You came. You saw. You conquered the most magical place on earth and, rightly so, earned those monogrammed Mickey ears. But, before you pack up and go home, the question remains: Is there anything you must see in the area, besides Disneyland?
Indeed, there is. Orange County, located roughly an hour’s drive from Los Angeles in sun-drenched Southern California, offers an incredibly diverse array of activities sure to capture the kids’ interest, be it sports, arts, or science. Ready to explore beyond the Caribbean and those pesky pirates? Here are our favorite kid-friendly things to do in the OC.
1. Cycling Sightseeing
Rent bikes and take the San Clemente Beach Trail. At 2.3 miles long, it won’t tire out little ones and it’s the most scenic bike ride in the county. If you’ve got older kids, do a guided bike tour with La Vida Laguna – they offer both city tours on beach cruisers or trail-riding tours on mountain bikes.
2. Retro Amusement
Located in Newport Beach, the Balboa Fun Zone will remind you of those old-fashioned carnivals of your childhood. After walking the boardwalk, playing arcade games or taking a spin on the historic Ferris wheel, rent a boat and explore Newport Harbor or take a ferry to Balboa Island for souvenir shopping. Whatever you decide to do, don’t miss sampling two iconic local desserts: the frozen dipped banana and the Balboa Bar (an ice-cream bar dipped in chocolate and rolled in salty or sweet toppings).
3. Historical Haunts
Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776 by Junipero Serra, is dubbed California’s ‘jewel mission’ for its gorgeous gardens and well-preserved, architectural marvels (it took eight years to complete). Self-guided audio tours offer the best information on the mission’s fascinating past, but for kids, there are hands-on educational activities, such as panning for gold, making adobe bricks, designing arrowhead jewelry, or weaving an authentic Native American basket. Check the mission’s website for days and times of these specific activities.
4. Game Time
Home to two professional sports teams, Orange County offers year-round sporting events to entertain the kids – be it the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks hockey team or MLB’s Los Angeles Angels baseball team. Anaheim Ducks take the ice at the Honda Center and the Angel Stadium welcomes baseball fans. Embassy Suites by Hilton Anaheim is only about a four-minute drive from the baseball stadium.
5. Ocean Safari
Home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, Dana Point is the place to encourage your kid’s inner Jacques Cousteau. For the best opportunity to spot marine life no matter what time of the year you visit, charter a whale-watching cruise. Keep your eyes peeled for blue or gray whales, orcas, dolphins, and exotic seabirds. To get an idea of what lies ahead for your aquatic adventure, check out this daily whale-sighting log. A budget-friendly option for a marine expedition is the Corona del Mar State Beach in Newport Beach. Go at low tide to explore the tide pools teeming with starfish, crabs, sea urchins, and more.
6. Where Art Comes Alive
If teaching your kiddos about famous artists and iconic paintings has been an uphill battle, it’s all about to change after the Pageant of the Masters. Held annually from July through early September in Laguna Beach, the spectacle involves real people dressing in costume and posing in front of backdrops exactly like the original paintings of the world’s most famous classical and modern works of art. The pageant has been held for a century, so it’s a generational tradition for many local families. Plus, your ticket gives you access to the Festival of the Arts, which displays more than 140 pieces of art by Orange County artists.
7. Tiny Tot Theme Park
If Disneyland was just a bit too much fun for your toddler, Adventure City is the perfect speed and – most importantly – a manageable size for them. Your little guy or gal will love the balloon rides, carousel, mini Ferris wheel, and the theme park’s train … without the aftermath of a tired tantrum!
8. Surf’s Up
Because it’s such a beach-centric community, Orange County offers plenty of water sports to introduce your family to. From surfing and stand-up paddleboarding to kayaking and jet-skiing, oceanic adventures abound. Known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach is home to a few kid-centric surfing schools, like HB Surf School. Or go out with the whole family for a kayak tour with Newport Aquatics on the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, where the marsh is home to many interesting birds and endangered species.