During the month of August, we are exploring the wide world of places military families are stationed. We’ve learned about San Diego, California earlier this month, and now, Marine spouse Heather Walsh shares some of her favorite things to do in the Orange County, California area. Enjoy! ~Rebecca
When you hear the words Orange County California, you probably think of MTV’s show The Hills and Fox’s The O.C. When you think of places to go within Orange Country one big one probably comes to mind – Disneyland. While it is a fabulous place to go (and I might frequent it a bit), there is a far more to Orange County than Mickey Mouse.
There are so many amazing hikes in the Southern California hills. Potato Chip Rock is a very well-known and popular location given its “Instagrammable” stopping point, but this isn’t really toddler-friendly (but it is dog-friendly so long as you keep them on a leash). If you are looking for a hike to do with tots, Top of the World has a park with awesome playground equipment nearby (it is officially called Alta Laguna Park, but locals often refer to it as Top of the World Park). There is ample parking here, and the trailhead for the West Ridge Trail opens here. If you are bringing toddlers on the hike, it is recommended to utilize a baby carrier for hiking. There are beautiful views of the coastline that will stun you with your beauty here.
The outdoors rule. The weather can get gray and a little cold (if you consider the 50s cold), but with all this beautiful weather, it is natural to get outside and explore. Parks abound in the OC. If you are near Camp Pendleton, a favorite park is Courtney’s Sand Castle. It is a vast park of playgrounds, interactive pathways and a water feature that will entertain infants to adults, and it accessible for all, including those in wheelchairs.
On a rare rainy day, or when you are looking for some indoor fun – there are so many options for adventuring with kids in tow. The We Play Loud indoor playground in Lake Forest is a great place to let the little expel energy in a clean kid-friendly environment, while the parental units enjoy a coffee or snack from the café. Another fabulous indoor space is Pretend City Children’s Museum. This clean and large open space has so much to offer for kids of all ages. Each unit is reflective of what children need for stimulation to learn all the developmental milestones of childhood while keeping play as the focus. Highly recommended – even when the weather is beach perfect!
There is no shortage of good food in Southern California. Being along the coasts allows for plentiful seafood, and the short commute to farms allows for farm to table produce. A hidden gem within the OC is The Hive. Just off the PCH and nestled near the Ritz, this local gem offers a menu of non-dairy and sugar-free options of popsicles that are just delicious. The staff are sweet, and the chocolate is tasty. They also feature local artisans – when we visited there was a whole host of bracelets and jewelry. Local shops supporting local artists – what a better place to purchase an item to remember your trip or to send to a friend as a representation of quintessential SoCal.
If you are looking for a delicious cup of joe, wonderful staff and (the parent perk!) a drive-thru to pick up said item, then look no further than Zebra House Coffee. The lavender latte is my go-to. The owner recommended the Chipotle Mayo on an Egg Sammy, and haven’t gone back to without mayo since!
Being on the coastline, there are so many beaches to choose from. Thanks to the advocacy of groups like Surfrider, these beaches will be protected from development allowing access for all to enjoy. One of the best surf locations in Orange is Trestles, named for its location along the train trestles. Because it is a well-known surf location, it is often forgotten as a place to go to enjoy the beach. The southernmost portion is rocky and not for beach going, but the further north you go toward the San Clemente Pier, the sandier it becomes. It is beautiful and less crowded than any other SoCal beach on a summers day.
While Victoria Beach is listed under beaches on the California website, it does take a hike to get to it – and it is totally worth it. This hidden “Pirate Castle” dating to the 1920s is a sight to behold when you reach it and is well worth the hike through the rocks to get there. If you go in the winter months, this hike is very rocky – even on the beach but is filled back with sand throughout the rest of the year. Parking here is not easy – so it is best to get there early in the day to find street parking.
There is so much to offer in Orange County. Whether you live at the south, north or west part of Camp Pendleton – there is a bevy to explore, so you can’t go wrong! The above are few favorites that are sure to please visitors and locals alike.
Heather Walsh is a mom, Marine wife, Navy child, blogger, and lover of all things crafty and Disney. Professionally, she is a Physician Assistant and has a passion for helping others to stay positive and supported. She has been writing since KidPix was on floppy disk!
She is one of three women who founded MilMomAdventures, sharing travel tips for the military family at www.milmomadventures.com They are currently sharing the exploration of Southern California and Virginia (and another location coming soon!) with tips for the military family on how to enjoy the adventure with every PCS and save money while doing it!
When she isn’t crafting with her kiddos, adventuring at Disneyland or writing for MilMomAdventures; she contributes to NextGen MilSpouse and Daily Mom Military while reheating her first cup of coffee for the tenth time.
*All photos courtesy of MilMomAdventures.