From world-renowned amusement parks to live entertainment on the water, Orange County offers the perfect place for an excitement-filled family outing.
Take a spin around the iconic waterfront Ferris wheel at the Balboa Fun Zone, located on Newport Beach’s Balboa Island. While you’re there, explore the treasures of the deep blue at Discovery Cube’s Ocean Quest (through November, learn about real shipwrecks and even navigate your own rover!), play a round of games at the Bay Arcade, and please your palate — and your sweet tooth — with confections, candy and Confetti Italian Ice. If the weather allows (75-degree winter days are not unheard of here!), small kids can wade in the wave-free waters along Balboa’s beaches. Back on the mainland, enjoy a visit to the educational exhibit in Crystal Cove State Park’s seaside Historic District (look for the green cottage near the Beachcomber Café). Afterward, climb the cliff’s wooden stairway to the Shake Shack for a classic burger and milkshake.
One of Southern California’s greatest attractions can be found in Anaheim: For the most “magical” of family outings, spend a day at Disneyland, where you’ll meet many of your favorite cartoon characters and catch a thrill on a host of rides. Sports fans can catch an ice hockey game at the Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks (see nhl/ducks.com for this season’s schedule). If hitting the ice sounds more your speed than taking a seat in the stands, take the family skating at The Rinks Anaheim Ice.
Parents and groms will enjoy a trip to the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach, where you’ll learn about the local surfing history and see photos and boards that belonged to some of your wave-riding idols. Across the way, Huntington Beach Pier is a must-stroll, where you can also view the local surf culture on the breaks below, and have a bite to eat at the renowned Ruby’s Diner. For an educational experience, visit the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Interpretive Center, where you can discover more about the local ecosystem through special events and displays.
Tour a 3-acre working farm in Costa Mesa, where Centennial Farm features gardens, crops and the Millennium Barn. Here, children can have a wild time learning about agriculture and “farm life,” while also visiting with the resident pigs, goats, chickens, and more. Active “kids” of all ages will enjoy an excursion to Rockcreation Sport Climbing Center, where pros will lend a helpful hand by harnessing little climbers and spotting them for an indoor adventure that is super safe and secure. Costa Mesa also houses Orange County’s most prestigious shopping center: South Coast Plaza. Parents will delight in the world-class stores and boutiques while youngsters go crazy for the ground floor Carousel ride and upstairs train display around the holidays.
No trip to O.C. is complete without a visit to Orange Country Great Park. Located in Irvine, the 1,300-acre recreational park is home to a hot-air balloon built for rides high in the sky (a great way to take in the view!), The Great Park Carousel, and the nature-themed Kids Rock playground — a perfect place to pack a family picnic. The Children’s Museum of Orange County, also in Irvine, features hands-on learning for young inquisitive minds: Create art, perform fun farm chores, cook up something savory, save a life, and much more at the museum’s many interactive studios.
This season, Laguna Beach hosts its world-famous Sawdust Winter Art Festival, where local artists and craftsmen build holiday booths and sell their wares for four weekends during the winter. Visit Santa at his vacation home, play in real snow, sip hot chocolate, and see live music among the many other activities offered. Year-round, Laguna rehabilitates rescued sea lions and seals at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center before releasing them back into the wild. Families can see these sweet marine mammals up-close by taking a tour of the facility, nestled in the verdant canyon. Low tide along Laguna’s coast reveals shallow tide pools, perfect for seeing sea creatures — anemones, urchins, starfish and more — right at your feet. Kneel down and take a good look, but remember not to touch!