Orange County is a busy place during the spring and summer as so many of you head here to go to Disneyland. But I always get messages from so many of you asking for recommendations of what else to do!
The best beaches, good museums or parks, and other fun family friendly activities.
So today with the help of some local friends, we’ve come up with a list of the best things to do in Orange County besides Disneyland!
You could spend all day long here. There’s a large self pay parking lot (that’s a couple bucks per hour and $20/day max, I think), with a fun beach on one side, and the Balboa Village on the other side. You could go whale watching off of the Village boardwalk, play at the arcade and ride the Ferris Wheel, or eat at one of the restaurants on the boardwalk. But our personal favorite is to pay the $1/per person to ride the ferry across to Balboa Island. We walk down the main street and grab a famous frozen banana (or Balboa bar), and then walk along the water front and check out the gorgeous homes.
Pacific City in Huntington Beach
This is a brand new shopping and restaurant complex. It’s directly across PCH from the ocean, and it has a big beautiful outdoor space where there’s live music and lots of seating so you can sit and watch the sunset or the surfers. There’s also an area with ping pong and foosball, and large soft building blocks for little kids. It’s clean and nice, and you’ll want to try every single restaurant and dessert shop because everything looks so good. There’s underground parking, and restaurants validate for the first hour or two!
Dana Point Harbor
This is a fun place to go to walk around, and it’s a blast for kids to check out all the big, beautiful boats coming in and out of the harbor. There are tons of good restaurants, it’s a cute place to walk around, and there’s even a little area called Baby Beach where there are no waves (because it’s in the harbor), a good sized area of sand, bathrooms, and shady picnic areas. So if you have little kids, make a day trip out of it with a morning at the beach and an afternoon walking around shopping and eating.
Victoria Beach (with Pirate Tower!)
This beach is famous in Orange County because of it’s tall Rapunzel-like tower. It’s so magical and your kids will love it! The tide gets high and dangerous, so make sure you go early when there is low tide. Also parking can get tricky, but everyone recommends parking along PCH because the residential area is off limits.
Huntington Beach 9th Street
Huntington Beach has miles and miles of beach, but 9th street is our very favorite…here’s why. It has tons of free residential parking, there’s a stoplight at 9th so you can safely and easily cross PCH with your kids, and there’s a long walkway out onto the sand so it’s easy to push a stroller. You still have to drag the stroller down to the water, but the walkway cuts that distance in half. They also just put in a big all-abilities playground on the sand! We haven’t been yet, but we were down there while it was under construction and it looked awesome!
Crystal Cove in Newport Beach
This is our other favorite beach because it has a big sand area, but also has tide pools! My kids love climbing on the rocks and looking for crabs and starfish. Make sure you bring water shoes or sturdy flip flops cause the rocks can be sharp! The only downside is that parking is a little pricey, and there’s a pretty significant hike from the parking lot down to the beach. They have a little drop off point where you can unload everyone closer to the water, but someone still has to park up in the lot and then trek down.
There are a few restaurants right on the sand, but there’s also a large staircase that takes you up the hill to a burger and milkshake shack! So go down in the morning and play at the beach for a few hours, and then head up to grab a burger around lunchtime.
Corona Del Mar Beach
This is a super wide and flat beach that’s great for running around and flying a kite or playing frisbee! There’s a self pay parking lot that’s pretty inexpensive, and the views of the homes up on the cliffs are spectacular. We love taking the kids down to this beach!
PARKS + SPLASH PADS
Marina Park in Newport Beach
This is a really cool and very clean park right on the sand with equipment for all ages. It has a big self-pay parking lot (that’s free after 6pm) and a bunch of picnic tables, so grab some dinner to go and come play and watch the sunset while you eat your dinner.
This park has SO much to do. A fun train to ride, pony rides, a farmers market on Tuesday mornings, a little pond where you can rent paddle boats, bikes you can rent, and even a small zoo! It costs a couple of bucks per car to get into the park, and then each individual thing costs money so it can definitely add up. But it’s a beautiful area and even if you don’t do any of the extras, you can just walk around.
