15 Family Things To Do in Orange County

family things to do in orange county

Whether you’re a local or visiting from the other side of the world, Orange County, California is a premiere destination for families with kids of all ages. Known as “The OC,” Orange County, California is situated right below Los Angeles. It’s comprised of Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, Buena Park, and Santa Ana.

Orange County boasts miles and miles of gorgeous sandy beaches, world-renowned theme parks, expansive libraries, and so much more. No matter the season, Orange County offers a diverse range of experiences for families looking to have a great time.

Today I’m sharing a round-up of activities that families can do together in Orange County.

15 Fun Family Things To Do in Orange County

outdoor things to do in orange county

Outdoor Things To Do In Orange County

Spend A Day At The Beach

You can’t talk about Orange County without mentioning the amazing beaches. One of the best in the area is Newport Beach. Not only is it gorgeous, it offers a bunch of fun family activities like bike rentals, surfing, and more. If you can, stay long enough to catch the sunset. It’s truly breathtaking in Newport Beach.

I highly recommend the state parks as well. Crystal Cove State Park is a great option if you prefer a more laid-back beach experience. You can stay the night in a beach cottage, and during the day explore a tide pool or soak up the sun on the beach.

If you have a family full of thrill seekers, head to Huntington Beach. The Huntington Beach Pier is one of the best surf spots, even for first-timers who want to learn how to ride the waves. There are a ton of reasonably-priced board rentals and lessons right there on the beach. 

Also, be sure to check out the Adventure Playground in Huntington Beach’s Central Park West. It has a ropes course, zip line, and other features that kids 5 and up will love. For the little ones, the toddler playground by the lake includes a small climbing structure with a slide, swings, and a seesaw. 

Before you head to the beach, check out my post on beach safety for kids, as well as this write-up on summer beach bag essentials to ensure you come prepared.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano is a fantastic fun and educational family-friendly destination in Orange County. Family members of all ages can explore the Mission grounds (kick it up a notch with this free printable scavenger hunt), learn about California history, do crafts, and participate in various Mission Clubhouse activities like life-size basket weaving, Roman arch building with mini blocks, and more. The Mission Clubhouse is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.

It used to be that every year, elementary students in California would do a mission project where they built dioramas of one of the 21 Spanish missions in the state, including Mission San Juan Capistrano. Fewer schools still participate in the mission project, but I’ll never forget my experience. You can read more about my experience and how it felt to return with my daughter for her mission project in this post.

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Newport Dunes 

When it comes to fun on and near the water, it doesn’t get much better than Newport Dunes in Orange County. The resort offers a ton of activities to the public including water sports rentals, beach volleyball, bike and walking trails, outdoor movies and so much more.

If your kids are at least 5 years old, you should definitely check out the Summer Inflatable Aquatic Park. Among the floating inflatables, you’ll find obstacle courses, climbing walls, and diving platforms. This epic inflatable water park opens on Friday, May 24. Here are some important things to know before you go:

  • Reservations are highly recommended because time slots typically sell out.
  • You only get an hour with admission and they don’t offer full-day access. However, if you want extra time, you can ask the Watersports clerk on site. If spaces are available in the next slot, they will give you the required different colored wristbands.
  • Each visitor is required to wear a Newport Dunes-approved lifejacket (you can’t use your own) and wristband.
  • Anyone under the age of 18 needs to have a parent or guardian with them.

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Knott’s Berry Farm

Don’t let the name fool you; Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park isn’t a cute little plot of land with colorful fresh berries ripe for picking. Although that sounds delightful, Knott’s is California’s original theme park and one of the best things in Orange County to do as a family. 

The Knott’s Berry Farm theme park has a wide variety of thrilling rides, mesmerizing shows, and attractions. Knott’s Soak City Waterpark (open select days May 18 through September 8) is a separate 15-acre water adventure park with 23 water slides, a family raft ride, a wave pool, a lazy river, and a three-story Beach House with 200 water sprayers. 

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Balboa Fun Zone

For hours of fun for the whole family, head to Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach. You can take a ride on the Ferris Wheel, rent bikes to ride on the boardwalk, play classic arcade games, and explore the nautical museum. 

Be sure to take the auto ferry to Balboa Island to get their famous chocolate-dipped frozen bananas. Or kick it up a notch and rent a Duffy boat to drive around Balboa Marina. You can even dock your Duffy boat at many of the restaurants in the marina while you grab a bite to eat.

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Whale Watching At Dana Point

For some remarkable, breathtaking views of whales unlike anywhere else in the world, head to Dana Point. No matter the time of year, Dana Point is the place to be for views of migrating Gray Whales, Blue whales, and dolphins. You can take a guided boat tour, rent a boat, or watch from the shore. 

