No fewer than four major airports serve Orange and north San Diego Counties: Los Angeles International Airport; Long Beach Airport; John Wayne Airport (in Santa Ana, Orange County); and San Diego International Airport. Amtrak also has trains that stop in most of the counties' cities and large towns, although getting behind the wheel of a car is unavoidable. This is highway country.
About those highways: Remember that this area's interstates, owing perhaps to the locals' perpetual relationship with them, receive an article before their number. Therefore, one would say that the 405 out of L.A. feeds into the 5 halfway into Orange County. One might also say that visitors driving in from Las Vegas can slip into north San Diego County by hopping the 15, which also runs north to south, then connects back to the 5 via tributary highways such as the 78 and the 56. Got it?Regardless, traffic can build up here, especially around rush hours and on hot beach-day weekends. So while these counties do not scatter their points of interest nearly as much as L.A. does, drivers here often need the same degree of patience as their northern neighbors to reach them.
Bing Crosby's song "Where the Surf Meets the Turf" refers to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (delmarracing.com), and the seaside racetrack, which Bing cofounded in the late 1930s, still runs. But this is merely the start of the terrestrial and aquatic pleasures in north San Diego and Orange Counties. By California law, the public has access to the state's entire length of beach. Those bold of wing can take a crash course (no pun intended) at Torrey Pines Gliderport (flytorrey.com), then hang-glide into a bird's-eye view of lovely La Jolla and its harbor. Born under an earth sign?Savor a similar view from the eight miles of lavender- and sage-scented hiking paths of the Torrey Pines State Reserve (torreypine.org). Architecture buffs can enjoy the daily tours of the nearby Salk Institute (salk.edu), the famed research center designed by architect Louis Kahn. And for an unforgettable day in nature, go whale watching during the late winter and early spring months from the ports at Newport Beach (newportwhales.com) or Dana Point (danapointwhalewatch.com).
Venture some twenty miles inland from the coast and you'll find the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park (sandiegozoo.org), where you can see hundreds of animals roaming freely on simulated African plains. More human drama can be found at the La Jolla Playhouse (lajollaplayhouse.com), one of America's best small repertory theaters. In addition to all the well-known aspects of the Disneyland complex, try Disney's California Adventure Park (with its newest attraction, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror) as well as the restaurants and shops of the slower Downtown Disney District (disneyland.com).
Not enough rides?Fast-forward north up the 5 to Knotts Berry Farm (knotts.com) for more mighty roller coasters. Families with very young kids can reverse gears back to Carlsbad's Euro-style Legoland (legoland.com) for gentler fun. While their families are thusly occupied, golfers who plan ahead can stop in for prearranged club- and shaft-fitting sessions at the Carlsbad headquarters of Callaway Golf (callawaygolf.com) or, in Vista, Fujikura Shafts (fujikuragolf.com).
Closer to L.A. lie the neighboring coastal cities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. The more introverted, not-quite-bohemian-anymore Laguna Beach offers copious art galleries clustered around the Laguna Art Museum (lagunaartmuseum.org), the oldest cultural institution in Orange County. For life's material pleasures, the shelves are stacked to capacity at Newport Beach's Fashion Island (shopfashionisland.com), a large Mediterranean-style outdoor mall with two hundred specialty stores and many fine restaurants, cafés and bars. The mammoth South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa (southcoastplaza.com) is more like a city, with shops for a world of folks—your wife will likely flock to Cartier, Aveda and Louis Vuitton, while you might choose to lose yourself in the Montblanc, Bang & Olufson and Porsche Design stores.
Finally, to experience art and natural history together, seek out Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi's California Scenario. This quiet and imaginative 1.6-acre sculpture garden sits inconspicuously between two large steel-and-glass office buildings in the South Coast Plaza. Its presentation of desert, forest and beach ecosystems in miniature form pays homage to California's uniquely varied landscape—the very same landscape that brought you here in the first place.