This is an awesome FREE playground in Irvine. It has giant LEGO bricks that you can use to build structures, a few sand areas with tons of big Tonka trucks, a bunch of slides, a water play area, a giant chess board, a little reading nook, and even a ping pong table! It’s all fenced in (besides the entrance, which isn’t gated), so you can let your kids just run and play. There isn’t any food available, so make sure you bring your own, and there are only a few picnic tables so come early to make sure you get one.
It’s also right next door to a tiny library, so if you get too hot, you could go inside and cool down with a few books!
Pioneer Park Splash Pad
The actual splash pad is nothing to write home about, but it’s great for cooling off in the warm summer and the park is big and fun. It has a large grass area, basketball hoops, cool covered wagons to play on, and picnic tables, so you could spend a good amount of time there. Plus it’s pretty close to Peter’s Canyon if you wanted to head there and do an evening hike!
Heritage Park Splash Pad
This is a big fun park with tons of grassy areas, a large pond, a really fun pirate themed playground, and a small splash pad. You can bring bread to feed the ducks, visit the library that’s right on the property, or have a picnic on the grass. It can get busy, but the park is so huge that it doesn’t feel so crazy.
Buccaneer Bay Pool
If you’re looking for a water park for the day, this is a good one! It’s $15 for kids under 48″ and $20 for everyone above 48″. It also has free parking and free life vest rental once you enter. It has big water slides, a lazy river, play equipment in the water, and food you can purchase. Make sure you check the hours — I think it’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Also, it can get super crowded, so go early!
If you want to find the best parks close to wherever you’re staying, check out FunOrangeCountyParks.com – it’s a HUGE resource with so many good parks I want to check out!
MUSEUMS + INDOOR ACTIVITIES
This is a fun science museum for all ages. We’ve been a couple of times and they have a large outdoor dinosaur section to climb on and learn, and then tons of fun exhibits and shows in the theater inside. Check their schedule because there are rotating exhibits, and every single one we’ve seen has been so well done. It’s $13 for kids (2 and under are free), and $18 for adults, so it’s a little pricey but you could definitely spend all day here!
Sender One Rock Climbing Gym (with a big section for little kids!)
This is a big rock climbing gym that we tried out last year. They have a huge climbing room with all different difficulty levels, and then a room called Sender City that’s designed for kids and has fun challenges and slides in addition to the rock climbing walls. The only downside is that Sender City is limited to only a one hour open climb, and it’s pretty pricey for that one hour. You can find groupons for them all the time, but it’s still pricey for only one hour. Also it’s not great for little kids — they have a little play area for toddlers, but Sanny didn’t like being gated in there for the full hour.
If your kids are really into climbing, get a day pass in the regular gym!
This is a fun indoor trampoline park with rock climbing, tons of trampolines, basketball hoops, a foam pit, and more. It’s not a very big place, but you book your time for one hour so it never gets too crowded. It’s $16 per person for an hour (plus you have to buy their special socks…but if you have your own socks with those grippy bottoms from a previous jump place, bring them in and they’ll swap them for free! But you have to jump in their socks), or $25 for 2 hours (which includes socks). Or you can buy an all-day pass for $32 (including socks), but the all-day jump hours are only on the weekends. Just make sure you check their calendar! You can also usually find Groupons for this place.
If you’re down in the Huntington Beach area, Get Air is very similar and super fun!
Billy Beez Play House
This is a big indoor playground with slides, a fun ball room, tunnels to climb through, a basketball room, trampolines, a carnival style arcade, and an infant playroom. It also has a Honeycomb Village with a pretend grocery story, cafe, doctor’s office, and more. Again, tickets are a little pricey at $14 for kids under 3, and $16 for kids 4-17, but happily adults are only $4 (or $7 for a second adult), and seniors 65+ are free with a paid child.
If you have little kids, this is the best place to take them! My kids love, love, love Pretend City. It has restaurants, a bank, a gas station, a library, a grocery store, a doctor and dentist office, and more. My kids could spend HOURS here. But it does get really busy, and it is a little pricey. $12.50 for kids and adults. But you can sometimes find Groupons for this place too! Just make sure you go early so you can take advantage of it being less crowded and getting your money’s worth.