Though it was founded more than 150 years ago by a Presbyterian minister, the city of Westminster in southern Los Angeles is now most well-known as home to the country’s largest concentration of residents of Vietnamese descent.
The city lies within Orange County near its border with Los Angeles County and is conveniently located near to many of the area’s most iconic attractions.
Westminster is also close to some of the area’s best beaches. It features a number of significant historical and cultural sites that include museums, parks, war memorials, and theaters.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Westminster that warrant a closer look when in the area.
1. The Museum of History of the Republic of Vietnam
Partially hidden behind a tiny plaza on Bosla Avenue in Westminster, the Museum of History of the Republic of Vietnam is one of the city’s most poignant attractions.
Though it’s on the small side, the museum is definitely worth a visit for military and history aficionados. It’s purported to be the only one of its kind in the country because it focuses exclusively on the military history of The Republic of Vietnam.
The museum has only been open for a few years but includes an impressive collection of historical memorabilia, photographs, and first-hand accounts of soldiers and civilians who fought and lived through the conflict.
2. Westminster Memorial Park
Memorial parks and mortuaries don’t tend to rank highly on most vacationers’ itineraries, but for those interested in enjoying the great outdoors and distancing themselves from the crowds, Westminster Memorial Park would be a great choice.
The memorial park is spread across more than 100 scenic acres that include an impressive chapel, traditional Vietnamese pagoda, multiple gardens, and paved paths connecting the ground’s distinct areas.
The park is a great place for a quiet morning or afternoon stroll, and previous visitors have noted that it was surprisingly uplifting despite its abundance of graves.
The entrance is located on Beach Boulevard in Westminster, just a few blocks from the downtown area.
3. Little Saigon
For those with dreams of someday hopping on a plane and experiencing one of Southeast Asia’s most exotic cities, visiting Westminster would be a great substitute, and it’s a lot more affordable.
As America’s premier ‘Little Saigon,’ downtown Westminster is awash in many of the sights, sounds, and smells that you’d experience in the real Saigon.
Though it only encompasses a little more than three square miles, it’s full of authentic restaurants, unique museums, and traditional shops.
Vietnamese people are known for their industriousness and outgoing personalities, so don’t be shy about asking for dining, shopping, and recreation tips.
4. Vietnam War Memorial
With so many worthwhile attractions packed into such a relatively small area, it’s possible to cover lots of ground and see many of Westminster’s sights in a short time.
The Vietnam War Memorial is located on All American Way in Westminster. It features an impressive memorial dedicated to the American and South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who served and lost their lives during the conflict in the ’60s and ‘70s.
The park’s centerpieces are the massive bronze statues depicting American and South Vietnamese soldiers nearly 12 feet high.
There’s also a playground for kids who couldn’t care less about history.
5. Asian Garden Mall
Comprised of more than 200 shops spread over multiple floors, the Asian Garden Mall is one of the city’s premier shopping destinations.
Most of the vendors are immigrants or first-generation Vietnamese Americans. They sell everything from shoes, kid’s clothes, and cosmetics to traditional food, jewelry, and books.
Most shoppers make it a point to stick around for an authentic meal or street food-style snack. Though many vendors converse among themselves in Vietnamese, most speak English.
Parking in the area can go quickly, especially on the weekends, so consider walking or taking public transportation.
6. The Rose Center Theater
Located on All American Way just blocks from Little Saigon Area, the Rose Center Theater is one of the city’s most enduring live performance venues.
The state-of-the-art facility hosts a number of productions throughout the year; they range from traditional Vietnamese music and plays to more contemporary American-style performances.
The theater features a number of seating options to accommodate those of varying budgets. Tickets may be purchased online or at the box office before the show.
They tend to go quickly for popular shows during peak times, so consider purchasing yours early to avoid a sold-out situation.
7. Westchester Golf Course
Golf is one of Southern California’s most popular outdoor recreation activities. For those staying in and around Westminster, there’s no shortage of options.
Conveniently situated between LAX and Westminster in west LA, Westchester Golf Course is a favorite among value-conscious golfers.
The course’s 18 holes stretch for just more than 4,600 yards, which means that most rounds take about three hours to play compared to four or five for larger courses in the 6,000-yard range.
The course is just five or ten minutes west of Westminster. It features a driving range, putting green, and pro shop.
8. Thanh Restaurant
Savvy diners of Vietnamese descent tend to agree that Thanh Restaurant on Bosla Avenue in Westminster has some of the tastiest and most authentic dishes in the area.
