Best Things to Do in Downtown Santa Ana from Art to Restaurants

There are plenty of things to do in downtown Santa Ana! This city-on-the-rise is close to Anaheim and Los Angeles, with cool street art and a bustling food scene.

The area – including the 4th Street corridor known as “Calle Cuatro” by native Santaneros – is a melting pot of diversity, with entrepreneurs from all walks of life – including painters, chefs, and film connoisseurs. From the arts to culinary delights, we are sharing the best things to do in this diverse southern California city.

We'll break it down for you, from restaurants and shopping to arts and entertainment. We'll end with Santa Ana events to be aware of and even a great hotel option for where to stay, so you're not far from all the action.

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Best Things to Do in Downtown Santa Ana: Restaurants, Rooftop Bars, and Food Halls

Downtown Santa Ana is widely known for its food scene. If you like tacos, in particular, this is the epicenter of the Mexican staple in Orange County. Don't confine yourself to tacos on Tuesday – come to the area any day for the best tacos around.

There are other great food options in the area as well. (Life isn't just tacos and tequila, after all.) Check out our suggestions for where to go if you're hungry or thirsty, below.

Lola Gaspar

Lola Gaspar is a cozy restaurant with dim lighting and indoor and outdoor seating. Their menu is affordable and crowd-pleasing, with various tacos including several protein options and veggies, appetizers like chips and guacamole, and a classic Spanish dish of churros and chocolate to close your meal.

It's located on the bottom level of the historic Santora Building, along 2nd Street.

We absolutely loved having street tacos here and completing our meal with traditional churros and chocolate; they reminded us of our times in Madrid.

They have Mexican beer as well as twists on classic cocktails, like their Mole Old Fashioned. We also really liked their Paloma…and we're not even tequila lovers!

Address: 211 W 2nd St. Santa Ana, CA 92701

Exterior of the restaurant Lola Gaspar in Santa Ana, California.
Three drinks in a row: Modelo beer can with a lime wedge on top, a Paloma in a tall glass, and hand on a rocks glass with a Mole Old Fashioned at Lola Gaspar in Santa Ana.

Native Son

If you're interested in a rooftop bar experience in downtown Santa Ana, head to Native Son. Our favorite thing about the location of this cool restaurant and bar was that we could look down on 4th Street and to Plaza de Santa Ana across the street, illuminated with string lights after sunset.

It was a bustling Saturday night when we visited, and this was certainly one of the best places to be in Downtown Santa Ana.

Their beer list has been a focus since day one, and it shows in the extensive options. The cocktail list was plentiful too. We enjoyed an Eastside gin drink and Old Fashioned.

If you're interested in a mocktail menu this is the place to go. They had great options, and we loved the silly twisted yellow straw served with our non-alcoholic Pomegranate Fizz.

Since we love a cheese and charcuterie plate on date nights wherever we go, we couldn't resist ordering one at Native Son. It was served alongside seasonal fruit and crostini bites with fresh jam.

If you're really hungry, order one of their sandwiches, or “Between 2 Buns” options as they call them, that come with fries. We tried the BBQ Son Burger, which is definitely crave-able on a Saturday night spent {responsibly} drinking.

Address: 305 E 4th St, Suite 200, Santa Ana, CA 92701

Table of food at Native Son rooftop bar in Santa Ana, California.


Looking at the food and drink photos from Chato's in downtown Santa Ana makes our mouths water! Everything was delectable, and we can't wait to go back.

We mentioned earlier that we're not normally tequila drinkers, and this palate preference expands to mezcal too. However, their mezcal cocktail, Shake Your Tamarind, was so awesome we'd order it again and again.

Don't miss the Chato's fries. They are insane! Of course the chef heats the cheese and fried potatoes as anyone would for fries covered in cheese. Yet they heat up the entire plate so the dish doesn't get cold after leaving the oven; the dish stayed warm for quite a while. The fries are topped with a generous portion of meat and cilantro. It's divine.

