Best Overall Theme Park
The most famous theme park in the world since 1955, with fireworks and shows every night and new attractions like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and California Adventure’s Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout ride, it tops our list for the 16th year.
disneyland.disney.go.com | Anaheim
Best Theme Park for Thrills
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott’s newer rides Hangtime and the renovated Calico River Rapids, will make your family’s hearts all beat faster, but the park’s longtime favorites like Silver Bullet, Ghost Rider, the Log Ride and Supreme Scream can still bring the thrills. On a hot summer day, families can cool down at Soak City in the morning and ride their favorite coasters in the afternoon.
knotts.com | Buena Park
Best Kids Theme Park
Legoland remains a reader’s favorite for its toddler-friendly attractions like Playtown, Legoland Express, Fairytale Brook, Dig for Dinos sandbox, the Lego Life Zone, and travel from the Arctic to the desert to the rainforest at the Adventurer’s Club.
legoland.com/california | Carlsbad
Best Overall Fair/Festival
Readers love their annual summer fair. Top musical and comedy acts perform at the Pacific Amphitheatre, and the best cover tribute bands at The Hangar. Don’t forget demolition derbies and rodeo rides out at the Action Sports Arena. Comfort food to veggie snacks are available all over the fairgrounds. Livestock and garden exhibits at Centennial Farm and loads of carnival rides keep the fun going all day long.
ocfair.com | Costa Mesa
Best Themed Festival
When you start a festival by handing out free, fresh strawberry shortcake to the first 1,000 or so of your closest friends on Memorial Day weekend, how can you go wrong? The festival features more than 30 carnival rides, the Berry Berry Beautiful Baby and Redhead Roundup contests, a 5K run, parade and local vendor booths.
strawberryfestival.org | Garden Grove
Best Educational Festival
America’s Family Pet Expo
Learn about mammals and reptiles, pets from the land, air and water and how to be the best possible pet owner with vendor exhibits on pet food, toys and training. Plus enjoy Anaheim Police K9 shows, pet adoption makeovers, an aquatic touch tank, butterfly walk-through, bird show, tortoise petting exhibit and cat shows.
petexpooc.org | Costa Mesa
Best Costume Festival
The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire
A little bit time machine and a little bit theater, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire has been an interactive playground for 56 years for kids and adults. Featuring retro arts, games, rides, live theater, live entertainment as well as live action like archery and jousting, there is even a chance you might meet Queen Elizabeth or William Shakespeare.
renfair.com/socal | Irwindale
Best Amusement Park/Family Fun Center
With locations in Irvine and Fountain Valley, a whole day of miniature golf, Go Karts, rides, climbing walls, batting cages and arcade games are never far away. It has made number one on the list for the 12th year.
boomersparks.com | Fountain Valley and Irvine
Best Shopping and Entertainment Center
Irvine Spectrum Center
The Spectrum’s recent $200-million expansion and renovation has been a success with visitors. More stores, more entertainment and more restaurants and cafes with more enhanced public spaces like courtyards, rolling lawns, lush landscaping have all elevated the visitor experience. There’s even more parking.
shopirvinespectrumcenter.com | Irvine
Best Science/Nature Attractions
DiscoveryCube Orange County
The kids’ museum remains popular in its third year topping the readers’ list. The Cube includes a planetary research station, where kids can learn about weather and earthquakes, fly over Orange County in a virtual helicopter, make healthy meals at the Petersonville Healthy Kitchen and get in the rink with the Anaheim Ducks.
oc.discoverycube.org | Santa Ana
Best Overall Zoo
San Diego Zoo
Zoo keepers lead daily animal encounters with lions, rhinos, baboons, Tasmanian devils and insects. Discover an animal world from Arctic foxes to zebras. Kids can even meet some animals in person with the Animals in Action Experience.
sandiegozoo.com | San Diego
Best Zoo Alternative
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
It’s run by San Diego Zoo Global, the nonprofit organization committed to the conservation of animal species around the planet. The park is part zoo and part wildlife reserve, creating an experience for parents and kids to share the wonders of wild animals in more natural habitats. Walkabout Australia allows visitors to meet kangaroos and wallabies in a relaxed setting like no other.
