Out and About in Southern California with Little Kids

Recently, a friend asked me for ideas of places to take her young daughter in Southern California, since it’s no secret that I get out and about quite often. After a lengthy email that she probably regretted asking for, I decided to turn it in to a blog post, in case anyone locally (or in the area visiting) needed some ideas. A few disclaimers:

-    I have one child- this makes things far easier for me, since, well, there’s one of me and one of him, as opposed to one of me and more of them. He is also extremely flexible, as am I (for the most part). He’s gung-ho to try pretty much anything out and does fine if his afternoon nap gets pushed back an hour or two (and he sleeps well in the car).
-    I’m a teacher, so I am fortunate to have a few breaks throughout the year, plus summers off. This also means that it’s just usually he and I, but once in a while my husband tags along it it’s something cool on the weekend. Sometimes we meet up with friends, but we also have a lot of fun on our own and are able to go at our own pace.
-    I am all about convenience, even if that means spending a few wasteful dollars (sorrynotsorry). I don’t pack lunches, I don’t shy away from buying an overpriced bottle of water, I’ll pay for parking instead of driving in circles, etc… I prefer spending money on experiences rather than toys and other junk that clutters up my house, so this works for us. But again, buying lunch for one kid is different than many and I totally get that.
-   I loathe the stroller. Absolutely, positively loathe it. It’s great for walks around the neighborhood, but I have pretty much quit taking it anywhere else. Sawyer walked six miles once at the Wild Animal Park before he was two- we got it handled.
-   I don’t mind driving and I have basically accepted Southern California traffic. I do try to hit most places when they open, though, so that driving isn’t happening during super-peak times and so that we miss crowds.
-      I tried to not include many seasonal things on my list, but a few snuck in.
-   We do plenty of sitting the house playing with blocks and cars, don’t worry!
-     I live in Corona, which is Western Riverside County. Most places on the list can be reached from 30-90 minutes, depending on traffic, of course
-  Most of these are things that we have done since Sawyer was about eighteen months and on. I've always made it a point to take him places, though, since he was tiny. It helped me mentally and I think it helped with his willingness to go places. 

I struggled to find the perfect way to organize this, so I sort of went from cheaper/quicker/closer outings to more expensive/longer/farther ones.

1.  Local Baseball Games- We went to an Elsinore Storm game last July and it was cheap, easy, and there were fireworks. Most cities have local teams that run great deals to promote attendance, plus night and afternoon games.

2.  Yorba Regional Park (Yorba Linda)- I love this large park– there are countless playgrounds, a huge duck pond, miles of walking paths, and free parking if you head down west, towards the baseball fields. It’s crazy that the freeway runs parallel to it, since most of the time it feels pretty secluded (this is also a great place to catch the Santa Ana River Trail for all you bikers).

3.  Irvine Regional Park (Orange)- This park is located off the toll road and I think is actually closer to Orange and Anaheim Hills, than Irvine. They have train rides, a small zoo, pony rides, bike rentals, paddle boats, and miles and miles of trails (paved and unpaved). There are playgrounds, snack bars, and seasonal activities for families, as well (their pumpkin patch is great). Nothing costs too much, either, and you can get buy just spending the couple bucks for parking. There’s definitely plenty of free things to do there!

4.   Sky Zone- I only include this because it is SUCH a hit with Sawyer and it tires him out like crazy. I also have a ton of fun and get  a good workout.  The two of us jumped a few Sunday mornings ago for less than $12 and basically had the place to ourselves.

5. 5 Mile Wilderness Loop (Claremont)- For just a couple of dollars to park, you can spend all the time you want walking this loop. Sawyer can do about a mile and a half uphill and then back down, so we aren’t able to do the whole thing quite yet (I have a few times with friends, though, and it’s beautiful and not too hard). It does get toasty, so I suggest going in the morning. Also, FYI: only porta potties. 

6.  Back Bay Trail in Newport- If you head over behind the yacht club in Newport, on Back Bay, you can park for free and walk the portion of the trail that’s located there (we usually do four or so miles, I think). I do take the stroller for this one, though, since I am generally there with friends to exercise. The path gives you a clear view of the bay, plus some of the awesome houses nearby. Sprinkles Cupcakes is about five minutes up PCH for your post-walk reward!

7.   Pretend City (Irvine)- Pretend City is a huge building set up like a city, where kids can try out different jobs and participate in countless hands-on activities. Sawyer loves to shop at the Trader Joe's, work on the computer at the library, and play with the boats in the water tables. It is a little pricy, but they keep it really clean and he loves it (teachers get a membership discount, which pays for itself in about five visits).  The Spectrum is a few minutes away, which we usually visit for a quick snack and walk afterwards.

8.  Lunch at Ruby’s on the Huntington Beach Pier- Last month Sawyer and I went to Ruby’s on the pier for lunch and then spent awhile walking at the beach (he just wanted to walk in the lifeguard’s truck tracks, because he thought they were from a train). Parking is pricy, but you can blame the government for that.

9. Downtown Disney (Anaheim)- We don’t plan to take Sawyer to Disneyland until he’s four or five, but we do go to Downtown Disney a few times a year to walk around and visit the LEGO store and whatever else catches our attention. Parking is free for a few hours and a lot of times there is live music.

