Orange County Travel Guide

I love orange county so much! When I think of Orange County I picture sunny skies, sandy beaches, palm tree lined avenues, tropical smoothies and fruity acai bowls. Here’s all my favorites by city:

IRVINE 

FOOD

Il Fornaio – Easily one of my favorite Italian restaurants, their pasta is amazing. Dare I say maybe even better than some of the authentic stuff I ate in Italy. My top three favorites are shown below: Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese (pasta ribbons with traditional meat ragu & Grana Padano), Pennoni Alla Vodka (large pasta tubes with bacon, vodka-cream-tomato sauce & Grana Padano) and Conchiglie Al Pollo (shell pasta, chicken breast, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, pecorino cheese, roasted garlic & Trebbiano wine).  For dessert, my favorite is the spumone gelato (strawberry, chocolate hazelnut & pistachio gelato, folded together with cherries, chocolate chips & pistachios; served with raspberry & chocolate sauce)!

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North Italia – Another Italian favorite, tied with Il Fornaio above. Bolognese House Specialty is hands down my favorite. It’s traditional meat sauce, tagliatelle noodles & grana padano cheese, yum!

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Urban Plates – Grilled grass fed steak plate is my go to order. They have so many delicious sides like the roasted rosemary potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted brussel  sprouts with turkey bacon, macaroni and cheese and sesame broccolini (my favorites). Definitely prefer Urban Plates to Tender Greens, but both are amazing for great healthy meals.

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Stonefire Grill – Amazing generous family style portions, my favorites are the Stonefire’s BBQ chopped salad, tomesto pasta (marinara & pesto mixed) , garlic mashed potatoes and BBQ tri-tip. Quick and easy place to eat.

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Pressed Juicery – I love the freezes, my favorite over the traditional frozen yogurt places. I always get the vanilla freeze, which has a base made of filtered water, dates, almonds (pressed nuts), vanilla extract and sea salt. It has 4g of protein which is amazing for a treat.

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Gullivers – If I’m going for lunch I love the filet mignon medallions, which are thinly cut filet medallions with mashed potatoes and pepper cognac sauce. If I’m going for dinner, the filet, new york steak or prime rib are amazing! They’re known for their really delicious creamed corn too.

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Nekter – Not my absolute favorite acai bowl place, but definitely good enough to highlight and mention. I love the acai banana berry bowl (açaí, strawberry, blueberry, banana, and housemade cashew milk blended together and topped with hempseed granola, fresh strawberry, blueberry, banana, and agave nectar). For smoothies, my favorites are orange crush (orange juice base, strawberry, and agave nectar blended with ice) and pink flamingo (pitaya, strawberry, pineapple, agave nectar, and coconut water blended).

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California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) – Probably my favorite chain restaurant and definitely has my favorite salad. I love the classic original BBQ chicken chopped salad with avocado (black beans, sweet corn, jicama, fresh cilantro & basil, crispy corn tortilla strips, monterey jack and housemade herb ranch, topped with BBQ chicken, tomatoes and scallions). Also love the avocado club egg rolls, easily my favorite appetizer (hand-wrapped crispy wonton rolls filled with avocado, chicken, tomato, Monterey Jack and Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon, served with housemade ranchito sauce and herb ranch). The spinach and artichoke dip is good too. Also a favorite is the bolognese spaghetti when I’m craving something simple. Favorite dessert is definitely the warm butter cake with vanilla Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Celebrated my birthday with the cute new sangria flight (Three 3 oz. pours of Orchard, Beehive and Red-berry Sangria – my favorite was the Beehive – sweet blend of white wine, Cointreau, Monin Lavender, Perfect Purée Strawberry, honey and lemon)

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BJ’s Brewhouse – I always order the BBQ chopped salad, my second favorite behind CPK. Their pizzas are amazing and probably my favorite deep dish even over the ones I’ve tried in Chicago. The sweet pig is my go to (Hawaiian pineapple & ham). Lastly the cookies n’ cream pizookie is amazing (chocolate cookie with the taste of Oreos, rich vanilla bean ice cream and a dollop of oreo mousse).

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Luna Grill – Just got introduced to this place and it’s quickly becoming a favorite for Mediterranean food. I love getting the chicken kabob and gyro plate with the delicious basmati rice and grilled carrots –probably my favorite part. Love!

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Paradise Bowls – 2nd Favorite acai bowl place in Orange County tied with Banzai. Similar to ones I’ve had in Hawaii which are the best I’ve ever had. I have yet to try a bowl here that I don’t love. The gaucho is incredible (blend – banana, strawberries, blueberries, acai, apple juice; topping – granola, banana, honey, strawberries, blueberries). The peach bum was great, but I always get it without the coconut shavings (blend – bananas, strawberries, peaches, acai, coconut milk; topping – granola, banana, honey, strawberries, coconut shavings). Also enjoy the guava sunrise (blend – banana, mango, peaches, acai, guava juice; topping – granola, banana, honey, strawberries, kiwi). Lastly razz party is another favorite (blend – banana, strawberries, peaches, acai, raspberry lemonade; topping – granola, banana, honey, strawberries).

