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7 Hidden Gem Things to Do in Santa Ana, CA

Jon Fesmire | January 5, 2021 @ 12:00 AM

Santa Ana is a lovely city in the heart of Orange County, California. Whether you live here or you’re visiting, there’s a lot to do. Sure, you may come here to visit Disneyland in Anaheim, and who could blame you? However, we encourage you to take a day or two and check out some of the spots below.

Bowers Museum


It’s common to find local museums that celebrate local history, and we’ll get to one of those shortly. Bowers Museum teaches us about cultures and art from around the world. In 1936, Bowers did start as a museum covering the history of Orange County, but it closed in 1987 for an overhaul, and reopened, six times larger, in 1992, and in 2007, the Dorothy and Donald Kennedy Wing opened with 30,000 additional square feet of space.


This is a big place with exhibitions covering our anthropological roots, past presidents, artists from around the world, and a whole lot more. You might learn about mummies and tombs, Native American cultures, or lost civilizations. Even during the COVID crisis, the museum is now open with safety precautions in place.


Lyon Air Museum


If you’re curious about airplanes and flight history, you’ll want to visit the Lion Air Museum. Here, you’ll find authentic airplanes as well as old cars and military vehicles, including military motorcycles. The museum focuses primarily on the WWII era.


You can learn about all these vehicles on their website, but nothing beats seeing them in person. Children are even allowed to sit in some of the vehicles, which is both good fun and a great photo opportunity. Oh yes, and admission is free to U.S. veterans on Veterans Day.

Discovery Cube Orange County


We’ll be honest. The Discovery Cube isn’t so much a hidden gem as a front-and-center gem. Driving along the I-5, one can’t help but spot the large tilted cube off Main Street. However, it belongs on any list of great things to do in Santa Ana or Orange County at large.


This is a wonderful place to take kids where they can learn about science. They always have a fascinating feature exhibit like Impossible Science Live or Doc McStuffins: The Exhibit. Ongoing exhibits include Dino Quest, an interactive dinosaur adventure, Helicopter Tour, a simulated flight over Orange County, and Water Gallery, which teaches about the importance of water in our ecosystem.


Heritage Museum of Orange County


We said we’d cover a museum dedicated to the history of Orange County, and this is it. The Heritage Museum of Orange County is home to the Kellogg House, a historic home preserved as it was in the early 20th century. The property also includes a blacksmith’s shop, the John A. Maag Farmhouse, a small and charming gift shop, and more. Various events take place here, like Wild West Steam Fest and Stargazing Night. You can even schedule your wedding here.


Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park


Open five days a week, from Wednesday to Sunday, the Santa Ana Zoo might be small compared to many other zoos, but there’s plenty to do and see. Visit animals from the Amazon Rainforest and elsewhere, take a ride on the Zoofari Express, the Conservation Carousel, or Fifty Monkeys Ferris Wheel, let your kids play for a while in the Safari Playground, learn about protecting the world’s animals in the Conservation Education Theater, and get yourself or a loved one a stuffed animal in Treetop Toys Gift Shop. This is a great place to take the kids or a date.


Picture Show at Main Place Mall


Want to see a new or classic movie at affordable prices, and get to relax in a reclining leather seat? Santa Ana’s best-hidden gem theater is Picture Show, on the third floor of the Main Place Mall on Main Street.


Prices are reasonable, including the price for concessions. This is another great place to take your family or a date, or just to go alone to catch a movie. Before or after your show, you can check out the many shops in the mall itself.


4th Street Market


Looking for the newest flavors in town? Visit 4th Street Market. One of the features of the market is that the restaurants change regularly, so you’re almost always bound to find something new to try. We feature artisan chefs cooking for you in an upscale, 30,000 square foot space.


The market is in a great location with lots to do nearby. Catch a show at the arthouse theater The Frida Cinema, get some cool clothes at RR Western Wear or R. Rango Hats, and purchase groceries for Hispanic food at Northgate Market.


Pacific Symphony


The goal of the Pacific Symphony is to bring the beauty of classical music to the masses. This is no small ensemble. It’s the largest orchestra created in the United States in the last 50 years. It plays a variety of music, from all the classical periods to compositions by modern masters. Naturally, they’re recognized internationally for their top-level musicianship and performances.


They participate in community music education and put on a stunning 100 concerts every year. Treat yourself or your family to a show.


Sender One Climbing, Yoga, and Fitness


This is a great place for individuals or families to get a good and enjoyable workout. Sender One is a large exercise space with climbing walls, yoga classes, and other fitness activities. You can get a day pass if you want to come for a date or other special event, or get a membership and work out here regularly.


You’ll receive climbing lessons, either one-on-one or in a class, depending on your budget and goals. Additional fitness activities include free weights and cardio equipment.


Operations are limited during COVID, so check their website for further information.


Of course, these aren’t the only great activities in Santa Ana, but this should give you plenty to check out. Keep in mind that Santa Ana is a central location in Orange County, so whether you live in Irvine, Anaheim, or one of the other local cities, these attractions are a short drive away.

Jon Fesmire
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