If you’re local, you know that Orange County is home to more than just Laguna Beach and Disneyland. In fact, the OC can rival its famous metropolitan neighbors in both landscape and cityscape.
Tour the county’s namesake city via a 2.5-mile hike on the Orange Hills Trail in nearby El Modena Open Space, followed by a 2-mile stroll through the charming Old Towne district. Park your car at the corner of Cannon St. and Patria Ct. and look for the singletrack trailhead, marked by the Santiago Oaks Regional Park sign.
The path immediately ascends almost 500 feet in just half a mile. At the first junction stay right, as the Santiago Creek Basin and suburbia of Orange come into view.
Take a sharp left at the next junction for a quick trip up to the peak before continuing on. From here, look north to find downtown Los Angeles framed by the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. The Santa Anas are to the east, and Catalina Island looms over the coast to the west.
On the descent you’ll see plentiful prickly pear cactus (keep an eye out for the elusive cactus wren foraging for food amidst their barbed abode). Stay right at the next junction, which takes you over another hill and eventually deposits you back onto Cannon Street. Take this north for 1 mile to return to the trailhead and your car.
Next, head straight for the Orange Metrolink station and park on the street or at one of many free 3-hour garages in the area. Head east on Chapman Ave., stopping first at the Chapman Crafted Beer—we like the refreshing Pilsner or Red Ale with Coffee.
Continue on to the landmark circular plaza representing the center of the picturesque Old Towne district, which has the second largest concentration of historical buildings in the state. You could wander the vibrant, antique shop–filled one-square-mile district for hours, but head north to Chapman University and explore the pristine grounds.
Along the way, tempt your taste buds at multiple fantastic food establishments (try Bruxie or The Filling Station for unique eats) and feast your eyes on homes in a variety of architectural styles (many built before the 1920s), including Arts and Craft bungalows and Victorian specimens.
Returning to the plaza and continuing east leads you past Watson’s Soda Fountain, the oldest in the OC, which doubles as a popular filming locale, and to the public library and city hall.
To get to the El Modena Open Space trailhead, take the I-5 to the CA-22 E to the CA-55 N and exit Katella Ave. heading east. Continue for 2 miles and turn right onto Cannon St. After 0.5 mile turn right onto Patria Ct. Park on the street; the trailhead is on your immediate left. To get to the Orange Metrolink Station and parking lot, head south on Cannon St. for 1.3 miles and turn right onto Chapman Ave. Take Chapman Ave. for 3.5 miles, turning right at the tracks. Dog-friendly!