Top of the list of Orange County family attractions has to be Disneyland Park. This wonderland makes up one half of the wider Disneyland Resort, and its creation was overseen by Mr Walt Disney himself. Generations of families have been left spellbound by its magical streets, overlooked by the turrets of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and it’s just as bewitching today. Wander from Main Street USA to the colourful worlds of Fantasyland and Adventureland, to discover immersive rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain. And, of course, you’ll be getting to meet Mickey and co as well.
The magic continues well beyond Disneyland Park. The other part of the sprawling resort is Disney California Adventure, where you’ll bump into Captain American and Spider-Man as they take time out from superhero duties, and even have a meet and greet with Anna and Elsa from Frozen. Then there are the thrill rides, including the state-of-the-art Guardians of the Galaxy spectacular, which challenges you to rescue the team from the clutches of the dastardly Collector. The Little Mermaid undersea adventure is another highlight, while 2018 will also see the debut of Pixar Pier.
Shopping in Orange County isn’t just shopping. At least, not when you enter the smart walkways of Fashion Island, in chic and up-scale Newport Beach. This open-air mall lets you discover exclusive boutiques while also soaking up the California sunshine, while picturesque palm trees tower overhead. There are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy wine and cocktails in between browsing, while there’s also a tempting array of elegant eateries where you can sample everything from gorgonzola tartlets to zesty gelato. The ocean views just add to a shopping experience like no other.
Ready for more thrills and spills? There’s plenty to be had at Knott’s Berry Farm. Don’t be fooled by the serene-sounding name – that’s just a reference to the fact this started out as a humble farm a long, long time ago. These days, it’s one of the biggest theme parks in California, packed with rides that’ll get the adrenaline surging, including Montezooma’s Revenge and GhostRider – the tallest wooden rollercoaster on the West Coast. Younger kids will also love Camp Snoopy, a whole area devoted to the beloved Peanuts characters, from Charlie Brown to the cheeky beagle himself.
The sister park to Knott’s Berry Farm, Soak City is the place to be when the sun’s beating down and you want to treat the family to splashy fun. This water park sprawls across 15 acres and is adorned with winding water slides and meandering lazy rivers, not to mention a special Beach House area bedecked with water guns and sprayers where you can wage war with your little ones. And then there’s the Tidal Wave Bay wave pool, which is exactly as exciting as it sounds. Bonus points if you can keep your head above water.
One of the perks of Orange County is its plum position on the Pacific Ocean, and you can take in the wide blue grandeur at Corona del Mar State Beach. A huge hit with families, its long swathes of sand make the ideal location for relaxing, catching rays and making the most of the fabled Californian climate. Watch the volleyball players, admire the surfers and take snaps of the elegant, vintage cottages which overlook the beach – it’s all so blissful, you won’t want to drag yourself away, although the local restaurants are too tempting to resist.
While the likes of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm steal the limelight, there’s a real hidden gem in Orange County in the form of Adventure City. This charmingly compact theme park is perfectly suited to younger children, and offers a more tranquil day out than the bigger, busier parks. Among the rides to put smiles on everyone’s faces are a vintage carousel which dates back to the 1940s, and the Great Balloon Race attraction which will whisk you 25 feet into the air. Kids will also love the petting zoo, while adults will appreciate the free parking onsite.
Even if you’ve never been to Orange County before, a visit to the Balboa Fun Zone will probably make you come over all nostalgic. This waterfront area almost feels like a slice of the great British seaside that’s been transported to California. You can expect to find old-fashioned amusements, cute maritime museum and a compact Ferris wheel overlooking the waters. It’s a serene place to take a stroll, grab a bite or even go on a harbour cruise to take in the sun-dappled scenery of the Balboa Peninsula.
Want to ignite your kids’ interest in the sciences? Then take them to Discovery Cube OC, where they can command space missions, become rocket scientists and learn the secrets of nature. The immersive, individual areas include a make-believe version of Mission Control, where kids can land a rover on Mars or dock a ship at the International Space Station, and a Rocket Fuel Station where chemistry comes to explosive life. The 4D theatre is another must, while in 2018 there’ll be a new attraction in the form of the Rainforest Adventure.
Once owned by the military, the site of Orange County Great Park has now been transformed into a fascinating family attraction. Why fascinating? It combines the pleasures of a green oasis with cultural intrigue at the Palm Court Arts Complex, where you can visit artists’ workshops, and also hosts a bustling, weekly farmers’ market. And then there’s the main draw: a vast, tethered helium balloon which can hold up to 30 passengers at a time. Take a ride in the Great Park Balloon and you’ll be able to see for up to 40 miles around.
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