We’ve got a hot air balloon, zipline, and water park on this list
Orange County may be best known for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, but there are plenty of other fabulous things to do with kids when you’re planning an OC outing. How about one of SoCal’s best water parks? Or a Mexican restaurant that gives you fab views of Disneyland’s nightly fireworks (without having to pay to go into the park)? Or maybe a giant helium balloon that can take your family 400 feet up in the air? Or perhaps playing with sharks at Discovery Cube’s brand new Discovery Sea Lab is more your jam? Whatever your pleasure, the OC has you covered from “fun to done—and all of it’s worth the car ride.
Wild Rivers Water Park | Irvine
Having re-opened one year ago, Wild Rivers has once again become one of SoCal’s best water parks by offering everything a seasoned water-slider could dream of—13 slick slides (including four, six-person raft slides that let you and the whole fam slip ‘n slide together); a wave pool; a quarter-mile lazy river; and a children’s area with four slides and an 800-gallon water-tipping bucket that lets kids get dumped on every four minutes. Littles will soak up every second of fun they can get, so slather on the sunblock and get ready to make the day of it. There are also three restaurants on-site to easily grab a bite when your brood gets hungry.
Insider’s Tip: Bring water shoes or flip-flops—the ground gets hot and there’s lots of walking.
Hours: Open daily through Aug. 23 and open weekends through Oct. 1 (hours vary; check online for details)
Cost: When purchased online, admission starts at $40 for kids under 48″; $54 for kids and adults 48″ and taller. Tickets are also available at the gate at an increased cost.
10000 Great Park Blvd.
American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park | Santa Ana
Got little couch climbers who need an outlet that won’t ruin your furniture? It’s time to put those Spidey skills to good use at the American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park. Picture 17,000 square feet of non-stop fun for kids (and grown-ups) who like to climb, jump, swing, and bounce while testing their athletic skills. Designed in collaboration with Universal Live Entertainment and inspired by the American Ninja Warrior TV show, the park invites participants to test their skills on a variety of obstacles including rock walls, rolling logs, swinging bars, high tunnels, and warped walls.
The space consists of The Traditional Ninja Warrior Course which models itself after the TV show with a series of skill-testing walls and obstacles, as well as a huge inflatable obstacle course. The inflatable section has a sprawling course of its own, including side-by-side racetracks so kids can battle each other.
Insider’s Tip: All ninjas must wear American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park toe-grip socks which are purchased upon booking online or at registration. Closed-toed shoes are required for ninjas who want to do the skills course
Hours: Open daily, Sun – Thurs., 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; mini ninja sessions, 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Cost: When purchased online, tickets are $14.95 per hour for kids 5 and under; $19.95 per hour for kids over 5 (or $29.95 for a 120-minute session)
2800 N Main St unit 603 (second floor of mall)
Adventure Lagoon | Anaheim
This massive floating water park sits inside a crystal clear, freshwater lake that stays temperature-perfect year round. As the fourth largest inflatable obstacle course in the country, the aqua park lets kids bounce on trampolines, conquer tall climbing towers, slide down air slides, crawl through tunnels, balance on floating ladders, and leap through the air—all from atop a floating island parked a short swim from shore. For little swimmers, the Kid Zone features shallow water filled with water trampolines, slides, peddle-boats, and water “sea-saws.” When you’re done with the obstacle course, relax in the sand, swim in the lagoon, or rent a paddle board or kayak. (Note: Kayaks and paddle boards cost extra). Life jackets are also provided for all guests and lifeguards are on duty.
Insider’s Tip: Bring your own chairs to ensure a handy spot to sit in the sand
Hours: Open daily now through Oct. 31
Cost: General admission is $45 for entrance to the lagoon plus a 55-minute session on the obstacle course
3255 E Miraloma Ave.
Calaca Mamas Cantina | Anaheim
If you want to end your day with a bang, Calaca Mamas Cantina near Disneyland has one thing that really stands out from other restaurants—fireworks, baby! Their outdoor patio has a prime view of the Disneyland fireworks, which means if you time it right, you can get all the sparkle of Disney’s famous nighttime show without the hefty theme park price tag.
