Well, it’s officially the first day of summer! Weren’t we just stuffing our faces with turkey and stressing about what topic your extended family would argue over at Christmas dinner? No, just me? Ok, well – time is flying and as much as I love sunshine, I tend to thrive in 68 to 72-degree weather, and I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for the inevitable heat waves that are lurking behind this incredible weather Orange County has been experiencing. That being said, summertime is the season where kids are out of school and family vacations are aplenty – so we thought it would be helpful to round up some fun activities you can do with your kids, entire family, or maybe just wrangle your girls for a fun day or evening out.
OC Activities the Whole Family Can Enjoy
Beat the Heat
I’m always looking for places that help me escape the sun that aren’t the mall (because I always walk out spending money I shouldn’t have), and these next spots have plenty to keep your little ones busy on a hot summer day.
Discovery Cube is the perfect spot for kids of all ages, and I bet you can even learn something while you’re there too. Check out their calendar for everything that’s happening, including Dino Summer! If you’ve got a child who is into our prehistoric pals, then visiting the Cube this summer is a must.
While I don’t have a child who is running around yet, my friends with kids of that age are always in search of an activity to wear them out, and We Play Loud is a go-to. With two Orange County locations and a specific area just for toddlers, it’s more so an activity for just your littles, but it’s likely they’ll give you a solid nap afterwards, so you can enjoy some quiet time to yourself, making this an outing everyone benefits from!
If you have a babe who has a great imagination and loves to create, Pretend City is a perfect stop. They even have infant-only hours once a month, so you can go with your child who is under 18 months and explore the place without the older children. Or, you can pack up the entire family and check it out! As the name suggests, it’s a place where kiddos pretend to be people of different professions like a doctor, police officer, and even a cashier.
Currently, my favorite spot to take my daughter is My Gym. They have one-hour classes for children up to 8 years of age, and though I’ve only ever experienced their “tiny tykes” class, we absolutely love it. Fun songs, developmental activities, and social time not only for my kid but also for me! They have locations all over Orange County, and although it is a paid membership, your first class is free, and they don’t break the bank. Plus, it gives me a twice-a-week outing to look forward to that I know my babe will enjoy.
On a budget this summer? Me too. There are plenty of free things you can do as a family – like a good, old-fashioned, beach day! Parking may have a small fee, but you can usually find free parking at most beaches if you’re willing to do a little walking. Investing in a good tent or umbrella is a good idea if you’re planning on lots of trips this summer, and a cute beach blanket is a must. Don’t forget your sun protection! I prefer mineral-based sunscreens like Babyganics, for my daughter, and brands like Neutrogena, Honest Company, or Baby Bum for myself. Hats are also a no-brainer for everyone in my family. Cotton baby sun hats are just too cute and absolutely necessary, but I prefer to wear baseball caps. That being said, I do love a straw sun hat as a beach or pool staple. The final touches would be to stop by a store like the Dollar Tree, Savers, or $.99 Store for inexpensive beach toys, pack up a cooler with food and beverages, and you’ve got yourself a solid day.
Speaking of food, pretty much everything I do revolves around eating or thinking about the next time I will eat, so it should come as no surprise that I love a good picnic. There’s something about enjoying a meal outside on a perfect summer day that is so nostalgic. Reminds me of lunch time on a field trip. You know, when you would bring a packed lunch in a brown paper bag that was, for whatever reason, way better and more exciting than your usual packed lunches? So, why not grab your New Mom School friends, pick a park, and have every person bring one dish or item to share with the group while you let the littles run around or play on blankets while you soak up some Vitamin D? Sounds like a perfect day to me.
