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12 Fun & Best Things to Do in Santa Ana, California

12 Fun & Best Things to Do in Santa Ana, California

Santa Ana is a large city centrally located in Orange County, California. With a community rich in Hispanic and Latino culture, the art and music scene is an eclectic blend of funk and folk.

The restaurant scene is award-winning; from the best tacos in Orange County to plant-based vegan spots and fresh sushi, Santa Ana dining has something for every taste bud, craving, and palette.

For the kids, there’s a myriad of sources of entertainment; from the museums and parks, to the Zoo and Discovery Science Center, your kids will be enthralled by all the activities and interesting landmarks in the area.

Santa Ana is a quick drive to Newport Beach and other south Orange County cities and is about 80 miles from San Diego. If you’re planning a trip to the area, this guide will provide you with a comprehensive list of the best attractions, activities, parks, and more.

Keep reading for the best things to do in Santa Ana, California.

TLDR

As you plan your trip, here’s a highlighted list of what to do in Santa Ana, California.

  • Most significant landmark – Lyon Air Museum
  • Best park – Peters Canyon Regional Park
  • Best free activity – Old Orange County Courthouse
  • Best activity for kids – Santa Ana Zoo
  • Best activity for adults – Heritage Museum of Orange County
  • Best food – Blinking Owl Distillery
  • Best nightlife – Yost Theater
  • Best all-around food-related activity – 4th Street Market Food Hall & Event Space

12 of the Best & Fun Things to Do in Santa Ana, California

Whether you’re here with family, traveling alone for business or pleasure, or on vacation with friends, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Santa Ana, California, without breaking the bank. Here are some of the best things to do in Santa Ana and the surrounding cities.

1. Santa Ana Zoo

Scarlet ibis in Santa Ana Zoo

Address: 1801 E Chestnut Ave Santa Ana, CA 92701

With exhibits like a live butterfly encounter, a jaguar exploration outpost, and Amazon’s Edge, the Santa Ana Zoo is a hidden gem in Orange County for families and children of all ages.

Your kids will enjoy a ride on the zoo’s Express Train, featuring six train cars and a six-minute tour of the zoo, or they can ride the Ferris Wheel and the Conservation Carousel.

Be sure to make a stop at Crean Family Farm, where you can learn about life on an Orange County farm featuring turkeys, pigs, donkeys, and many other animals.

Visit the Amazon Aviary and experience a slew of exotic birds who have free range in the enclosure. You’ll see a variety of South American birds including the white-bellied caique, scarlet ibis, emerald toucanet, blue-crowned motmot, and many more at the Santa Ana Zoo.

For adventure seekers, the Rainforest Adventure Maze is a fun way to explore the zoo’s rainforest, with four interactive stations and games that lead you deeper into the maze and back out again.

Finally, head to the Safari Playground to take a break from walking and refuel with snacks or lunch at the many eateries in the Santa Ana Zoo.

Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, the Santa Ana Zoo is a great place for families to spend the day, get some exercise, and experience the great outdoors in Orange County. We highly recommend adding it to your list of must-see Santa Ana attractions.

Want to visit more zoos in California?

Visit the San Diego Zoo and Los Angeles Aquarium of the Pacific.

2. 4th Street Market

Stores in 4th Street Market
image by LnS2004/TripAdvisor

Address: 201 East 4th Street Santa Ana, CA 92701

For the interactive and entertaining experience of a modern food hall, 4th Street Market will exceed your expectations.

A culinary hub with chefs, food artisans, and local small businesses, 4th Street Market features an impressive spread of cuisines, including burritos, hot fried chicken, seafood, burgers, vegan pizza, and Thai street food; there’s a vendor for every taste bud.

Open daily from 9 am to 9 pm, 4th Street Market is located in downtown Santa Ana and brings in droves of people each day, both locals and tourists alike. Featuring indoor and outdoor seating and takeout options, the market can house both large parties and small tables.

The dining hall features local events and music on particular nights throughout the month for diners to enjoy.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Riverside, California

3. Lyon Air Museum

Lyon Air Museum Exhibit
image by Ducatipierre is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Address: 19300 Ike Jones Road Santa Ana, CA 92707

Lyon Air Museum is located on the west side of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California.

Founded by General William Lyon (USAF), Lyon Air Museum features authentic aircrafts, rare military vehicles, and historical memorabilia pertaining to the World War II era.

Enjoy a docent-led tour for a walk through history as you see and touch the historic aircrafts that helped shape the 20th century. Featuring aircrafts including the Cessna Birddog, Boeing B-17, and theNorth American AT-6/SNJ-6, there is so much to learn and appreciate in the aircraft exhibit at Lyon Air Museum.

Other exhibits offer a unique look into automobiles from the 1930s and 40s, military motorcycles including America’s oldest motorcycle brand, and a Japanese sidecar motorcycle. Get a glimpse of some military Jeeps and other vehicles used in WWII.

