View of the waves crashing against the shore during sunset at one of the best places for where to stay in Orange County California

Where to Stay in Orange County in 2023 (Best Areas & Places)

You may be surprised at the variety of choices you have when deciding where to stay in Orange County, California. Whether you’re after theme park thrills or balmy beaches, this captivating coastal county delivers plenty of unique and interesting places to stay. 

In this guide, I’ll share the best neighborhoods, plus the top hotels in each area. I’m saving the best for last, so make sure to read to the end! And, after you finish, bookmark my guide to the best things to do in Orange County.

Table of Contents

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Best Places to Stay in Orange County

Just looking for a quick answer on the best places to stay in Orange County? Here are my top picks: 

Ok, let’s do a deep dive into the best areas and neighborhoods in Orange County:

11 Best Neighborhoods & Areas to Stay in Orange County

Encompassing 948 square miles of Southern California, Orange County (Map) borders LA to the north and San Diego to the south. The eastern county line runs through the protected wilderness, and you’ll find the best hotels in Orange County to the west. Here, California beach towns hold court along the coast, ranging from surf burgs to Real Housewives tier-level glamour.   

Newport Beach

View of the docked boats from the patio at Woody’s Wharf at sunset
View from the patio at Woody’s Wharf 

👉 Best Area For Big Boats & Mellow Beaches | ✨ Best Newport Beach Hotels:  Doryman’s Oceanfront InnLido HouseBalboa Bay Resort

Up first we have Newport Beach, which feels right as it’s the first place I visited in Orange County as a kid, and remains close to my heart. 

Earnest preservation of classic attractions like the Balboa Pier and Funzone is part of what makes this delightful seaside town so special. One of the best places to live in California, Newport beach is home to longstanding pubs, restaurants, and waterfront attractions. It has a small-town charm, but the area is anything but run down. 

Orange County is all about swanky real estate, and Newport’s is the swankiest of the lot. If the pleasure yachts docked out front of Balboa Bay Resort don’t convince you, then take a peek at the superyachts in the harbor. Any number of luxuries are ready for those who have the bankroll. Likewise in the shops at the chic Fashion Island – one of the best malls in SoCal.

There are buckets of things to do in Newport without spending a fortune. Visitors can get in on big boat action by way of the Catalina Island ferry. The 90-minute cruise takes you out to explore the best Catalina Island activities, including the darling Mediterranean-style village of Avalon.

Pros of Staying in Newport Beach Neighborhood:

Cons of Staying in Newport Beach Neighborhood:

  • Expensive
  • Not the easiest area to get around
  • Locals can be sort of selectively welcoming

📚 Newport Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Big Boats & Mellow Beaches
Google Map


View of people lounging at The Great Hall in Disney’s Grand Californian Resort
The Great Hall in Disney’s Grand Californian Resort

👉 Best Area For Theme Parks & Conventions | ✨ Best Anaheim Hotels: The Westin Anaheim ResortHome2 Suites By HiltonAyres Hotel Orange

Thanks to the Magic Kingdom, Anaheim is home to some of the most popular hotels in Orange County. If you’re wondering where to stay at Disneyland, then Disneyland Resort and Disney’s Grand Californian Resort feature direct access to Disneyland Park and exquisitely appointed guest rooms. 

When it comes to family-friendly luxury, they’re hard to beat. (And their prices reflect this reputation.)   

Of course, if you’re not set on having direct access to Disneyland, then you’ll find plentiful options nearby for substantially less coin. Best Western Plus Stovall’s Inn and Alamo Inn and Suites Anaheim are two highly-rated Anaheim resort district properties just a short walk from the park’s entrance. 

Other area hotels cater to guests visiting the Anaheim Convention Center. In particular, Westin Anaheim Resort is popular with those traveling on expense accounts.