That’s quite an accolade considering the abundance of competition in town. They’re also well-known for their reasonable prices, efficient service, and hearty portion sizes.
Perennial menu favorites include egg and spring rolls, fried rice, and pho—a hearty, clear broth noodle soup that comes in a variety of options, including veggies, meat, meatballs, and seafood.
Thanh only accepts cash, and it can get surprisingly busy at peak times, so consider dining early or late if you’d rather avoid the crowds.
9. Mile Square Regional Park
Conveniently located just three blocks southwest of Westminster in Fountain Valley, Mile Square Regional Park packs a lot of punch into a relatively small area.
Featuring multiple golf courses, softball and baseball fields, picnic areas, ponds, and basketball and tennis courts, it’s a popular destination with fit athletic types. It’s also an excellent place for a casual stroll or bike ride.
The park’s cultivated areas are planted with a diverse array of California plant species. For out-of-town visitors, it’s possible to rent bicycles on site for a small daily fee.
Parking spots can disappear quickly during peak times, so plan accordingly.
10. Huntington Beach Pier
Huntington Beach Pier is one of Southern California’s premier attractions, and it’s located just ten kilometers west of downtown Westminster.
One of the Golden State’s longest piers, it offers visitors amazing sightseeing and photography opportunities, as well as activities like fishing.
The beach adjacent to the pier is home to one of the country’s largest annual surfing tournaments, drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators and competitors from all over the world.
The beachfront area has lots of trendy shops and eateries; it’s a great place to relax with a cool drink while engaging in a little people watching.
11. Noguchi Garden
Located on Anton Boulevard in Costa Mesa, just 20 minutes south of Westminster, the Noguchi Garden is a magnificent Japanese-inspired botanical garden created more than 40 years ago.
The public garden includes cultivated areas, sculptures, and natural elements like streams, rocks, and treed areas that create a uniquely relaxing environment with a quintessentially Japanese design.
Though most guests don’t stick around for more than an hour, the Noguchi Garden is an excellent place for a stop and a few quick photographs while on the way to Newport Beach, which is just kilometre to the south on the Pacific coast.
12. Crystal Cathedral
According to locals, the Crystal Cathedral on Chapman Avenue in nearby Garden Grove is the largest glass building of its kind in the world.
Whether that’s the case or just an urban legend dreamed up by the local tourism board, there’s no denying that it’s an impressive structure; under the intense afternoon sun, it lights up like a supernova.
The cathedral is home to one of the world’s largest organs; in order to hear it, you’ll need to swing by for a service, because it’s a fully functioning house of worship.
Garden Grove is just five blocks northeast of downtown Westminster.
13. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Located in Huntington Beach just 15 minutes south of Westminster, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a popular outdoor recreation destination for amateur ornithologists, photographers, hikers, and all-around outdoor enthusiasts.
The reserve is spread over nearly 1,500 acres of diverse habitats, often used as rest areas at different times of the year for several migratory bird species.
Featuring nearly ten kilometers of trails, the preserve is a great place for a morning or afternoon hike or bike ride. For those who’d like to experience things a bit more in-depth, guided tours are available if booked in advance.
14. Stanley Ranch Museum & Historical Village
Before it became a magnet for tourists, sun-seekers, and movie moguls, much of southern California’s expansive land area was dedicated to ranching and the cultivation of citrus crops.
Unlike most other attractions, the ranch includes numerous aspects of the area’s history that touch on the motion picture industry, ranching, and agriculture. Many of the buildings on-site have been restored to near original condition.
The facility is only open a few times a month, so check their website or give them a call before making a special trip.
The Stanley Ranch Museum & Historical Village is one of Orange County’s most underrated historic gems, and it’s just a few minutes northeast of Westminster.
15. South Coast Plaza
Located just 15 or 20 minutes southeast of Westminster, Costa Mesa is one of the area’s most iconic attractions. It’s especially popular with those looking for upscale shopping venues.
South Coast Plaza is home to small boutiques and upscale international brand stores like Dior, Tiffany & Co., and Saks Fifth Avenue.
The plaza also features a wide variety of dining options that run the gamut from coffee shops, bakeries, and quick eats like pizza and burgers to family-friendly restaurants and fine dining eateries.
Other amenities include foreign currency exchange services, wheelchairs, and personal shopping assistance for the extremely well-to-do who just can’t manage retail therapy without a sidekick.