10.  Taking the train to Zoomars (San Juan Capistrano)- We have taken Amtrak twice from Orange County to San Juan Capistrano to go to Zoomars and walk around the surrounding area. The train itself makes Sawyer incredibly happy (do you notice a trend with trains and my kid?). Zoomars is this crazy little petting zoo with five million guinea pigs, plus some goats, cows, and horses. There’s also a pretty great playground and a corn pit (as opposed to sand), and you can often find a deal on Groupon. If you walk around a bit there are some neat restaurants and little gardens close to the spot where the train lets you off.

11. The Living Desert (Palm Springs)- If you want to interact with giraffes you must go here. This zoo is the home to countless desert animals that have NOT been taken from the wild. We got to feed the giraffes (for only $4!), see cheetahs run for food, pet goats, and observe many animals and gardens. There’s also a huge model train set up that Sawyer could have spent the entire day watching. I don’t remember quite what it cost, but I was pleased (and surprised) with how affordable it was.

12. UCLA (or any college campus)- Sporting events are usually cheap, there’s plenty of space for kids to run, there are typically cool gardens and buildings to look at, and you’re exposing your kid to collegiate life.  UC Irvine would also be a great place to visit!

13.  Huntington Library (Pasadena)- This place is absolutely beautiful in the spring, although it’s worth the visit year round. There are acres and acres of gardens plus several art and rare-book collections (I have visited the museums several times before, so when I took Sawyer we stayed outside). The food options are pretty pricy, though, and you can’t bring food in (allegedly). There’s a children’s garden with some water features, plus an indoor greenhouse that’s pretty neat.

14. San Diego Zoo- I have serious reservations about any place that houses animals, but we received a free membership to the San Diego Zoo and Wild animal Park when we had our solar panels installed. They do a good job, though, of taking care of the animals and participating in conservation efforts. It gets incredibly crowded, so go early.

15. Wild Animal Park (Escondido)- I actually like the Wild Animal Park better than the zoo, part of the reason being that it is located a bit off the beaten path in Escondido. The whole place is less crowded, more mellow, and there is more room for the animals.

16. Long Beach Aquarium- This isn’t a place I’d go super often, but we took Sawyer for his second birthday and he really enjoyed walking around and seeing the fish. The area surrounding the aquarium is fun, too, since there are boats and plenty of restaurants.

17. Balboa Park (San Diego)- We have only been the botanical gardens and the Fleet Science Center (well, and the zoo, since it’s there too), but enjoyed both. We will definitely be back (I know there are some gardens, a train museum, a sport museum, and a few other places that seemed like they’d work for us).

18.  The LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)- I love museums, but I will admit that some are better for kids than others (I’m not taking Sawyer to The Broad). The LACMA is pretty family-friendly; there are these cool “noodles” for kids to walk through, an enormous boulder they can run through, and, the best part, Metropolis II, a huge exhibit of speeding Matchbox Cars. We also spent some time walking through the modern art, which apparently my child is a fan of.

19. The California Science Museum (Exhibition Park, Los Angeles)- The science museum itself is sort of subpar, as far as museums go; I find the tech a bit outdated and the place in general in need of some TLC. BUT, they have a space shuttle that you can walk under and around, which is reason enough to go. They’ve also been running a Science of Pixar Exhibit that was pretty neat. There are rose gardens outside that Sawyer likes to run through, as well.

20.  The Carlsbad Flower Fields- This is a seasonal activity, but the flowers are so beautiful that I have to mention it. Sawyer didn’t really take the time to marvel at the ranunculus, though, as he was more taken by the tractor rides around the fields, the playground, and the live music.

21.  Major League Baseball Games- We are Giants fans, so going to San Diego when they play the Padres works best for us scheduling-wise. Sawyer ate his body weight in pizza and M&Ms and walked seventy laps around the stadium- needless to say, he had the best time.

22. Sawdust Festival (Laguna Beach)- This collection of local artisans is a lot of fun to walk around. There's a variety of art, a waterfall, live music, and a decent snack bar. It's also right down the street from the beach (there are free trolleys during the summer).

Places We Still Need to Visit (this summer, hopefully):

The Natural History Museum and the Museum of Flight (Exhibition Park, Los Angeles)- These are right near the science museum but we have yet to make our way over to them. 

The Getty (Los Angeles)- I am a little hesitant to take Sawyer here, since I do feel like it’s a bit more of a serious museum (I have been a few times), but there is a lot of space outdoors for him to run around if he gets antsy (plus I think he’ll like the tram you take from the parking lot up to the museum).

Pennypickle’s Workshop (Temecula)- I have purposefully waited on this one, but I think this summer he will be old enough.

Farm Sanctuary (Acton)- This is a pretty far, located in Northern Los Angeles County, but I love the idea of seeing the rescued farm animals and getting to interact with them.

Peterson Automotive Museum (Los Angeles)- Sawyer is pretty obsessed with vehicles in general, so I plan to take him up here to see what they’ve got (I believe that have a Batmobile, so I’m sure that will rock his little world).

Skyline Trail (Corona)- I actually hiked this a few years ago, but I have never taken Sawyer and I know they’ve done some work on the area.

After publishing this post, Eventbrite shared some info on their cool new event registration software that you can use to help plan and attend events in your own city. I've actually used their site before to book tickets for events here in Southern California, and can vouch for the ease and accessibility of their site. 

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