Explore Orange County

Top Five Hidden Gems

Food, Hotels, Nightlife, Things to Do, Travel Tips, What's New — By chrisallsop on July 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Orange County is a big place. It’s obvious places to visit – Disneyland and the beach, for example – are large, and, well, obvious. Here are five hidden gems that you can seek out to tap into more of the local (rather than tourist) vibe, and that’ll perhaps show you another side to Orange County that you previously didn’t know.

Anti-Mall/Old Vine Café

Old Vine Cafe

Old Vine Cafe

Why is it awesome? Just a few minutes drive from the commercial heart of Orange County (South Coast Plaza), the Anti-Mall is a tranquil alternative with some cool shops to delve into and a smattering of excellent bar/restaurants. The presence of the Old Vine Café nearby is also a high point. It’s consistently rated as one of best restaurants (value and quality) in the county.

Why is it unknown? Compared to its famous, giant neighbour – it’s tiny.

Who wouldn’t like it? People who prefer their shopping experience familiar and air-conditioned.

Asian Tapas

Roger Lee

Roger Lee

Why is it awesome? Because the kitchen is run by Roger Lee. Lee used to be executive chef at a number of top restaurants in Hollywood. He pioneered a style of Chinese cuisine that is less greasy and generally tastier.

Why is it unknown? Located in an unfashionable part of Orange County and in a relatively new development.

Who wouldn’t like it? It’s a strip mall restaurant, so those looking for more refined surroundings to go with their meal won’t be impressed by the ambience.

Hotel Seven4One

Hotel Seven4One

Hotel Seven4One

Why is it awesome? A great boutique hotel, raised up further by the unbelievable quality of its martini menu.

Why is it unknown? Small, low-key exterior, and a relative newcomer to the bustle of Laguna Beach.

Who wouldn’t like it? Those unimpressed by modern design and martinis.

San Clemente

San Clemente from the pier

San Clemente from the pier

Why is it awesome? Ok, so it’s a whole city. But it’s the gem of Orange County. Bustle and tranquillity, a picturesque pier, beach, and surf-able waves.

Why is it unknown? Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach get all the press. And San Clemente was popular with Nixon, which isn’t the coolest thing ever. And it’s at the bottom of the county.

Who wouldn’t like it? Those visiting off the back of watching The OC.

Swallow’s Inn

Swallows Inn

Swallows Inn

Why is it awesome? Feels like it belongs in Texas rather than Orange County. Live music and great swing dancing on display from the locals, all of whom seem to think they’re cowboys.

Why is it unknown? Overshadowed by the local mission as a must on the tourist itinerary.

Who wouldn’t like it? Those who don’t take any pleasure in people-watching, dancing, drinking, and country music.

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