No matter what you’re looking for in a weekend trip, there’s plenty to do just in Orange County. Date nights, day trips, evenings out, quick trips with kids, anything! In fact, for this list, we’re focusing in on the latter and sharing ten of our favorite kid-friendly spots in the OC. Even better, most of them are free!
1. The Great Park Balloon
Not exactly for the faint of heart, but also not exclusively for the bravest of children, the Great Park Balloon in Irvine is an incredible adventure for kids of any age. It’s safe and smooth and allows for one of the best views in and of Orange County, all while you’re ironically floating underneath a giant inflatable orange.
All flights are free, and even if your kids would rather keep both feet on the ground, the park itself is a beautiful place to play. Think it over and then head on over to the Great Park site for the dates, times, and details.
2. Peter Mary Muth Interpretive Center
After opening in October 2000, the Interpretive Center quickly became a space for the young and the old alike to experience the beauty of Newport Bay. Anyone can wander through their interactive exhibits and displays for free, but the center also hosts a variety of events for kids ranging from tours to story telling to arts and crafts for a small fee. Overall, it’s a pleasant and informative experience for the whole family!
3. Balboa Island
Okay, okay, so the ferry isn’t free, a lot of the games aren’t free, and, of course, your child may want to ride the Ferris Wheel for four dollars per person, but it’s a perfect trip for a low budget. Even if you just go to one of the many parks and play the day away on the beach, or even if you only spend a few bucks on the ferry and a frozen banana and a Balboa Bar, it’s a completely kid-friendly place to have a lot of fun.
A 58-acre all natural park that is tucked away in the hills of Anaheim with streams, canyons, and four miles of hiking trails through oak woodland and coastal sage scrub, you’ll absolutely forget how near you are to the freeway. Not to mention that the John J. Collier Interpretive Center is also on site, with a small museum containing live animal and regional history exhibits. What more could you ask out of an adventure? It’s a getaway full of potential discovery that lies right in Orange County.
The PMMC rescues, rehabilitates, and releases marine mammals all while working to inspire ocean stewardship through research, education, and collaboration. Open to the public every day for free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the shelter mostly cares for elephant seals, harbor seals, fur seals, and sea lions. They have a wonderful butterfly garden as well, and educational opportunities everywhere. Ultimately, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center is everything-friendly: kid-friendly, family-friendly, ocean-friendly, you name it!
Who doesn’t love a day at the beach? Little Corona Del Mar is a small beach filled to the brim with big tide pools just waiting to be browsed. Easy to access with kids and strollers, this beach is also fairly well protected from the surf and its occasional nasty break. So really, whether you’re swimming, sitting, or searching for urchins, Little Corona is a great place to pass the day.
7. Catalina Island
While Catalina is technically in Los Angeles County, it’s still an island and therefore free game for our list. Seeing as how you can take the ferry from Newport Beach too, your daycation could definitely count as starting in Orange County. Any way you look at it, Catalina is perhaps one of the best quick trips to make with your kids. Pack a lunch, a few towels, and a good book for a beach picnic. Bring your own flippers and snorkel set to swim with garibaldi fish in the crystal clear water. Hike any of the trails or simply walk the road along the coast. You could even pack a tent and spend the weekend!
8. Centennial Farm
Centennial Farm is a three-acre working farm at the OC Fair & Event Center that was originally created to educate youth about agriculture and its importance to our daily lives. Founded on education and appreciation, the farm is home to fruit and vegetable gardens and livestock like pigs, chickens, cattle, goats and more. Be sure to check out their opening hours on their website!
9. Fullerton Arboretum
Free to the public and a great place to both play and learn, the Arboretum in Fullerton is reliable for fun. They offer classes, a community garden, and many special events throughout the year. Not to mention that they offer various tours and museum exhibits and, of course, plants galore! Your kids will surely have plenty to do and plenty to learn with a day spent here.
10. Huntington Beach Bonfire
Perfect for a nice summer night or even a hot dog roast during the day, the fire pits at Huntington Beach are famous for family fun. Bring a football or a Frisbee, a few blankets, and maybe some marshmallows and you’re all set from day until dusk. Swimming is just a stones throw away and so are the public restrooms. Everything you could really need, all in one place. And if that place happens to be the beach then who can really complain?
In the end, whether a day out with your kids is free, or nearly free, it’s all worth it. We hope that a few of these places have made your list and that you and your family get out and explore all of the adventures that the OC has to offer!