When the Frog Family visits the Disneyland Resort, we always like to explore the local area as well because there is so much to do in Southern California. If you are looking for great day trip ideas within 30-40 minutes of the Disney resorts, we “toadally” recommend checking out these family-friendly locations lining the golden coast of Orange County.
All of these fun and easy day trips in south Orange County are sure to make your vacation extra memorable and will give your little ones some unstructured play time. Ready? Let's get hopping!
Here Are Our Favorite Day Trips in South Orange County
Train and Animal Lovers — San Juan Capistrano
All aboard! Toddlers to 10-year-olds will get on board for this trip. You can make the journey extra exciting by taking the train from Anaheim to San Juan Capistrano, where the train drops you off in the historic Los Rios district within short walking — or hopping — distance of Zoomar’s Petting Zoo, Ruby’s Diner (very kid friendly and also train-themed), and the historic San Juan Capistrano Mission. At Zoomar’s you can ride a horse or feed the guinea pigs, rabbits, goats or emus. You can pan for gold and other treasures and even ride a little train.
Besides Ruby’s there are many places to eat in San Juan Capistrano. Lily and Mommy Frog love having afternoon tea at the Los Rios Tea House. Parents with older kids who have more adventurous palettes might try the quirky and delicious Ramos House Café next to the train station. There is also a playground, some shopping and a butterfly garden in the historic district. If Mexican food is what you desire in San Juan Capistrano, President Nixon gave the El Adobe his presidential seal of approval as a regular customer when staying at his “Western White House“ in nearby San Clemente. If you choose to arrive by car, take I-5 to Ortega Highway and head west. There is plenty of parking in the lot and garage by the train station.
Beach and Boat Lovers — San Clemente or Dana Point
Both of these beach towns have many family-friendly beaches and can launch your family on a great beach adventure. San Clemente also has two train stations if you are looking to take a train straight to the beach. Metrolink stops at North Beach and Amtrak stops at the San Clemente Pier. North beach has bike rentals and walking trails that take you several miles south along the beach. It is a 20-minute beautiful walk south to the pier. Ellie’s table at North Beach is a cute lunch spot in the North Beach area.
The San Clemente Pier has a restaurant on it called The Fisherman’s with seafood, sandwiches, salads and kid-friendly bar food. It is particularly nice at sunset, but they do not take reservations so arrive early and walk to the end of the pier or play on the beach (there are swings and shade palapas on the beach) while you wait for your table.
If you travel up Del Mar from the Pier you will find the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens just above the pier area. Continue up Del Mar to discover a very cute historic shopping street that also has many great restaurants. Leap likes the burgers at Nick’s (and the seafood enchiladas at South of Nick’s — the Mexican food version of Nick’s up the street). Reservations are recommended at both of those spots for dinner. Lunch is easier to walk in. Tad’s favorite pad is Sonny’s Pizza and Pasta. This Spanish Village by the Sea has much to offer for families who love the beach and surfing. You can find surf camps up and down the coast of San Clemente in the summer.
Dana Point is just north of San Clemente and requires arrival by car (or bike). It is home to Doheny State Beach (where you can rent bikes, surreys, surf board, body boards, and even sand toys) and the Dana Point Harbor. At Doheny State Beach there are public grills for cooking, volleyball courts, reserved picnic areas, and some fire pits that are first-come first served. Another family-friendly beach and park in the Dana Point area is Salt Creek.
Boat-loving kids will enjoy the Dana Point Harbor. You can take fishing trips, go on dolphin- and whale-watching safaris, rent jet skis, or just walk around and see the boats. You can rent paddleboards and kayaks to explore the harbor by water. The Ocean Institute at the north end of the harbor is open to the public on weekends for some hands-on learning about sea life. There are many restaurants in Dana Point, but the Frog Family enjoys hopping up to an outside table at the casual Jon’s Fish Market for fried and grilled fresh fish to watch people and seagulls while we eat.
Families who like to hike will enjoy tide pooling north of the harbor or hiking the headlands trail (above the harbor off the Street of the Green Lantern). This trail system offers fantastic views of the harbor, ocean, and surrounding areas. There is an interpretive center in the trail parking lot.
Art and Ocean Lovers — Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is home to many artists. In the summer they offer Pageant of the Masters, a show that recreates live versions of famous works of art, and the Sawdust Festival, an art festival with hands-on activities for kids. But Laguna Beach also has many year-round art galleries (The Frog Family kids love Wyland’s Gallery near Main Beach), restaurants, candy shops and things to do. Main Beach has a boardwalk, playgrounds, volleyball courts, and basketball courts where famous NBA players have been known to show up for a pick-up game from time to time. We don’t travel with all of our toys, so if we need to buy or rent, we pick things up at Main Beach Toys. There are tide pools and many shops to explore. Our favorite tree-lined shopping street is Forest Avenue. The Montage hotel has beautiful public beaches and tide pools as well.
Further out the 133 or up PCH in North Laguna are areas where hikers can find many hiking trails with expansive ocean views. Laguna Beach is one of the best day trips in south Orange County because it provides something for everyone. There are hundreds of excellent restaurants in Laguna Beach — so many that we could not pick a favorite. The trolley runs in the summer, making exploring this hilly town even easier, but we really like visiting September through May when the weather is just as nice but the crowds are gone.
You may have come to California to meet Mickey, but be sure to break up your stay at the “happiest place on earth” with one of these great day trips in south Orange County while you are here. These day trips offer families a chance to explore and play together and may help you find your new happy place. Any of the food places mentioned are kid tested and Mommy Frog approved, but if you are traveling around Orange County on a budget you’ll also want to check out our favorite Orange County eats for under $5.
Related: 5 Orange County Beach Adventures