Home » Travel » North America » Best Fun Things to Do in Santa Ana California 2024

Best Fun Things to Do in Santa Ana California 2024

If the only thing you know about Santa Ana is the infamous Santa Ana winds, you are in for a surprise. There are so many things to do in Santa Ana, you’ll want to add it to your bucket list of Southern California places to visit!

People in costumes dancing in the street.
Save the Recipe


 Enter your email below & we’ll send it right to your inbox.

From shopping to dining with an amazing artsy vibe, make sure to take some time to explore this fabulous city in Orange County.

If you have time, check out my list of best restaurants in Buena Park, about 20 minutes away. Grab your packing list and start planning!

Here’s some information about the best things to see and do, as well as where to eat on your next visit to Santa Ana.

Where Is Santa Ana? 

Santa Ana is located about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles. It’s minutes from John Wayne Airport and just off Interstate 5, making it easy to get to when visiting the Los Angeles area. It’s also less than a two-hour drive south to get to San Diego.

Map with a pin at Santa Ana California.

As the fourth-most densely populated United States city, its 27 square miles have a very developed downtown Santa Ana area, along with areas that have a mix of museums, historic homes, modern and historic office buildings, and other apartments and homes.

Why We Love This City

Santa Ana is the county seat of Orange County, California. As one of Southern California’s top cultural destinations, there is so much to see and do along with great places to eat.

The history of Santa Ana goes back to early Chumash settlements, followed by the Spanish coming into the area in 1769, founding the area as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.

A section of 70 acres was purchased by William H. Spurgeon in 1869 and renamed as the town of Santa Ana. It was fully incorporated as a city in 1886 and has been growing ever since.

With a dry climate and plenty of sunshine, plus moderate temperatures for much of the year, it’s no surprise that Santa Ana rates highly with tourists who want something distinct from the nearby theme parks of Anaheim and the frantic pace of Los Angeles.

Whether you love art, history, dining, shopping, or a combination of everything, Santa Ana has a lot to offer. Here are some of the highlights of this city.

Bowers Museum 

I absolutely loved the Bowers Museum. This museum is the largest in Orange County and features a lot of exhibits about the indigenous people of the Americas and the Pacific Islands. 

Black and white photograph of young woman in tribal dress at museum.

A special exhibit “Beyond the Great Wave” features the works of Katsushikia Hokusai and was on loan from the British Museum while I was there. It was an incredible exhibit.

A highlight is Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, which was done in 1831 and has influenced artists such as Monet and Van Gogh. 

Photograph of art with a wave at museum.

Spending time with a docent here can change your visit from nice to unforgettable. One of the volunteer docents spent about 45 minutes with me and I would have stayed and learned from her for hours.

Also on exhibit was The Power of Photography, which was mesmerizing. I could have spent the entire day just browsing this one exhibit! 

Photograph of woman in Afghan costume.

There is a really good on-site restaurant, the Tangata Restaurant, which offers delicious food and a relaxed setting with indoor and outdoor seating.

Address: 2002 N. Main St.

Hours: Bowers Museum: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tangata: Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Explore the Street Art

There is a lot of incredible street art in Santa Ana, and you can explore it all using the Travel Santa Ana Public Art Guide.

Street art of woman with hands outstretched.

There are currently 300 murals in Santa Ana. What I loved about this city is that everywhere I went, I met people who wanted to tell me about the art; how long it had been there, the story behind it, and often, the artist who created it.

Photo of street art of a building, a car, and people.

This focus on contemporary art and the love of the art by longtime residents truly makes Santa Ana unique. 

Visit Art Galleries

With more than 20 art galleries and studios displaying local works, you can spend an entire day just exploring the artsy side of Santa Ana. But that’s not all that Santa Ana offers. 

Every first Saturday of the month is the First Saturday Artwalk. Start at 125 N. Broadway (Center of Artwalk) and take it all in.

One of my favorite galleries was AvantGarden. In fact, I was looking for a piece of street art that is now a bit hidden because of a sign, and the lovely owner of the gallery not only told me where to look but escorted me to the very spot!

Then she walked me to several other street art murals and gave me a tour of her gallery, giving me a beautiful greeting card as a memento. This is a perfect example of the warm welcome you’ll receive from shops and restaurants in Santa Ana!

Photo of sculpture of a man's head on a wooden table in a gallery.

There is so much to do in Santa Ana, but I was only there for a couple of days, so I need to go back!