Pros of Staying in Anaheim:

  • World-famous theme parks 
  • Plentiful shuttles to popular attractions
  • Super welcoming to visitors and families  

Cons of Staying in Anaheim:

  • You’ll need a car to get to the beach
  • Basic hotels, premium prices

📚 Anaheim Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Theme Parks & Conventions
Google Map

Huntington Beach

View of The Huntington Beach Pier from a distance at sunset
The Huntington Beach Pier at sunset

👉 Best Area For Surfing & Classic Beach Vibes | ✨ Best Huntington Beach Hotels:  Kimpton ShorebreakPaséa Hotel & SpaHuntington Surf Inn 

Huntington Beach, one of the best cities in California, is known as Surf City, USA, and they really nail the branding. Nine surf shops, the Surfing Walk of Fame, the International Surfing Museum, Surf City Nights… and that’s just three downtown blocks within walking distance of the pier. 

You’ll find loads of things to do in Huntington Beach, starting with the main attractions: a gorgeous beach, an iconic pier, and world-famous waves. Experienced surfers prize the breaks around the pier. Newcomers will find ample space and kinder waves to practice their skills north of the pier toward Bolsa Chica State Beach. 

Downtown HB is arguably the most touristy of OC’s beach towns. It’s an image bolstered by weekly street fairs, some great California breweries, and a lively, youthful bar scene. Even so, locals frequent this area as much as anyone and there’s plenty of luxury. The eucalyptus steam room in the Paséa Hotel & Resort, for example. 

If you can’t wait to paddle out, be sure to add some of these best LA beaches to your next surfing safari.  

Pros of Staying in Huntington Beach:

  • Easy to walk between shops, restaurants, & beach areas 
  • Lots of family-friendly activities and events
  • Spirited nightlife
  • One of the top surf locations in the US

Cons of Staying in Huntington Beach:

  • Gets crowded, especially in the summer
  • Hotels tend to be either pricey or a bit run-down

📚 Huntington Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Surfing & Classic Beach Vibes
Google Map

Buena Park

View of the wooden wheel at Knott’s Berry Farm on a sunny day
No ticket is needed to visit parts of Knott’s Berry Farm 

👉 Best Area For Theme Parks on a Budget | ✨ Best Buena Park Hotels: Hampton Inn & Suites Buena ParkKnott’s Berry Farm HotelGood Nite Inn Buena Park

If you’re looking to make the most of your money in theme park land, then staying in Buena Park is your best bet. Other hotels in Orange County have comparable room rates, but you hit premium prices everywhere outside the room.

Restaurants and shops are more affordable in this area, with a wider variety available. The main attractions – Knott’s Berry Farm theme park and two pirate/medieval-themed dinner shows – aren’t super cheap, but a bit of digging will usually turn up coupon codes for these as well.     

Pros of Staying in Buena Park:

  • Less expensive than nearby areas
  • Close to top attractions 
  • Hotels cater to families and groups

Cons of Staying in Buena Park:

  • Not easily walkable
  • Beaches are 45 min to an hour away by car 

📚 Buena Park Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Theme Parks on a Budget
Google Map

Seal Beach and Sunset Beach

The author Jericha Griffin taking a selfie in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands with a clear blue sky in the background
Me, in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands near Sunset Beach

👉 Best Area For Beach on a Budget | ✨ Best Seal Beach and Sunset Beach Hotels:  The Pacific InnOcean Surf Inn & SuitesHampton Inn & Suites Seal Beach

Located a few miles north of Huntington Beach, these coastal villages are bookended by wildlife preserves. Seal Beach is a lovely and cost-effective retreat, ideal for quiet nature walks and ruminating by the shore. 

Sunset Beach is technically a neighborhood within the city limits of HB, but it feels like a more mellow, less flashy version of Newport. Probably because much of the town borders Huntington Harbor, which is sort of the sloop to Newport’s super-yacht.   

My standard HB-on-a-budget overnight is Best Western Harbour Inn & Suites and dinner at Captain Jack’s. In general, I find the food around here to be better than what you’d get for the same price elsewhere. 

Local motels & inns are in keeping with what you might expect from budget options – clean and well-maintained guest rooms without many (if any) frills. 

