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18 Summer Activities Lists for Family Fun in Orange County

18 Summer Activities Lists for Family Fun in Orange County

I originally put together 6 summer activities for your family play calendar and over the years it’s turned into lots of 18 summer family fun lists for Orange County families. (If you aren’t able to be home with our kids over summer, click over to my post on OC Summer Camps with Outdoor Themes or just use this post to plan your summer activities on the weekends.)

I’m a big proponent of free play and just hanging out. I don’t want you to overschedule your kids over the summer – but routines and predictability can help caregivers and kids overcome that “lost” feeling when you drop your formal school year schedule.

Let’s start with 18 Lists for Mostly Free and Kid-Friendly Summer Fun in Orange County . . .

18 Lists for Kid-Friendly Summer Fun in Orange County

These summer fun lists will help you find the best family-friendly and kid-friendly summer activities in Orange County including: parks, beaches, beach playgrounds, libraries, summer trolleys, splash parks, accessible parks, and beach restaurants that work for families.

We'll also explore posts about things to do with kids in the beach cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point, and San Clemente.

Finally, I'll share a few How To posts about what to bring to the beach and where to picnic and barbecue for meals outdoors.

And here are the original 6 activity ideas which refer back to some of the posts above!

6 Basic Summer Activity Ideas for Your Family Calendar

#1 – “One Fun Thing”

Fellow writer, and local mom, Alii Goedecke inspires me with her One Fun Thing ideas. Her book is “the story of a family discovering it just takes One Fun Thing to brighten any day.” My family was living this lifestyle before we met Alii and read her book — but she finally put it into words for us! You don’t really need to plan anything to put this into effect. Just wake up in the morning and figure out where you can squeeze your One Fun Thing into your day. Get her book and be inspired by her story!

#2 – Beach Days

I spent 5 summers adventuring out on Beach Days with a group of other moms and their kids.  It started as a way to try 10 new beaches in one summer. However, after our first year, we narrowed it down to our favorites and rotated between the group’s favorite 3 beaches. I made up the calendar at the beginning of the summer. Then everybody knew the schedule and could factor it into their family travel and summer camp activities. No one had to RSVP or do any planning. We would just show up (or not).

#3 – Water Play Days (Water Park, Community Pool, Pool at a Family or Friend’s House)

You have to be much more watchful and supervise the kids in a water-filled setting. Consult my updated 2024 Splash Parks and Water Play post for ideas. It doesn’t have to be a different pool every week – you can pick the same pool and the kids will love it!

I used to be a swim teacher and a lifeguard. I also wrote an in-depth magazine article on summer water safety where I interviewed parents whose children had accidentally drowned. If you remember nothing else from my post, remember this:

  • Children under 4 years old MUST be within arm’s reach of you when they are in the water.
  • NEVER take your eyes off of children when they are swimming – it’s not a time to read or play with your phone.

I see parents disregard these important safety measures all the time when I am in the water. Your vigilance can save your child’s life!

#4 – Nature Center Days or Animal Encounter Days

I have a post about 17+ nature centers in or near Orange County that will more than fill these themed days over the summer. Many can be paired with short nature walks right outside the nature centers. Add in OC Zoo, Santa Ana Zoo, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and maybe the Ocean Institute – and you have over 20 days (or 2 days per week) of outdoorsy things to do.

#5 – Field Trip Days or Guided Programs

These are the days you go further afield — up to LA or down to SD. I recommend driving about 9am and returning by 2pm so you don’t get stuck in traffic.  I might even concentrate on a theme – like Gardens or Lakes. You could hit Huntington Gardens, LA Arboretum, San Diego Botanical Gardens, etc. and spread it out in field trips all summer long. Sometimes, participating in a FREE guided program close to home can be just as new an experience as traveling miles out of your way. We are so lucky to have free activity listings for Orange County at

#6 – Park Days

Good old-fashioned park days are the best. Stick close to home if you are wiped out and let the kids expend some energy. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the park map and try somewhere new. Each marker links back to a park post.

How to Calendar Your Summer Fun

Here’s how you might make those suggestions into a 5 day family calendar for summer weekdays:

  • Mon – Park Day
  • Tues – Beach Day
  • Wed – Nature Center or Animal Day
  • Thurs – Field Trip Day
  • Fri – Water Play Day

Or if you just like one or two of the categories, you could Mix & Match which might look like this:

  • Mon – Catch Up Day at Home
  • Tues – Beach Day
  • Wed – Field Trip
  • Thur – Park Day
  • Fri – Play at Home Day

Or I have some friends whose summer schedule allows for lots of spontaneity:

  • Tuesdays – Beach Days
  • Thursdays – Park Days

It doesn’t matter how you combine them, just figure out the thing that fits your family.


  • Free movie days at local theaters
  • Arts/Crafts day at home
  • Build-a-Fort day at home
  • Indoor play places

Hope all these ideas get you excited for playing all summer!

Originally published in 2017.