Most tours are under an hour and provide great insight into the military strategies and influences of World War II. The aircraft and vehicles are all restored to pristine condition, and you can spend several hours wandering the exhibits and learning about the US military from many local veterans.

Lyon Air Museum is open every day from 10 am to 4 pm, with general tickets costing $13 and children under 5 for free.

Ayres Hotel Costa Mesa – Newport Beach is one of the best hotels close to the museum.

Purchase museum tickets and learn more here.

4. River View Golf Course

River View Golf Course
image by River View Golf Course/Facebook

Address: 1800 W Santa Clara Ave Santa Ana, CA 92706

Ready to hit the links on a gorgeous sunny day in Southern California? There’s no better way to get some sunshine and fresh air than at River View Golf Course!

The 18-hole golf course features over 6,000 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 70. Enjoy the challenge of a solid game of golf on one of the most picturesque golf courses in the OC.

Enjoy elevated tees and greens and a night-lit driving range with target greens and pins at distances of 10-300 yards. Didn’t bring your clubs on vacation? No problem. The clubhouse has great options for rentals.

Grab your friends, a golf cart, and some beverages, and enjoy your time on the green. Golfing in Orange County is a must-do if you love the sport and are visiting the area.

If you’re looking for a refresher before you hit the course, River View Golf Course offers golf lessons, clinics, camps, and instructions by PGA Class A golfer Pat Pohlen and many other professional golfers. You’ll be a pro in no time!

For tee times and more information, visit their website or call (714) 563-8435 to book.

See Related: Best Golf Bachelor Party Destinations to Visit

5. Discovery Cube Orange County

Discovery Cube Orange County Architecture

Address: 2500 N Main Street Santa Ana, CA 92705

Previously known as Discovery Science Center, this tourist attraction is one of the best in the Santa Ana, California area. Discovery Cube Orange County is a non-profit science center whose mission is to inspire and educate young minds through engaging, interactive science-based programs.

Featuring over 100 hands-on exhibits, Discovery Cube Orange County provides a full day of entertainment, learning, and adventure.

Exhibits include the Physics Lab featuring a race track and toy cars, an Organics Waste Lab to learn about composting, an outdoor dinosaur-themed exhibit, and the Aquavator underwater experience to learn about the science of water.

There’s truly something for everyone (even parents!) to learn and discover.

Discovery Cube Orange County also features a two-story tall dinosaur, an Eco Challenge to become a green superhero, and a real rocket launch simulator. It’s an exciting place to inspire kids to explore their curiosities, so don’t miss out on this neat place when you’re in Santa Ana.

Designed for children of all ages, Discovery Cube Orange County is a fantastic way to spend a day of your vacation. It is easily one of the best things to do in Santa Ana with kids.

The discovery science center is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets for kids 14 and under cost $14.95, and for adults 15 and over, they cost $19.95. For a side quest, you can visit San Francisco on a hop-on hop-off bus tour and Old Town San Diego on a bus tour.

6. Featherly Regional Park & Canyon RV Park

RVs in Canyon RV Park
image by Gauwe58/TripAdvisor

Address: 24001 Santa Ana Canyon Road Anaheim, CA 92808

Located in Santa Ana Canyon, Featherly Regional Park is a great place to spend the day with your family.

Open 7 days a week from 8 am to 8 pm, this park is rich in local history. Purchased by the Irvine Company for cattle ranching, eventually, plans for the park evolved to provide a place for Orange County residents and visitors to use for recreational purposes.

In the 1960s, locals and tourists both used the park’s ideal location along the Santa Ana River bank to have picnics, swim in the river, and spend the day in the sunshine.

Today, Featherly Regional Park is mostly restricted, with the main access point being Canyon RV Park. Canyon RV Park offers RV sites with full hook-ups, small cabins, youth group camping, and areas for group events.

If camping is in your plans while in Orange County, be sure to check out Canyon RV Park for some great views and to unplug from the hustle and bustle of Orange County. You’ll feel removed from the city without having to travel very far, making it a great overnight or two-day trip.

Canyon RV Park’s entrance is at Gypsum Canyon Road and the 91 Freeway.

See Related: How to Rent an RV: Tips for Renting RV for a Road Trip

7. Heritage Museum of Orange County

Heritage Museum of Orange County
image by Perkadventures/TripAdvisor

Address: 3101 W. Harvard St. Santa Ana, CA 92704

Interested in learning more about the history of Orange County, its residents, and local buildings and architecture? Heritage Museum of Orange County preserves, promotes, and restores the heritage and culture of Orange County and its surrounding regions.

Open most weekends from 11 am to 3 pm, the museum sits on 12 acres in Santa Ana and features several buildings from the 1890s.

