Orange County is the land of the infamous housewives, Disneyland, and that too-cool-for-school laid-back surfer vibe. Yes, this coastal Californian county comes with its share of stereotypes, but it also offers a diverse plant-based culture far beyond its narrow portrayal on reality TV. There is no need to brave the rush-hour traffic for the well established vegan scene in Los Angeles, as the OC has plenty of vegan-friendly food and activities … if you know where to look. Here are five things to do and eat from a local’s perspective.
1. Explore Laguna Beach and grab an açaí bowl
Laguna Beach is one of Orange County’s most famous cities, thanks to an eclectic mix of art, surf culture, shopping, hiking trails, and stunning views. Park on Cliff Drive near Diver’s Cove and take the footpath south that weaves along the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Pass Main Beach and cross the street to walk along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). You can meander in and out of the streets to visit the local art galleries and clothing shops, but be sure to stop by Banzai Bowls on PCH for a mouthwatering açaí or pitaya bowl. Get it to go, cross the street toward the beach at Oak, head down the stairs, find a rock on which to sit, and savor the goodness as you soak up the sun and watch the surfers ride the waves.
2. See a show and enjoy a cupcake
Orange County has a handful of theaters, but only one is located just blocks from Cupcake Wars-winning vegan cupcakes. Lesli Lonergan of Two Birds Baking Co. sells her vegan (and often gluten-free) treats out of another Cupcake Wars-winning cupcakery, Hapa Cupcakes, in downtown Fullerton (note: Hapa’s cupcakes are not vegan). Lonergan’s cupcakes are displayed in a scrumptious tower comprised of numerous flavors from which to choose, such as Death by Chocolate (a must), Red Velvet Oreo, Cinnamon Donut, and a variety of seasonal flavors. Once you make your cupcake selection, head over to the Maverick Theater for a night of entertainment. Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance because this theater is tiny!
3. Bike and brunch
Want to blend in like a local? Rent a beach cruiser from Ray’s Rentals in Newport Beach ($10 for a half-day), and follow this route to Alta Coffee—a casual local spot just off the hectic main drag—where you can sit down to a terrific cup of coffee and a hearty vegan brunch. Although Alta is not exclusively vegan, they have one of the best tofu scrambles in town, and they offer both almond and soy milk. For less than $9, customers get a large portion of tofu veggie scramble; two slices of thick, perfectly toasted bread with homemade jam; and a cup of seasonal fresh fruit. After brunch, bike back to Ray’s, completing your five-mile leisurely trek, or continue north on the bike trail toward Huntington Beach.
4. Indulge in some “Healthy Junk”
If you’re visiting Orange County, Disneyland is a must. Although the park tickets aren’t cheap, you can save some cash by grabbing lunch or dinner at Healthy Junk, a vegan quick-service restaurant just a few miles from the happiest place on earth. Besides its proximity to Disneyland, the restaurant is a standout because the menu is extensive, with items such as salads, chili fries, nachos, pizzas, and burgers. For the health-conscious, you can’t go wrong with the Mighty Kale or Cobb salads.
5. Shop, dine, and drink
Those looking for The O.C. experience should don their most fashionable apparel and oversized sunglasses for a day of shopping at Fashion Island. This outdoor mall is a hub for posh retailers, luxury cinemas, and trendy eateries. Stop by Pressed Juicery for a green juice, try on the latest fashions at one of the major department stores or designer boutiques, and sample all the ethically-made cosmetics at Lush (look for the “vegan” sticker, since not all of their products are). Once you’ve shopped up an appetite, drive a few miles on PCH to Gratitude. This plant-based restaurant focuses on healthy, organic, and locally-sourced ingredients, and offers a cool vibe with its airy patio and affirmation-themed dishes. Feeling adventurous? Don’t even bother looking at the menu; just tell your server that you are “Fierce, Committed, and Stunning.” Your meal will not disappoint!
Tanya Flink is a vegan, foodie, and certified Master Personal Trainer based in Orange County.
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