Literary City Guide | Orange County, CALIFORNIA

I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.
— Helen Keller


Danielle was born and raised in Southern California and has spent the last decade in Orange County. She has contributed to Elle Magazine and has published short stories in anthologies from Seal and Cleis Press. She recently took a solo trip to Europe and documented it on her travel blog, Paris to Prague. She is currently working on a new travel website called Wanderlust Explored.


Relationship to Orange County: I currently work at an indie bookstore in Laguna Beach and live about ten minutes inland, in Aliso Viejo.

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Anaïs Nin, one of my favorite writers. What I wouldn’t give for a glimpse inside her mind.

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Julia Child, especially if she makes her famous Boeuf Bourguignon.

Writing soundtrack: Depends on what I’m writing, but lately it’s been Carla Bruni, The Black Keys, or Billie Holiday.

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea? Coffee, without a doubt.

Paperback or Hardback? Hardback! There’s just something about cracking open the pages.


Good Reads


Laguna Beach Books, Laguna Beach. Maybe I’m biased, but this bookstore is by far the best one in Orange County. Situated in Laguna’s historic HIP District right on Pacific Coast Highway, it is a friendly spot to browse for books and unique gift items. The staff willingly offers recommendations and the store hosts author events, open mic nights, and a monthly book club. They are also very supportive of local authors and community programs.

Island Tales Bookshop, Balboa Island. Located in the heart of the Island’s shopping area, this new children’s bookstore is owned and operated by two retired Kindergarten teachers. The carefully-curated selection features classics and wonderful new books to discover. They also have a story time for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Mystery Ink, Huntington Beach. An independent mystery bookstore that specializes in signed first editions, Mystery Ink has certainly found its niche. They also offer a variety of on- and off-site events.


Newport Beach Public Library. Recently remodeled, this library is an architectural masterpiece. The library foundation sponsors a speaker series that draws authors such as Joyce Carol Oates. They also host a creative writing contest, financial planning workshops, and a variety of children’s programs.

UC Irvine Library. UC Irvine is a top-notch university and its libraries are no exception. Especially notable is their literary special theory collection. They also partner with Julia Lupton on occasional Shakespeare seminars.

Huntington Beach Public Library. Surf City USA is home to one of the best libraries in the county. They host many events, including the Luncheon & Lecture program, in which attendees have an opportunity to have a meal with their favorite authors. They also have a highly interactive music program called One World Rhythm.


Pen on Fire Writing Salon, Corona del Mar. This monthly speaker series is known for welcoming the most sought-after authors in an intimate setting. Local writer and writing instructor Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is the moderator for these events, in which she invites two to three authors to discuss their craft with her. Barbara also hosts a weekly radio show through UC Irvine called Writers on Writing (88.9 FM and streaming worldwide).

Literary Orange, Irvine. This is Orange County’s premiere literary event, which brings authors, readers, and libraries together for a celebration of literature. OC Public Libraries has hosted Literary Orange for the last eight years, and it seems that every year it just gets bigger and better. I had the pleasure of attending this year’s event and was both impressed and inspired.

Shakespeare by the Sea, Orange County. An outdoor Shakespeare festival that features free plays during the summer with rotating locations. This summer features As You Like It and The Tempest.


Seaside Gallery & Goods, Newport Beach. A collective of artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs, this gallery and boutique houses paintings, jewelry, textiles, and more. It also hosts author events and workshops. Located right off of Pacific Coast Highway, many of the artists’ creations have an ocean theme.

Art Walk, Laguna Beach. Many other cities in Orange County host their own version of Art Walk, but I am most familiar with the one in Laguna. Occurring on the first Thursday of every month, Art Walk is a festive event when most galleries and many stores host parties to celebrate the diverse cultural art scene. My favorite part is the free trolley that runs through town, giving visitors a peek at the spectacular coastline.

Good Eats


Ink & Bean Coffee Saloon & Wordshop, Anaheim. The first time I stepped into this coffee shop, I was immediately mesmerized by the books hanging from the ceiling and the antique typewriters lining one wall. And I was charmed by the bookmobile/lending library on the patio out front. Ink & Bean hosts monthly writing events and also now serves wine and cheese plates from the cute little cheese shop next door.

