(credit: farrellsusa.com)

As summer vacation comes to a close, it’s time for some last minute family fun in Orange County. Whether it’s a day at the beach, a hike in the woods, or an afternoon at the museum, plan some family time that gets everyone out of the house before book reports, projects, and papers are due. A little education and a lot of fun is the theme for these exciting activities, so go out and get the absolute most out of your summer!

(credit: David McDonald)

Bowers Kidseum
1802 North Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706
(714) 480-1520

Price:  Ages 2 and up – $6, Under 2 – free, First Sunday of every month is free

Located just two blocks south of the main Bowers Museum in downtown Santa Ana, the Bowers Kidseum is a cultural experience for kids of all ages. One of the best things about this museum is that you can touch anything you see – music to a child’s ears! With drums to bang on and masks and clothing to try on from all over the world, the Kidseum is a perfect place for a fun hands-on cultural education. The Kidseum features an art lab where kids and parents can create their own works of art representing different cultures. There is also an interactive language wall where visitors can learn languages spoken all over the world.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
18751 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 923-2235

Price: $3 to park

With 40 miles of woodland trails, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is the perfect place to connect with nature before the hustle and bustle of the school year begins. For an easy to moderate hike with the kids, the Little Sycamore Canyon Trail is a perfect choice. This two mile round trip trail takes about an hour to complete, and a steep climb toward the end of the trail yields beautiful views of the surrounding area. You can then rest at the top and have a picnic, or hike back down to visit the award-winning Nix Nature Center, where there are bathrooms, picnic tables and water fountains for your refreshment. Admission to the Nix Center is free. Dogs are not permitted on this trail.

Related: Best Rock Climbing Facilities for Kids in Orange County

Huntington Dog Beach
Pacific Coast Highway between Seapoint Avenue and 21st St.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
(714) 841-8644

Whether it’s catching a frisbee or splashing in the waves, your family and your canine companions will have a blast at the Huntington Dog Beach. This “one mile of doggie heaven” is perfect for a family picnic while the weather’s still warm. The only cost for attending the Huntington Dog Beach is the $1.50 per hour parking fee, payable at electronic meters in each of the two parking lots that service the dog beach. Under city ordinance, dogs need to remain leashed, but well-behaved dogs are typically allowed to frolic freely. After a day of fun in the sun, dine with your dog at Baja Fresh Mexican Grill or the Bodhi Tree Vegetarian Cafe, both of which are dog-friendly restaurants located in Huntington Beach.  The park opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m.

Related:  Best Summer Play Dates in Orange County

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
2301 University Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 923-2290

One nature preserve perfect for kids is the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve. Bordering the Newport Back Bay, this site provides beautiful views of six unique habitats including the upland, saltmarsh, and riparian habitats. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars, because this 750 acre ecological reserve boasts one of the best birdwatching sites in North America, and there is a large viewing platform on the roof of the Muth Interpretive Center. Kids can take part in hands-on learning activities in the Center before going on a guided hike to explore the plants and animals native to the preserve. Also in the Center is a gift shop where books and stuffed animals can be purchased as educational reminders of your visit to the nature preserve.

(credit: David McDonald)

Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurants
215 South Brea Blvd.
Brea, CA 92821
(714) 990-4386

Nothing is more refreshing and delicious than an ice cream sundae on a hot summer day, and that’s just one of the treats you’ll find at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. Farrell’s is an old-fashioned ice cream parlour that also serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner items. Their Grown-up Grilled Cheese Sandwich is a must-have meal served with a crunchy pickle spear and fabulous fries. With indoor and outdoor seating, and a boardwalk-style walk-up window to order from, you can either eat your ice cream on the go as you stroll along the Birch Street Promenade, or sit down and relax while you rest from the heat. Farrell’s friendly servers are sure to please, and they will frequently be heard singing unique birthday songs to visitors celebrating their special day with a free birthday ice cream sundae. Make a day trip out of your visit to Farrell’s and catch a movie at the Edwards Brea Stadium West 10 Theaters and then paint some pottery at Color Me Mine, both of which are located just a few steps away from Farrell’s.

David McDonald is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.