Those of us lucky enough to live in Orange County know there are so many activities here. Since our weather is almost always lovely, there’s no reason not to hit the beaches, but try parks like Irvine Regional or OC Great Park instead. Find thrills at local theme parks, visit local museums or find unique ways to stay active. All of these places make for wonderful days out with the family in OC.
Dana Wharf Whale Watching
34675 Street of the Golden Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629
Spend the day with Dana Wharf Whale Watching for an experience that has it all: sunshine, the ocean, a boat and, best of all, whales! This can be a particularly fun adventure for children that have never been before or for children that have never seen an animal in the wild. Plus it gives you the feeling of being on the hunt as you keep your eyes peeled for the whales! Dana Wharf Whale Watching has been in operation since the 1970s; these experts have already spotted over 1,000 gray whales this year. They’ve also led tours that saw humpback whales, fin whales, false killer whales, minke whales and blue in addition to sunfish, sharks, dolphins, seals and sea lions. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
1313 Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802
There’s a good chance that Disneyland is on every list regarding family activities in OC, but with good reason. It is the “Happiest Place on Earth,” after all! Disneyland Resort has so much to offer families looking for an exciting day out in OC. Both Disneyland and California Adventure are filled with exciting thrill rides, character meet-and-greets, colorful shows and some one-of-a-kind foods. One great aspect of a day at Disney is all of the walking. In fact, kids don’t realize how active they are until they’re wiped out at the end of the day. On top of everything within the parks, Downtown Disney offers even more shopping, food and entertainment. Give Dad some time to chill at the ESPN Zone and watch a game or grab a smoothie and enjoy the live music scattered throughout the outdoor mall.
3405 Michelson Drive
Irvine, CA 92612
Places like Boomers! Irvine offer a smorgasbord of fun for families. Enjoy a full miniature golf course, two different types of go-karts, bumper boats, a rock climbing wall, laser tag, batting cages and even a few thrill rides. There is also a mini Camelot area with a castle-themed train ride, teacups, a carousel, a boat ride and more. Aside from the rides and attractions, there is an additional area called Buccaneer Cove, a mini waterpark featuring a variety of different color waterslides and a kiddie slide. Inside, there is a game room that doubles as an arcade, giving families a chance to dance, drive or fight monsters together through digital simulation and videogames. Certain games offer tickets that kids can use to win prizes. Before the day is done, grab a bite to eat too.
ZOOMARS Petting Zoo
31791 Los Rios Street
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Why travel all the way to Los Angeles or San Diego to go to the zoo when you can stay in Orange County and interact with the animals? At ZOOMARS Petting Zoo in San Juan Capistrano, children and adults alike are invited to experience the joys of animals together. The Petting Pens are filled with things like pigs, sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, llamas and an emu. Visit the Bunny Patch and Guinea Pig Gully to cuddle with some of the smaller animals on the farm or hop on a pony as a guide leads you down a trail. But don’t forget that ZOOMARS offers more than just animals. Their Miner’s Gulch gives families the chance to pan for gold, gemstones and fossils—and learn about California’s history while you’re at it, and there is also a small train that offers rides around the property, a playground and a giant box of corn (instead of sand).
2000 East Gene Autry Way
Anaheim, CA 92806
Even if you and your family aren’t big sports fans, there’s always something enchanting about going to baseball games. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, or the excitement of cheering on the team and the players, but it always provides a fun time. Angel Stadium is particularly fun for families. Many games have giveaways, like hats or bobble heads, to the first however-many people to arrive at the game. They also have photo opps to take advantage of on the way to your seats. Once there, cheer on the players, but also enjoy listening to the national anthem, singing along during the seventh inning stretch and trying to catch the shirts that the Angel girls shoot up into the stands. Chow down on hot dogs, peanuts and cotton candy to make it a truly memorable affair. No matter what you do, enjoying a game at the ballpark is a great way to spend a summer evening.