As incredible as summer days are, the evenings should not be overlooked. Street fairs are one of those events that scream “summertime” to me. Vendors, live music, and people watching make for a fun family or group activity. Typically, these have no cost for entry (like the one in Huntington Beach), you just pay for anything you choose to purchase, of course. There aren’t too many times you can literally dance in the street with your kids, so
Another fun summer evening activity is Movies in the Park. The kiddos can eat snacks and giggle at silly characters while mom and dad sit back and enjoy a beverage of their choice! There are multiple parks around Orange County that show family-friendly movies, so if you have a flexibility in bed times and want to take advantage of some free entertainment, grab your picnic dinner and make it a family date! A comprehensive list of date and locations can be found on the OC Parks Facebook page.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa also puts on free movie nights during the summer months. On five consecutive Mondays, starting in July, you can BYOD (bring your own dinner) or purchase goodies from food trucks and catch some family-friendly flicks.
- July 8 – The Greatest Showman
- July 15 – Mean Girls
- July 22 – Anastasia
- July 29 – Dreamgirls
- August 5 – Hook
If you’re itching for something more educational, there are at least a couple museums and nature centers that have free entry with activities to keep your littles ones busy while they learn something new! Muth Interpretive Center is one of those places. Located in Newport Beach at the Upper Back Bay, the center has exhibits and displays that help explain everything there is to know about the beautiful estuary. This is especially nice if you live in the area and visit the Back Bay for walks or runs – you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for that beautiful spot.
I’m highlighting this next spot as “free,” because children under two have no entry fee, but it is $10 per person, for anyone older. The Children’s Museum at La Habra seems like a perfect spot to spend a summer day. They have a family art center, a “soft tot spot,” and a dress up station, among many other exhibits and activities. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Newport, but since you pass right through Anaheim on your way to and from, a pitstop for dinner at Downtown Disney might make for the perfect end to your day.
Another great place out in that same area is the Fullerton Arboretum. Comprised of twenty-six acres that house plant species from around the world, this will entertain the kiddos who are especially passionate about the outdoors. They have a Children’s Garden, Nature Center, and the historic Heritage House. Just wait until you see your kids face when you tell them they’re standing in a house built over 120 years ago!
My favorite event of the summer is quickly approaching – OC Fair days! While this is most-definitely categorized as “family-friendly,” I’m putting in under this section since it makes for a great date night or girls’ night too. I love any excuse to order fried food items, grab a beer, and spend way too much money trying to win a stuffed animal that is worth $.25 that will then be quickly put into the “donation” pile in my home. While the fair it can be a potentially expensive visit, there are a few ways to save money:
- Buy a super pass. If you’re planning on visiting more than 3 times, this is a good option.
- Head to the fair on opening day – there’s free admission until 3pm!
- We Care Wednesdays: bring an item from their donation list for that day and get free entry to the fair.
- Visit on a Thursday when kids 12 and under get in free.
- For a list of all discounts and special days, check out their website. Oh, and when you go, have a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone for me.
Another way to take advantage of this beautiful place we live is to find as many opportunities to spend time outside. Case in point: Sea Legs at the Beach. Located in Huntington Beach, this cute little food and drink spot is located, you guessed it, on the beach! Smattered with lounge chairs, picnic tables, and fireplaces, this is the perfect place to grab a glass of Rose and soak in those sweet, summer days (or nights!). They have concert series and events all year round too – so check out their schedule, grab your girls, and put your toes in the sand.
The last event I’ll highlight, which can be a hybrid family-friendly or adult-only activity, is the OC Night Market. They hold it three times each summer, with the final weekend being August 24th-26th. Located at the OC Fairgrounds, it’s the perfect central location, and admission is just $5 (kids ages 3 and younger are free)! The event brings over 200+ local food, art, and music vendors, so it’s a great opportunity to support the local community while simultaneously enjoying tasty bites, live music, and a cold beverage.
I typically have a hard time coming up with ideas of things to do with both my family and my girlfriends, and this post really opened my eyes up to everything Orange County has to offer, not just June through August, but year-round as well. Here’s to making salty, sandy and sun-kissed memories with our loved ones!
I’ll catch you in the sunscreen aisle at Target,
For even more events and activities, check out the sources below:
Free Things to do With Kids in Orange County