Fans of Disney’s Coco will recognize the restaurant’s Día de los Muertos theme. The space is filled with vibrant Day of the Dead decor, including skeleton art, skull-shaped planters, and an ofrenda featuring photos of people who have passed (they’re reportedly relatives of the staff, but look closely and you’ll also spot Walt Disney). The bright colors and vibrant festivity will only add to your meal as your fam noshes on light and flaky chicken flautas or the signature “Taco in a Bag,” which blends all of the traditional taco ingredients and tosses them into a Fritos bag. Finish with homemade churros served inside a mini churro cart alongside a huge sparkler candle.
Insider Tip: If you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to an appearance by the restaurant’s balloon artist who can twist balloons into any creation. Free validated 2.5-hour parking is also available at the Best Western next door.
1550 S. Harbor Blvd.
Pretend City Children’s Museum | Irvine
Kids will be in make-believe heaven in this gorgeous little “city,” which gives kids small replicas of all the places they’d like to imagine themselves a part of. The 27,000-square-foot facility includes a slew of “sets” for kids to immerse themselves in, including a dentist’s office, police and fire stations, construction area, farm, stage theater, water play area, art studio, and grocery store. Suited mostly to toddlers and pretend-loving kids up to about age 7, your littles will love pedaling foot-powered cars through “downtown” and navigating the space on their own (it’s big enough that they won’t get bored, but small enough that you’ll be able to keep an easy eye on them).
Insider Tip: If your kids have outgrown their nap, you’re in luck—the slow time (i.e. best time to avoid crowds in the tiny grocery store) is 1-3 p.m.
Hours: Tues. – Sun., 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30-4 p.m., closed Mon.
Cost: $19.95 for both adults and kids
Balboa Fun Zone | Newport Beach
Old-school boardwalk fun rules the day at Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach. Ride the iconic Ferris Wheel – in operation since 1936—and enjoy arcade games, bike rentals, and even a nautical museum. Want to check out nearby Balboa Island? The kids will love taking the auto ferry from the fun zone across the water. Pedestrians, bikes, and cars are all welcome. And be sure to grab one of the island’s famous frozen bananas dipped in chocolate.
Another option for exploring the Balboa Marina is to rent a Duffy boat from Balboa Boat Rentals. These electric boats go a maximum of 5 mph and seat up to 12 people. You can drive them yourself or hire a driver. Many restaurants in the marina offer “dock and dine” service where you dock your Duffy boat and grab some eats to enjoy aboard or at the restaurant.
Hours: Open daily, Ferris Wheel open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and boardwalk rides are open 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
600 E Bay Ave.
Camelot Golfland | Anaheim
Any fan of mini golf will want to take a swing at this sprawling golf course that features three separate 18-hole golf courses—plus a small water park, a go-kart track, bumper boats, laser tag, and an arcade. The huge course has no big surprises and there are no fancy moving windmills or electric clown faces. This is straight-up traditional mini golf here, with tried-and-true challenges including raised holes, bridges over water, and mystery tunnels where your ball goes in one place and shuttles to another spot far below.
Hours: Open daily
Cost: $14 per game (ages 12 – 59), $12 per game (ages 4-11). Prices for other attractions vary
3200 Carpenter Ave.
Adventure City | Anaheim
Want something a few steps (and dollars) down from a big theme park, but that gives enough thrills that pint-sized riders will be squealing with delight? Look no further than Adventure City. Spread out over two acres, this little amusement park has 11 rides and almost all of them are perfect for kids as young as 2. From a tiny Ferris wheel and “Crazy Bus” to a carousel and train ride, kids will feel like bona fide daredevils as they conquer each attraction. There are two small roller coasters that older siblings will appreciate (with a height requirement of 39″ and 36″), but all in all, we’d say the sweet spot for this place is ages 3 to 8. Tweens and teens will likely long for the bigger, faster rides of larger theme parks.
Kids of all ages will also love the petting zoo where they can feed sheep, chickens, goats, and pigs. And when you need a respite from the heat, head to the arcade to cool off and game for a spell.