Dana Point is “The Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World” and the first Whale Heritage site in the Americas. For epic views of Blue whales right off the coast, visit between May and November. From November through April, you’ll get incredible views of Gray whales. You also have a good chance of spotting Fin whales, Minke whales, Humpback whales, orcas, Bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and a bunch of other marine life. 

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outdoor things to do in orange county

Santa Ana Zoo

A trip to the zoo is always a fun idea for families. The Santa Ana Zoo is smaller than the LA Zoo, so you only need a few hours, at most, to explore a wide variety of animal exhibits. There’s also a petting zoo, playground, and a few rides like a train, Ferris Wheel, and Carousel. 

The Santa Ana Zoo is open daily 10 am to 5 pm, year-round except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. 

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Irvine Spectrum Center

The Irvine Spectrum Center is one of the most popular entertainment centers in Orange County. There you’ll find a bunch of attractions for all ages, including the Giant Wheel Ferris wheel, carousel, movie theaters, The Escape Game, Odyssey VR, and the Spectrum Climber. The Spectrum Climber is a 3D climbing sculpture with 75 platforms for kids to play and climb on. There are also numerous dining and shopping options to choose from. 

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Orange County Great Park

If you’re driving on the I-5 and you spot a big orange balloon, that’s your cue to swing by Great Park. Don’t worry, there’s a lot more to Great Park than its iconic attraction soaring 400 feet above the ground. Although it is pretty cool to see it decorated as a giant pumpkin during Halloween.

During your visit to Great Park, you can go for a ride on the carousel, learn at the Farm + Food Lab, explore the Palm Court Arts Complex, and run wild at one of the public play areas. If you have toddlers and young children, check out Kids Rock Playground. It has several climbing rocks, tunnels, and more for little ones to enjoy. 

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Disneyland Resort

Disneyland is easily one of the most iconic destinations in California. There are more than enough rides for every member of your family to enjoy, as well as shows, character meet-and-greets, and delicious treats. The world-famous resort is open year-round but is open for longer during the summer. 

Tickets can get a bit pricey, especially for large families, but if you can, I recommend purchasing the Disney Genie+ service and multi-day passes. They enhance the overall experience, allow you to take your time exploring the resort, enjoy everything it has to offer, and get the most bang for your buck. A 2-day park hopper pass doesn’t have to be used consecutively, so you can break up your visits to suit your family’s needs. Just be sure to visit again within 13 days of your first visit. 

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indoor things to do in orange county

Indoor Things To Do In Orange County

Discovery Cube OC

Discovery Cube OC is a museum unlike any other, except for maybe the other Discovery Cube in LA. Kids of all ages will love exploring the over 80 engaging, science-based interactive exhibits. You can build and race a car in the Physics Lab, drive a remote-controlled rover over a replica of the moon’s surface, and try to stop the pucks in The Science of Hockey: You Be The Goalie. There’s so much to learn and fun to be had at Discovery Cube OC.

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Pretend City Children’s Museum

Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine is a great option for kids in Orange County who love to play make-believe. It’s an interactive museum designed to look like a city with 17 areas or “sets” including police and fire stations, a farm, a construction area, a dentist’s office, a grocery store, an art studio, a water play area, and more.

Pretend City Children’s Museum is best suited to toddlers and children under 7. Visitors are welcome from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm to 4 pm.

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The Reptile Zoo

Visiting The Reptile Zoo is another great way to spend a few hours as a family. This unique “educational entertainment facility” is home to over 100 species of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. You can expect to spend a couple of hours exploring the exhibits and enjoying interactive presentations. You might even get the chance to feed the fish and turtles or the huge tortoises. 

If you’re brave enough, you can even get up close and personal with Sunshine, the 12-foot Burmese Python, for an amazing photo-op. 

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Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum is one of the largest museums in Orange County. Visitors can explore various exhibitions and participate in lectures, art classes, children’s art education programs, and more. This museum is a great destination for families looking for an enriching indoor activity, no matter the season.

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American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park

The American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park is the perfect indoor activity for kids who love to climb, bounce, swing, and jump. Located in Santa Ana, the 17,000-square-foot indoor park was inspired by the American Ninja Warrior show. 

Your kids can take on the traditional Ninja Warrior Course just like the one on TV, or make their way through the inflatable obstacle course. There are rock walls, swinging bars, rolling logs, and so much more. 

You’ll need to purchase a pair of American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park toe-grip socks when you register online or in person. Closed-toe shoes are required for the skills course. 

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Orange County is a fantastic destination with a ton of family things to enjoy.

It’s no secret that California is full of opportunities to have a blast and make memories that will last a lifetime. Some of the best family-friendly experiences can be found in Orange County if you know where to look. Hopefully, this post included some things that appeal to your family. 

Whether you pick one or try to do them all, I’m certain you’re going to have an amazing time with your family in the OC. 

For more family fun ideas, traveling tips, and more, head over to the blog.

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