Family (and Budget) Friendly Weekend Ideas in OC

Despite what reality television would have you believe, the real moms of Orange County are just as busy trying to juggle family, relationships and responsibilities as women everywhere else. And while there are plenty of tourist stops and globally-known attractions to be found in and around OC, families looking for affordable weekend fun that doesn’t include a giant people trap built by a mouse can sometimes feel at a loss. Here’s a look at some locals-only activities in your own backyard that you may have overlooked.

The Noguchi Sculpture Garden

Stashed away behind South Coast Plaza and a cluster of office buildings is a gorgeous sculpture garden created by famed Japanese-American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi. Created from mixes of stone, water, natural elements, foliage, tile and more, the garden isn’t huge, but it looks completely different depending on what time of year and day (or night) you visit.

Pack a lunch and then let your kids explore and take pictures. There are several opportunities for interesting photos utilizing shadow and light, and this might just become your new go-to place for a refreshing, Zen afternoon.

The Environmental Nature Center

On 16 th  Street in Newport Beach you’ll find three and a half acres of nature and wonder. Marshes, woodlands, forests, islands, and more are all represented at the ENC, which represents just about every landscape in California.

Walk along nature trails and explore flora and fauna, or sign up for one of the center’s famous nature walks or experiences. There are children’s camps in winter and summer, as well as fairs in the fall and spring. Plus with a calendar that includes things like yoga in nature, hummingbird walks, stories under the stars and world of wolves, there is always something new to do.

The Lyon Air Museum

Located on the west side of John Wayne Airport, the Lyon Air Museum exhibits some of the rarest and most unique operational vehicles and aircraft anywhere in the world. Here, kids and adults alike can check out aircraft like the B-25 Bomber, B-17 Flying Fortress, and a Douglas A-26 “Invader” painted its ferocious best.

And as impressive as these planes are, they’re not the only lure of the Lyon. The impressive collection also includes military vehicles, tanks, antique cars, and even some wild military motorcycles unlike any you’ve ever seen.

The Santa Ana River Trail

Stretching across 110 miles of flat land, city, ocean, and mountain, the Santa Ana River Trail is a fantastic way to get moving with your family. Depending on what part of the trail you’re on, you’ll find plenty of spots to stop and rest, picnic, or play.

If you’re an experienced mountain biker or hiker, check out the upper trail. It’s rougher terrain, but great for families with teens or older children experienced with this type of environment. The middle trail is flat and mostly urban, making it the perfect path for jogging, rollerblading, and horseback riding. For a leisurely bike ride or walk with an ocean view, the lower trail is your best bet.

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Beach Pit BBQ

1676 Tustin Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 645-7427

A menu full of authentic Southern BBQ, for the true BBQ lover, combined with lighter options including wraps, salads and pizzas– all served with a generous side of Southern hospitality to please the whole family. Enjoy eating in the relaxed atmosphere of picnic tables or call in an order to pick up.

Bluewater Grill

630 Lido Park Dr.
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(949) 675-3474

Bluewater is casual, fun, owner-operated, offers a kid's menu, oyster bar, patio dining and full bar with a great wine list. Come in an enjoy our legendary hospitality.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Anaheim GardenWalk

321 W. Katella Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 635-4867

A small chain of seafood restaurants committed to providing a casual environment where everyone can enjoy a great meal and have some fun too.

​Buca di Beppo

7979 Center Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(714) 891-4666

Dine with family and friends while enjoying the Italian traditions of food, friendship and hospitality. In the spirit of Italian culture, our dishes are served family style and are meant to be shared. The full Buca menu is available To Go, and many locations offer Curb Service.


Huntington Beach Pier

317 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
(714) 374-6446

Enjoy our sun soaked, beachfront setting at the base of the Huntington Beach Pier with farther-than-the-eye-can-see views of the Pacific. We offer you and your family a menu of mouthwatering Hawaiian-inspired cuisine with something for everyone.

Knowlwood Restaurant

14952 Sand Canyon Ave
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 857-8927

Knowlwood Restaurants also provides an historical atmosphere in a friendly, relaxed, and family-oriented environment. We have televisions and arcade games for entertainment for the young and the young at heart.

Lazy Dog Café

16310 Beach Blvd
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 500-1140

Whether you're hosting an important business lunch or having dinner with the kids, The Lazy Dog Café gives you the quality and consistency you should expect for a price that will surprise you. Take out is available.

Maggiano's Little Italy   

South Coast Plaza

3333 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 546-9550

We love for people to share a taste here and there. However, if you really want to experience an Italian-American tradition, order from our dedicated family style menu. Carry out menu available depending on location.

Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant          

8039 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90620
(714) 220-4065

One of America's largest and most popular single-location, full-service, family restaurants, Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant has been serving up Cordelia Knott's fried chicken, homemade biscuits and boysenberry pies since 1934. Located outside the main gate of Knott's Berry Farm, this family dining institution actually formed the basis for the theme park itself.

Rainforest Café          

1515 S. Disneyland Dr.
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 772-0413

Rainforest Cafe' has something for everyone! Younger guests can enjoy items from the new kids' menu! Plus where else can you eat a volano for dessert? With an realistic environment bring the kids to eat in a tropical jungle, Rainforest Cafe' a wild place to eat and shop.


505 Spectrum Center Dr
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 753-7829

Travel back in time and enjoy a family meal at Ruby's. Plus kids eat free every Tuesday after 4 p.m.

Steakhouse 55   

Disneyland Hotel

1150 Magic Way
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 778-6600
Modern steakhouse inside the Disneyland Hotel features California favorites for adults and kids

The Old Spaghetti Factory   

2110 Newport Blvd
Newport, CA 92663
(949) 675-8654

For more than a generation, families and friends have been coming to The Old Spaghetti Factories, located across the United States, to enjoy our delicious food, charming atmosphere and friendly service. We invite you to dine amidst fine antiques, collected from around the world, while savoring perfectly cooked pasta and spaghetti sauces, freshly made, using only the finest ingredients.

Tiffy's Coffee Shop   

1060 W Katella Ave
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 635-1801

Across the street from Disney's California Adventure, this family-owned coffee shop offers the best homemade ice cream in Anaheim. But in-the-know locals and smart tourists come here for the reasonably-priced menu featuring some greatest hits from the American melting pot such as homemade soups, salads, gourmet burgers, barbecue ribs, and tender prime rib.

Watson's Drug Store Ice Cream   

116 E Chapman Ave
Orange, CA 92866
(714) 633-1050

OC landmark on Orange’s traffic circle for American diner fare and ice cream specialties.

Yard House

620 Spectrum Center Dr
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 753-9373

For pint-size guests the kid's klub includes a 12 page activity book, fresh to order menu items and a kustom kooler. The Yard House plays classic rock and roll on its state of the art sound system while an abundance of flat screens showcase the day's sports and special events.

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