Gay Vacations in Orange County, California

Aerial view of swimmers at Laguna Beach in Orange County, California
Laguna Beach in Orange County, California (courtesy, Orange County CVB)

Orange County Gay and Lesbian Travel Tips

  • Consider John Wayne Airport. If you're heading straight to Orange County and are bypassing L.A., fly directly into the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Orange County’s largest airport. It's only 15 miles from Disneyland.
  • If you’re planning on more than one day at Disneyland, get a Park Hopper ticket. It will allow you to go back and forth as much as you'd like each day between Disneyland and the California Adventure theme park, and the Hopper tickets come in a variety of multi-day choices.
  • Throw in Catalina. Santa Catalina Island (referred to simply as "Catalina" by Californians) is an enchanting Mediterranean-style isle off the coast of L.A. You can take ferries from the industrial port of Long Beach, but a nicer option is to take the ferry from scenic Dana Point in Orange County instead (service runs from April to September).

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Given the multitude of TV shows set in Orange County, it's not surprising that the O.C. conjures up images of buff surfers, wealthy housewives, and angst-ridden teens. Fortunately, gay and lesbian travelers have a lot more to discover in the O.C. than what is portrayed on cable TV.

The gay scene in vast Orange Country (which is south of L.A. and north of San Diego) is mainly concentrated in Laguna Beach, a very queer beach town getaway with gay bars, a gay beach, and a queer vibe that could rival Provincetown or Fort Lauderdale (albeit on a smaller scale). But of course, don't forget the other gay-popular attraction: The Happiest Place on Earth (aka Disneyland), still going strong in Anaheim after 50-plus years. In 2001, Disney unveiled a brand-new theme park, Disney's California Adventure; a new shopping/dining/entertainment district, Downtown Disney; and a third on-site hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. Disneyland may be smaller than the Disney parks now found in Florida, France, Japan, and Hong Kong, but it's still vibrant and fun to see the original park Walt conceived. Gay Days in Anaheim in early October is a great time to join thousands of LGBT revelers all wearing red shirts. It’s smaller than the huge Gay Days in Orlando, but well attended nonetheless.

The upscale beach towns that line Orange County dub themselves the "Orange Coast" and are home to fabulous resorts and wealthy beach communities. Take the Pacific Coast Highway to explore these lovely jewels, which include the surfer-popular Huntington Beach, the tony community of Dana Point, and the atmospheric Newport Beach surrounding charming Balboa Island, with an historic pavilion and old-fashioned pier—and of course Laguna Beach is the best of all the towns along the coast for gay travelers.

Orange County currently has no pride celebrations, but that doesn’t mean there are no festivals worth seeing: The world's top wave riders flock to Huntington Beach each August for the rowdy but professional U.S. Open of Surfing. The Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters in July is where live actors keep perfectly still in their exact recreations of famous masterpieces of art. And the town of San Juan Capistrano, home to one of the original Spanish missions of California, holds a fun Return of the Swallows Celebration every March, about the time when the local birds come back after their migration from Argentina.


Published: 16 Jul 2008 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Orange County

$374
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Island Hotel Newport Beach
$139-$179
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Ayres Hotel Anaheim
$339
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Shorebreak Hotel, a Joie de Vivre Boutique Hotel

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