Address: 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701

Fourth Street Market

If you're looking for something a bit more casual, head to Fourth Street Market food hall. Inside, you'll find everything from boba and kombucha drinks to Asian, Latin, and European cuisines.

While the market doors are open from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, you'll want to check their website to see the hours of individual vendors. Most vendors are open from around lunchtime to dinner.

Address: 201 East 4th St., Santa Ana, CA 92701

4SM letters wtih colorful triangles behind it and a man on the right, for Fourth Street Market in downtown Santa Ana.

Best Things to Do in Downtown Santa Ana: Arts and Entertainment

Santa Ana is known for its strong arts community. It spans mediums – from painters and muralists to jewelry designers and filmmakers – and decades of history.

The Santa Ana Arts Movement began in the late 1980s, and the city has been a haven for artists ever since.

Visit Artists Village

One of the most famous and recognizable buildings in Santa Ana is the Santora Building.

In the 1930s and 40s, it drew Hollywood celebrities like Lucille Ball and Milton Berle to its Daninger's Tea Room. By the 1980s, it had fallen into disrepair and was a victim of the crime that had taken parts of the city.

Thankfully, in the late 1980s, Don Cribb spearheaded a renaissance in the area. He formed the Santa Ana Council of Arts and Culture, which turned the building around into the beautiful collection of artist studios and storefront galleries it is today.

Though the building's interior spaces aren't usually open to the public (they are working artist studios), patrons are welcomed with open arms during Santa Ana's First Saturday Artwalk each month.

It's a wonderful time to visit the remarkable building, walk around to see inside the artist studios, get inspired, and strike up an intriguing conversation.

Inside a historic building for the College of Santa Ana in the downtown area of the city.
Inside the Santora Building during Downtown Santa Ana's First Saturday

Explore Downtown Santa Ana During First Saturday Artwalk

Downtown Santa Ana (DTSA) comes alive with unique energy on the first Saturday of each month. During this time, the galleries are open, and vendors line the pedestrian-only area of West 2nd Street.

The 2nd Street Promenade Stage features local bands during Artwalk, and dancing is encouraged! Lola Gaspar is a great restaurant to dine at during this time because it is on the promenade. Opt for outdoor patio seats so you can listen to live music as you dine.

"D T S A" letters indicating Downtown Santa Ana, illuminated in blues and greens at night.

See the Chiarini Fountain, Centerpiece of the Artists Village

A work of art in its own right, the marble Chiarini Fountain serves as a centerpiece of the Artists Village area in downtown Santa Ana. The Italian courtyard fountain even has its own Instagram account!

The fountain was donated and carved by Chiarini Marble & Stone in the 1990s. It's located in the pedestrian-only area on West 2nd Street, between Sycamore Street and North Broadway.

It was created to honor New Yorkers turned Santa Ana residents George Chiarini Sr. and Don Cribb (founder of the Santa Ana Artists Village, mentioned above). It stands in honor of them and the community of artists who help foster the creative energy of downtown Santa Ana today and tomorrow.

Night time on 4th Street in downtown Santa Ana, with the marble Chiarini Fountain and vendors.

Check Out the Downtown Santa Ana Street Art and Murals

The streets of Downtown Santa Ana are alive with vibrant murals! Our favorite mural there is the playful “I ♥️ SA” mylar balloons mural by Tino Ortega (@ortegtino).

It's a must-see photo opp for anyone wanting to brag about their visit to Downtown Santa Ana, as well as create an important memory-making picture for your own travel book!

Location: Gunther's Supply Co.: 324 W. 4th St., Santa Ana, CA
Man in front of a colorful mural in downtown Santa Ana, California.
La Madre Naturaleza by Santa-Ana Community Artist Coalition

Orange County Center for Contemporary Art

Don't miss the chance to visit this Downtown Santa Ana gallery if Contemporary art is your thing. We enjoy seeing this kind of art and seek it out wherever we go, whether we're at CAM in Raleigh or Burchfield Penny Museum in Buffalo.