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Churned Creamery – Cute place within Union Market at the District. Their ice cream is cute and I always get the sorbet. They have blood orange, mango, pineapple and strawberry. They’re known for their cro-creams (pictured below). Tasted like a croissant with ice cream and strawberries. Really want to come back to try their acai bowls and the color changing mason jar teas look interesting.

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Mochilato – I love coming here to get different flavored mochi ice cream. I grew up on mochi ice cream so the taste reminds me of childhood. Mochi ice cream is a confection made from Japanese mochi with an ice cream filling. Mochi is essentially rice cake pounded into a paste and rolled into round forms. To me, mochi tastes flavorless – the ice cream is what really adds the flavor to this sweet treat. Mochi has a gooey like texture.

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Tender Greens – Similar to Urban Plates, I get the backyard marinated steak with mashed potatoes and usually the tender greens (Scarborough Farms greens, sherry vinaigrette) or baby spinach salad (Scarborough Farms spinach, hazelnuts, goat cheese, cabernet vinaigrette).

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Dada Shabu Shabu – Shabu Shabu all you can eat buffet style, Korean hot pot. I always try to get the less fatty thinly sliced meat. Think I got the prime beef chuck top blade (meat #1 on the menu) which was great.  I’m in love with goma sauce too, delicious.

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Izakaya Wasa – Used to go to the location in Irvine Spectrum but I’m so sad it closed since this was my favorite Japanese food place. The combination plates were amazing and they had the best chicken and beef teriyaki and chicken katsu. Also came with miso soup and gyoza. They’ve turned it into Robata Wasa, which I haven’t tried yet.

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Mokkoji – Shabu Shabu bar, love the goma sesame sauce with the new york shabu meat. Super thin with very little fat, my favorite. Also always get the miso broth. One of my favorite shabu places.

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Halal Guys – Favorite fast food Mediterranean. Always get the combo platter with chicken & gyro with the white sauce. Delicious, comes with rice and pita.

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SIGHTS

Irvine Spectrum Mall – Love this mall centered around a giant ferris wheel. Lots of my favorite stores and restaurants. Highlights for me include Drybar, Loft, Lululemon, Nordstrom, Sephora, Tender Greens, Pressed Juicery, Luna Grill, Javiers, Corner Bakery, CPK, Cucina Enoteca and Brio Tuscan Grille.

Divine Nails & Lashes – My favorite and best nail salon I’ve ever been to. They do such a good job. I always love how my gel nails turn out and they last for weeks (usually 3-5 weeks before they grow out). I never have any issues with chipping at all. I typically opt for a french tip gel manicure.

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Huntington Beach

FOOD

Duke’s – The prime sirlon was absolutely delicious (double r signature ranch, miso brown butter, mashed yukon gold potatoes, roasted broccolini). Kimo’s original hula pie is one of my all time favorite desserts (chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, toasted mac nuts, whipped cream). Lastly I always have to get a Volcano drink when I’m here (blended coconut and strawberry virgin tropical drink).

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Banzai Bowls – Tied with Paradise bowls as my 2nd favorite acai bowl of the OC. I usually get the OG bowl (blend – apple juice, acai, banana, strawberries; top – granola, banana, honey) or Sharks Cove without goji berries (blend – apple juice, acai, banana, strawberries; top – granola, banana, strawberries, blueberries, honey, goji berries).

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Norms – The best fruit pancake stacks! I loved the strawberry and cinnamon apple. It was like having dessert for breakfast.

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SIGHTS

Huntington Beach & Pier – Prettiest pier in all of the OC. One of my favorite spots and it holds a special place in my heart. Where I went for my 21st birthday and had my 1st date with my boyfriend 🙂 I’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets while overlooking these waters.

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Pacific City Shopping Center – Another favorite shopping center. Lots of cool stores and eateries. They’ve got an Equinox, Sephora, Drybar, Hans’ homemade ice cream, Popbar, and Lemonade.

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International Surfing Museum – Cool to see once, history of surfing. Lots of neat surfboards and memorabilia. Closed Mondays and admission is $3.

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Surf City Half Marathon – My all time favorite half marathon race, the course is amazing and I love this city so much. Plus they had the best race expo and the coolest surf board medals.

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LODGING

Hilton Hotel Huntington Beach – waterfront resort and beautiful. Central location on PCH.

Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach – another waterfront resort next to the Hilton. Perfect location central on PCH.

