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When most people think of Orange County, the first thing that comes to mind is Disneyland, and really it’s the reason many visit in the first place. But I’m here to tell you that there is a lot more to Orange County than just Disneyland! We moved to Orange County in 2012, when Milana was just 4 months old (from San Diego which we weren’t fans of living wise!) so she grew up here and we’re quite familiar with all the family-friendly activities this area offers. If you’re up for a short road trip, take a day trip to Los Angeles where you can check out some things from this ultimate Los Angeles bucket list. Here are the best things to do in Orange County besides Disneyland.
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN ORANGE COUNTY CA
If you’re visiting Orange County with kids, Balboa Island is a super cute little community in Newport Beach you should check out. You can access it via ferry or by a bridge. We like to drive in and then take the ferry across to the Balboa Fun Zone (cars are allowed on the ferry). The main street here has lots of cute shops, restaurants, a candy store and several places that sell the famous Balboa bar. I won’t tell you which to pick, try a few to decide which is best! It’s a great way to spend the afternoon and if you happen to be here around Christmas, the houses by the water are decorated with lots of lights making it a perfect evening walk along the bay. This is one of the best places to visit in Orange County with kids.
Balboa Fun Zone
Another fun thing to do in Orange County with kids is visit the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach. The Balboa Fun Zone is one of SoCal’s oldest coastal amusement areas. Here you will find amusement rides, an arcade, restaurants and boat rentals. If you’re looking for food, Harborside is a great option! They have one of our favorite happy hours in OC in the bar area (kids are allowed) pretty much all day long with some really good food options (try the mussels!). You can also walk across the street to the ocean if you prefer the ocean side, there is a small kids playground right on the beach here. To get here, you can either take the auto ferry from Balboa Island or just drive in an park in one of the many lots in the area.
One of our favorite things to do in Orange County with kids is go paddleboarding. Our favorite place for paddleboarding in Orange County is Newport Beach. There are many places to go paddleboarding in Newport Beach, and you can either bring your own board or rent from various places. We always rent one board and Milana shares with me. This is one of the best things to do in Orange County with kids of all ages.
Any time we have visitors, we rent a boat in Newport Harbor. Check Groupon, since there are always deals! We have also done this during the Christmas boat parade, giving us a great view of all the decorated boats. You can rent boats right near the Balboa Fun Zone as well as several other locations in Newport Beach. This is one of the best things to do in Orange County with kids.
One of the best things to do in Orange County with kids is visit Pacific City. This shopping and dining development is a new addition to Huntington Beach. The location can’t be beat, you are across from the beach with some amazing views! Come here for some great food or to sit back and relax while watching the sunset. Our favorite restaurant here is Saint Marc’s, they have delicious cheese plates, lots of shared plates and you can even buy different flavors of bacon by the slice. If you are staying at the Hyatt or Hilton in HB, this will be right between the two. They also have a hotel on site, Pasea, where each room has an ocean view. Lot 579 opened up recently within this complex, and it’s essentially a food hall with lots of dining options (definitely check out Han’s homemade ice cream!). Definitely worth checking out this spot!
Now we have a love hate relationship with HB. It was the first city we moved to in Orange County, right on PCH and across from the ocean. But it’s gone downhill quickly and many locals will tell you to stay away from Main Street, especially at night. I would still visit it during the day, then head over to neighboring Pacific City in the evening. Main Street also has lots of dining options, souvenir shops and you can walk down the pier as well and watch the surfers. Know those giant televisions inside Hollister stores with the surf feed? Well that’s from the live cams in Huntington Beach! Huntington Beach is must visit when traveling to Orange County with kids.
Another fun thing to do in Orange County with kids is visit a local mall. Orange County is home to many malls, but our favorite is Irvine Spectrum, a close second being Fashion Island in Newport Beach. There is a brand new play structure that’s super fun, a carousel, ferris wheel, lots of grassy area for kids to run around and a splash pad for those hot days.
This mall is outdoors and gets really hot when it’s warm out so that’s something to keep in mind! There are lots of good dining options here, including Capital Seafood which serves dim sum until 3pm daily. The Hello Kitty Cafe opened up recently as well, however it’s not worth waiting in line if there is one. It’s super tiny and the dessert options are super limited, unlike the ones we have been to all over Asia! We think Irvine Spectrum is the best mall in Orange County!
Fashion Island is a higher end mall in Newport Beach. It’s an outdoor mall, with a koi pond which kids seem to love! From certain spots, you have a nice view of the ocean, it’s a great way to combine your trip to Balboa Island since both are near each other. This is another great mall in Orange County to visit with kids.
San Juan Capistrano
In South Orange County, you will find a cute little town called San Juan Capistrano. This is a great place to visit when traveling to Orange County with kids. You can take the train here and get out right in the middle of all the action. There are cute restaurants, shops, and an awesome guinea pig petting zoo called Zoomars. There are almost always Groupon deals for Zoomars, so check for updated ones if you want to go! Aside from the very friendly guinea pigs (which are VERY well taken care of, read up on the history before making comments!), there are pony rides, farm animals, a playground and many other activities for kids, including special holiday events. It’s a fun way to spend the day and a great place to visit with kids in Orange County.
