Best Amusement Park/Family Fun Center
On a mission to unleash fun, Boomers has been the readers’ favorite for more than a decade. The locations in Irvine and Fountain Valley offer miniature golf, Go Karts, rides, Lazer Tag, climbing walls, batting cages and arcade games, so just about anyone can find something entertaining.
boomersparks.com | Fountain Valley and Irvine
Dave & Buster’s
It’s always game on at Dave & Buster’s, whether you’re there for virtual reality, billiards, bowling or good old-fashioned arcade games. You’ll find classics such as Pac-Man and Skee-Ball and new games in the Million Dollar Midway. And, if all this action gets you hungry, there’s a full-service restaurant inside. Plus, since Dave & Buster’s is about good, clean fun, COVID protection measures are in place.
daveandbusters.com | Orange and Irvine
Best Bowling Alley
The 40-lane bowling center, with state-of-the-art automatic scoring and bumpers for younger players, has something for everyone, from amateurs to pros. “Galaxy Bowling” with black lights, lasers and music ramps up the excitement all around. Need a break? Each lane has a comfy sitting area where you can eat, drink and relax.
irvinelanes.com | Irvine
Best Dog Beach/Park
Huntington Beach Dog Beach
Dogs and their owners love Huntington Beach Dog Beach, which tops our ranking once again. The designated stretch, north of the Huntington Beach Pier, has public restrooms, grassy picnic areas and most importantly plenty of space for dogs to live their best lives.
dogbeach.org | Huntington Beach
OC Fair & Event Center
The fair is a must for many Orange County residents, and they got to experience it in person once again in 2021. From musical performances to rides, animals and famous fair food (deep fried Oreos anyone?), it’s no wonder this family-friendly event wins over readers.
ocfair.com | Costa Mesa
Best Family Beach
Crystal Cove has four family-friendly beaches, including Moro Beach, favored by stand-up paddle boarders and kayakers. There’s also Moro campground with amazing ocean views. Reef Point is popular for body surfing. The Historic District features 46 vintage cottages and Pelican Point has bluff-top parking with beach access points and restroom facilities with outdoor showers.
crystalcovestatepark.org | Newport Beach/Laguna Beach
Best Family Hiking Trail
West Ridge Trail
The community park in Laguna Beach is officially called Alta Laguna Park, but it’s better known as Top of the World and for good reason. Easily accessible through the park is West Ridge Trail. Hike it and you’ll be able to sit on a bench and admire a spectacular ocean and mountain view.
visitlagunabeach.com/directory/top-of-the-world | Laguna Beach
Best Indoor Play Center
Pretend City Children’s Museum
Pretend City is exactly what it sounds like — a miniature version of a city where children can play, get creative and learn about the real world in the process. Attractions include a grocery store, a pretend café and an amphitheater with an option to dress up. Trained staff leads kids through age-appropriate activities. This is the ninth time Pretend City won in this category.
pretendcity.org | Irvine
Best Kid’s Bike Trail
Back Bay Loop
The Back Bay Loop Trail is a favorite with local outdoor enthusiasts. The 10.5-mile trail is well-signed and winds around Upper Newport Bay, with scenic stops at places such as Upper Castaways Park, Newport Aquatic Center and the new Back Bay Science Center at Shellmaker Island. The flat paved trail easily accommodates bikes and strollers so the whole family can experience the Bay.
newportbeachca.gov | Newport Beach
Irvine Regional Park
This popular park tops our list for the 15th time. Irvine Regional Park is nearly 500 acres of picnic areas, sports fields and miles of hiking and equestrian trails. Plus, there’s the Irvine Park Railroad, pony rides for kids, Santiago Creek and the Orange County Zoo.
ocparks.com/irvinepark | Orange
Best Place to Catch Your First Fish
Huntington Beach Pier
The 1,850-foot-long Huntington Beach Pier is one of the West Coast’s longest piers. Because it’s public, there’s no requirement for a fishing license. You can try to get your catch while admiring amazing ocean views and later grab a meal at one of the many nearby restaurants.
