Posted by Via Staff
Family Adventure in Orange County, California
Like the massive bronze John Wayne that heralds the local airport, Orange County looms large in the imagination. This slice of Southern California—stretching between Los Angeles and San Diego—houses surf spots memorialized by the Beach Boys, mansions that starred in The O.C., and, of course, Disneyland. And with warm weather and much to do, Orange County beckons families for spring break.
Where better to start than in Anaheim, at the Happiest Place on Earth? (You know the kids can’t wait for Disneyland, anyway!) Aspiring Jedi will want to beeline to Star Tours, which spotlights new people and places from the Star Wars series alongside the stalwarts, R2-D2 and C-3PO. You might see Rey, Poe, and others from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi on your interstellar journey. Meanwhile, those who prefer to stay in this galaxy can roam Disney’s eight themed lands, spinning, sliding, whirling, and flying on dozens of other rides.
Speaking of flying, head south to Irvine’s Great Park for a different kind of ride. The newly developed recreation area—which currently spans 688 acres—features the Great Park Balloon, a 118-foot-tall helium craft that ferries passengers up 400 feet in the air via a tether. On a clear day, the bird’s-eye view might include Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, L.A.’s downtown skyscrapers, and Catalina Island. Once you land, a carousel, butterfly garden, and art gallery await.
Fifteen miles south sits Mission San Juan Capistrano. Founded in 1776 by Junípero Serra, the mission is home to the beautiful ruins of the Great Stone Chapel, the 18th-century Serra Chapel, and acres of cultivated gardens. Little ones, however, will be especially smitten with the Kids’ Clubhouse. In this interactive space, tykes can build arches out of blocks or “weave” vinyl strips into a huge basket. At lunchtime, kids (and adults) can buy fish chow at the gatehouse and feed the koi swimming in the fountains.
Your visit wouldn't be complete without a trip to the beach, and given Orange County’s 42-mile coastline, you’ve got options. Avoid the larger crowds by heading south to Doheny State Beach in Dana Point. The palm-fringed, white sand beach is classic SoCal, down to the bevy of surfers bobbing offshore. (Doheny’s break so impressed the Beach Boys, they name-dropped it in “Surfin’ USA.”) Onshore, cobblestone-lined tide pools at the north end lure land-based explorers, where you might glimpse a sea snail, a skittering crab, or—on rare occasions—an octopus. Once everyone has let off a little steam, take a moment, close your eyes, and listen to the tide roll in. —Megan McCrea