Pros of Staying in Seal Beach and Sunset Beach:

  • Less expensive than nearby beach areas 
  • Laid-back, mellow atmosphere 
  • Smaller, uncrowded beaches 

Cons of Staying in Seal Beach and Sunset Beach:

  • Not as easy to walk around as in other Orange County beach towns
  • Can get mildly skeevy

📚 Seal Beach and Sunset Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Beach on a Budget
Google Maps – Seal Beach, Sunset Beach

  • ✨ Best Hotels The Pacific InnOcean Surf Inn & SuitesHampton Inn & Suites Seal Beach
  • 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Seal Beach and Sunset Beach
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – Captain Jack’s ($$$), Spaghettini ($$$), Crema Café ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – The Hangout Restaurant & Beach Bar, Sunset Lounge Bottoms Up, Hennessey’s Tavern
  • 🎟️ Top Attractions – Mother’s Beach, Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, Bolsa Chica State Beach & Wetlands, Eisenhower Park

Dana Point

View of the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort during the last light
Last light at Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort

👉 Best Area For Romantic Beaches & Resorts | ✨ Best Dana Point Hotels: Blue Lantern InnWaldorf Astoria Monarch BeachLaguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa

South of Laguna, Dana Point is more spacious and relaxed than other OC beach areas. The soft white sand of Doheny State Beach is bordered by fewer businesses, thus drawing fewer crowds. It’s an ideal spot for strolling between stunning vistas with your special person.  

At ultra-luxe Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, guest rooms feature plush bedding and private balconies, many with breathtaking ocean views. One of the best hotels in Orange County, this expansive resort boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center and three outdoor pools.

Personally, I prefer the Capistrano SurfSide Inn. Not as fancy, but it’s more affordable, closer to the beach, and has a cute swimming pool.  

Pros of Staying in Dana Point:

  • Idyllic, pristine beaches 
  • Few crowds
  • Great hotels at a variety of price points

Cons of Staying in Dana Point:

  • Fewer bars & restaurants
  • You’ll need a rental car to get around

📚 Dana Point Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Romantic Beaches & Big Waves
Google Map

Santa Ana, Irvine, and Costa Mesa

View of the seating area at the patio of Courtyard Costa Mesa
Courtyard Costa Mesa

👉 Best Area For Local Vibes & John Wayne Airport | ✨ Best Santa Ana, Irvine, and Costa Mesa Hotels: Holiday Inn Santa Ana-Orange County AirportCourtyard Costa MesaHampton Inn & Suites Irvine/Orange County AirportAvenue of the Arts Costa Mesa 

Located south of the theme parks, this trio of inland cities consists mainly of residential neighborhoods, local industry, and the OC’s largest airport. 

Room prices tend to be more affordable here than in many other Orange County hotels. The central location is easily accessed via multiple freeways, just be sure to plan for traffic.

Santa Ana hotels are ideally located for those looking for lodging near John Wayne Airport. Irvine is quite a desirable place to live and work, with hotels that cater to those with businesses or families in the area. Costa Mesa is the most upscale of the three, and a good base for exploring multiple areas of Orange County. 

One of the area’s best hotels is Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa. Close to the airport and South Coast Plaza, the property features contemporary decor and desirable amenities including an outdoor pool, hot tub, and modern fitness center.

Pros of Staying in Santa Ana, Irvine, and Costa Mesa:

  • Convenient access to John Wayne Airport
  • Reliable, well-known hotel chains with free wi-fi
  • Less touristy than other areas
  • More affordable restaurants & shopping than other areas of Orange County 

Cons of Staying in Santa Ana, Irvine, and Costa Mesa:

  • Will need a car
  • Freeways are heavily trafficked and can be hard to navigate
  • Not much scenery or green space

📚 Santa Ana, Irvine, and Costa Mesa Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Local Vibes & John Wayne Airport
Google Maps – Santa Ana, Irvine, Costa Mesa

Laguna Hills & Canyon Country

View of the sunset over the Laguna Hills from Rockpile Beach
Sunset over the Laguna Hills, seen from Rockpile Beach

👉 Best Area For Nature Excursions | ✨ Best Laguna Hills Hotels: The Ranch at Laguna BeachAyres Hotel Laguna WoodsHomewood Suites Aliso Viejo

Laguna Canyon country is a great spot for those who like to stray from the beaten path or explore authentic local vibes. It’s a more loosely defined area than others on this list, covering quite a few neighborhoods/towns that spread out over the area between the 405/5 freeway and the coast. 

