Orange County is one of my favorite places to spend time because there is so much to do in this sunny SoCal area! Besides Disneyland in the Anaheim area, there are other amusements very close in Buena Park, Santa Ana, and San Juan Capistrano. And you can’t forget the sandy beach side fun all along the Pacific Ocean. These are my suggestions for things to do in Orange County, beyond Disneyland!
Things To Do in Orange County With Kids
Hey, y’all know how much I love Disneyland! But Southern California is more than just a single amusement park. Come to Orange County for one thing and you’ll miss out on some really cool attractions. I’ve compiled a list of my top ten don’t-miss things in the OC.
Start off your SoCal travel planning by checking out this travel guide from Visit Buena Park filled with tips, transportation, maps and special event information.
I have received compensation by Visit Buena Park for writing this post. Please note that I use affiliate links in my post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!
4 Things to Do at Knott’s
With humble beginnings in the 1930s, Knott’s Berry Farm has built upon the success of the boysenberry and Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken to create a family-friendly destination. The theme park, restaurant, water park and historical Consider an overnight at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel so all the Knott’s fun will be within quick walking distance.
1. Knott’s Berry Farm
Looking for family fun? How about thrill rides? What about history and a look back into the old West? Or maybe you just love really good food! Well, Knott’s Berry Farm has you covered on all fronts. With Camp Snoopy for little visitors and extreme coasters for big kids & adults, there is entertainment for all. We’ve loved our trips to Knott’s Berry Farm over the years (I’ve been visiting since I was very young). Don’t miss Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies. That’s our favorite show (they used to perform in the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland). The amazingly detailed Calico Mine Ride is a don’t-miss family attraction! And my big kids hit all the thrill rides like Xcellerator and GhostRider. For more, read my tips on taking kids of all ages to Knott’s.
Knott’s Berry Farm day passes are considerable less expensive than Disneyland. Purchase discounted Knott’s Berry Farm tickets through my partner Get Away Today (under tickets, click “Huntington Beach” to find them).
SoCal Insider Tip: Line waits for the rides in Camp Snoopy can be ridiculously long, especially on the weekend. Be sure to check out my post on how to maximize your time with little ones at Knott’s Berry Farm.
2. Knott’s Soak City
Making a splash under the California sun is a great way to spend the day! Knott’s Soak City features 7 new water attractions including one with an Aqua-Launch chamber – the floor drops out from under your feet! I love a good lazy river and the one at Knott’s Soak City is one-third mile in length – one of the longest water park lazy rivers in the world. Knott’s Soak City is located across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm theme park.
SoCal Insider Tip: This seasonal water park will be open in mid-May 2018 to early September 2018. Be sure to check the schedule online as Soak City is only open select days during the season.
3. Knott’s Independence Hall
History lovers will enjoy a side-trip to Knott’s Independence Hall, an exact, brick-by-brick replica of the original building in Philadelphia. This is the nation’s only exact replica of the Philadelphia landmark. View a replica of the Liberty Bell, explore presidential artifacts and hear the forefathers discuss the Declaration of Independence.
Independence Hall is located outside Knott’s Soak City (across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm) and is open every day except Christmas from 10 am – 5 pm. Admission to Knott’s Independence Hall is always free.
4. Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant
Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park offers a pretty great All Day Dining Plan. However I still recommend leaving the park for at least lunch or dinner to hit this popular restaurant. You can sometimes walk-in, but to avoid a long wait it’s best to make a reservation.
Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant has been recently remodeled since my family’s last visit. I was able to look at the new design online and it reflects a rustic chic design that is so popular now. The restaurant is very large, with three indoor dining rooms, outdoor seating and a full-service bar (with boysenberry-infused cocktails!)
Order the chicken dinner, you won’t regret it! Each complete dinner comes with handmade biscuits, side salad, choice of cabbage or cherry rhubarb, three pieces of fried chicken and mashed potatoes smothered with gravy. And for dessert, your choice of boysenberry pie or boysenberry sherbet. Seriously, the BEST fried chicken!
SoCal Insider Tip: Share the chicken dinner- the portions are huge. But order an extra dessert, because you won’t want to share the boysenberry pie!
5. Discovery Cube Science Center
Just down the freeway about ten minutes from Disneyland is the Discovery Cube Orange County, a science center with a hands-on focus for kids. Ongoing exhibits (like the water lab and healthy kitchen) are mixed in with limited time exhibits (like Rainforest Adventure). During spring break, their annual Bubblefest is can’t miss (extra add-on cost per ticket).
