California, Destination, USA

40 Family-Fun Things to Do in Southern California

Adventure City Giggle Wheel Ride

Southern California is a dreamland for families and it’s our home so we’ve been testing out the best experiences. Attractions, activities, hiking, camping, beaches, and adventures can all be taken in one day with your starting point in Southern California.

Athena at Disneyland

Here are 40 family-fun things to do in Southern California. (Click on the links to read first-hand accounts of our experiences at these destinations.)

1. Disneyland – The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-believe.

2. Downtown Disney District – just steps away from Disneyland, a lively promenade with great shopping, entertainment, restaurants, and a great place to watch the nightly Disneyland fireworks.

3. Disneyland Adventure – Explore 7 exciting lands that bring to life Disney and Pixar stories and characters through amazing attractions, entertainment and dining! Across from Disneyland, you can do both parks in the same day. (And now that Frozen has its own section, little girls are even more excited than usual to visit the happiest place on earth.)

From groundbreaking to opening day, Disneyland was built in just 365 days.

4. Riding the Balboa Ferry – You can walk on, take your bike, or drive your car onto the Balboa Ferry for a lovely, pleasant, and cheap boat trip of 1,000 feet.

5. Segerstrom Center for the Arts – At Segerstrom, you can see Broadway shows in a beautiful venue without driving to Los Angeles. They have world premieres and other unique experiences like free Movie Mondays in the summer.

6. Knott’s Berry Farm – Fun is always in season at Knott’s Berry Farm. With dozens of rides, shows, roller coasters, and attractions in five themed areas, there is something for everyone.

7. Knott’s Soak City – Explore a variety of water slides for kids and adults to enjoy.

All boysenberries – a cross between a loganberry, red raspberry and blackberry – can trace their roots back to Knott’s Berry Farm.

Adventure City Petting Farm

8. Adventure City – Adventure City is a theme park located in Anaheim. The park’s slogan is “The Little Theme Park that’s BIG on Family Fun”. It focuses on the young adventure seeker and offers a petting farm.

9. Aquarium of the Pacific – Kids can take a virtual tour of this aquarium that features marine habitats of the Pacific Rim.

10. Crystal Cove State Park – The park is located off Pacific Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, California with easy access from I-5, 405 and 73. It offers beach access, hiking, camping, and naturalist events.

11. Baby Beach, Dana Point – With kayaking, paddleboarding, and boat rentals as well as a calm-water beach for swimming and soft sand for castles, Baby Beach in Dana Point is ideal for the whole family.

Sand, water, and kids—it’s a natural combination for easy family fun.

12. Parkestry Restaurant – Parkestry is the perfect spot to gather for a magical evening, excellent food, and spectacular views of Disneyland’s nightly fireworks without dealing with crowds. Their dinner menu is inspired by fresh ingredients as the kitchen uses their second floor garden as a resource of inspiration and sustainability.

The New Children's Museum Painting

13. The New Children’s Museum – The New Children’s Museum is a new model of children’s museum whose mission is to stimulate imagination, creativity and critical thinking in children and families through inventive and engaging experiences with contemporary art.

14. San Diego Zoo – San Diego Zoo Global is the largest zoological membership association in the world, with more than 250,000 member households and 130,000 child memberships, representing more than a half million people.

15. San Diego Safari Park – One of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County, the park houses a large array of wild and endangered animals including species from the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia.

See rare and endangered species in Southern California.

16. Irvine Spectrum Center – One of Southern California’s most popular shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations for visitors of all ages, Irvine Spectrum Center offers a collection of over 130 stores. Dining is a delectable adventure at Irvine Spectrum Center with over 35 culinary options. In addition, the center offers a full range of fun for families and adults as home to one of the country’s largest theater complexes, IMAX, Dave & Buster’s and an Improv Comedy Club, along with a whimsical carousel and a 108-foot Giant Wheel from Italy.

17. Medieval Times Dinner Tournament – Inside the stone walls of an 11th century-style castle, Medieval Spain comes to life as six knights, donning authentic armor, clash in a jousting tournament for the title of King’s Champion. Medieval Times serves a four-course meal fit for royalty.

Water Slide at LEGOLAND California

18. Legoland – LEGOLAND California is a 128-acre park geared specifically towards youngsters ages 2 – 12. With over 60 family rides, “hands-on” attractions and shows, LEGOLAND California provides education, adventure and fun in this first park of its kind in the United States.

19. Universal Studios – Only Universal Studios lets you ride the movies and go behind the scenes of a real working movie studio.

20. Laguna Beach Trolley – FREE Laguna Beach trolleys run along Pacific Coast Hwy for great views of the coast and downtown Laguna Beach.

21. Orange County Great Park – Soar 400 feet above the surrounding landscape in the Great Park Balloon or ride the carousel. There is a Kid’s Rock playground for children and the Certified Farmers Market is held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. every Sunday.

22. Whale Watching -Board a boat during the spring and summer at Newport Landing or Dana Point to watch Blue Whale migration.

23. Balboa Fun Zone – Ride the waterfront Ferris Wheel, play arcade games, and tour the nautical museum. This is also a popular place to rent bikes, take a harbor cruise, or catch a boat to Catalina Island.

24. Catalina Island – 26 miles across the sea, Catalina Island is accessible by passenger ferries from Newport Beach and Dana Point. The trip takes approximately 1 hour. You can also take a helicopter from Long Beach or San Pedro. Activities include swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, or just enjoying a stroll along the quaint shops and galleries.