Most hotels in this area are well-known chains suited to visiting family and local business travelers. Homewood Suites Aliso Viejo leans into the amenities, including free breakfast and an outdoor pool.    

If you dig the Laguna Hills, you’ll love the top attractions in Malibu.

Pros of Staying in Laguna Hills & Canyon:

  • Low-key local vibes 
  • Fair prices for good hotels 
  • Great hikes and gardens 

Cons of Staying in Laguna Hills:

  • Not a whole lot to do
  • You’ll need a rental car, fewer rideshares around here

📚 Laguna Hills Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Nature Excursions
Google Map

San Juan Capistrano

View of the fountain in front of the set of bells in San Juan Capistrano
(photo: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock) 

👉 Best Area For Historic Cultural Attractions | ✨ Best San Juan Capistrano Hotels:  Inn at the MissionResidence Inn by Marriott San Juan CapistranoBest Western Capistrano Inn

San Juan Capistrano is a charming suburb built around the centuries-old Spanish mission for which it is named. The site is open year-round, hosting a number of festivals and community events. By far most popular are festivities in March, which celebrate the annual return of the mission’s legendary swallows.

Lodgings here aren’t the fanciest hotels in Orange County but are still the best hotels in Orange County for those looking to visit the mission. You’ll find some laid-back beaches and hiking trails to explore too, but if old churches and birds aren’t your thing, then other OC locales have more to offer. 

If historical hotspots are your happy place, consider taking an LA day trip to check out Olvera Street, one of my fav things to do in downtown Los Angeles.   

Pros of Staying in San Juan Capistrano:

  • Intriguing cultural attractions
  • Restaurants serve great food at fair prices 
  • Secluded beaches and hiking areas 

Cons of Staying in San Juan Capistrano:

  • There’s really just the one attraction  
  • Not the most lively area

📚 San Juan Capistrano Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Cultural Attractions
Google Map

San Clemente

Bee over a white flower

👉 Best Area For Quiet Beaches & Affordable Hotels | ✨ Best San Clemente Hotels:  San Clemente Cove ResortBeachcomber InnSea Horse Resort

Just an hour north of San Diego, San Clemente sits at the tip of South Orange County. Beachfront here remains wild, a favored enclave of seabirds and surfers. Locals migrate to this area in the summer months, but even then you’ll usually have plenty of space to yourself.

Again, you won’t find the fanciest hotels in Orange County here – the odds on plush bedding are slim. In fact, you’re more likely to get a kitchenette than onsite dining. However, stunning views of the Pacific Ocean more than makeup for it. 

And who needs a swimming pool or fitness center with all that gorgeous nature? (That said, Casablanca Inn does have an outdoor swimming pool that’s heated year-round.)

Lovers of this laidback beach burg may find the razzle-dazzle of Anaheim to be a bit much. Legoland, on the other hand, is good fun for anyone with a creative mind. One of the top attractions in Carlsbad, CA, this innovative park is just a 30-minute jaunt down the coast.     

Pros of Staying in San Clemente:

  • Chilled out beaches away from traffic & crowds
  • Big surf 
  • Beachfront guest rooms at bargain prices 

Cons of Staying in San Clemente:

  • Furthest away from top attractions like theme parks 
  • Few bars and restaurants

📚 San Clemente Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Quiet Beaches & Affordable Hotels
Google Map

  • ✨ Best Hotels San Clemente Cove ResortBeachcomber InnSea Horse Resort
  • 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in San Clemente
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – Cedar Creek Inn ($$), L’Hirondelle ($$), Trevor’s at the Tracks ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – Swallow’s Inn, The Hilltop Bar, Hennessey’s Tavern
  • 🎟️ Top Attractions – Mission San Juan Capistrano, Los Rios Street Historic District, Zoomars at River Street Ranch

Laguna Beach

View of the beautiful tail end sunset at Rockpile Beach
The tail end of sunset at Rockpile Beach

👉 Best Area For Romantic Beaches & Art Galleries | ✨ Best Laguna Beach Hotels: Montage Laguna BeachCasa Laguna Hotel & SpaCapri Laguna on the BeachSurf and Sand Resort

Laguna Beach places high on my list of favorite places anywhere in the world. Here, immaculate beaches are dotted with tide pools and nestled among dramatic cliffs topped with lush, green parks. Pleasant, picturesque streets are lined with inviting cafés, boutiques, and galleries. 