Set amongst the citrus trees and flower gardens, Heritage Museum’s most popular landmark is the Kellogg House, one of the first Neo-classical Victorian-style homes in Orange County.

Be sure to stop at the Gospel Swamp Farm and Natural Area at the Heritage Museum, which is maintained by local high school students. Take the kids to explore the grounds and learn some interesting facts about Santa Ana and its original residents.

Along with its rich history, the Heritage Museum is also home to many local community educational programs and events throughout the year. These include markets selling handmade goods and local art, music festivals, ghost tours, and more.

Spending the day in the historic Orange County district at the Heritage Museum will give you a taste of the area’s rich beginnings and how it became what it is today.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Orange County, CA

8. Blinking Owl Distillery

Blinking Owl Distillery Bra Stool Chairs
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 802 E Washington Ave Santa Ana, CA 92701

Need a night out with your partner or friends? Leave the kids at home and head to Blinking Owl Distillery for a night of craft cocktails, tasty bites, and great energy.

Husband and wife team Brian and Robin took over the Blinking Owl Distillery a few years ago and restored it to its former glory with a few custom updates and unique flair.

The first of its kind in Orange County, Blinking Owl holds a special craft liquor license that allows them to operate their own tasting room and sell their products on-site.

Blinking Owl is a 100% California product company, meaning all of the grains used in their distilling are organic and from California farms only.

Featuring cocktails with artsy names like Spicy Aqua-Vita-Rita, Dirty Bird Martini, and the Jungle Owl, you’re sure to have a good time when you visit.

If you’re hungry, they have a full bistro menu including tasty treats like smoked salmon deviled eggs, pizza pies, skirt steak, and more. Come for the food and drinks, but stay for the atmosphere.

If it’s the distillery process you’re interested in, Blinking Owl offers behind-the-scenes tasting tours where you can witness firsthand the elaborate process of distilling whiskey, vodka, and gin.

Leave the kids at home and have a great night out in Santa Ana.

Thirsty for more?

Taste delicious wine on a Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Full-Day Tour, or enjoy more beers in San Francisco’s Craft Beer Walking Tour.

See Related: Free California Travel Guide: Printable Guide to Travel

9. Bowers Museum

Bowers Museum

Address: 2002 North Main Street Santa Ana, Ca 92706

If you’re Googling “What is Santa Ana, California, known for?” while planning your trip, Bowers Museum is sure to pop up, as it’s one of the most important landmarks in the area.

Opened in 1936, Bowers Museum is a local gem situated in the heart of Santa Ana. Its mission is simple — preserve the culture and history of Orange County with galleries, exhibits, and a wide breadth of information for interested visitors and locals who are eager to learn.

The exhibits, artifacts, and galleries at Bowers Museum focus on Santa Ana and Southern California as a whole, with over 90,000 artifacts and works of art open to the public.

Recent noteworthy exhibits include Terra Cotta Warriors, Mummies: Treasures from the British Museum, Guo Pei: Couture Beyond, and Inside the Walt Disney Archives. There’s something for everyone at Bowers Museum, so be sure to add it to your list of places to visit in Santa Ana, California.

The museum is a local hot spot for art, music, workshops, film viewings, and much more. There are dedicated events and programs for children, including story time, art classes, and music lessons.

Bowers Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. There’s also a restaurant on site, the award-winning Patina Restaurant, Tangata.

During your visit, be sure to make a stop at the Gallery Store, where you can browse through exhibit-related books, apparel, jewelry, and much more.

If you’re looking for accommodation to book in Santa Ana, use Booking.com and Hotels.com to get the best deals.

See Related: Best Weekend Trips from Orange County, CA: Top Getaways

10. Old Orange County Courthouse

Old Orange County Courthouse Architeture

Address: 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd. Santa Ana, CA 92701

Easily one of the most popular Santa Ana attractions, the Old Orange County Courthouse is located in downtown Santa Ana and has a rich history in the city. It’s Southern California’s oldest court building and has been witness to many important city events over the years.

The courthouse was dedicated in 1901, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a State of California Historic Landmark.

Located within the courthouse is the OC History Center, which offers historical programs for visitors. Courtroom Number One has appeared in a variety of blockbuster films, including Legally Blonde, Norma Rae, and Catch Me If You Can.

Browse the exhibits, galleries, and displays throughout the old Courthouse for an inside look at regional and local Santa Ana history. The building was completely restored in 1992 and stands as one of the most historic and impactful structures in the region.

For a free activity to do in Santa Ana, California, the Old Orange County Courthouse is a great way to spend a few hours.

Admission to the Old Orange County Courthouse and museum is free, and the offices and exhibits are open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4:30 pm.

See Related: Best Road Trips in the USA

11. Peters Canyon Regional Park

Trail in Peters Canyon Regional Park
image by by kgroovy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 8548 Canyon View Ave Orange, CA 92869

For an outdoor adventure right outside Santa Ana, look no further than Peters Canyon Regional Park.