BEST KID-FRIENDLY BEACHES IN ORANGE COUNTY CA
If you’re looking for family friendly beaches near Disneyland, you’re in luck! Orange County is home to many and we have visited most of them. Here are the best kid and family friendly beaches in Orange County near Disneyland and Anaheim.
One of the best beaches in Orange County for kids is Little Corona. This is one of our favorite beaches because of the tide pools. There is so much sea life here! Plan your visit around low tide so that you can see the most creatures. It’s really simple to get here, the beach is on the corner of Poppy and Ocean in Newport Beach. You’ll see a path that leads down to the beach. The path is paved and stroller friendly, though steep and uphill coming back. Don’t forget to check out all the beaches with tide pools in Orange County, we have quite a few!
Shaw’s Cove is another very family friendly beach near Disneyland, this time in Laguna Beach. Keep in mind, that you will have to walk down quite a lot of steps to reach it, and it’s not stroller friendly. Often times (depending on tide) little pools fill up with water which is perfect for toddlers to splash around in. There are some tide pools here too, though if that is what you are looking for, I would recommend Little Corona instead.
To access Shaw’s Cove, you park in a residential neighborhood and look for the easy to miss staircase. It’s more of a local beach, though I always recommend it to visitors!
This is yet another beach in Laguna Beach and a huge hit with families. You can park right near the sand in their lot and walk steps to set up your beach gear. This is one of the most popular beaches with locals and a great beach for families visiting Orange County.
One of the most popular family beaches in Orange County is Crystal Cove. To get here, you need to park across the busy PCH and either walk down towards the beach or take their free shuttle. We love the little hike so we always opt to walk. There is a restaurants right by the water, though make sure to make reservations as it is almost always packed with a long wait. We came on a random weekday morning last time and had no wait but we’ve seen very long waits here! There are also cottages you can rent here, right by the water. Now these are very popular and sell out instantly. You can reserve on their site for 6 months in advance. It’s not easy to score one of these, however it is definitely worth a try!
When we first moved to Orange County, we lived on Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, directly across the street from the beach. All we had to do was cross the street and the beach was there! Milana grew up with the sand as her backyard. If you want to visit a beach in Huntington Beach, I recommend going away from the overly crowded pier and drive up PCH to 17th Street. There, you will find lots of free street parking in the local neighborhood and you can cross to the beach at the light. Not crowded and perfect for toddlers to play! This is one of the best beaches for kids in Orange County.
Newport Beach Municipal Beach
Another kid friendly beach near Disney is this Newport Beach beach. This is a much more popular beach, and parking is hard to find during the summer and holidays/weekends so keep that in mind! But it’s another favorite for families, with the beach being steps away from the parking lot. A big difference here is, there are lots of restaurants right by the beach unlike many other beaches in SoCal. Go to the donut shop and grab the best ham and cheese croissant you’ll ever have (really, you have to try it!) and head to the sand.
INDOOR PLAYGROUNDS IN ORANGE COUNTY CA
Now it’s not often that it rains here, but when it does, you are going to want some indoor activities for kids in Orange County as well! Mostly because you won’t want to be driving in the rain as the locals have no idea how to maneuver a vehicle even in drizzle. Here are some of the best indoor things to do in Orange County with kids.
One of our favorite indoor playgrounds is Billy Beez, located right by Disneyland inside the Anaheim GardenWalk. This is great for big and little kids, and adults as well! The play structure is massive and will easily fit adults. They also have a separate play structure for younger kids as well as a pretend city kind of like a children’s museum, which has a supermarket, restaurant, bank, etc. We do have something called Pretend City in OC however I don’t recommend it as it’s dated (they are supposed to renovate soon), small and really for kids 5 and under. I’d come here instead because you will get the entire pretend city area but also some play structures as a bonus! This is one of the best indoor playgrounds in Orange County.
Another fun indoor activity in Orange County is the Discovery Cube. This is our version of a science center/museum. They are a part of the ASTC Passport Program so if you have a membership to a museum in your city that is a participant, admission here will be free. We are members and as a result have gotten free admission to science centers and children’s museums all over the country! There is a restaurant on site that serves healthy, organic meals with lots of fruit and veggie options in case your kids get hungry!
Take a day trip to Los Angeles
If you have some extra time while visiting Orange County with kids, why not head a little north to Los Angeles? There are lots of sights and great restaurants and we highly recommend visiting the Griffith Observatory on a day trip to Los Angeles.
BEST PLAYGROUNDS IN ORANGE COUNTY CA
There are some really great playground options all over Orange County. These are just some of our favorites, but there are a ton more that I won’t mention since you most likely won’t be going from playground to playground as a tourist! These stand out and are definitely worth a visit. Here are the best playgrounds in Orange County California.
This is by far our favorite and the best playground in Orange County. It’s located in Tustin, near the District which has lots of stores and restaurants. Whenever my sister visits, we bring the cousins here to play. The play structure is massive and great for all ages. The only downside is the lack of shade, it gets really hot on warm days!
