Being an O.C. native gives you a great advantage you know the best places to go with small children in Orange County. So here’s my guide to places to go for a family outing or a playdate with small children.
These places are family-oriented, safe, reasonably priced, easily accessible by freeways, and can be covered in a few hours, so the kids can be back home for their naps and rest.
I love the Irvine Spectrum for small and even older children for many reasons. There are many kid-friendly dining options and activities, areas for kids to play, seasonal activities, and on cooler days it’s great to grab some coffee and walk around with a stroller.
At the Irvine Spectrum, you can buy tickets for a carousel or ferris wheel if you’re feeling adventurous. There are several areas for the kids to run around including a grass area in front of the ferris wheel, water fountains and playground areas, and waterspouts.
They have many seasonal activities throughout the year and it’s a great place to meet up with other moms, located right by the 5 and 405 freeway, accessible to everyone easily.
TIP – sign your children up for Irvine Spectrum’s kids’ birthday club. Children receive goodies and complimentary access to attractions on their birthdays.
I love Irvine Regional Park. Located in Orange (not Irvine!), it’s a wilderness park that has a small zoo, railroad, and lake with many water and outdoor activities. Riding the train is a must for your little ones. It’s safe and fun and costs $6.
Irvine Regional Park also offers many seasonal activities for kids. The zoo itself is perfect for small children because it’s not too big but enough for small kids to be able to see some animals.
I think the Santa Ana Zoo is quite underrated, and it’s because we have the L.A. Zoo and famous San Diego Zoo nearby. However, when you have small children, this zoo is great. It’s local, not a lot of driving involved, and the small size means less walking. They get less tired and cranky and still get a chance to see animals.
Therefore, I recommend Santa Ana Zoo for small children. The admission fees are quite reasonable, and you can easily spend a few hours instead of a day-long trip going to SD or LA Zoo.
This petting zoo has a cute old town charm located in San Juan Capistrano. I’ve been here a few times and my kids loved it. There are multiple reasons: they are famous for guinea pigs and kids can purchase some food and feed the cute guinea pigs.
Apart from that, Zoomars has a goat and sheep pen, pony rides, train rides, mining and tractor rides, etc. It’s suitable for small children and perfect for a play date. There’s a small enclosure that has llamas also, my personal favorite!
This beach is probably the best beach in OC for small kids. It’s a great place to spend a beach day with small kids. This beach has calm waters, perfect for dipping in the pool, and has parks and a BBQ area.
The area nearby has many dining options, and you can walk along the harbor and enjoy the view. So, if you’re looking for a relaxing beach day, this is your beach with your little ones.
This park is ideal for small children and older children. The OC Great Park isn’t just a regular park and offers a lot more: there’s a museum, carrousel, playground for kids, sports park, and on certain days they have a farmer’s market also.
The best-hidden secret is the balloon ride. If you often happen to see a giant orange balloon floating from the freeway on the 5 and 405, that’s what I’m talking about.
The balloon ride is FREE but does require reservations in advance, you can enjoy a gorgeous view of OC soaring above 400 feet above.
My kids love this place! It’s located in Newport Beach and it has an arcade, carousel, and boardwalk to walk around and enjoy the view of Newport Harbor. There are many dining options and stores to check out with the children.
The best part is they have a lot of cute ice cream shops within walking distance, great to get a treat on a hot day while enjoying the sun and the view. This area has many ships that go in and out daily, making it fun for small children to witness.
The best-kept secret is the Balboa Auto Ferry. Now if you have children, they will love this: you can drive your car on a ferry that transports you from Balboa Peninsula to Balboa Island. Kids love seeing their cars on a ferry!
Once you get to the island, lots of things to do with the kids, especially a lot of dining options on Marine Avenue.
A kid’s science museum in Santa Ana, just across from the Santa Ana Zoo, the Discovery Cube is a fun and educational place for small and older children. This science center has many hands-on exhibits and the best part is they have seasonal exhibits so you’ll never get bored. There’s always something new to learn and discover.
There is a place to eat inside and this place is great if you’re trying to beat the recent triple-digit weather in the OC. Strollers are welcome and kids under 2 are free so it’s truly one of the best places for small children in Orange County.
If you need more best places for little children in Orange County, check out this post about how to have a Disney day WITHOUT visiting Disneyland!