sdzsafaripark.org | Escondido
Best Monkey Zoo
Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park
The Santa Ana Zoo is all about primates. Kids can get a good look at their closest relatives in the animal world. Focused on Central and South American animals, the 20-acre family-friendly zoo — now topping the readers’ list for 11 years — still has room for the family-farm setting where kids can feed sheep and goats.
santaanazoo.org | Santa Ana
Best Place to See Sea Creatures
Aquarium of the Pacific
The aquarium marks its 21st anniversary with the new Pacific Visions amphitheater, featuring the Honda Pacific Visions Theater Show as well as new interactive multimedia displays and new animal exhibits. The new frogs exhibit features more than 20 species showing the unique beauty and importance of the amphibian.
aquariumofpacific.org | Long Beach
Best Performing Arts Center
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
The center is topping the list for the seventh year and consistently attracts world-class talent from the stage, ballet and modern dance, jazz, orchestral and contemporary music. And it has its share of Tony-winning musicals too. Upcoming events include Art Garfunkel, Chris Botti, the classic film music of John Williams, as well as the family musical “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus!”
scfta.org | Costa Mesa
Best Historical Site
Mission San Juan Capistrano
The famous swallows that return each spring are what make the mission famous, but it’s also a treasure trove of historical and religious significance. Educational programs allow kids the chance to explore the 243-year-old mission through history, geology and anthropology. The mission continues to make history by topping the list for the 13th year.
missionsjc.com | San Juan Capistrano
Best Family Beach/Best Family Hiking Trail
Crystal Cove State Park
The secluded and usually uncrowded three-and-a-half-mile cove protected by high bluffs offers a tranquil day at the beach for families, especially those with small children. And running along the top of the bluffs and stretching miles inland from the protected beach are Crystal Cove’s hiking trails. The trails are popular with hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers of all ages.
crystalcovestatepark.org | Newport Beach/Laguna Beach
Best Dog Beach/Park
Huntington Beach Dog Park
Beach days with your family AND your furry friends are extra special. The popularity among dog owners of the designated stretch north of the Huntington Beach pier, with public restrooms and grassy picnic areas, earned the beach its second year at the top of the list.
dogbeach.org | Huntington Beach
Irvine Regional Park
Beneath the Oak and Sycamore is the nearly 500-acre park. Picnic areas, sports fields, miles of hiking and equestrian trails, a lake and Santiago Creek are all available to families, along with the Orange County Zoo and the Irvine Park Railroad. Rent an Aquacycle. Ride the train. Visit a mountain lion. Or just hang out with friends and family at a picnic area. The popular park secured its 13th year on our list.
ocparks.com/parks/irvine | Orange
Best Bowling Alley
Accessible to all levels of bowlers and kids to adults, the lanes feature couch-style seating and bowling available by the game or three-hour unlimited bowling with lights and music. The alley also hosts hyper-bowling and all-level leagues five days a week with a league bowler rewards program that provides special perks. Parties and special event rentals are also available.
irvinelanes.com | Irvine
Best Community Pool
Aliso Viejo Aquatic Center
Open daily, the center is family-friendly and offers lots of swim classes. Open and lap swimming is available with a heated recreational pool, splash pad for the kids, and baby pool, as well as a spa, all in a facility described by customers as resort-like. The center also offers lifeguard certification, CPR and babysitter courses.
swimoc.com/alisoviejo | Aliso Viejo
Best Place to Catch Your First Fish
Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching
Topping the list for the fourth year — morning, midday or evening — there’s an option for fun on the water. Half-day fishing trips as well as twilight fishing trips can be booked every day. Kids-fish-free trips run every Sunday, but sell out quickly — as do the half-day trips — so planning is everything.
danawharf.com | Dana Point
Best Indoor Family Fun Center
John’s Incredible Pizza Company
Admission to this family entertainment center includes an All You Can Eat Buffet with items made from scratch, including freshly made pizzas, chicken, pasta with homemade sauces, a 40+ item salad bar, dessert and more. Then guests of all ages can enjoy Fun World filled with more than 100 of the latest video and redemption games plus exciting rides, like Twister and bumper cars.
johnspizza.com | Buena Park and Westminster