Another great playground in Orange County is this is a fairly new park, located in Newport Beach. It’s very close to the Balboa Fun Zone, so you can combine a visit here with Balboa Island/Fun Zone. On warm days, you can let the kids play in the water. Parents love this beach because there are no waves and it’s easy to keep track of your kids! The play structures are great too and you can’t beat the location. This is one of the best playgrounds in Orange County and a hit with locals and tourists alike.
In the summer, the beach by Marina Park is awesome for families with young kids. There are no waves and it’s a really nice, safe place for even toddlers to play. Older kids can even jump off the dock!
Another fun playground in Orange County is Peter Green. This park is located in Huntington Beach, in a residential neighborhood. It has a fun play structure though unless you are staying in the area, I wouldn’t make a special trip just for it since the two I mentioned above are much better!
Huntington Beach All Inclusive Playground
One of the best playgrounds in Orange County with amazing view is this new all inclusive playground in Huntington Beach. This is a very new playground, right on the beach in HB just a few blocks from Main Street and the Pier. It’s a great play area, completely fenced in. Just like the name implies, it’s an all inclusive playground with play structures for all kids.
The Backyard and Hangout
This playground is in a very local neighborhood, one you probably won’t go to if you’re just visiting. However if you have a car and some time, I highly recommend it! To get here, put in 1 Salubre Street into your GPS. The GPS will take you almost directly to the park, just keep driving about a block and you will see it. This is a super fun playground with some of the best climbing structures and a really fun zip line. This is one of the best playgrounds in Orange County!
BEST FAMILY FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS IN ORANGE COUNTY CA
There are so many great, family friendly restaurants in Orange County! I’ll name some of our favorites but there are so many more so definitely do some research before visiting Orange County with kids! Here are the best kid friendly restaurants in Orange County.
This is quite possibly our favorite restaurant in Orange County! It’s a vegan restaurant with a large raw menu as well. They use all organic produce and only natural ingredients. The food here is phenomenal, even if you aren’t vegan it is worth a visit! Milana loves this place especially the rainbow in the sky dessert!
What started as one store in San Diego, quickly spread to OC and LA. This is by far the best burger in Orange County! They use grass-fed beef and organic cheese/condiments/veggies. They also have a in house made vegetarian burger option as well as turkey and sometimes lamb. There are several locations throughout the county and our go-to for burgers. This is one of the best kid friendly restaurants in Orange County.
Now I wouldn’t call this authentic by any means, however we bring friends and family here when they visit and it’s always a hit! The location can’t be beat, ask for a table on the outdoor patio overlooking the ocean. While it won’t be your best Mexican meal while here, it’s definitely worth a visit as the location and views are great! This is one of the best Orange County restaurants to visit with kids because of the views and proximity to the beach playground, just a few blocks away.
Let’s face it, a visit to SoCal isn’t complete without visiting In-N-Out. Make sure to look up their secret menu before you go to make the most of your visit! We like our burgers animal style. You can’t go to Orange County and not eat at In-N-Out, it’s one of the best family friendly restaurants in California!
Joe’s Crab Shack
This is a place we personally aren’t fans of however I am mentioning it because it has a playground. This is one of the few restaurants in the county with a playground on the patio. It’s down the street from Disneyland, making it a great place to go have dinner and let the kids run around. This Anaheim restaurant with a playground is a great option if you need a break from the kids!
If you like sandwiches, this is a great place to have them! They use organic ingredients and have a decent kid menu too. We go to the Costa Mesa location, which has fun seating and games for kids to play while they wait for food.
Crystal Cove Shake Shack
You will see this hut on your way to Crystal Cove. On weekends, the line extends all the way out to the road so I would come on a weekday afternoon if possible! Come grab a shake and enjoy the view of the beach below. This is one of the best family friendly restaurants in Orange County and a must visit with kids.
One of our favorite breakfast places in Orange County is Snooze in Tustin. Be aware that they are very popular and the wait can be over an hour on weekends! If you go on Yelp, you can put yourself on the wait list cutting your wait time to less than 20 minutes in most cases.
Another fun place for kids in Orange County is Stacked. Kids get wiki stix while waiting for food and you order everything on a tablet. It’s called Stacked because you “stack” your meal. You start off with one ingredient (eggs for example) and add to make it customized for you. You can stack your own burgers, burritos, even shakes and ice cream sundaes. It’s a fun place to check out with kids!
Looking for healthy dining in Orange County? This is a healthier alternative in Newport Beach, with lots of veggie and organic options. For kids, they have a choice of protein (tofu, chicken, steak) and 2 sides ranging from broccoli and mashed organic potatoes to gluten free mac and cheese and organic fruit. We love coming here and Milana’s favorite is the salmon, which sadly isn’t on the kid menu. So I order it for myself and we swap proteins after. She also loves their quinoa with corn!
This is just a small portion of family-friendly activities in Orange County! As you can see, there is a ton more to do in Orange County besides Disneyland. Come check out family friendly Orange County beaches and some of the best playgrounds in Orange County. Want to read this later? Pin the image below!