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You don’t have to be rich to discover the real ‘O.C.’

Thanks to the FOX television show “The O.C.”, you’ve probably heard of Orange County, an area of California just south of Los Angeles. The show depicts the “O.C.” as a place where beautiful people live in palatial estates and drive expensive cars. While this certainly holds true in some Orange County towns, you’re just as likely to encounter surfer dudes, families, and cash-strapped students. With miles of beaches and tons of youth-oriented activities, even those on a budget can enjoy a stay in this decadent county.

How to get there

The Long Beach Airport or Orange Country’s own John Wayne Airport are your best bets for flying to the O.C. Low-cost carriers such as JetBlue fly into Long Beach, sometimes offering fares as low as $85 one-way from the East Coast. John Wayne Airport is served by other low-cost carriers such as Frontier and Southwest that often have affordable sale fares. Both airports are good alternatives to the much bigger and more chaotic Los Angeles International Airport.

Where to Stay

The Huntington Beach Hostel, located just four blocks from the beach, plays host to travelers from around the world. Dorm beds cost $21 per night or $130 per week. Hostel staff members advise calling or going online to check availability for your travel dates because beds are often booked up well in advance.

If a hostel isn’t for you, the O.C. also has an abundance of hotels, from budget to luxury. Search for area hotels on the Orange County Tourism Council website. If you’re willing to share the costs of a budget hotel room with several friends, you may not spend much more than you would at a hostel.

Things to do

In the O.C., the beach is the main attraction. Whether you want to rent a beach cruiser or learn to surf, you’ll find vendors along the coast offering a variety of services during the day. In the evenings, one popular way to end a long day of swimming and sandcastle-building is to have a bonfire on the beach. There are public-use fire pits located on the beaches, and the only thing you need to buy is the wood. Be forewarned: In the summer months, people tend to stake out fire pits early in the day.

Aside from standard beach activities, there are plenty of exciting events to watch or participate in that come to the shores of O.C. in the summer. From July 23 through 31, Huntington Beach is the place to be, when the U.S. Open of surfing comes to town with the 2005 Bank of the West Beach Games. “Surf City” hosts top surfers from around the world, as well as freestyle BMX, beach volleyball, skateboarding, and motocross events, all accompanied by live concerts from local and national music acts. All the action takes place around the Huntington Beach Pier and is free to the public.

If you just can’t get enough of extreme sports, check out the Summer X Games from August 4 through 7 for all the adrenaline-pumping action you can stand. While many of the events take place in the greater Los Angeles area, the surf events happen front and center at Huntington Beach. Watch in awe as legendary surfers tear up the waves during the 11th season of this festival. The surfing portion of the X Games is free for spectators.

For a bit of culture, head to Laguna Beach. Here you can admire fine art and furnishings at the numerous galleries that dot the streets of this upscale neighborhood. Between July 3 and September 1, you can catch the famed Festival of the Arts, where more than 140 artists display and sell original works of art. Tickets start at $5 for adults and $3 for students. Also, be sure to check out the Pageant of the Masters from July 7 to September 1, where you can see famous pieces of art brought to life by live models. Seats for the performances start at $20.

There are many other things to do in the O.C., but as you can see, you don’t have to be a rich kid to enjoy much of what this Southern California paradise has to offer. To learn more about visiting the O.C., go to the Orange County Tourism Council website.

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