Hours: Open daily in the summers; weekends throughout the year (hours vary)
Cost: $28.95 per ticket
1238 S Beach Blvd.
Santa Ana Zoo
The LA Zoo is amazing, but from time to time, families might crave something a bit smaller. The Santa Ana Zoo is perfect for kids who want a taste of wildlife without the all-day commitment. With just 20 acres of easy paths meandering around a smattering of fun animal exhibits, plus a petting zoo, playground, and even a few amusement park rides—it’s a zoo that’s super easy to handle.
This zoo focuses on the animals of Central and South America, and its residents include anteaters, monkeys, llamas, and a variety of birds. There’s also a farm area where kids can interact with friendly critters and a butterfly exhibit that lets visitors walk through a habitat filled with butterflies from South Central and North America.
Did we mention rides? The 50 Monkey Ferris Wheel and Conservation Carousel are always a hit – as is the Zoofari Express Train Ride which provides narration about all the animals who call this zoo home.
Insider Tip: Pack a lunch and picnic (or buy from the cafe) next to the Safari Playground then let your kids work out their wiggles so they’ll snooze all the way home
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (last admission is 4 p.m.)
Cost: $10 for children and $13 for adults
1801 E Chestnut Ave.
Discovery Sea Lab at Discovery Cube | Santa Ana
In addition to all the wonderful, hands-on exhibits your family has grown to love at Discovery Cube, this one may be the coolest yet. Having just opened in June, the Discovery Sea Lab is the Cube’s newest permanent exhibit. Kiddos will love the coastal tide pool touch tank, as well as a shark and ray tank this gives guests the thrilling experience of getting up close and personal with incredible creatures from the deep. Littles will have a chance to run their hands across a live shark to learn why their skin helps them slide through the ocean. They’ll also discover the amazing wonders of a tide pool community and learn how their diversity supports the entire planet.
Now through Sept. 4, your family can take part in an interactive aquatic wonderland called Ocean Encounter where you’ll get to explore all the zones of the ocean and find out what makes them unique. All exhibit offerings are included with general admission.
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Kids ages 3-14 are $17 and adults are $22
2500 N. Main St.
Great Park Balloon | Irvine
Great Park’s iconic attraction, the Great Park Balloon is one of the largest tethered helium (not hot air) balloons and the first of its kind in the country. This bright orange balloon stands 118 ft. tall with a volume of 210,000 cubic ft. and can fly from 6 to 16 passengers at a time at an altitude of 400 ft., weather permitting. The best part next to the mind-blowing view? This balloon ride is completely free! Rides are given on a first-come, first-served basis with check-in available 30 min. prior to each session of flights. Reservations are not accepted and wait times vary upon demand, but can be up to three hours—so come prepared with an extra helping of patience and try to get there early to shorten the wait time.
After you’ve soared to new heights, be sure to stop by the Great Park Carousel as well. With recently updated vintage-inspired artwork, your kiddos will love taking a spin on one of the most beloved attractions in town.
Hours: Closed, Mon. – Wed.; Thurs.-Fri. sessions, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. sessions 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Cost: Parking and balloon admission are free
8000 Great Park Blvd.
Huntington Beach Central Park West Playground
Ropes course? Check! Zipline? Check! Totally free? Yep! This awesome playground located in Huntington Beach’s Central Park West between the Huntington Beach Disc Golf Course and Kathy May’s Lakeview Cafe opened last year and is worth the drive on the 405. With enough wow factor to impress kids who might balk at the idea of spending an hour in the car, this totally innovative playground has a towering ropes course that lets kiddos scamper high above the ground; then take flight on a zip line that soars across the play area – but, don’t fret – this part is low to the ground so littles can’t fall far.
The course here is designed like a “Floor is Lava” game where climbers have to get from one end of the playground to the other without touching the ground. Kids will dig it – though it’s best suited for ages 5 and up. For little ones, there’s a toddler playground next to the lake with a seesaw, baby swings, bench swings, and a small climbing structure with a slide.
Good to Know: Set your navigation to Kathy May’s Lakeview Cafe (6622 Lakeview Dr., Huntington Beach); its is the closest place to park near the playground
Insider Tip: Make it a staycation and book a room at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa where your kids will love the water slides, beachfront activities, nighttime s’mores, and mermaid swim lessons.
6622 Lakeview Dr.
Additional reporting by Melissa Heckscher