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17+ Family-Friendly Nature and Interpretive Centers in OC

17+ Family-Friendly Nature and Interpretive Centers in OC

Family-friendly nature centers are home to my favorite rangers and resource specialists. Our family loves our visits to these hubs of wilderness displays and outdoor enrichment.

We can’t wait to put our hands on the interactive displays and Eagle Scout projects.  

We can stamp out animal tracks in the sand, pan for gold, see historical and archaeological artifacts, learn about native peoples, and touch the world around us.  

Combine your indoor learning with an outdoor play experience to learn more about the flora and fauna of the parks we visit.  

We applaud the enthusiastic volunteers, employees, and rangers who staff these special interpretive centers that add meaning to parks in and around Orange County.

family-friendly nature centers in Orange County

I especially love nature centers, because they can be the perfect place to get comfortable exploring the outdoors with your kids. Even if you feel like you have no experience, volunteers or rangers in the nature center can answer your questions and get you started on a trail that fits your family’s ability level.

Note: Hours for these centers are notorious for last minute changes. Make sure you ALWAYS call ahead for hours because many are open only on weekends and depend on volunteers for staffing. Thank you VOLUNTEERS!

Nature Centers in Orange County

An important note about Nature Center hours of operation! Save yourself time by calling ahead to make sure the hours listed are actually the hours for the day you are visiting. Some locations have private events in these spaces OR many of these centers listed have hours that are 100% contingent on volunteers to staff the location, so they can change at the last minute!

I always like to have a Plan B before I go and I tried to list what's nearby under the nature centers below so you WILL have that as an alternative.

Please be aware that you should always check official sources before you go!


  • All of these amazing places are FREE to the public (except for paying parking for some of the regional and wilderness parks)
  • Please, please, please DONATE to these place to keep them open and well-funded. I think they are very worthy of every penny in a child’s piggy bank — especially if that child feels a connection to the land after the visit.
  • Please, please, please THANK the volunteers you meet. Shake their hand, give them a hug, praise them for all the work they do to keep these places open and functioning for our children to experience a different kind of outdoors in Orange County.
  • Buy gifts from the gift shops where a portion of the proceeds goes to support the resource and often LOCAL artisans sell their products. Also worthy of piggy bank money!
  • If you aren’t happy with the limited hours of operation, send a letter to let the parks know these centers are in demand. Donate. Or volunteer your services!

I hold these places dear and I hope you and your family find joy in discovering the many different pockets of nature that Orange County has to offer. Respect these treasures and tread lightly while you are there.

Originally posted in April 2014.

The Contemporary Homeschooler

Thursday 20th of April 2017

This is a wonderful list!!! I've been doing nature activities for years, and some of these were new to me. Thanks!

Pam Carrie

Thursday 13th of April 2017

Your list is WONDERFUL!!! Thanks for spending so much time on it. You gave us some great hints on places to visit. There is also a small nature center in Dana Point that offers tours and hikes for adults and kids. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the area: Dana Point Nature-Interpretive Center.

Michele Whiteaker

Friday 14th of April 2017

Good catch! How could I leave it out? It's added to the list.

Taulbee McJunkin

Thursday 23rd of April 2015

I love your post and the fact that you are sharing so much with the world. I am currently in Ireland and will be a new resident of Orange County in a week. Learning about the area thru your eyes is refreshing!

Lori Whalen

Monday 7th of April 2014

Thanks for writing this great post! Such great advice. YES, please do thank our volunteers for helping keep our doors open. We couldn't do it without them, and they REALLY appreciate being thanked for volunteering.

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