SoCal Insider Tip: The Discover Cube does not allow in and out privileges and guests cannot bring in snacks or food. There is a Bean Sprouts restaurant inside with healthier options, however the prices are higher than the usual fast food choices.
6. Lunch Suggestions All Over the OC
Looking for a reliable and delicious lunch spot in SoCal that the entire family will enjoy? These four restaurants have locations all over the OC. A quick Google search while you’re out-and-about should pinpoint them on a map for you. I’ve chosen chain dining so where ever you are in the area, one of these restaurants should be close by.
Rubio’s Coastal Grill
More than just seafood, through you should at least try the original fish taco. Beer battered fish drizzled with white sauce and topped with cabbage and salsa, it’s a California tradition! I’m a fan of the loaded grilled chicken nachos (big enough to share). Don’t forget to try the salsa verde and roasted chipotle salsa, they are delicious!
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Fancier dining than you expect for a brewery (crispy tofu appetizers, black garlic fondue, veggie linguine). Or course there’s plenty for kids too, including burgers, mac and cheese and root beer floats. Plan ahead and call to book a brewery tour during your visit.
I love pizza but I don’t always love the toppings that my husband wants to order. And the two little ones always just want pepperoni. I like that Blaze Pizza is super fast – pizzas cook in 180 seconds! And everyone can order their own personal sized pizza with whatever toppings they want.
This is one restaurant we frequently regularly because it offers something for everyone. The large salad bar has amazingly fresh toppings. Then there are the fresh baked breads and muffins, fruit, pasta and soups. You won’t leave hungry! I sign up for their email list and get great coupons.
7. Hit the Beach
No matter where you are along the coast of Southern California, you’re never too far from the sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Beaches in the OC feature some great view points, walking trails, tide pools and yes, even ocean swimming. Note that these are not tropical waters and even in the early summer, the Pacific Ocean can still be quite chilly. If you plan on visiting the beach early in the day, bring at least a hoodie to keep you warm from the “May Gray” or “June Gloom”.
Newport Beach offers ten miles of coastline for surfing, swimming or sun on the sand. The 10.5-mile Back Bay Loop Trail in Upper Newport Bay is great for hiking and biking. Kids will be drawn to the Balboa Fun Zone amusement areas with the waterfront Ferris Wheel and arcade games.
Enjoy Huntington Beach’s ten unbroken miles of sand for swimming and sand castles by day and beach bonfires at night. If it’s salty sea air in your hair that you’re after consider a ride on Captain Dave’s Dolphin And Whale Watching Safari. Hi-speed catamarans take you out in search of gray whales, blue whales and dolphins. Discounted tickets for the Safari can be found through my partner Get Away Today (under tickets click “Huntington Beach” to find them).
Seven miles of coastline include tucked-away coves and viewing-only tide pools in beautiful Laguna Beach. This is also home to the famous Pageant of the Masters theater show in which actors recreate famous works of art (you have to see it to believe it!)
8. Dinner & a Show at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
My kids and I were able to visit the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament a few years ago while in the Buena Park area (you can read about our entire Medieval Times experience here). In a nutshell, this attraction is well worth the cost! Exploring the castle grounds during the pre-show is fun. The meal is hands-on delicious. And the show is really top notch entertainment!
9. Farrell’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour
Farrell’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a lot of fun! Yes, they have burgers, salads and sandwiches. But save room for dessert because there are shakes, build-your-own sundaes and a candy shop with old-fashioned favorites.
Back when I was a kid, Farrell’s was the place to have your birthday party. I have distinct memories of spending one of my earliest birthdays hiding under the table because my family had ordered THE ZOO! This enormous ice cream sundae big enough to feed ten was delivered to your table in a loud fanfare of banging drums and sirens! Farrell’s has the same tradition today, should your family order THE ZOO.
SoCal Insider Tip: Dine on Tuesday night and the kids will eat free with the purchase of an adult entree.
10. San Juan Capistrano
Visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, the legendary location where the swallows return each year. These birds migrate 6,000 miles from Goya, Argentina to San Juan Capistrano in large groups, arriving every March 19th. Founded nearly 200 hundred years ago, guests visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano can still see the chapel where Saint Junipero Serra celebrated Mass. Hands-on activities like basket weaving, art and both audio and guided tours are engaging for older children. There are also 10-acres of beautiful gardens and fountains for little ones who just want to be outdoors.
SoCal Insider Tip: There are a number of businesses occupying historic buildings around the Mission, including several museums that offer more details on the heritage of the area.
Looking for More?
For more information on what to do in Orange County, be sure to download the Buena Park travel guide stuffed with tips, transportation, maps and special event information.