This non-profit art gallery, founded in 1980, provides a space for creators to express themselves through cutting-edge art. Students are welcomed into the “classroom” for viewing and various programming throughout the year.

Address: 117 N Sycamore St, Santa Ana, CA 92701

People inside a gallery with an exposed wooden ceiling.

The Frida Cinema

The Frida Cinema in downtown Santa Ana is a place of community and tribute to film. But it is much more than a movie theater.

The cinema, named after Frida Kahlo, is a non-profit vintage auditorium. It hosts events of all kinds, like talks with directors, film festivals, and movie showings. They even have trivia nights!

We love that they show lesser-known, under-the-radar international first-run films that deserve just as much attention as the big Hollywood flicks. They also support filmmakers who need assistance with anything from marketing to fiscal sponsorship.

If you'd like to get involved or contribute to the only non-profit independent art house cinema in Orange County in a greater capacity, consider volunteering or joining their Film Club. They have various membership levels, starting at just $150 for the year.

Address: 305 E 4th St., Suite #100, Santa Ana, CA 92701

Yost Theater

The Yost Theater is a popular event venue on the East Street Promenade of downtown Santa Ana. The building has served as an icon of Santa Ana since 1912.

It hosts private events like weddings and corporate parties but also public events, like weekend dance parties, fashion shows, and award shows. So if you want to dance up a storm on a Friday or Saturday night, check what's going on here.

Address: 307 N Spurgeon St., Santa Ana, CA 92701

Yost Theater sign with red yellows in Downtown Santa Ana.

Best Things to Do in Downtown Santa Ana: Where to Shop


This awesome space is a huge area selling artisan goods, from t-shirts and stickers to candles, posters, and handmade soaps. The 6,000 square foot space is broken down into 25 vendor stalls, with one point of purchase. You can conveniently shop for various products within one place to buy it all.

About half of the vendors are Santa Ana residents. Collective2one9 is the place to shop if you want to support local, get a rad California souvenir, and be inspired by innovative artists.

Address: 219 E. 4th St., Santa Ana, CA 92701

Shopping local artists with several tables with gifts inside a brightly lit area in Santa Ana, CA.

RR Western Wear

We didn't expect to happen upon this western shop in the middle of Downtown Santa Ana, but we're glad we did!

This locally-owned shop has been around since 1955. Inside, browse the shelves for high-end cowboy clothing, including hats, boots, and accessories, like spurs and belt buckles.

Address: 308 E. 4th St., Santa Ana, CA 92701

Looking inside the floor-to-ceiling glass windows at a western store in downtown Santa Ana.

Santa Ana Events

There are plenty of events to enjoy in DTSA each month.

For example, the end of June brings the annual OC Pride Parade and Festival. Orange County Restaurant Week in March is a great opportunity to sample various restaurants with special event menus. Want to celebrate November's Dia de Los Muertos? Head to Santa Ana for Viva La Vida Santa Ana.

Some events take place multiple times throughout the year in Santa Ana. For example, the Downtown Santa Ana Artwalk is the first Saturday of each month. Friday Night Munchies (FNM) brings together food trucks, DJs, and vendors to welcome the weekend.

If you're vegan, enjoy OC Vegan Fest. It's held monthly in the Blue Lot event space, filled wall to wall with colorful murals; in a former life, the Blue Lot was a Cadillac dealership. Vendors serve up vegan food and sell vegan goods.

Where to Stay near Downtown Santa Ana

Our hotel recommendation is the DoubleTree, less than 4 miles away from the heart of downtown Santa Ana. We had a great room there that overlooked the California mountains in the distance.

The hotel has an onsite restaurant, cafe, pool, and gym. You can walk to a few nearby restaurants from there if you'd like to get out and explore a little, including a Starbucks across the street, a convenience store, a taco restaurant, and a few Asian restaurants.

