West Coast Breeze: 5 must-see stops for your next trip to Orange County (2024)






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Breeze now offers nonstop flights between TPA and SNA, and TPA's C.J. Johnson hopped aboard this easy gateway to southern California.

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Next stop, California! Breeze launched nonstop flights between TPA and Orange County (SNA) on May 31, 2024, connecting the Tampa Bay region to its third-largest unserved market for the first time.

TPA recently sent its own C.J. Johnson on the inaugural flight to Orange County, giving him the opportunity to explore its many highlights. C.J. manages TPA’s social media accounts and is an avid traveler, so he was happy to share his experiences below.

Nice and easy! Flying with Breeze for the first time: I'm always excited when offered a chance to visit California, especially when it's a trip to Orange County. With Breeze Airways' new nonstop service between TPA and Santa Ana's John Wayne Airport (SNA), I was thrilled to hop on board and be one of the first passengers on the inaugural flight. West Coast Breeze: 5 must-see stops for your next trip to Orange County (2)

This flight was also of particular interest to me as it was my first time flying with Breeze. The airline, which began flying at TPA in 2021, has quickly grown its network and now offers 22 nonstop destinations from Tampa. Having the opportunity to experience a new airline for me only added to the excitement of the trip.

After checking in on the Breeze mobile app, my carry-on bag and I skated through through through security and went right to my gate. Breeze hooked me up with a seat in its Ascent cabin, which (for a long, five-hour flight) offered the perfect amount of legroom. The seat was incredibly comfortable and offered a chance to kick back and relax. Plus, this Airbus A220 aircraft featured tons of charging ports at my seat and large restrooms. I was already impressed with my first Breeze experience before we even left the ground. West Coast Breeze: 5 must-see stops for your next trip to Orange County (3)

Once we were airborne, I logged on to the Wi-Fi and found it fast enough to continue working seamlessly from the sky. The flight attendants lived up to Breeze's “Nice” slogan, offering me plenty of delicious snacks (pro tip: get the popcorn!) and refreshing drinks for the haul across the country. I found everyone to be truly friendly onboard. Even the passengers seemed to be in a good mood.

Before I knew it, we touched down at SNA. After I grabbed my rental car, I set off to explore one of my favorite places on earth. Below are five of my recommendations for must-see stops on your trip to Orange County.

An outdoor paradise: Nestled along Highway 1, Laguna Beach offers visitors a warm and inviting introduction to Orange County. From wandering the boardwalk to enjoying a pickup volleyball game to surfing the waves (or watching those who do), there's plenty to see and do in this delightful town.

After hopping off the flight from TPA, I was ready to grab something to eat. If stunning ocean views and delicious food sound like your thing, stop by Las Brisas. This delightful restaurant is ideally located near all the shops and attractions. For the best views, ask to be seated in the rose garden, located at the back of the restaurant along the sidewalk that hugs the coastline.

Once you've fueled up, go for a walk and explore the numerous shops on Forest Avenue. Or, if you're looking to procure some conversation pieces for your home or office, art enthusiasts will easily find options by strolling through the many galleries on North Coast Highway.

If you're like me, you may need a coffee (or three) to keep going after all of this adventure. My favorite spot to stop in Laguna is Moongoat Coffee. The churro latte? Count me in!

To wrap up your day in Laguna, head to Heisler Park. I've visited this park on many occasions over the years, and it is easily one of my favorite places to watch the sunset. You might even spy on one of the artists camped out nearby, painting your surroundings in real time. On this visit, I was lucky enough to be treated to a live music performance. Tourists and locals gathered to take in the sounds and beauty as the day passed.

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A world of its own: After seeing a photo on Instagram of Catalina Island, I decided I had to visit. Located about 30 miles off the coast of mainland California, this magical island feels like an entirely different universe. I hopped aboard the Catalina Flyer for the 90-minute journey from Newport Beach to Avalon, one of the two towns on Catalina the Flyer services. The large boat featured both indoor and outdoor seating, so I picked an open-air spot at the very top and front of the boat. Little did I know that this average journey would turn into something spectacular.

After leaving the harbor, our captain announced that a whale had been sighted ahead, so he slowed the pace of our boat and eventually came to a halt. I looked just to my left and a blue whale – the largest animal on the planet -- was close by, breaching the cold Pacific Ocean and diving back under. I was absolutely amazed and shocked at this show of nature, snapping more photos and videos than anyone ever should. Passengers rushed to my side of the boat and, thankfully, we didn't tip over. As the whale slowly meandered away, we resumed our journey to Catalina and were accompanied by dolphins jumping in our wake.

Upon arriving at Catalina Island, I felt like I'd entered another world. In the town of Avalon, golf carts rule the day instead of typical vehicles. Public beaches, live music and an array of shops and dining spots will make you feel as if you've been transported to the Amalfi Coast (or at least Disneyland). I was in the mood for something to eat, so I stopped by Coney Island West for shrimp and fries before indulging in a ginormous latte-flavored ice cream cone from Sailor's Delight Ice Cream Shop. The island, developed by William Wrigley of Wrigley chewing gum fame and once the home of the Chicago Cubs' spring training games, has a rich and fascinating history that's worth exploring. Whether you have just a day or can squeeze in a weekend here, I'd highly recommend adding Catalina Island to your itinerary.