Newport Beach

FOOD

Bowl of Heaven – Decent acai bowl place. Ranks for me above Nekter. My go to is the North Shore Original Bowl (blend – organic acai, strawberries, banana, blueberries, 100% apple juice and Maq 7; toppings – organic hemp flax seed granola, banana, and honey).

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Javiers – Great Mexican food place. The tacos and quesadilla are really good! Super cool atmosphere.

Champagne’s – I really like the homemade chicken noodle soup, bbq tri-tip sandwich, club sandwich and the shoestring fries with garlic aioli dipping sauce.

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Great Maple – Cutely decorated, the fried chicken and donuts is yummy. I’ve had the prime rib dip which was good. The turkey bolognese was delicious. Really want to try the steak frites next time.

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Cucina Alessa – One of my favorite Italian places. I loved the pappardelle al sug d’agnello (ribbon shaped pasta slow cooked braised lamb shoulder and shaved ricotta salata).  The spumoni was an amazing finale!

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Lette Macaroons – My favorite macarons even over the famous Ladurée and Pierre Hermé of Paris.  The chocolate is my favorite, but I also love the passionfruit, raspberry, violet and blueberry lemon. The cookie is cooked perfectly and the filling is not too sweet which I love.

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Mama D’s Italian Kitchen – Great pasta and the pink sauce is so different. Usually I’ll get the penne, rigatoni or bow tie pasta with meat sauce, but the pink sauce is amazing. I really want to go back to try the stuffed shells of ricotta, yum! So much food that I definitely had leftovers.

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Dad’s and Sugar & Spice – Known for frozen bananas and balboa bars, delicious cute shops. I tried a frozen banana with rainbow sprinkles and a balboa bar with oreo topping. Next time I’ll try the everything topping.

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Gelato Paradiso – The best gelato place I’ve ever been, it’s so good it competes with my favorites from Italy. This place is amazing! I love all their flavors, but my usual go to is the mango, strawberry, lemon sorbet and chocolate gelato. Also love the blueberry chip gelato too.

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Atomic Creamery – All natural liquid nitrogen ice cream. We had the grasping at straws (housemade strawberry puree with local strawberries) and chocolate^3 (chocolate, brownie bits, oreos and hot fudge).

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SIGHTS

Fashion Island Mall – My favorite mall with the best shops, stores and atmosphere. My favorites include: CPK, Drybar, Gelato Paradiso, Gorjana, Kendra Scott, Lette Macarons, Lilly Pulitzer, Vineyard Vines, Loft, Lululemon, Nordstrom, Pressed Juicery and ULTA. Plus from the Macy’s side you can see the view of Catalina and the ocean.

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Balboa Island / Peninsula & Village – Cute quaint community with lots of docks with yachts. Fun to walk around and see the cute little houses. Super crowded though and hard to get around by car.

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Laguna Beach

FOOD

Splashes – Best restaurant experience in Laguna. Loved the table side beach views. We watched the sunset during dinner and it was one of the best moments. Located right on PCH. My favorite was the filet and the sorbet trio was amazing. Below is the view from our table, we were so close to the beach!

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The Cliff Restaurant – Gorgeous views of the ocean from the table (see below). Love Laguna so much! I had the prime rib dip sandwich which was great, but next time I’ll try the classic club or a wrap.

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Nick’s – Cute place right off PCH by Main Beach. We got the prime rib dip sandwich and buttermilk fried chicken. Both were delicious. Dessert was butter cake, which we loved.

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Tortilla Republic – Located right by Main Beach, down the street from Nick’s on PCH. The chicken flautas are amazing! The atmosphere of this restaurant is very hip, modern and cool.

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SIGHTS

Main Beach & Lifeguard Tower – Beautiful beach located centrally in Laguna. There’s a lot happening here between the volleyball courts, lifeguard tower picture spot, hotels galore lining the streets, etc. Right near all the restaurants so it’s perfect to watch the sunset from after dinner.

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Top of the World Hike – One of my favorite hikes, the views up here are beautiful. Gets pretty foggy if you go really early in the morning since it’s by the ocean. Parking is slim, but there’s a tiny parking lot at the park if you get there early.

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Heisler Park / Recreation Point – Some of the best views of Laguna. I love this cute little nature walk trail along the beach. It’s paved and easy to find metered parking. The scenery is breath taking.

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Miscellaneous OC

FOOD

Summit House Restaurant (Fullerton, CA) – Hilltop manor restaurant with city views, famous for roasted prime rib, yorkshire pudding & creamed corn. We also loved the filet mignon and dessert sampler plate (profiterole with belgian chocolate, lemon tarte, creme brulee, and chocolate torte).

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Hungry Bear Restaurant (Fullerton, CA) – Comfort food, grew up going to this place often. Family owned and super casual. I always get the stockyard steak with mashed potatoes and A-1 sauce. It comes with delicious garlic bread and their vegetable and chicken tortilla soup are my favorite.