Lyon Air Museum

History lovers will want to visit the Lyon Air Museum, located next to John Wayne Airport. This museum pays tribute to vintage airplanes, cars, and military vehicles.

Some of the items on exhibit include a 1942 Ford GPW Military Jeep (the kind that you immediately think of when you think of WWII jeep), the Cessna O-1E “Birddog” with a shark-like “mouth” on the front (the markings of the US Army 183rd Seahorses in Vietnam), and a vintage 1940s Divco Helms Bakery Truck (used to deliver fresh baked goods and treats in Southern California from 1931 to 1969). 

Address: 19300 Ike Jones Road, Santa Ana

Hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Old Orange County Courthouse

Dedicated in 1901, the historic Old Orange County Courthouse building is hard to miss with its stately granite and sandstone Romanesque Revival architecture.

Granite and sandstone building against a blue sky.

While the building is still a government center with offices inside, there’s also the Orange County History Center (which includes the Orange County Archives as well as the Old Courthouse Museum).

Exhibits vary but are focused on local and regional history. This is the oldest court building in Southern California and is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as designated as a State of California Historic Landmark.

Address: 211 W Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana

Hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.


The best place for shopping in Santa Ana is Calle Cuatro. Here are some of the stores you can find in the Calle Cuatro area, each with its own unique items for sale.

Collective2one9 219 E. 4th St. 

This is a collective of stores. No name brands here! You’ll find everything from apparel to candles to jewelry to self-care items. I browsed for about an hour before deciding on a hat!

Outstretched hand with shopping bag in front of a store.

M. Lovewell 305 E. 4th St.

Stationery, fun books, and cookbooks. They also have beautiful greeting cards and great gifts. I bought my first two Christmas gifts there! It’s a good thing I had a small suitcase or I would have come home with more!

R&R Western Wear 308 E 4th St.

Get your authentic boots, hats, and Western apparel there!

Stussy Archive 200 E 4th St.

Trendy clothing for men and women and a great selection of hats and accessories.

Ana’s Everything Store 113 West 4th St.

Literally, they have a little bit of everything from Mexican and Peruvian clothing to piñatas to religious statues to a variety of other handmade products. 

Inside of a store with full shelves and items hanging from ceiling.

You should also stop in and take a look at the gorgeous dresses in the formal dress shops.

Some of them are called wedding shops, but I learned the colorful dresses on display are for the Quinceanera which is the traditional coming-of-age party celebrated when a Latina girl turns 15.

Colorful formal dresses long walls of store.

Where to Eat

As you might expect, Santa Ana has plenty of incredible places to eat, especially if you love authentic Mexican food. But they also have a variety of other dining establishments that are equally amazing. Here are some favorites.

The Green Parrot Villa 

An incredible open-air authentic Mexican restaurant, you are going to love The Green Parrot. The only disappointment I have with this lovely spot is that they are only open on Sundays, but you can enjoy unlimited Mimosas during their Sunday Brunch.

Mimosa cocktail in front of flowering trees.

The food was exceptional, and they had the best chicken mole I have ever tasted!

Tacos, hand-made tortillas, carne asada, and more await at this charming location that is a popular special events venue during the week and on Saturdays and then opens brunch on Sundays.

I hope that changes one day because not everyone can get there on Sundays and it’s a wonderful experience. Do try to go, and make a reservation!

Address: 2035 N. Main Street, Santa Ana

Hours: Sundays only with two seatings: 9:30 a.m. and 12 p.m.

Perla Mexican Cuisine 

Offering authentic Mexican food in an upscale dining experience, Perla Mexican Cuisine is a woman-owned restaurant in a beautiful historic building downtown.

The restaurant offers great patio dining, lovely indoor dining, and a vibrant bar scene. It’s a very popular spot and will probably be crowded on weekends and when events are happening. Perla offers street tacos and spicy Margaritas, along with beer, wine, and craft cocktails. 

Address: 400 W. 4th St., Santa Ana

Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Twisted Tiki

You may not think of finding a tropical speakeasy when you think of Santa Ana, but the fun and quirky Twisted Tiki fits well in the artsy vibe of Santa Ana.

This Hawaiian-style tiki bar is relatively small and has only a few tables, but it is a not-to-miss spot for a tropical cocktail and some light bites.

