Mission Viejo is a city of 100,000 residents that’s just 15 kilometers inland from Newport Beach and the Pacific Ocean.
Located in Southern California’s Orange County, it’s close enough to downtown Los Angeles to make day trips popular for visitors intent on getting the most from their limited vacation time.
Mission Viejo is one of the country’s largest master-planned communities and is particularly well-known for its abundant parks, golf courses, cultural attractions, and restaurants.
It’s also close enough to some of the state’s most iconic beaches and parks, so keeping busy while in the area shouldn’t be an issue.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Mission Viejo, California.
1. O’Neill Regional Park
For its convenient location and abundant activity options, O’Neill Regional Park is a natural fit for outdoorsy types interested in enjoying time in the great outdoors without driving to distant state and national parks.
The park is just a few minutes from the downtown area. It draws fishers, hikers, bird watchers and mountain bikers from all over Orange County.
O’Neill Park has paved and unpaved paths and trails suitable for visitors of most ages and levels of physical ability, and there are often staff-led activities like guided weekly walks.
Consider visiting during the week or early in the morning if you’d like to avoid the crowds.
2. Casta Del Sol Golf Course
For a relatively small city, Mission Viejo has an impressive array of golf courses; they run the gamut from pricy and private to affordable and public.
Casta Del Sol Golf Course has been around since the ‘70s. It’s a favorite for local players who prefer to play a short course that doesn’t tie up four or five hours of their day.
At just over 3,700 yards, it’s about 40% shorter than most traditional 18-hole courses, which means more time for hitting the beach or exploring the area’s other attractions.
The par-61 course features Bermuda fairways, strategically located sand and water hazards, and holes that range from just over 100 to more than 230 yards.
3. A Hidden Vine on the Lake
Though Southern California is more well-known for its beaches and microbreweries, it has also undergone a wine renaissance in recent years.
Set on the scenic shores of Lake Mission Viejo, A Hidden Vine on the Lake is the perfect place to while away a balmy afternoon with great friends, amazing views, and some of the region’s most sought after wines.
The winery offers visitors a patio with unobstructed views of the lake, and the staff host weekly tasting events.
Guests will benefit from their expert guide’s insights into appreciating the nuances of each wine they’re tasting, which are paired with tasty snacks like bread, cheese, charcuterie, and even sweets.
Seating is limited, so reserve your spaces in advance.
4. Mission Viejo Mall
Featuring more than 100 shops and restaurants in the heart of Mission Viejo, Mission Viejo Mall is the perfect retail therapy escape destination for those who’ve had their fill of outdoor attractions and the often harsh California sun.
The mall is anchored by large national retailers like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and H&M. There are tons of dining options too, ranging from fast-food to high-end eateries like P.F. Chang’s and The Cheesecake Factory.
Other mall amenities include bike racks, diaper changing stations, and a play area for kids.
Mission Viejo Mall is conveniently located just off I-5 at the Crown Valley Parkway exit.
5. Burke Williams Day Spa
Back in the mid-‘80s, Burke Williams pioneered the urban day spa experience that would become relatively common on the wellness scene.
The Burke Williams Day Spa is located on Crown Valley Parkway in Mission Viejo, and was primarily modeled after traditional European day spas – but with a few contemporary twists.
The spa features a large selection of treatments and activities, including massages, facials, and free time spent in the whirlpool, steam room, and sauna.
Previous guests have described the Burke Williams Day Spa as an oasis and a sanctuary for health, beauty, and relaxation.
6. Lake Mission Viejo
Lake Mission Viejo is Mission Viejo’s most popular outdoor recreation destination. It’s conveniently located between Interstate 5 and California Route 241, just a few minutes north of town.
The lake is open year-round but tends to draw the biggest crowds in the spring and summer, when it doubles as a live entertainment venue.
Lake Mission Viejo features shaded seating areas, restrooms, boat ramps, and multiple beaches. The number of guests is limited, so getting there early is imperative during peak times.
In past years, nationally-known musicians and bands have played at the lake’s summer concert series.
7. California Fire Museum
Located on Trabuco Road in Mission Viejo, the California Fire Museum is part historical attraction and part safety learning center.
The museum has been around for nearly two decades and was the brainchild of local business leaders and safety experts, who saw the potential in combining two worthwhile community attractions under one roof.
The California Fire Museum is just one attraction found inside the city’s Great Park. It features a unique collection of historic and firefighting memorabilia that give guests interesting insights into how it has evolved over the years.
The facility also hosts regular safety courses and seminars that are worth checking out as well.
