Mother’s Day Adventures in O.C.

Ideas for everyone in the family to enjoy a safe holiday away from crowds
The Mission San Juan Capsitrano; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

The traditional Mother’s Day brunch is likely to be packed this year, considering limits on capacity, the normal demand for brunch, and diners eager to get back to eating out. Here are some alternative ideas—from experts and my own decades of Orange County exploration—to get mom out of the house safely for your Mother’s Day celebration.

Outdoor treatment areas are hard to find in Orange County. Here are two that are definitely worth a visit.

Sycamore Spa by Hudson, Laguna Beach
Tucked in a pretty canyon on the grounds of The Ranch Laguna Beach, this is just what a local spa should be: a getaway when you are unable to get away. There are three outdoor treatment tables for massages. The tented massage area is next to a dry infrared sauna and a eucalyptus shower. “A Mother’s Day Bliss” package includes a glass of Champagne, a 60-minute massage in the outdoor tent, a custom facial indoors, and access to the heated saltwater pool for $295. 949-715-1393,

Montanya Spa, Santa Ana
This treasured urban spa is a secret find. A neighbor to the Bowers Museum, the Asian-inspired space lowers the blood pressure immediately. An outdoor massage in the garden will set you back $84 to get an annual membership, as those tables are reserved for members only. Do check out the other benefits for members.

Mother’s Day specials (which are not part of the membership) include the Bliss, which for $350 features a facial and hand paraffin, a massage and foot reflexology, sea salt body glow, and cranial massage with scalp treatment. There’s also the Mother’s Love, which for $135 includes a 55-minute massage and 20-minute sugar foot scrub, as well as a more elaborate Mother and Daughter Spa retreat for two at $500. 714-918-8888,

While the Fullerton Arboretum has been closed throughout the pandemic, there are other gorgeous gardens that are ready for visitors.

Sherman Library and Gardens, Corona del Mar
This is my go-to spot when my soul is crying for an island getaway—pretty much this whole year. The tropical greenhouse hits you harder than a Mai Tai with a blast of hot, humid air, and the plants are exotic enough to excite your video game-deprived kids. Walk the gardens, then wind down at Café Jardin with celebrated chef Pascal Olhats. The gardens are open 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is $5.

On May 8, Sherman Gardens hosts the 25th Annual Newport Beach Virtual Garden Tour, featuring beautiful area gardens that might not normally be part of a tour ($20 for members, $30 general). 949-673-2261,

Casa Romantica, San Clemente
Only a few blocks from the bustling San Clemente pier, Casa Romantica, the original home of San Clemente founder Ole Hansen, exudes a quiet glamour with its grand courtyard perched on a cliff over the sea. I have enjoyed the gorgeous courtyard and its events over the years, including A-list poetry readings. On Mother’s Day, stand and take in the endless view over the Pacific all the way to Catalina, explore the stark white 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival, and walk the gardens buttressed by a long, mystical stand of Monterey cypress ($5, free for children). 949-498-2139,

The Mission San Juan Capistrano
If your mother loves roses, this is her place. The Mission is in full bloom this month ($14 for adults, $12 seniors, $9 students, free for children younger than 4). For Mother’s Day, picnic lunches can be preordered and eaten on the grounds, among the bougainvillea and the timeless brick arches. There are many dining options within walking distance, as well. 949-234-1300,

Casa Romantica; Photograph by Emily J. Davis


Cool Breezes, Whispering Pines
Pines Park in Capistrano Beach, on the bluffs above Hole-in-the-Fence beach, features green grass, small rolling hills, and swaying pines, all with an endless view of the ocean. Our family loves this place so much we’ve packed up holiday dinners and eaten there. 34941 Camino Capistrano, Dana Point

Mason’s Wild Sister
William R. Mason Regional Park in Irvine can get crowded on Mother’s Day. It offers big trees, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and a pond with ducks. It’s best to get there early, move away from the tables, and bring your own blanket. Whether you find space to picnic or not, plan to stroll across Culver Drive to a little-known and less-populated refuge, the park’s 123-acre wilderness area. It has 3 miles of meandering flat trails, where you might see quail, rabbits, and even the occasional roadrunner. Parking is $7 on Mother’s Day. 18712 University Drive, Irvine

Beyond the Basket
Lots of people go to Caspers Wilderness Park to hike, bike, and camp. Not many go there for a picnic. So for you last-minute types, hustle over. There are also some wonderful small hikes that even your tiny ones can handle. Check out The Nature Loop Trail, a fairly flat loop of less than a mile, or the Vista Trail by the visitor center. Bell Canyon Trail is a fairly flat out-and-back hike (1.85 miles each way) with a few hills and good shade. 33401 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano


Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fullerton
Mom might not be able to poke around the endless rooms of the 1924 Italian Renaissance mansion, but what a lovely setting for a picnic. Guests can access a map to the sculpture gardens online and then wander the grounds enjoying the art, the grand home of a pioneer family, and the lovely 8.5 acres of lawns. 714-738-6595,

Noguchi Garden—California Scenario
Though only 1.6 acres and sandwiched between flashing steel high-rises, the Isamu Noguchi garden has always seemed larger to me, and a world unto itself. The sculptor’s love letter to his birthplace, California, it celebrates the regions and biodiversity of the state through carefully placed sculptures and plantings. There are pyramid “mountains,” jagged “rivers,” sample redwood forests, and grassland. It’s a wonderful place to let the kids explore while mom sits and reflects. 611 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa


Fly a Kite
At 208-acre Fairview Park, tug a kite across the plateau that gives Costa Mesa its name. While most people go to the beach to fly kites, some locals have discovered this wonderful, flat field with a steady wind and no trees in the way. Parts of the park were closed last year for the pandemic, but we still found a strip on the windy mesa where we could fly our kites. 2501 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa

Another great kite spot: Thornton Park in Santa Ana. Last time we flew our kites here, we saw a great blue heron and white pelicans, as well as the pond suffused with an electric pink and orange sunset. My kids begged me to take them here when they were little. They called it the pirate park because it has a ship, among some other great play equipment, including the Kiwanis Barrier-Free playground with accessibility features. 1801 W. Segerstrom, Santa Ana

Disc Golf
For those of you who forgot to make reservations, anywhere, there is still hope. Take your mom to the gorgeous gardens and pond of Central Park in Huntington Beach. While you’re there, pay $3 to play disc golf all day. You can even go out for lunch and come back to play another couple of rounds. The sport is blowing up right now, and Huntington Beach has one of the only courses in Orange County. 18189 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach

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