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Jujubar (Costa Mesa, CA) – Favorite acai bowl place in California! The bowls are amazing. Superberry is my favorite (blend – raspberry juice, acai, strawberry, blueberry; topping – banana, strawberry, blueberry, kiwi, granola and honey).

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Maggiano’s (Costa Mesa, CA) – Famous Rigatoni D specialty pasta is my favorite. It’s herb-Roasted Chicken, Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions and Marsala Cream Sauce. It also comes with a classic pasta to take home, which I usually opt for the Taylor Street baked ziti or Mom’s Lasagna.

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Pacific Wharf Cafe (Costa Mesa, CA) – Favorite breakfast place when I’m craving a yogurt parfait. The vanilla yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and granola is delicious!

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Confetti (Costa Mesa, CA) – Cute little Italian ice and custard shop. Reminds me of a favorite in Riverside…Frostbite’s. There are so many cool flavors.

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Hawaiian Express (Santa Ana, CA) – Favorite Hawaiian food take out place in the Santa Ana Main Palace mall food court. Sadly I heard it closed, but I was in love with their Henry’s orange sweet noodles. So good with the bbq chicken and fruit smoothie.

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Istanbul Grill (Fountain Valley, CA) – Another favorite Mediterranean food place. I love the chicken shish kabob plate with rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables. They have the best service too, everyone is so friendly and welcoming.

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Birdie Bowl & Juicery (Fountain Valley, CA) – Another decent acai bowl place, can we tell I love acai? I get the classic acai bowl.

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Robeks (Brea, CA) – One of my favorite smoothie chains. Love it better than Juice It Up and Jamba Juice. My go to orders are usually the Strawnana Berry (Strawberries, Banana, Non-Fat Frozen Yogurt, Apple Juice), Big Wednesday (Peach, Strawberries, Banana, Orange Sherbet, Pineapple Sherbet, Papaya Juice) and Hummingbird (Mango, Strawberries, Banana, Orange Sherbet, Passionfruit Juice).

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Surf City Squeeze (Brea, CA) – Tied with Robeks as my favorite smoothie chain. Strawberry Banana is my classic favorite smoothie. It reminds me of Hawaii and the beach. This is the only yogurt like smoothie I love and enjoy.

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Fat Belly Grill (Garden Grove, CA) – The chicken katsu is absolutely amazing and tastes just like it from Japan. Still want to try the chicken and beef teriyaki and the miso ramen.

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Spice Thai Cuisine (Lake Forest, CA) – Delicious chicken satay, I love the homemade peanut sauce.

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Slice Shabu (Lake Forest, CA) – Great shabu place, love the miso broth with the black angus ribeye meat. I get the goma and ponzu with brown rice and udon or ramen.

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Miguels California Mexican Cucina (Lake Forest, CA) – Favorite fast food Mexican, it’s pretty heavy though so I can’t eat this all the time. Love the garbage burrito (shredded beef, spanish rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato and served wet style – tastes like an enchilada) and the chicken flautas (they are massive).

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SIGHTS

Disneyland Theme Park (Anaheim, CA) – See my separate guide here!

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California Adventure Theme Park (Anaheim, CA) – See my separate guide here!

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Honda Center Duck’s NHL (Anaheim, CA) – Love to go see games because it’s such a fun intense atmosphere. My second favorite sport to watch. Love that their color is orange too.

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Angels Stadium MLB (Anaheim, CA) – Favorite sport to watch. Hoping Mike Trout never leaves the team because he’s so talented. Pretty much everyone goes to the games to see him play. Hands down has the best stadium food I’ve ever seen. My go to is always Chronic Taco and Dip & Dots.

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South Coast Plaza Mall (Costa Mesa, CA) – Lots of designer stores in this mall. Not too many eating places, but they do have Boudins (an SF favorite of mine) and Corner Bakery. Plenty of stores I love including Nordstrom, Banana Republic, JCrew, Kate Spade, Lululemon, Papersource, Madewell, Pandora, Nekter, Sephora, Ted Baker, Tory Burch and Williams Sonoma.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts (Costa Mesa, CA) – Love going here to see Broadway performances. Cute date night! Small theater but easy to get to (way easier than Pantages), which I love.

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Brea Mall & Downtown Brea Shopping Center (Brea, CA) – Second favorite mall with a lot of favorite stores and eateries. You can always catch me at CPK, Nordstrom, Sephora, Banana Republic, Lululemon, Lollicup, Pandora, Surf City Squeeze, Loft and Pink.

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San Juan Capistrano Mission (San Juan Capistrano, CA) – Prettiest mission I’ve ever been to besides Santa Barbara. Love the historic charm of this place.