surfcityusa.com | Huntington Beach
Best Place to See Sea Creatures
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific displays about 12,000 animals and more than 100 exhibits for kids and adults alike, including the Shark Lagoon and June Keyes Penguin Habitat. The aquarium celebrates the Pacific Ocean, the Northern Pacific, the Southern California/Baja region and the coral reefs and lagoons of the Tropical Pacific. It’s the fourth most-attended aquarium in the nation. Aquarium webcams even let you visit exhibits virtually and check in on the sea life from anywhere.
aquariumofpacific.org | Long Beach
Best Science Museum
DiscoveryCube Orange County
The kids’ museum remains popular for its hands-on, fun, science education. It tops the readers’ list for the fifth year. The Cube has a planetary research station, where kids can learn about weather and earthquakes, offers a chance to fly over Orange County in a virtual helicopter, lets guests make healthy meals at the Petersonville Healthy Kitchen as well as get in the rink with the Anaheim Ducks.
oc.discoverycube.org | Santa Ana
Best Nature Center
Oak Canyon Nature Center
The Oak Canyon Nature Center is perfect for wilderness newbies as well as those with more experience looking for a short hike. The 58-acre natural park in Anaheim Hills has three adjoining canyons, a stream and four miles of hiking trails. It’s also home to John J. Collier Interpretive Center, a small museum with natural history exhibits and live animals. The park is a popular spot for family pictures, but you do need to get a permit for professional photography.
Best Swim Facility
Splash! La Mirada Regional Aquatics Center
Splash! has swim lessons for kids and adults of all abilities and lap swimming in a 50-meter competition pool. There’s also a 25-yard recreation pool and spa. For extra excitement, check out pirate-themed Buccaneer Bay water park with its flowing river channel, three slides, kids’ play structure and more.
splashlamirada.com | La Mirada
Knott’s Soak City
The gated 15-acre water adventure park is right next to Knott’s Berry Farm and offers all kinds of fun throughout the summer. It has a variety of water slides, a raft ride, a wave pool, a river and more. With so many attractions for different ages, everyone is bound to find something fun.
knotts.com/soak-city | Buena Park
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is a mecca for wildlife, from little critters to nature’s giants, and a fun place for little wild ones too. There are several programs for teens to teach them about animal care and wildlife preservation, including related careers. Certain attractions are currently unavailable so check before going.
sandiegozoo.com | San Diego
Best Theme Park
There’s always something new and fun for families happening at the Disneyland Resort theme parks — from the brand-new Avengers Campus to the still-new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Around this time of year, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks are both decked out in full Halloween mode. You don’t want to miss the Haunted Mansion Holiday in Disneyland of course, but there’s also California Adventure’s Paradise Gardens’ transformation into the Plaza de la Familia, a Dia de los Muertos-inspired immersive experience — and lots more.
disneyland.disney.go.com | Anaheim
Best Theme Park for Thrills
Knott’s Berry Farm
Of course, for theme park-goers looking to get their pulse racing, the go-to local theme park for thrilling roller-coasters is Knott’s Berry Farm. It’s a special time for Knott’s with its celebration of its 100th anniversary, which was postponed from last year. Now it is in the midst of one of its most entertaining times of year — the Halloween season. Both Knott’s Spooky Farm for the younger kids and Scary Farm for the older ones are underway.
knotts.com | Buena Park
Best “Spooky” Theme Park
Knott’s Scary Farm
After a year off, Knott’s Berry Farm has returned for the Halloween season more enthusiastically than ever. With eight mazes, five Scare Zones and more than 1,000 monsters waiting to terrify, the park skillfully brings guests’ worst nightmares to life — but in a fun way. New this year is the Gore-Ing ‘20s Scare Zone full of flappers, gangsters and darker elements evoking 1920s life. Also new is the Mesmer: Sideshow of the Mind maze where hypnotist Mesmer and his sinister sideshow await.
knotts.com | Buena Park
By Magda Hernandez, Jessica Peralta and Shawn Price