Part of a former Marine Corps air station has been transformed into Orange County Great Park, a sprawling green oasis in the middle of the burbs. Take a big orange helium-balloon ride with forever views from 400 feet up, and check out art galleries and the Farm + Food Lab garden with 12 demonstration plots. ocgp.org
Best time to go: Late spring and early summer, when events like outdoor movies are in full swing.
Stay: The Pacific Edge Hotel in nearby Laguna sits on one of the prettiest stretches of beach in all SoCal, with a reasonable rate for stylish rooms. From $159; pacificedgehotel.com