10 Fun Family Activities in Orange County, CA
Author: Jill Weinlein (More Trip Reviews by Jill Weinlein)
Date of Trip: April 2017
During my daughter’s Spring Break, we decided to explore Orange County in Southern California, instead of flying to an exotic locale.
First I reserved a two night stay at the centrally located Hotel Irvine. It’s near the beach, Disneyland, three major shopping malls for some retail therapy, and a large theatre. Since we live in Los Angeles, we drove one hour to Irvine and passed the John Wayne Airport. It’s the closest airport for those flying into Orange County.
Checking in, my daughter enjoyed the jars filled with retro-candy offered to guests as a sweet welcome treat. The reservationist gave us two cards to a room on the top floor, with exclusive 12th floor lounge privileges. The Club 12 is a 2,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor lounge, offering a hot and cold breakfast daily from 6 to 10 a.m. In the evening, after a day of sightseeing, the lounge offers hot and cold appetizers, wine, beer, soda and desserts from 5 to 8 p.m. There is an outdoor seating area, and an interior with couches, large flat screen television, tables, computer work station, and a library of books and magazines. We learned we could check out here on our last day, instead of waiting in line to check out in the downstairs lobby.
My daughter and I walked into our room #1416 and noticed two double beds in city views. Our room offered calming colors of white, oatmeal and modern plush carpet. There was a work station for my computer, flat screen television, wi-fi, safe and small refrigerator. For three days we enjoyed 10 fun So Cal mother-daughter activities. Here are our favorites –
1. THEATRE – For a theatre experience, I bought tickets at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to see the Broadway’s Touring Company of Finding Neverland. Located 15 minutes from the hotel, the theatre offers some of the best Broadway-type shows. Hamiliton will be coming here soon.
2. SHOPPING – Getting in our car, we first drove a few miles to the Irvine Spectrum Shopping Center. The focal point of the center is a giant ferris wheel with the names of cities in Spain. The custom hand crafted ferris wheel is 108-ft. tall, and the third fixed ferris wheel in Southern California, following the wheels at Santa Monica Pier and at Disney’s California Adventure. The operator told us the center was designed to resemble the architecture of Alhambra in Granada, Spain, with courtyards displaying fountains; colorful overlays of tile mosaics and elaborate carvings. We took a 7 minute ride in the circular pods to get the best views of the city. There is also a carousel and small children’s train that drives freely around the center. We were familiar with many of the stores in this shopping center – Urban Outfitters, Brandy Melville, Old Navy and Nordstrom, however the Hello Kitty Cafe was unique. Other shopping destinations nearby include the South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island offering more than 200 stores each. Both have been premier retail and entertainment centers for over 50 years. We found some great deals at Nordstrom Rack near the South Coast Plaza.
3. BIKING – We woke up early one morning and checked out a complimentary bicycle from a staff member at the front desk. She offered a lock, helmet and bike trail map. We took the multi-speed cruisers out for a spin along the San Diego Creek Trail from Hotel Irvine to Newport Beach. We rode on nicely paved paths, away from cars, and along wetlands parallel to University Drive with University of California Irvine on the opposite side. After returning our bikes we planned a picnic lunch.
4. DINING – Hotel Irvine has a Marketplace that offers a large selection of freshly handcrafted breakfast sandwiches and lunch panini sandwiches, pizza, salads, sushi and international fare. They brew Starbucks coffee and espressos; offer pressed juices and smoothies. We bought a couple paninis, chips, fruit, cookies and drinks to take for a boat ride in Newport Beach. Before our night at the Theatre, we dined at EATS Kitchen and Bar, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant. I liked their Kids Eat Free policy every night during dinner time. Kids 12 and under eat for free with a paid adult. Since my daughter is 12, I didn’t have to pay for her meal. We had steamed bao pork buns, and a pear and gorgonzola think-crust pizza with sliced cippolini onions and aged balsamic vinegar, while sharing two Market fresh salads.
5. BOATING – Down in Newport Beach we rented a Duffy electric boat from the California Recreation Company at the Bayside Marina Office for a two hour journey cruising around Balboa Island and Lido Island. It was actually easy to be the Captain of a Duffy electric boat. These boats are easy to steer and cruise slowly, while accommodating 10 people comfortably. Our boat had a full canopy top, with full window enclosures that we could unzip to let the fresh sea air in. There was also a CD player with iPod hookup for us to play our favorite music. We cruised by beaches and multimillion dollar mansions with luxury yachts docked next to their backyard. While cruising we enjoyed our picnic lunch. After our two hours, we returned the boat and walked across the bridge to investigate Balboa Island.
6. BALBOA ISLAND – Walking into the quaint Main Street of Balboa Island, it reminds me a little bit like Catalina Island, yet this one is a one-of-a-kind, man-made town. Visitors can walk, bike, or take the Balboa Island Ferry over. You can drive, yet parking is tough at times. Marine Avenue is filled with chic coastal shops, restaurants and bistros serving California and International flavors. What is iconic on Balboa island is the frozen banana. A frozen banana is dipped in chocolate and covered with a variety of coatings from nuts and sprinkles to cookie crumbs. There are several shops that sell this tasty treat that was created in the 1960s.
7. ROGER’S GARDEN – For over 50 years in nearby Corona del Mar there is a iconic full service nursery that is worth a visit, especially during the holidays. They have themed rooms during Halloween and Christmas filled with home furnishing, decor and accessories. There is also a gourmet food area and popular Farmhouse Cafe. Outdoors offers beautiful flowering plants, seasonal herbs and vegetables, designer fountains, pottery, outdoor furniture and accessories.
8. POOL TIME – The hotel offers a Backyard area filled with large games, bright orange cabanas and a heated pool, ideal for laps or relaxing swim. There are plenty of lounge chairs to sit and read a book or take a nap under the warm sun.
9. MEET UP – Some friends met us at the downstairs Red Bar during Happy Hour. Discounts are offered daily from 3 to 7 p.m., It’s a social hub filled with locals and visitors.
10. WORKOUT – At the front desk, the staff will hand out basketballs for guests to shoot some hoops at the hotel’s basketball hoops. On the second floor is a fitness center with exercise equipment, free weights and complimentary waters and towels.
Our mother-daughter trip was a success. We each selected fun activities that we both enjoyed doing together. Next time you plan a trip to Southern California, be sure to spend a few days in Orange County. It’s a destination that will please all of your senses.