Everything is so good that for the most part, Laguna doesn’t require a whole lot of planning, you can just go and enjoy. 

What you will want to get done ahead of time is your hotel reservation. Anything reasonably priced with an ocean view is usually booked well ahead of the busy spring & summer seasons. The same goes for deluxe rooms and fine dining at five-star Montage Laguna Beach and the Surf and Sand Resort.  

There are many more great hotels along the Laguna Beach section of the Coast Hwy. It’s a moderately pricey area; booking early will get you the best rates. Most aren’t chains, which adds to the town’s appeal, but this limits frequent traveler perk potential. 

Pros of Staying in Laguna Beach:

  • Clean, aesthetically pleasing town
  • Easy to explore and enjoy without an agenda  
  • Plenty of great restaurants and bars

Cons of Staying in Laguna Beach:

  • Crowded in summertime
  • Hotels are pricey 

📚 Laguna Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Romantic Beaches & Art Galleries
Google Map

Tips for Staying in Orange County

Travel In the Off-Season

A surfer walking along the beachfront on a sunny day

Hotels in Orange County are substantially more expensive in the summer months, and the crowds can be a lot. To get the best rates and more space to enjoy, book your trip between mid-January and mid-April, or between late September and early November.

For more, see our guide to the best time to visit California.

Plan For the Weather

View of the tall palm trees and other plants near the beach

Thanks to Southern California’s nearly perpetual sunny climate, planning for the weather mostly means bringing lots of sunscreen.

Air temperatures rarely dip below 50° F (10° C), but the Pacific Ocean is another matter. Newport Beach waves are the warmest waves in the area year-round. If you plan on spending a lot of time in the water, then you may want to visit between March and October. Or grab a wetsuit!   

Steer Clear of Rush Hour

View of the cars at the freeway during rush hour

OC traffic isn’t LA traffic, but you’re still going to want to avoid the freeways between about 8 – 9:45 am and 4:30 – 7 pm. 

Backups on Pacific Coast Highway are tougher to predict. Weekday rush hour in the beach towns generally centers around sunset. On weekends, if the sun is out and it’s past 9 am, there will probably be traffic.

Save Time & Money With Hotel Breakfast

A white mug with coffee on the table near the ocean

Leave more time for rides and activities at theme parks by booking a hotel that serves breakfast before the park opens. Paying a bit extra on the rate often comes in under theme park prices for a couple, much less a family.   

For Families, Pick a Hotel With Kid-Friendly Amenities

A smoothie topped with sliced pineapple and flower served on a table near the beach

A posh wellness center like the full-service spa at Surf & Sand Resort is a delight, but you don’t have to spend a bundle to make this work. Howard Johnson Anaheim is among the area’s more affordable hotels. Kids love the hotel’s private waterpark, while mom & dad can lounge with a drink by the hotel pool.

FAQs About Where to Stay in Orange County

View of the beach pier from the shore during sunset

Where should I stay in Orange County CA?

Theme park fans should stay in Orange County, CA cities Anaheim and Buena Park. For a beach vacation, you should stay in Orange County, CA areas along Pacific Coast Highway.   

How do you get around Orange County?

The easiest way to get around Orange County is by car. Rideshares are reliably available in tourist areas and most of the beach towns.   

What is the nicest part of Orange County?

Laguna Beach is the nicest part of Orange County for a relaxing beach getaway, whereas visitors looking for more excitement are likely to find the nicest part of Orange County to be Huntington Beach or Anaheim.    

Where should I go for a weekend in OC?

For a great weekend in OC, check out a beach city – Huntington for lively nightlife & surf culture, Newport for warm waves & big boats, and Laguna for gorgeous views & the best luxury hotels in Orange County.


Now that you know a bit more about the different areas, you can choose where to stay in Orange County on your next trip! It’s a rad place, I know you’re going to have an awesome time. Get planning with our guide to things to do in Orange County.

Have fun in the OC!

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