25. Pretend City Children’s Museum – A great place to spend time with the little ones who love to pretend.

26. The OC Zoo – located inside beautiful Irvine Regional Park in the city of Orange. See native animals and plant exhibits, take a ride on the Irvine Park Railroad, or relax in one of the picnic areas.

27. San Juan Capistrano Mission – an historic landmark and museum, you can take a guided tour, a self-guided tour, or reserve a tour with a docent.

28. Sawdust Art Festival – Family-friendly with free admission for kids 12 and under, the Sawdust Art Festival is open from June 26th – August 30th. The Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach has a rustic ambiance, reflecting its 50-year-old roots as an alternative summer festival. Its homemade booths, sawdust covered grounds, shady eucalyptus trees, and waterfall all add to this atmosphere.

29. Skiing or snowboarding – Snow Summit Ski Area and Big Bear Mountain both offer skiing and snowboarding for beginners to expert.

30. Pacific Symphony – Summer Festival of Concerts at the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine.

31. SeaWorld – From swooshing and swooping rides to interactive shows and million-gallon aquariums, this is one theme park that truly makes a big splash.

32. South Coast Repertory – several summer productions geared toward the younger set.

Sledding with Athena, Big Bear

33. Magic Mountain – Tubing or sledding is what winter memories are made of! Spend the day at Magic Mountain in Big Bear and enjoy the Alpine Slide, sledding, snowman building, miniature golf, and go-karts.

34. Big Bear Funplex – Bowling, skating, mini golf, arcade games, laser tag, and dining can all be found at Big Bear Funplex. You can decide as a family which activities you’d like the most and packages are available.

35. Petco Park – Catch a San Diego Padres baseball game at Petco Park

36. Discovery Science Center – Interactive science exhibits await at Discovery Science Center

37. Santa Monica Pier – Enjoy the rides or just walk along the famous pier that appears in dozens of tv shows and movies. The beach isn’t a bad place to spend the day either.

38. Boomers Irvine – Boomers features indoor activities such as carousels, kiddie swings, and amusement arcades and outdoor activities such as miniature golf, kiddie rides, bumper boats, batting cages, go-karts, kiddie roller coasters, and laser tag.

39. Have Fun Tours- A family-run tour company that offers the best tours in Southern California, Have Fun Tours can get you behind the scenes at Extra or on a back stage tour of Hollywood’s famous theaters.

40. OC Fair & Event Center – The OC Fair & Event Center (OCFEC) is a 150-acre event venue in Costa Mesa, California. The site hosts over 150 events attracting 4.3 million visitors annually, and is home to the Orange County Fair, Centennial Farm, Costa Mesa Speedway, and Pacific Amphitheatre.

Did I miss any of your favorite things to do in Southern California? With so many options, it’s impossible to list them all. Share your favorite Southern California attraction or event below. 

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19 thoughts on “40 Family-Fun Things to Do in Southern California

  1. Oh, I am definitely pinning this post to my California board! We might be going there next March! I’m looking forward to visiting many of the places you mention.

    1. Lesley says:

      Fantastic! If you’re in the SoCal area, let me know. Maybe we can show you around. 🙂

  2. Karilyn says:

    What a great list! There are several items here we haven’t checked out yet. I’m loving the sound of the sawdust festival. That’s going top of our list!

    1. Lesley says:

      This year, the dates for the Sawdust Festival are June 26 – August 30, 2015 so you have lots of time to check it out 🙂

  3. So much to do in southern California! We didn’t know Disneyland was build in 365 days, that’s amazing!

  4. Dana says:

    This is perfect! We want to explore CA when we head back to the states. I remember a few of these places from when I was a kid, but there is so much to do now. My husband & I honeymooned in San Diego and went to the San Diego Zoo, but that’s about it. It was fun even without kiddos.

    1. Lesley says:

      We love San Diego. It’s only an hour away so we try to visit at least once a month. How many years have you been married? 🙂

  5. Will says:

    Great family fun adventures to be had!

  6. zof says:

    This is an impressive list. I had no idea that SoCal was so family friendly. So many exciting opportunities and cool events to discover.

  7. Disney is such an iconic SoCal must-do! And I love that you included Knott’s Berry Farm, I love that place. I still remember going there as a kid! Great ideas!

  8. Orana says:

    All these sound great! Its not everyone that explores so much around their home. It´s refreshing. These are great tips for anyone visiting SoCal!
    Nice stuff

  9. Inma says:

    Magic mountain looks like the funniest thing ever! I have no kids but I would myself have a blast there!

  10. You definitely nailed everything, especially by putting Disneyland first on the list! There used to be a really fun place that I loved as a kid called Bullwinkle’s, based on the popular cartoon. Unfortunately it’s closed now, probably because most kids these days wouldn’t be able to relate. Too bad! Chuck E. Cheese’s is a good place too!

    1. Lesley says:

      Yeah, we love Chuck E. Cheese; I should have included it. Maybe I should do a fun restaurant post too and add it to that. 🙂

  11. wow this is an impressive list! i would be happy to tick off a quarter of these with the kids in tow when we finally hit So cal!

    1. Lesley says:

      Be sure to let me know when you’re here. I’d be happy to host you and maybe help cross a few extra things off the list 🙂

  12. Laura C says:

    Have you been to Orange Empire Railroad Museum?

  13. Happy to see the Disneyland article espically for kids 😀 😀

  14. awesome pics hope that child enjoyed alot

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