Orange County Great Park
Irvine, CA 92618
The OC Great Park has become an interesting addition to the city of Irvine and the perfect spot to enjoy summer fun. There is walkable timeline that details the history of the area as well as an art complex with exhibits showcasing the work of local artists. There is also a giant helium balloon that runs on certain days, offering spectacular 360-degree views of the area surrounding the park. On the ground near where you hop on the balloon, you can catch a ride on an intricately decorated carousel. Lounge on the green lawns or wander over to the sports and fitness complex. There is a farm on-site as well that offers a chance to experience gardening workshops and explore a food lab. If you visit the park on Sundays, you’ll find a weekly farmer’s market full of delicious produce, flowers, tea and other trinkets. There is also an antique market that sometimes sets up alongside the farmer’s market. Check out the park’s summer events as well; they often host fitness classes, movies on the lawn or other activities for families to enjoy together.
2405 Park Avenue
Tustin, CA 92782
Bowlmor isn’t just any old bowling alley. This luxury entertainment spot has 30 different bowling lanes, each designed with modern taste, glossy wood and electric blue lights. Additional private lanes may be rented out, but your family will fit in just fine tossing balls down the regular ones. The cool environment adds an upscale vibe that fascinates children and there is a sports bar with high-definition televisions for parents to enjoy as well. While you bowl, you can also dine on everything from wings and sliders to sandwiches and wraps. If your clan tires of bowling, there is an arcade full of interactive games—some are even multiplayer so you can all join in on the fun. Bowlmor offers packages with different combinations of bowling, arcade games, food and drinks.
Knott’s Berry Farm
8039 Beach Boulevard
Buena Park, CA 90620
Disneyland may be the biggest theme park in Orange County, but Knott’s Berry Farm is a close second— and it offers a whole different kind of fun. While it has plenty of children’s rides in Camp Snoopy, the thrill rides at Knott’s are definitely designed for an older crowd than those at Disneyland. But if your brood likes thrill rides, this is the best spot in OC for screaming fun. On top of the rides, little ones can wander Camp Snoopy in hopes of meeting the Peanuts gang or munch on Pink’s hotdogs out front. Immerse your clan in the western theme by heading deeper into the park. Pan for gold or head through the optical illusion show; kids love watching water run uphill. Another thing that’s fun to experience at Knott’s is the train ride, complete with robbers to take it hostage. Little ones may be scared, but it is an experience they won’t soon forget.
Big Air Trampoline Park
23251 Avenida De La Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
While there are many ways to spend the day indoors, very few offer as much simultaneous exercise and fun as Big Air Trampoline Park. Imagine jumping on wall-to-wall trampolines. But, that’s not all. Play basketball or dodgeball with the help of the trampolines, explore the indoor climbing wall or play in the foam pits. For little ones who are too scared to mingle with the older kids, there is a ‘Lil Air section for small children. While it may sound like it’s just for kids, Big Air welcomes adults as well—but there is a parent’s lounge available for those who need a breather. Big Air has special programs as well, like Toddler Time where youngsters are given free range of the attractions and provided with some extra toys. They also have Cosmic Night with strobe lights and fun music for an exciting jumping experience.
2002 North Main Street
Santa Ana, CA 92706
Another great place to visit that’s great for learning about history — though not strictly Southern California history — is Bowers Museum and its accompanying Kidseum. The museum’s exhibits cover a wide range of art and history, including things like mummies, color, fashion, sculpture, photography, Mexican art, masks, bamboo art and watercolors. Basically, anything that can be studied has a shot at being at Bowers Museum at one point or another. While some exhibitions appeal to children more than others, older generations are likely to enjoy them all together and youngsters may find new interests should they accompany you. Kidseum is made for kids, offering interactive exhibits and an examination of art, culture and technology. The current exhibit deals with fairytales, making it ideal even for the smallest of children.
Mission San Juan Capistrano
26801 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
For a day learning a little bit about California’s history, visit Mission San Juan Capistrano. The mission, which is 240 years old, is an important symbol of religious and cultural history, founded in an attempt to spread Christianity to the natives living in California hundreds of years ago. As you wander the halls and the rooms of the mission, your family will learn about the people and events that took place there in the past. Wandering the grounds can be a great way to take in some nature and look at the mission’s Spanish-style architecture. Each year in March, the city and the mission celebrate the swallows returning to the mission and building their nests for the spring and summertime, a legend that first started in the 1920s but comes true each year to this day.
Ashley Ryan is an Orange County native that loves traveling, live music and photography. She blogs at Pure Wander and freelances for a variety of publications including Newport Beach Magazine and Laguna Beach Magazine.