8. Kona Loa Coffee
Kona Loa Coffee was established in Mission Viejo in 2014 and features an all-Hawaiian lineup of coffees from the big island of Kona.
Coffee aficionados love Kona Loa’s potent coffee flavors; drinks come in a variety of hot and cold options.
Kona Loa’s menu is popular for its traditional Hawaiian breakfast fare as well as hearty burritos, shaved ice, smoothies, and chai tea.
Previous guests have commented on its relaxed but contemporary environment, fast Wi-Fi, and comfy seats.
Kona Loa Coffee is located on Jeronimo Road in Mission Viejo. Seating fills quickly, so consider stopping by early if you’ll be working on-site.
9. Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park
Located just five kilometers southeast of Mission Viejo in Trabuco Canyon, the Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park is an excellent choice for value-conscious outdoor enthusiasts.
The park opens early and closes at sunset. It’s the lowlight morning and evening hours that some visitors find the most alluring.
It’s also when the crowds tend to be the smallest, and when animals that have remained elusive during the day come out to feed.
There’s a relatively small daily parking fee for visitors and a network of well-marked paths that lead to bridges, streams, treed areas, and a butterfly garden.
10. Hatam Restaurant
Located on Jeronimo Road in Mission Viejo, Hatam Restaurant is northern Orange County’s go-to destination for hungry travelers looking to experience an authentic taste of traditional Persian Cuisine.
Hatam is also a popular area caterer and offers take-out and delivery for those who’d rather eat in their own digs after a long day on their feet.
Perennial favorites include kabobs and bademjan. The restaurant has its own convenient app that allows guests to order and pay for their food before arriving, which generally eliminates wait time for those with busy schedules.
Hatam Restaurant is a family-owned and operated restaurant founded in 1997.
11. Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
Comprised of more than 2,000 acres of riparian wilderness, just 15 minutes from downtown Mission Viejo, Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is most popular for its distinctive rock formations and dozens of multi-use trails.
More than a decade ago, much of the park was scorched in the large Santiago Fire. Though it has recovered, much of its vegetation hasn’t fully regrown, giving it a uniquely sparse and lunar appearance.
The park’s trails are open to walkers, runners, and bikers. Though it may be tempting to head into the canyons for a little wilderness exploration, it’s strictly off-limits.
12. Laguna Niguel Regional Park
Because of its year-round warm weather, many game fish like largemouth bass grow larger in California than they do in other states with harsh winters.
Laguna Niguel Regional Park’s centerpiece is a 40-plus acre lake that’s a big draw for local anglers looking to wet a line.
During the fishing season, the lake is stocked with bass and trout. Boats, fishing rods, and float tubes are available to rent for those without their own gear.
Each angler must purchase a day-use permit at the park welcome center before fishing. Other park activities include tennis, volleyball, picnicking, and boating.
Laguna Niguel is about 15 kilometers southwest of Mission Viejo.
13. Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club
Located on the grounds of the Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo, Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club is a public day-use course spread across nearly 250 acres of some of the area’s most impressive natural settings.
From the farthest tees, the 18-hole course plays 7,000 yards, making it a challenge for experienced players and big hitters alike.
Arroyo Trabuco features dramatic changes in elevation, water, sand, and lateral hazards, and multi-tiered greens set amidst dramatic natural desert backdrops.
The course is located on Avery Parkway in Mission Viejo and includes pre-round practice areas, a restaurant, and a fully stocked pro shop.
14. Irvine Barclay Theater
Located on Campus Drive in Irvine, just 20 minutes northwest of downtown Mission Viejo, the Irvine Barclay Theater is one of the area’s most popular live entertainment venues.
It has been open since 1990 and features a modern 800-seat hall known for its great acoustics and all-around intimate feel.
The theater is run by the University of California Irvine and the city government. Throughout the year, it hosts various productions, including dance, music, and dramatic performances.
Most of the productions include local talent, so seeing a show or two is a great way to support performers and the economy.
15. Niguel Botanical Preserve
At just 18 acres, it’s smaller than many of its Southern California counterparts, but the Niguel Botanical Preserve makes up in splendor for what it lacks in size.
The preserve features a number of distinct cultivated areas that include native and exotic species of drought-resistant plants, trees, and flowers.
It’s crisscrossed by a network of well-marked paths that include viewing and seating areas and informational signage describing the things you’re seeing.
The preserve’s entrance is located on Crown Valley Parkway in Laguna Niguel. Depending on traffic, it’s usually no more than a 25-minute drive from Mission Viejo.