Open daily from 7 am to sunset, Peters Canyon Regional Park has fantastic trails for walking, running, biking, and horseback riding.

Historically, Peters Canyon Regional Park served as a training area for the U.S. Army during World War II. The land was dedicated in 1992 to become the expansive, beautiful public park it is today.

Pack a lunch, grab the kids, don your hiking shoes, and spend the day surrounded by nature. The park has two picnic areas where you can comfortably spend the day with your family.

Complete with stunning views of Orange and Santa Ana, Peters Canyon Regional Park allows you to take a break from the bustling city and get some fresh air without having to travel very far.

If you are searching for ideas on what to do in Santa Ana, you may be surprised by how many local parks are available in the area.

You have your pick of scenic views, hiking trails, picnic spots, birdwatching, and epic bike trails. Peters Canyon Regional Park offers a little bit of everything, making it a must-visit location for families or solo travelers.

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See Related: Best Holiday Spots for Couples

12. Yost Theater

Yost Theater Building

Address: 307 N Spurgeon St. Santa Ana, CA 92701

When it first opened in 1913, Yost Theater was known as the Auditorium Theater, and it had several name changes throughout the years before it was purchased by Edward Yost.

Located in the heart of downtown Santa Ana, Yost Theater was sold a few times during the 20th century and was finally restored and converted to a live theater in 2007 after years of alterations and defacements by its various, previous owners.

Today, Yost Theater hosts local events, musicians, DJs, weddings, lectures, concerts, and more. Noted performers throughout the years include Thrice, Sonny & Cher, Alien Ant Farm, and Ike & Tina Turner.

If you’re looking for a night out on the town in Santa Ana and want to experience a historic landmark, make sure to add Yost Theater as one of the top places to visit.

Click here for more information on Yost Theater, upcoming events, and local happenings.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Venice Beach, California

Getting Around Santa Ana, California

As one of Orange County’s most popular cities, Santa Ana is a bustling and energetic city. Whether you’re here with your children, partner, or friends, or traveling solo, there are many cost-efficient ways to get around the city and its surrounding areas.

Travel by Rental Car

If you’re visiting the Orange County area or staying in Santa Ana with your family, a rental car is the best option. Most of the landmarks and sites in Santa Ana require driving, particularly those in the nearby cities.

As a city, Santa Ana has great public parking at reasonable rates, so you’ll never struggle to find a spot. You can rent cars on Kayak and Rentalcars.com. For safety, don’t forget to get World Nomads travel insurance.

See Related: Rental Cars That You Can Take Out of State

Travel by Rideshare

Uber and Lyft both operate in Santa Ana, and you’ll find the ridesharing options are very reasonably priced and easy to use. Particularly for nightlife or downtown areas, ridesharing is a more efficient option if you’re planning to go out for the night or drink alcohol.

Visit Uber or Lyft to check rates or schedule rides in Santa Ana and the surrounding areas.

Travel by Train

Santa Ana is a stop on the Metrolink, the train that travels between the locations of  Orange County, Los Angeles, and Riverside County. It’s a great way to get around if you want to see other cities and don’t want to pay California gas prices or deal with the traffic.

FAQ

As you plan your trip to Santa Ana, you may have questions about must-see tourist attractions and events in the area. Here are some frequently asked questions that will help you plan your trip and build an itinerary with the best spots around.

What is the best thing to do with kids in Santa Ana, California?

Traveling to Santa Ana with kids means you’ll get to visit some great local parks, museums, and educational centers. We recommend Discovery Cube Orange County, the Santa Ana Zoo, and Bowers Museum.

What are some fun things to do in Santa Ana, California?

Where to start?!
Hit the links at River View Golf Course, learn about the history of the city at the Heritage Museum, and explore contemporary art at Bowers Museum of Orange County.

Take a hike at one of the city’s many public parks, hit Newport Beach for a day in the sun, or jump on the Metrolink train and see Los Angeles for the day.

What are some things to do in Santa Ana, California, when it’s raining?

The Discovery Cube offers hours of indoor entertainment for the whole family. Downtown Santa Ana attractions include Yost Theater and learning about distilling whiskey at the Blinking Owl Distillery. 

What are the best tourist attractions in Santa Ana, California?

Santa Ana, California, tourist attractions are plentiful, but they still have a mellow, local feel. The Santa Ana Zoo is a must-see if you have kids.

Lyon Air Museum is a great way to spend an hour or two on your way in or out of John Wayne Airport for a glimpse of some of the most historic aircrafts in US military history.

For those asking, “Is Santa Ana, California, worth visiting?” We’re confident this post will encourage you to check out the funky, historical gem in Orange County. Happy travels!

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