Abundant surf, sun-soaked beaches, and world-class theme parks draw visitors year-round to Orange County. ‘The OC’ is it’s lovingly known, is located in Southern California, between Los Angeles and San Diego. Disneyland and amusement parks may be the main attraction for families visiting The OC, but the fun doesn’t have to end when you leave the Happiest Place on Earth. Here are some great things to do in Orange County with kids. Before, after, or instead of a trip to Disneyland.
Things to do in Orange County with kids
Visit the Beach
Along Orange County’s 42 miles of coastline, there are quiet secluded beaches, expansive surfing beaches, and loads of beaches in between. Here are a few family-friendly beaches to help you get started exploring Orange County’s beaches with the family.
Hang Ten in Surf City
For surfing, the community of Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA, is the place to be. Bring your board or rent a board and take a lesson from one of the local surf schools. Riding the waves here should be anyone’s California road trip goal, and remember that kids will have an easier time getting up than adults.
Families interested in a surfing vacation may want to stay at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa. With pedestrian overpass access to Huntington Beach, Toes on the Nose surf program, and beach cruiser bikes, the resort is well-suited to families.
It’s a great place to stay for those wanting to explore the community’s five beaches – Huntington State Beach, Huntington City Beach, Huntington Dog Beach, Bolsa Chica State Beach and Sunset Beach.
Go each combing in Orange County
The coves and natural arches along Laguna Beach are a fun place to wander at low tide. Bring your pails and buckets to discover this fun part of Orange County with toddlers. The sand at Laguna Beach is perfect for castles and hours of sand play.
For luxury oceanfront accommodation in Orange County, consider staying at Montage Laguna Beach. Families will appreciate the direct access to child-friendly Laguna Beach, Paintbox activities-based program for children aged five to twelve, and the opportunity to explore the coastline by kayak.
Enjoy a beach BBQ
Arrive early (especially on weekends and holidays) and claim one of the 500 bonfire pits lining Huntington Beach. From here you can join a volleyball game, splash in the surf, and stroll the 10 miles/16 km of uninterrupted coastline.
When the sun begins to set or if you feel like some more heat, light a fire in your complimentary bonfire pit. Firewood is available at local grocery stores. It’s also available seasonally at beach concession stands located along the bike path.
Apart from the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, there are a few more AAA Four-Diamond Hotel and Resorts located along Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, California.
Explore the life aquatic
Southern California is blessed with miles of scenic coastline and access to the grandeur of the Pacific Ocean and relaxing freshwater hot springs. The yacht-filled community of Newport Beach has boats available in many shapes and sizes, along with various options for getting out on the water.
Drive Your Own Boat
For a self-directed (and skippered) day on the water, rent a Duffy boat from Balboa Boat Rentals. Pack a picnic or partake in the Dock and Dine Program that welcomes boaters to dock in front of Newport’s waterfront restaurants, and order food and drinks to go.
Duffy boats are electric, and operators don’t require a special license to take one out on the water.
Go on a cruise
If you want someone else to captain the ship, consider booking a cruise with Hornblower. Hornblower Cruises & Events operate multi-level yachts that cruise Newport Harbor. Begin with the day with a Hornblower Champagne brunch, book a dinner cruise, or participate in one of the special event cruises. Visit the Hornblower website for more information.
Consider booking a room or suite at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. The resort offers bicycle rentals, tennis courts, kid-friendly swimming pools, sand volleyball, and a giant outdoor chess board. Families wanting a luxury stay in Newport Beach should plan a stay at chic and stylish Lido House.
Visit the San Juan Capistrano Mission
Visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, known as the birthplace of Orange County. Tranquil gardens, a koi-filled pond, museum, and the newly conserved Serra Chapel offer a rich historical and cultural experience for children and adults.
Tour the Mission’s exhibits and museum rooms with a Docent guide or explore the 10-acre grounds with a garden tour. Visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano website for more information.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is located in the picturesque community of Los Rios. If you’re on a California road trip, it’s easily accessible by car, or by train from Los Angeles and San Diego,
Experience world-class shopping
Visit luxurious South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa – it’s the largest mall on the West Coast of the United States. And it’s gorgeous. With over 250 boutiques, restaurant options ranging from quick bites to fine dining, and the Segerstrom Center for the Art, South Coast Plaza is a world-class destination. Out-of-state and international visitors can stop at the South Coast Plaza Concierge to receive a VIP Passport. This provides special offers at over 100 stores and restaurants.
Stay close to South Coast Plaza at The Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel. And plan to dine at the award-winning Silver Trumpet Restaurant and Bar, located inside the Avenue of the Arts Hotel.
Dine at Anaheim Packing House
A historic landmark, the Anaheim Packing House dates back to 1919. Back then, it was a commercial citrus hub. Farmers would travel to the Packing House to unload fresh picked citrus for grading, packing in wooden crates, and shipping nationwide via railway.
Today, the multi-level Anaheim Packing House is a light-filled food hall. Over 20 cafes and kiosks surround a central atrium and communal dining space. You can also enjoy your meal in an outdoor garden or on a porch overlooking Farmers Park, an open-air marketplace.
Where to Stay in Orange County with kids
There are hundreds of accommodation options to consider when you are planning your vacation to soak up the sun and family fun in Orange County in southern California. For accommodation at or near Disneyland, check out the Visit Anaheim website. It has a helpful and comprehensive list of hotels and resorts throughout the other OC communities.
The cities and towns of Orange County are serviced by the excellent and modern John Wayne Airport (SNA). It’s located between cities of Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Newport Beach, and provides international access to Orange County, California. Family-friendly John Wayne Airport recently ranked highest among large airports in North America in a J.D. Power passenger satisfaction study.
Pin for Later
About the author: Nancy Besharah is a freelance writer and luxury travel blogger. Nancy loves to travel the world with her husband and two boys. You can read more about their adventures at Luxe Travel Family.
Photo Credits: Nancy Besharah; Visit Huntington Beach.
Disclosure: The Travelling Mom thanks Orange County tourism for hosting Nancy on her discovery of The OC. As always, the writer’s opinions are honest and her own. This post contains affiliate links that help fund this site. Thank you for your support.