Hidden House Coffee, San Juan Capistrano. If you’ve never been to this coffee shop which is situated in San Juan Capistrano’s historic Los Rios district, you must change that! Setting foot on this dusty street feels like stepping back in time. Grab a coffee on tap and relax under the trees in this peaceful setting.

The Neighborhood Cup, Aliso Viejo. Owner Christine Chung has done the lucky residents of Aliso Viejo a favor by providing quality coffee and treats with a gourmet twist that is always served with a smile. Adjacent to the town’s public library (and Friends of the Library bookstore), it is the perfect place to grab a tasty drink and then browse the shelves for the latest find.


Ramos House Café, San Juan Capistrano. Located just down the street from Hidden House Coffee, Ramos House has long been a favorite. The owner lives and works at the house, grows his herbs in the garden, and churns the ice cream out back. The result is fresh, imaginative fare that has never failed to disappoint. For a special treat, try the apple cinnamon beignets. They also have a cookbook for sale at the restaurant which is filled with their most popular recipes.

Eat Chow, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. A small café with two locations, I am a recent disciple of Eat Chow because of their hearty meals that never fail to disappoint. They describe themselves as “New American cuisine” but I’d shorten that and just say they’re amazing. Don’t miss their sweet potato fries with cotija cheese.

Eva’s Carribean Kitchen, Laguna Beach. Eva’s is one of the most fun and quirky restaurants that I have encountered during my time in Orange County. Situated on Pacific Coast Highway across from the beach, it offers family recipes passed down from generations and a warm, lively vibe. Don’t be surprised if you see the friendly owner, Eva Madray, walking from table to table to ensure that her guests are happy with their meals. 

Zov’s Bistro, 4 OC locations. I first discovered Zov’s a few years ago at a book release party I attended at Dean Koontz’s home in Newport Coast. Because it was his favorite restaurant, he requested that they cater the party. My jaw literally dropped as course after course was an absolute hit among all of the booksellers he had invited. After that I have been a constant fixture at Zov’s and can’t get enough of her creative Mediterranean cuisine.

Juliette Kitchen & Bar, Newport Beach.  When my friends and I feel like splurging on a meal that we know will be both delicious and satisfying, we head to Juliette. It has a rustic décor and I love the fact that they focus on providing food inspired by fresh and local ingredients. Their wine list is pretty extensive, too.


Sidecar Doughnuts, Costa Mesa. Sidecar is a hipster kind of place that you almost want to hate but then you taste their doughnuts and they are so unbelievably good that suddenly you understand what all of the hype is about. It is not uncommon for the line to be out the door, and once you catch a glimpse of these gourmet creations it all makes sense. My favorite is the Midsummer Garden Cake -- a carrot, zucchini, and walnut cake doughnut topped with cream cheese glaze and fresh summer blossoms. 

à la minute, Orange. Hands-down the best ice cream I have ever tasted. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that their ice cream base is 100% organic and they use local products as much as possible. Or maybe it’s because of the flavors… it’s impossible to say no to salted caramel, chocolate lavender, or strawberry balsamic. Get yourself a scoop or two of this gourmet treat in a waffle cone — you’ll thank me later!

The Chocolate Soldier, Laguna Beach. Nestled in the Old Pottery Place (in the same shopping center as Laguna Beach Books), this gourmet chocolate shop has become a community fixture. You can actually watch the owner De Francis creating these delicacies right before your eyes as she spreads out warm toffee on a marble table or stirs a bubbling pot of caramel. Or, if you’re in the mood for something cold, opt for one of her gelato creations.

Sidecar Donuts

DANIELLE's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: From Alta Laguna aka Top of the World Park in Laguna Beach. 

2. Favorite place to write: In my bed with my dog and kitten sleeping nearby

3. Favorite museum: The Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana.

4. Favorite coffee shop: Ink & Bean in Anaheim.

5. Favorite thing about Orange County: Laguna Beach is in its own special enclave apart from the rest of Orange County. Populated by many writers and artists and home of four summer art festivals, it is a beautiful town with a community feel.