Address: 515 N. Main St., Santa Ana

Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

4th Street Market Food Hall 

With 15 food stalls, you’ll have trouble making up your mind at 4th Street Market Food Hall. Great for lunch, dinner, or dessert! From vegan Mexican food to sushi to crepes to smash burgers and hot chicken, there’s something for everything here.

Address: 201 E. 4th St.

Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Note: Some vendors may have different hours from the market.


If you love German, Belgian, or Hungarian food, you’ll adore Wursthaus, a German beer hall with an inside tavern and outside seating, too.

Choose from a variety of beer choices and crazy bratwurst combinations and flavors. Traditional sausages are served alongside unusual variations like spicy chicken mango, smoked alligator, and kangaroo. Yes, really.

P.S. You have to order the Belgian fries with one of their amazing sauces!

Address: 305 E. 4th St. #106, Santa Ana

Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Café Cultura 

Café Cultura is a super cool eatery, perfect for grabbing a quick breakfast or dessert. The vibe is casual, the food is authentic Mexican, and the coffee and espresso drinks are amazing! They also serve handcrafted sodas and mimosas.

Address: 324 W. 4th St., Santa Ana

Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Special Events and Festivals

Santa Ana has a lot of festivals and events, so be sure to check the Travel Santa Ana website before you go so you can plan around your favorites. I was there during the Mexican Day of the Dead Festival, held the first week of November, and it was quite an experience.

Car decorated for day of the dead festival.

This event brings a lot of people in as they really know how to celebrate in Santa Ana!

I wish I’d had more time to explore. Below are a couple of spots I plan to see the next time I visit (along with a slew of restaurants!)

Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park

Compared to other zoos in the region, the Santa Ana Zoo is relatively small at only 20 acres. But in its compact location, you’ll find a variety of animals and things for the whole family to enjoy.

Some of the exhibits include the treetop area with a variety of tamarins, the Amazon aviary, and the Crean Family Farm and Children’s Zoo. There are also some family attractions, like train rides, a carousel, and a Ferris wheel. 

Address: 1801 East Chestnut Avenue, Santa Ana

Hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Yost Theater 

The Yost Theater is an events venue with a classic theater marquee in glorious neon out front in the historic downtown district. It first opened in 1913 as the Auditorium Theater and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

In its past, the theater saw a variety of entertainment options, from old vaudeville productions to silent films and then on to “talkies”. Under the Olivos family in the 1950s, the theater became a central place for Mexican cinema, along with performers like Sonny and Cher and Ike and Tina Turner. Today, the theater hosts concerts and other events. 

Address: 307 N Spurgeon Street

Hours: Daily from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Where to Stay in Santa Ana

You have a lot of choices of where to stay.

I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott and it was nice with a super friendly staff. You’ll be 5 minutes from John Wayne Airport which is a bonus. The rooms are clean and have a lot of room. There’s a restaurant and bar in the lobby with a lot of comfortable seating.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to visit Santa Ana?

July is the most popular month for tourists in Santa Ana, so if you want to save some money, visit in the late spring or in the fall.
The weather during the spring and fall can also be very pleasant, with high temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

How is parking in downtown Santa Ana?

There are several city-owned parking structures available throughout the downtown area. These parking structures are free from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for the first two hours for parking on evenings and weekends (aside from special event days). Parking rates are $1.50 per hour with a maximum daily rate of $10. Metered parking and other parking lots may be available, but they can fill up fast.

How far is Santa Ana from the ocean?

Santa Ana is approximately 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The nearest beach areas are Santa Ana River County Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach.

Top Tips for Visiting

Stay hydrated. Although Santa Ana may not get as warm as some other locations deep into the desert, the air is fairly dry and the sun is plentiful enough that you can get dehydrated, especially if you’re moving around a lot (or sampling some of the local margaritas!).

Make sure to check and see what local events are going on. If you can plan your trip to coincide with one of those, it adds extra charm and festivity to the city.

The Day of the Dead festival is their biggest event and I don’t know how I lucked out to be there at that time as it wasn’t planned! It was a huge party and so much fun.

Car decorated for Day of the Dead Celebration.

Plan some time to wander and talk with the locals. The people in Santa Ana are very lovely and so proud of their city. They’ll gladly tell you stories about the artwork in town, the best places to eat, and more.

You’ll want to add in some extra time to just wander and see what hidden gems you can find. The Santa Ana website has a lot more ideas! I can’t wait to see what you discover.

More California Travel

Best Restaurants in Buena Park

Santa Barbara Restaurants

Things to Do in Cannery Row

Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *