As the final school bell rings (soon), hundreds upon thousands of ecstatic students nationwide, storm the sidewalks, eager for three months of frivolous freedom and education-less merriment. Hugs are exchanged and families drive away in cars that will now discharge their summer duty as a taxi service for entertainment-starved youngsters. Cheerful little faces meet their parents’ smiles and ask the inescapable question, “So, what are we going to do this summer?”
A bit of research and preparation can equip any parent with a deluge of both adventure- and leisure-packed ideas that will guarantee befitting celebration of this enviable occasion, not to mention an “A” on that back-to-school “What I Did This Summer” essay. There is much from which to choose for both visitors and locals of Orange County, California.
With its more than 3 million inhabitants, Orange County boasts a mecca of both indigenous and commercial destinations. A perennial favorite is Disneyland Park (Anaheim), an amusement theme park geared towards families, though fun for everyone. Similar attractions, also in Anaheim, include Downtown Disney (offering eateries and souvenir shops), Disney’s California Adventure (its newest park featuring family entertainment, an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster, and modern rides), and Adventure City (a child-designed city with rides, shows, petting zoo and arcades).
For thrill seekers, SkyThrills (Fullerton) is a popular destination that offers its “pilots” hands-on, aerobatic flying experience and Flightdeck Air Combat Center (Anaheim) for fighter jet simulator rides. Sports, specifically baseball, enthusiasts will find that Angel Stadium of Anaheim is a must-do on their list of places to visit. The Orange County and Firing Line indoor shooting ranges provide safety equipment and offer shooting instruction for their weapon-slinging clientele.
The county is peppered with museums and art-inspired locales for history buffs to contemporary or modern art types. In addition to its extensive collections, the Orange County Museum of Art offers weekly exhibitions, members cocktail parties, and free family-oriented second Sunday events throughout the year. Other museums offering collections and special events include the Bowers Museum of Culture and Art, the Fullerton Museum Center, and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. The Santa Ana Arts District “A Place for Art” consists of city blocks full of educational art centers (e.g., Discovery Science Center, Tessman Planetarium, and many more), galleries, performance theatres, museums, as well as restaurants and shops. Mission San Juan Capistrano is the county’s sole mission, offering visitors a calming environment of koi ponds and gardens, and museums filled with historic relics.
Beach Bums in tune with the sand and surf will be drawn to SUP Fitness Laguna (Dana Point) for paddleboarding lessons and training camps. Huntington Dog Beach entices dog-lovers from around the country for its mile-plus expanse of sandy heaven where dogs can socialize and romp in the waves at will. Other public beaches include Huntington, Newport, San Onofre State, and San Clemente State Beaches, all of which are ideal for casual bike riding on the boardwalks, walking and jogging, beach volleyball or Frisbee tossing, as well as building sandcastles. The only accessories needed are sunscreen, a protective hat, toys, and maybe a beach blanket.
For a unique family adventure, visit Newport Landing and join a 2 1/2 hour whale watching public cruise, or charter a private boat for a smaller group. The best time of year for catching the greatest variety of whales is from May through November, perfect for summer vacationers. The warmer waters at this time of year bring 80-foot blue whales, finbacks and killer whales, as well as sharks, dolphins and seals.
Fullerton’s premier Ballroom and Dancesport Center has group and private classes for adults and children, and provides instruction on dances from the Argentine Tango to Country Line Dancing. Kids classes teach various dance styles as well as performance and rhythm skills for children as young as 4 years old. They offer introductory and wedding specials, and promote an activity card for a deal on 10 group classes.
When public attractions are packed with tourists, families can find cheap fun at local garage sales, swap meets (e.g., Orange County Marketplace), and parks (e.g., Irvine, Carbon Canyon, and Craig Park). Also, local high schools and colleges put on inexpensive plays and musicals, as well as sporting events. Fishing is a summertime favorite, and facilities at Irvine Lake, Dana Warf Sportfishing, Newport Landing Sportfishing, and Davey’s Locker rent all the necessary equipment, including boats, to guarantee a successful day on the water (despite whether a single catfish is caught!).
The Orange County Register Events Calendar is an excellent resource for ongoing local activities such as the Orange County Fair, farmer’s markets, and drive-in movie theatres. The Fullerton and Newport Beach libraries are solid options any day of the week, as are at-home projects such as cooking, crafts, tossing a ball, or running through backyard sprinklers, all of which provide hours of entertainment for all ages.
Orange County summer entertainment, with its amusement parks and retail attractions, is enviable and the possibilities endless. Whether enjoying water sports, inside arcading, or at home reading a book, everyone is sure to enjoy those three months of freedom. Forget not that perhaps the most memorable summer memories can be found simply standing on the beach, toes mingling with the sand, together with loved ones, gazing at the orange glow of the sunset after a busy, fun-filled day.