks used as inspiration – but, usually, each year the show tends to close with da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’. Fittingly, you might say.

Crystal Cathedral

With its four-pointed star design, Crystal Cathedral is something of a man-made marvel. A truly breath-taking structure, it’s made up of more than 10,000 panes of glass and, as a practicing church, can lay to claim to host more than 10,000 members on a regular basis. This congregation, then, enjoys visits from scores of tourists every Sunday – hardly surprising (some from Buena Park hotels, no doubt) – as well as visits by guest speakers; everybody from professional athletes to former California Governor and cinema icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. Self-guided tours of the place can be booked for weekdays.