Here are my picks for the five best places to take young kids in Orange County.
1.Â The Santa Ana Zoo: Yes, this is a small zoo, but that’s what’s great about it.Â The zoos in San Diego and Los Angeles are huge and impressive (ok, LA’s not so much), but are you really going to pack everyone up on a hot summer day early in the morning, trek to the big zoo, and race around with small ones in tow trying to see everything and bleeding money out of your wallet?Â Do yourself a favor and make it easier on everyone.Â The Santa Ana Zoo offers a small scale, clean and friendly zoo with camel rides, train rides, and lots of monkeys every day, and gives you that little bit of exotic in an intimate setting.Â *There is another zoo down the road from the Santa Ana Zoo: the Orange County Zoo is tucked inside Irvine Park in the city of Orange, but Santa Ana gets my vote for more kid fun.Â 1801 E Chestnut Ave., Santa Ana, 92701.
2.Â Discovery Science Cube: There’s very little planning involved in this one, but it always has a ton going on.Â You can even buy your tickets online before you leave home.Â There are a lot of different exhibits and activities that target from toddlers to older kids, so everyone’s covered.Â This destination is fun for parents, too; there’s always something new to see and learn.Â Topics range from the dinosaurs to a new rocket exhibit that brings out your inner astronaut.Â Bring extra money for parking.Â 2500 North Main St., Santa Ana, 92705.
3.Â Chuck E Cheese: I don’t feel like a bad mom at all for suggesting this one; where else can you let your kids loose to play and climb and move their bodies in relative safety?Â Your furniture stays intact, the employees watch the entrance for you, and if you don’t go there to eat, you can get away with a pretty cheap outing.Â Depending on the age of the kid you can let them run off on their own and station yourself at a booth near the action, and if you bring a friend you can catch up on what’s new while your kids exhaust themselves.Â Locations are all over the place; plug in your zip on the website to find the closest.
4.Â Tanaka Farms: There’s something growing there almost all year, and if your kids are old enough to get interested in an adventure, this is certainly a healthy one.Â The tours change according to the growing season; for instance, the first half of the summer you can take a strawberry tour, the second half you can take a watermelon tour.Â So go back occasionally for a totally new experience, and expose your children to the simple joys of the farm.Â 5380 Â¾ University Dr., Irvine, 92612.
5.Â Children’s Museum at La Habra: Pack a picnic lunch when you go to this museum, and lunch outside in Portola Park, which surrounds the museum.Â It offers guided tours every morning, or explore the sturdy, kid-friendly exhibits on your own.Â A lot of the things here are touchable and designed to give your kid the hands-on experience.Â Even babies and toddlers can play at special exhibits designed for the littlest ones.Â Kids can also engage in imaginative play, and explore real machines like a caboose, or an OCTA bus.Â Â 301 South Euclid St., La Habra, 90631.