The pandemic brought our plans for 2020 to a halt—including much-needed vacations. Whether you’re looking to have fun with your family, unwind with your beloved, explore the outdoors, or clear your mind with yoga or meditation, O.C. has many spots where you can play tourist right now. Read more from this cover story at orangecoast.com/ocstaycations.
Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
With direct access to Salt Creek Beach, Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is a prime spot for family fun along Dana Point’s stunning coastline. Guest rooms feature marble accents, personal balconies or patios, and views of the Pacific Ocean from a 150-foot bluff ($499 and up). Elevate your stay at the 1,550-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Suite, which boasts panoramic vistas, an airy living room with a wood-burning fireplace, a dining room with seating for six, and exclusive access to a luxury lounge ($3,599). From setting up beach chairs and umbrellas to providing sand toys and body boards, the resort’s Beach Butler program caters to your needs to make time on the sand as hassle-free as possible. The Ritz Kids program offers a breadth of age-specific amenities and activities including an on-site playground, basketball and tennis courts, coloring books, sports equipment, and more. Stop by the Eco-Adventure Center to book educational tours led by expert naturalists.
Great Wolf Lodge
Giant water slides, a wave pool, and a surf simulator are just a few of the attractions that draw families to Great Wolf Lodge. With games aplenty plus children’s activities involving the various woodland characters, there’s more to do than just the water park; but your inner child will want to ride the Howlin’ Tornado, a six-story slide, and enjoy the fun with your children. Dining options have kids’ tastes in mind, and there’s a bar and grill within the water park if your plan is to play through meals. Safety practices include mask requirements in all public spaces outside the water park, distancing measures throughout, extra cleaning protocols, and contact-free transactions at every opportunity. Day passes were not available at press time, but an overnight stay ($180 and up) allows your party two days of water park access, and some rooms have cave-themed sleep areas with bunk beds for kids.
The Waterfront Beach Resort
Just across the street from the sand, the recently renovated Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel ($270 and up) offers amenities and activities for parents and their kids. Head to the Waterfront Adventures kiosk to rent bikes, sand toys, beach chairs, umbrellas, and more, then spend the day soaking in the sun. At night, you can enjoy a beach bonfire. If you prefer to spend your time at the pool, choose between the family-friendly Driftwood Beach Club—waterslides have been added but weren’t open as of press time—or kick back and grab a cabana at the Huntington Pool. The Hilton is also pet friendly; if you have a dog or cat (up to 75 pounds) you can bring them with you for $99 per stay. When everyone gets hungry, head to one of the hotel’s several restaurants, including the Boardwalk Restaurant, which offers outdoor dining.
Things to Do
Hello Kitty Grand Cafe
The Bow Room offers its popular afternoon tea service as well as cocktails at tables just outside the cafe. Afternoon tea is available 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday, and cocktails are available on the patio from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Not only can parents enjoy a craft beer at Ballast Point Brewing or people-watching at Uva Bar and Cafe, but kids will love exploring The LEGO Store, trying unique ice cream flavors at Salt & Straw, and shopping the plush toys at World of Disney.
Founded by pastry chef and Food Network star Duff Goldman, the DIY cake-decorating studio offers take-home kits. Get a 6-inch, three-layer cake covered in white, light blue, or pink fondant with rainbow confetti, buttercream, and handy accessories, plus step-by-step instructions for $44.
Get your kids’ creativity flowing at Story Makery, where they can self-publish a book. Starting Oct. 6, children can participate in an online, holiday-themed guided class where they can create stories for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and winter holidays. They will produce two to three custom books with their stories.
Irvine Regional Park
With the exception of the OC Zoo, all rides, attractions, and trails are open. Families can enjoy train rides and pony rides, as well as bike, paddle boat, and horse rentals.
Farm + Food Lab
Explore this hidden garden at the Orange County Great Park. Walk through countless fruit trees, raised garden beds, and signs with informational tips and tidbits on gardening. Missed the O.C. Fair this year? An on-site chicken coop helps fill the void.
San Juan Capistrano
This zoo has several attractions for kids to enjoy, including gold mining, a playground, excavators, and a train. Guests can also pet and feed guinea pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigs, and more. Masks are required, and common areas are regularly sanitized.
San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Visit the historic grounds and beautiful gardens and take an audio tour. You can meander at your own pace while you learn about the mission’s history or indulge in the garden displays. On the fourth Friday of each month, you can bring your dog for Fido Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m.
The calm waters at Dana Cove make for an ideal swimming spot for young kids. There’s a grassy area for picnics at the adjacent Dana Cove Park, ample parking, and views of the marina and tall ships at the Ocean Institute.
Owner and instructor at Silver Stirrup Riding Academy in Lake Forest
“Our training is not cookie-cutter. Everybody comes for a different purpose and with a different personality. We figure out the best approach for each student.” Same goes for the horses, which Hillman considers part of her staff. “Students learn from day one about how horses think and how to interact with them. It’s about having a good time, and having the horse enjoy the ride, too.” Family bonus: Parent & Me instruction for those with children under the age of 6.
by Alan Gibbons, Astgik Khatchatryan, Michelle Pagaran, Chelsea Raineri,
and Barbara Neal Varma