Beyond Disneyland: Things to Do in Orange County with Kids

By Laura Ishmael,

Millions of families make the trek to Southern California each year with one goal in mind: Disneyland. It’s the mecca of family travel and a rite of passage that most children should experience at least once.

But while Disneyland may be the most magical place on earth, there really is so much more to Orange County, California than its most famous theme park. With year-round sun, a string of gorgeous beaches, and plenty of family-friendly activities, Orange County is the ideal destination for any vacation– family, Disneyland and beyond.

So if you’re really wanting to make the trip, but not quite sure you can handle “It’s a Small World” day after day, here are a few other things to do in Orange County with Kids (beyond Disneyland):


Learn to Surf in Huntington Beach

Hunting Beach California learn to surf

Photo from Unsplash.

There are so many great beaches in Orange County, but undoubtedly the most famous is Huntington Beach. It’s your classic California beach: sands that stretch for miles and fill up end-to-end with visitors and locals alike in the summertime. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try your hand at the OC’s favorite pastime: surfing! Banzai Surf School and HB Surf School both offer 1-2 hour private lessons to get your feet wet and have you standing up in no time. After your lesson, don’t miss a stroll down Main Street for some beach gear or lunch at Ruby’s on the pier.

 

Visit the Mission at San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano Orange County

Photo by the author.

Non-California natives will probably know little about the important role the missions of California played in shaping the state. Visit one of the most well-preserved missions right in Orange County at Mission San Juan Capistrano. The affordable admission price includes an audio tour which retells the story of the mission’s inhabitants.

 

Explore the Trails at Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park ocean view

Photo from Unsplash.

Certainly not hidden, but often overlooked, Crystal Cove State Park is an OC favorite tucked between the cities of Newport and Laguna Beach. Start your trek into the park near Newport Coast Drive and explore the grassy trails and ocean views as they lead you down toward the beach. If you arrive early enough, try to claim a table at Beachcomber Cafe, an old beach cottage that’s been converted into a restaurant with a beautiful ocean-view.

 

Ride the Ferris Wheel at the Balboa Fun Zone

Balboa Fun Zone Ferris Wheel

Photo by the author.

Though it may be small in size, the Balboa Fun Zone, with its signature Ferris Wheel, has been around for over 80 years. The old school boardwalk brings the nostalgia of Coney Island to the west coast, with Newport Bay on one side of the Fun Zone, and the Balboa Peninsula on the other. After exploring the Fun Zone, families can rent boats to cruise around Newport Harbor or take the Balboa Island Ferry across the bay for some shopping on Balboa Island. No matter which side you stick to, you can’t go home without a famous Balboa Bar or frozen dipped banana!

 

Go Horseback Riding in the Canyons

Santa Ana Mountains trail ride

Photo from Unsplash.

Not all that far beyond the beach is a whole different side of Orange County. Bordered to the east by the Santa Ana Mountains, the OC is home to many cities along the foothills and the canyon trails leading up through the mountains offer some of the best views. Visit Country Trails and Riding School in Irvine Regional Park for scenic guided trail rides on horseback.

 

Take a Boat to Catalina Island

Catalina Island California

Photo by the author.

About 30 minutes from the Orange County coastline is another must-see gem: Catalina Island! Making a quick day trip to the island is quite simple, with the Catalina Flyer leaving from Newport Beach to Avalon in the morning and returning by dinnertime. The quaint town of Avalon can be easily explored on foot or by bike, and there are several hotels in the small village if you wish to extend your stay. While on the island for the day, enjoy snorkeling at Lover’s Cove, biking the village on beach cruiser rentals or relaxing at Descanso Beach Club.

 

Check out the Tide Pools in Corona del Mar

Corona del Mar tidal pools day

Photo by the author.

Corona del Mar State Beach (located in the city of Newport Beach) is another favorite beach for a low-key afternoon. Much less touristy than Balboa or Huntington, not only does it have stellar ocean views and a nice sandy beach, but a wonderful collection of tide pools just beyond the rocks as well. Kids will be thrilled to spot sea urchins, starfish, and plenty of other colorful sea creatures quite easily at low tide. It’s no wonder this spot is a favorite among the locals!


Where to Stay in Orange County with Kids

Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort 

Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa guest suite pool

Photo from trivago.

View on trivago

Located in southern Orange County, Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort is the ultimate in resort living. The hotel’s parlor suites are perfect for families needing some extra space. That is, of course, when not busy utilizing the resort’s many outdoor activities and complimentary rentals of boogie boards, sand toys, board games, sports equipment and more!

 

Hyatt Regency Newport Beach 

Hyatt Regency Newport Beach guest suite family

Photo from trivago.

View on trivago

Situated near the Back Bay of Newport Beach, the Hyatt Regency is minutes from both the sand and John Wayne Airport, while also being ideally located in central OC. This upscale hotel also boasts three outdoor swimming pools and an on-site restaurant.

 

SpringHill Suites Irvine 

SpringHill Suites Irvine John Wayne Airport/Orange County guest room

Photo from trivago.

View on trivago

At the doorstep of the South Coast Plaza shopping center, families will find plenty of dining options within walking distance of this hotel. The thoughtfully laid-out suites with contemporary decor will help families feel right at home on their trip.

 

Anabella Hotel

Anabella Hotel Guest room family

Photo from trivago.

View on trivago

This boutique hotel is just minutes from Disneyland but is anything but ordinary. The highly-acclaimed on-site restaurant, family pool, and stylish furnishings make it a great home base for exploring all of Orange County.


With so much to do in Orange County, California with kids and year-round gorgeous weather to welcome you, the only question is: when will you be booking your trip?