El Dorado Nature Center is right across the Orange County line in Long Beach. It's a beautiful, expansive park with some fun playgrounds. However, try starting at the Nature Center to take an easy family hike and feel immersed in nature. Closed Mondays. Parking fee.
This is another one on the northern border of OC, but it's worth the trek. The exploration alone is super fun for kids because it feels like there are secret passageways and surprises at every turn. Look for turtles in the moat. The playground OFF the island recently got an update, too. FREE.
There are lots of lists out there, but this one from KidsGuide has been my go-to list for years. Just know that LOTS of families might have the same idea as you! So this is maybe the most potential for crowds on this whole Winter Breaklist.
The zoo is such a deal at $2 per person. Bonus if you already have an OCParks.com pass and don't have to pay for parking. While there, you can take pony rides, rent a surrey bike, go for a nature hike or play on one of the many playgrounds dotted throughout the park. Bring a picnic and stay a while.
This is such a unique play experience and we are so lucky to have an adventure playground like this in Orange County. There are only a handful of adventure playgrounds in the U.S. and we have 3 right here in OC (Huntington Beach only open during summer, Yorba Linda redesigned and set to open in Spring 2023). There is also a famous one in Berkeley in Northern California. Bring a change of clothes because the kids are meant to get messy and maybe even muddy here.
Where are my train kids? I had one who had at least a year of train obsession. Luckily, there is no shortage of places to go for kids who love trains! I just updated this post in 2022 with all the latest spots.
Accessible playgrounds tend to be favorites for all abilities and ages! They often make it to the top of most popular parks lists. There's also a link inside this post to accessible parks in LA from LA Parks.
Turtle Rock Community Park has a lovely little stream running nearby the playground, but also throughout the nature center. It is fun to just sit and watch the ducks or hear the water bubbling over the rocks.
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 my favorites are in this post and also ones that are a little further afield, but worth the trip. Some are free, some charge an entrance. Always look at the membership options because sometimes there are reciprocal admissions that either get you into other gardens or get you in at a discount!
You might think of these at summer destinations, but they are so much more fun during the winter! You don't have to compete as much for space and it just hits different in the winter. Bundle up the kids in mittens and puffy jackets since it will be a bit more breezy at the beach which will add to the chill. Or maybe you'll luck out and it will be one of those unusually warm winter days?