Santa Ana Travel Guide 2024

2024 Santa Ana Visitors Guide

Santa Ana is the largest city in Orange County, California, and the seat of county government. It is located about thirty-three miles south of Los Angeles and twelve miles east of the Pacific Ocean, along the Santa Ana River and its tributary, Santiago Creek. These waterways are seasonal, sometimes running dry during the late summer drought season and subject to flooding in the early spring. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Santa Ana River is the greatest flood hazard west of the Mississippi River, though that risk has been somewhat ameliorated by the construction and recent upgrade of the El Prado Dam near Corona, California, and the construction, in 1999, of the Seven Oaks Dam near Redlands, California.

Santa Ana was founded in 1869 by Kentucky native William H. Spurgeon who purchased 74.2 acres of land covered with sycamore trees and fields of yellow mustard plants, taller than a man. He gave the city its name and laid out twenty-four city blocks of about ten lots each. The city grew quickly and Spurgeon remained one of its leading citizens throughout his life, serving as the first postmaster, the first mayor after incorporation in 1886, and as the first chairman of the first Orange County Board of Supervisors when the county was formed in 1889. He paid for the construction of a road to Anaheim, provided an artesian well and a small water tower for the city’s use, and funded several municipal construction projects.

The Long Beach Earthquake of 1933 weakened the Old Courthouse and destroyed several downtown buildings, including City Hall. The Old Courthouse still stands, having been repaired and reinforced, though the original cupola had to be removed. After the earthquake, Orange County became one of the first areas in California to make “earthquake-proof” construction a civic priority.

Notable natives of Santa Ana include actresses Diane Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer and singer Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers. Feature films Rain Man and It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World were filmed on location in Santa Ana.

The region is served by Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.

Fast Facts

  • Population inside the city limits: 2004 official estimate 342,715
  • Elevation: 110 feet above sea level
  • Area inside city limits: 27.1 square miles
  • Average daily temperature in January: 58.1 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Average daily temperature in July: 72.4 degrees Fahrenheit

Santa Ana Attractions

The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art at 2002 Main Street is dedicated to promoting human understanding through art. This, the largest museum in Orange County, was one of the first in the nation to pioneer the now widely accepted notion that the museum setting should be a place of dynamic experience that broadens visitors’ perspectives on more than just objects. The Bowers Kidseum at the same location is an 11,000-square-foot children’s museum promoting hands-on learning about arts and cultures. Permanent exhibits in the Museum include “First Californians” about early tribal residents of the area that is now Orange County, an exhibit about the early pioneering families of Orange County, and an exhibit of the unrivaled collection of Pre-Columbian objects from throughout the Americas which has always been the heart of the Bowers collections. The interpretive components of the Pre-Columbian exhibit underscore the sophistication of early American cultures.

The Discovery Science Center at 2500 Main Street is the scientific complement to the Bowers Museum, providing interactive, hands-on programming and exhibits about science.

The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park is a delightfully eccentric jewel among the zoological gardens of the United States. Its founder, Joseph Prentice made “fifty monkeys at all times” a condition for the endowment legacy. At about twenty acres, the Santa Ana Zoo is not a large facility, but by focusing its collection on charismatic species of monkeys and birds, and making the collection of spectacular botanical specimens almost as vital to its mission as the breeding of rare animal species, the Santa Ana Zoo is truly a remarkable oasis in the midst of a surprisingly urban environment. The zoo includes a rainforest, a steam train, and a children’s zoo.

Santa Ana Recreation & Leisure

A recreational bicycle trail stretches thirty miles along the Santa Ana River, from the El Prado Dam through Santa Ana to the Pacific Ocean.

For those who prefer more staid forms of leisure, the Main Place Shopping Center at 2800 Main Street is a temptation to all kinds of shoppers, with 190 stores, 19 dining venues, 6 movie theaters, and even foreign currency exchange.

Santa Ana Arts

Santa Ana’s identity as an arts center is unrivaled in the region. For a full account of exhibit and program schedules, contact information, and late-breaking developments at the city’s galleries, studios, museums, theaters, and truly artful restaurants, please visit

Santa Ana Dining

Santa Ana is developing as a dining destination. There are, of course, excellent representations of the various ethnic cuisines that are now expected in an American city of this size. Family dining establishments are abundant. The coastal towns, like nearby Laguna Beach, tend to be the homes of the more upscale, fine dining in the region. However, that may be changing. Santa Ana is now, very much, a fine place for lunch. Near the civic center and the still fairly new Ronald Reagan Federal Building near downtown, better and better restaurants are continually opening, providing food and ambiance to sustain those engaged in both public and private businesses in those facilities. The development of local gastronomy is being closely watched and cataloged, on a civic level, among the arts. See the website listed under “The Arts” and visit the Restaurants section for up-to-the-moment descriptions of interesting dining opportunities in Santa Ana.


Cities within ten miles of Santa Ana include Tustin, Orange, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, Tustin Foothills, Garden Grove, Anaheim, and Villa Park.

According to the 2000 census figures, Santa Ana has the largest population, by percent, of Latinos of any of the fifty largest cities in the United States – greater even tan the border city of El Paso, Texas. That is a fairly recent development, as Santa Ana had been, for at least its first hundred years, populated primarily by non-Hispanic white residents, most of whom were fairly recent arrivals from the South or the Midwestern states. The shifting cultural make-up of the city has further enriched the arts and cultural aspects of the city, but it is such a recent trend that it is difficult to authoritatively typify the nature of Community in Santa Ana today. It is a city in a dynamic moment of becoming where matters of culture and community are concerned.

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