Looking for ways to keep your brood busy and happy?
Orange County has cool options, from bat walks to flamenco classes to secret towers. And most of them won’t break the bank.
Soar Over the Harbor
Kids as young as 5 can partake in an exhilarating parasailing adventure, ABOVE, riding tandem or triple. Balboa Parasail boats depart daily, traveling out of Newport Harbor. A parachuted tether unwinds, and before they know it they’re hundreds of feet in the air. $80 per person, non-flying passengers can ride on the boat and take photos for $20. balboaparasail.com
Explore the Caboose
The 1942 caboose at the Children’s Museum at La Habra was the conductor’s residence, complete with abathroom. Curtains, family photos, and an icebox that still works today are some of the attractions on display. Children are allowed to climb into the cupola, which conductors used as a lookout post. Admission is $8 and children under 2 are free. lhcm.org
Entertain Their Brains
Imagination Celebration, a countywide family arts festival, offers exhibits, plays, musical performances, dance
shows, and hands-on arts activities put on by more than 40 organizations. All of the approximately 50 events are low-cost or free. Organized by Arts Orange County, the nonprofit arts council, Imagination Celebration runs April through May, so put it on next year’s calendar. artsoc.org/imagination-celebration.htm
Show Them How Food Grows
Want your kids to give back, learn about growing vegetables, and spend time outdoors? The Incredible Edible Farm lets children 7 and older volunteer to plant, weed, or harvest Tuesday through Saturday. Your group will help the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County by picking whateverproduce is in season. Shifts can be scheduled
up to six months ahead. feedoc.volunteerhub.com
Learn by the Seaside
Beachside chats, family hikes, and sea-glass jewelry‑making are just a few of the options available at Crystal Cove. Park naturalists lead the discussions and activities and give you more background and knowledge than you might acquire by yourself. Check the calendar at crystalcovealliance.org
Enter the Cube
Kids love the interactive exhibits of all sorts at Santa Ana’s Discovery Cube Orange County, from being inside a rocket for a simulated launch to working on their slap shot. There’s a water gallery, a healthy kitchen, and starting May 28, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle display through the summer ($13 for children 3 to 14, $18 for adults). discoverycube.org/oc
Hand-Feed the Critters
Zoomars in San Juan Capistrano has been welcoming families for 30 years. Adult tickets are $10, and children $8, with extra fees for pony and train rides or the popular baskets of fresh carrots and greens for hand-feeding the guinea pigs, rabbits, and goats. Emus, pigs, donkeys, and other animals also might be hanging out. zoomars.com
Take a Bat Walk
From June through September on select Fridays and Saturdays, the Sea & Sage Audubon Society gives visitors to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine a chance to see its nocturnal residents—bats, feeding off insects in the marsh. The bat walks last 2½ hours, and attendees must be at least 7 years old. Registration is required. $18 for adults, $10 for children 7 to 12. 949-261-7963, seaandsageaudubon.org
Have a Musical Morning
This is one of Pacific Symphony’s oldest programs: 45-minute concerts, each with a creative theme, introducing orchestral music to 5- to 11-year-olds. Let ’em squirm—it’s OK! Next season features music from the Harry Potter films and Saint-Saëns “Danse Macabre” for Halloween; Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and Festival Ballet Theatre dancers performing in December; and excerpts from the opera, “Hansel and Gretel.” pacificsymphony.org/education/fmm
Explore Irvine Regional Park
California’s oldest regional park is 475 tree-shaded acres nestled against the Santa Ana Mountains.
It’s an outdoor wonderland for families—home to the Orange County Zoo, the Irvine Park Railroad ride, six playgrounds, four softball fields, pony rides, fishing, bike and hiking trails, a nature center, picnic tables, a lake with rental boats, and wild peacocks. ocparks.com/parks/irvine
Bounce for Therapy
The best way to exhaust a group of inexhaustible children? Let them jump to their hearts’ content in a room full of trampolines and safety padding. $14 to $15 per hour. Locations include Skyzone Trampoline Park in Anaheim, Rockin’ Jump in Santa Ana, Sky High Sports in Costa Mesa, and Big Air Trampoline Parks in Buena Park and Laguna Hills.
Tour an Otherworldly Garden
A paved path at the Fullerton Arboretum loops around two ponds with guaranteed turtle sightings. Don’t miss the giant ombú tree, which feels like it’s plucked from the set of “Avatar.” Young gardeners can pick out potted succulents or herbs at The Potting Shed. Register now for the June 7 up-close look at birds of prey or the July 19 meet-and-greet with wolves (classes are $10). fullertonarboretum.org
Find the Secret Tower
Make sure the tide is low, then venture to Victoria Beach, just north of the Montage resort in Laguna Beach. Walk over the rocks to the north, and you’ll come across a cement sea wall that forms an ocean pool. Just beyond that is a 60-foot tower built in 1926 as part of the house on the cliff above.
Enjoy Unstructured Playtime
The City of Irvine reopened its Adventure Playground, ABOVE, for unstructured play in December after a long renovation. Kids are encouraged to wade in the mud river, build forts, and excavate in the sand. Cement hill slides and art tables also are offered, all free. Note: The closest parking is behind University Park library, 4512 Sandburg Way. cityofirvine.org/parks-facilities/adventure‑playground
Amuse Them the Old-Time Way
Just getting to Balboa’s Fun Zone can be exciting. Children love taking the ferry across from Balboa Island to play arcade games. Take in views of the coast from the top of the Ferris wheel ($4). Other rides include a mechanical shark and bungee jump, for $10 each. thebalboafunzone.com
A butterfly house, full moon hikes, little naturalists programs, and overnight camping trips are some of the adventures offered at the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach. With a free interactive nature museum and a self-guided tour of the trails, this is a great spot for all ages to improve their knowledge of the outdoors. encenter.org
Meet the Author
A Whale of a Tale Children’s Bookshoppe often partners with local public libraries to host bestselling authors and illustrators. Past celebrity guests include David Walliams and Jason Segel. Illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser (“Fancy Nancy”) will be at the Newport Beach Public Library on June 12. awhaleofatale.com
Explore the Great Park
From flamenco dance lessons to storytelling in the garden to family crafts, the Orange County Great Park can provide a few hours of fun. Check the calendar to see what’s on tap this month, or take a ride on the balloon, right (kids free with paying adult, $10) or the carousel ($3 for all-day pass). Expect plenty of space to run around, and there’s a small playground, best for ages 1 to 6. ocgp.org
Pick Your Snack
Take a wagon ride out to the strawberry fields ($18) at Tanaka Farms, an enterprising farm and fresh market stand in Irvine. Kids can eat berries right off the vine and load up a clamshell container to take home (March to June).
Or visit in July and August for a watermelon tour ($18) and get a personal-size melon to take home. tanakafarms.com
Tip-Toe Through Tide Pools
Treasures are hiding along the coast. Small explorers will put their investigative skills to work seeking crabs, snails, algae, barnacles, snails, anemone, and even sea stars. Children can scurry over the rocks that form these small pools and compete to see who can find the most stuff. Set out on your own at Little Corona or Pirate’s Cove in Corona del Mar, or check out a guided tour at Crystal Cove. crystalcovealliance.org
Watch South Coast Rep’s Young Talent
Great children’s theater is everywhere, but we’re partial to the Players’ outstanding shows. The child actors are enrolled in the theater’s Junior Players (grades 5 to 8) and Teen Players (grades 9 to 12) programs. These kids are committed to the stage, and they put on productions in March, May, and August. scr.org/plays/student‑productions