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Dinner on the water: Looking for an upscale dining experience with easy beach access nearby? Don't miss out on Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach. Home to high-end dining and shopping spots, the Village has plenty of places to fill up that extra checked bag you brought along on the trip. I grabbed a coffee from Herst and wandered around before making my way to the nearby Newport Beach Pier. If you'd like to watch surfers catch the morning waves or soak up some afternoon sun, look no further.

As evening fell, I'd recommend dressing up a bit for dinner at Malibu Farm. This farm-to-table restaurant is one of four in Southern California. Having been to the Malibu Farm location up the road in Malibu for brunch years ago, I was excited to try the dinner fare for the first time. I made a reservation ahead of time and would highly suggest any potential visitors do the same. On the evening of my visit, it was a bit chilly outside, so the staff placed comfortable blankets at each seat and had warm gas fires nearby. I was seated right on the water and as the music drifted through the air, I decided to order something very healthy - Newport Nachos - for my appetizer! And, to follow-up on that healthy decision, I chose the creamy, dreamy lobster mac and cheese for my main course. I'm happy to report that whenever I'm given the chance to return to Malibu Farm again, you'll probably catch me ordering the same items from the menu.

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Hike and bike: I knew I needed to get some fresh air and exercise to work off all that food from Malibu Farm. If a hike along the Pacific sounds like your cup of tea, I recommend spending time at the Headlands Trail in Dana Point. I parked at Strand Vista Park and walked up the street to the trail entrance. This trail is unpaved, so bring your best hiking boots or sturdy shoes. I was greeted by a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle, with birds chirping and waves crashing against the shore. If you're feeling adventurous, continue the hike down to the caves for a breathtaking experience. This is best done during low tide. Despite the wobbly walk over the big rocks and unsteady terrain, this hike quickly became one of the highlights of my trip. Plus, with Bear Coast Coffee close by, I stopped once (okay, maybe twice) to pre-fuel and re-fuel for this adventure.

If hiking isn't your thing, I'd recommend grabbing fresh air by biking in Huntington Beach. After arriving there, I snagged a bike from Ding Drx for just $10 and cruised along the Pacific Coast Highway. At Huntington, there's a dedicated path along the beach for those who want to walk and bike. Before I knew it, I had cruised six miles. I made a stop at the pier which just so happened to be hosting a retro Volkswagen Bus showcase. Dozens of tricked out buses lined the pier and as I wandered by, I snapped tons of photos and dreamed of owning one myself … in another lifetime, of course.

After all that hiking and biking, I'd recommend a stop at Duke's right on the beach. After visiting their location in Honolulu, Hawaii, last December, I perked up when I learned about their location in Huntington Beach. This chain is located only in Hawaii and California, so swing by for a drink or a bite and enjoy the good vibes Duke's is known for.

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Theme parks (and theme park recovery) - Anaheim and Orange: Theme-park lovers rejoice! Disneyland, Universal, SeaWorld, Knott's Berry Farm and many other major theme parks are located in Orange County. One can easily spend a weekend (or a few weeks) at these. One of my new favorite spots near these major attractions is the Anaheim Packing House, a large food hall with options galore. Inside, you'll find two floors packed with restaurants offering everything from delicious dim sum to savory pizza. After wandering around and mulling my options, I finally chose Black Sheep Grilled Cheese Bar where I indulged in a sourdough sandwich filled with fontina cheese and bacon. With delicious tomato soup and the perfect pickle slice, I'm still thankful I made that choice.

After all the busyness of the theme parks, a visit to the City of Orange is a great way to wind down and relax. I wandered down Glassell Street, stopping at numerous antique stores. The vibrant center circle of this charming city buzzes with activity and is filled with restaurants. While there, I stumbled upon an impromptu opera performance - you just never know what you'll find in California!

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Making my way back to Tampa Bay: After a busy and beautiful visit to Orange County, it was time to head back home. After returning my rental car at SNA, I made it through security in no time (hello, TSA PreCheck!) and boarded Breeze's nonstop flight to TPA. I was again seated in Breeze's Ascent cabin in seat 1A which had plenty of legroom. After jetting out of SNA and making the turn over the Pacific, we began the eastward journey. I'm a bit of an aviation nerd, so I kept checking the in-flight tracker, watching as our dot moved further and further. In less than five hours, we touched down in Tampa Bay.

Breeze's nonstop flight from TPA to SNA offered the perfect option for travel from the Gulf Coast to the West Coast. If you haven't yet tried flying with them, I'd highly recommend doing so. I'm already looking forward to flying them again in the future.

Ready to explore Orange County or one of the other many destinations Breeze offers? Book your next trip today by clicking here: https://www.flybreeze.com/home

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West Coast Breeze: 5 must-see stops for your next trip to Orange County (2024)
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