King-size bed with a dark wood headboard and painting above it and sofa to the right in the distance at a DoubleTree hotel in Santa Ana, California.

Meritage Kitchen Bar at the DoubleTree Hotel

We highly recommend eating at the restaurant inside the Santa Ana Doubletree. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and drinks there.

The menu has something for all preferences, from flatbreads to salads, seafood, and meat entrees. We tasted a variety of dishes, and each one was delish.

Executive Chef, Michele Bailey, aims to bring local products to the table, which means menu seasonality. So don't be surprised if the menu differs from your first visit to the next.

For example, she and her team are working on bringing 30% more plant-based items to diners. The beautiful salad we started with was a perfect example of this farm-forward support in action. It was truly a phenomenal, fresh bowl of greens with a delicious vinaigrette dressing.

Their menu is packed with flavor. A good example of this is the chicken wings, which were one of our favorite items.

Some dishes, like the wings, are inspired by flavors from Chef Michele's hometown in Jamaica, cooking with the Pimento tree. The rich flavors Chef Michele recreated in Meritage's wings are perfectly balanced with a mango sauce.

Another favorite was their Crab Stuffed Shrimp, made with lump crab meat and jumbo shrimp. The celery root mashed potatoes were the perfect accompaniment for this filling dish.

How to Get to Downtown Santa Ana

Airports Near Santa Ana, California

Santa Ana is very accessible. In fact, it's in Orange County, where Anaheim is located, but Santa Ana is closer to the nearest airport than Anaheim's Disneyland!

If you want to fly into town, look up flights that go to John Wayne Airport, code SNA. From there, hotels are less than a 5-10 minute drive (for example, the DoubleTree, where we stayed, was 5 minutes away). A lot of the hotels in Santa Ana offer a free airport shuttle.

Other airport options include Long Beach Airport (code LGB), just 20 miles from Santa Ana, and Los Angeles Airport (LAX), 40 miles away.

Arriving in Santa Ana by Car

Santa Ana is easily reachable by car. It's only slightly inland off California's Pacific coast, between Los Angeles and San Diego. It's easy to park downtown, and area hotels have parking lots with plenty of spots.

Train and Bus Travel to Santa Ana

Santa Ana has a depot that is a hub for Amtrak, Metrolink, and the Orange County Transit Authority. Known as the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center (SARTC), it's a beautiful Spanish-style building that is walkable to downtown.

For example, the walk between SARTC and Lola Gaspar is just 20 minutes. A walk that amount of time is usual for us, especially in places like Europe where we walk tons every day.

Downtown Santa Ana is very walkable. Park your car or grab a ride to the area and explore using the sidewalks.
Walkable downtown Santa Ana, California, with a parking structure covered in plants and a mural in the distance.

Taxis, Ride Shares, and Rental Cars

Taxis, Uber, and Lyft are readily available and accessible in the Santa Ana area. We explored the area without our own vehicle, and it was easy to rely on rideshares.

However, if you like the idea of having the freedom of your own rental car, there are plenty of options. We recommend renting from Discover Cars. It's easy to park in downtown Santa Ana either in a parking garage or by finding street parking.

Don't Postone Renting a Car!

Transportation Around Santa Ana by OC Streetcar

An exciting environmentally friendly mode of transportation is debuting in 2024! An electric tram, called the OC Streetcar, will drive a 4.15-mile route connecting the downtown area with Garden Grove, west of Santa Ana.

It will make 10 stops and arrive every 10-15 minutes, making it easier than ever before to explore the area with public transportation.


There are so many things to do in Downtown Santa Ana – you'll arrive curious and leave planning your return.

From the awesome restaurants to triumphant arts scene, your curiosity (and creativity) will be piqued in Santa Ana. You'll discover a new appreciation for the locally owned businesses that keep this Orange County community thriving while making fun memories of your own in southern California.

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