It’s often difficult to find a vacation that will not only please but entertain the whole family in every area. Between meals, entertainment, accommodations, and activities, how can you get your ball-of-fire 5-year-old, angst-ridden teen, and you and your husband to agree on, and actually enjoy, one location? If you're looking for a getaway from the concrete jungle that is New York City, one that will not only please but impress the whole family, the answer may be Orange County, California.
While Orange County spans across 948 square miles of land and clear, royal blue ocean, I found that a fun-filled and relaxing family getaway is best met when finding time to explore both Buena Park and Huntington Beach in one trip.
Buena Park, only 5 miles from Disneyland, 20 miles from Los Angeles, and 10 miles from Huntington Beach, is the epicenter for fun-loving families visiting the west coast. Though it is a small town, it is home to some of the country’s most famous attractions, ensuring that every second will be filled with fun from your early morning breakfast to a day at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park and a nighttime theatrical dinner show.
Huntington Beach provides a differing perspective of Orange County, designed by the California lifestyle of health and wellness. Here, your family can unwind post-amusement park fun and enjoy the laid-back, beachy atmosphere. I truly felt like I was living the surfer-lifestyle as I indulged in Acai, biked along the coast, and of course attended my first surf lesson.
If you’re interested in a family vacation that will provide the whirlwind fun of an amusement park and the peaceful relaxation of the beach, a weekend visiting both Buena Park and Huntington Beach might be the perfect trip for you.
Day 1: Buena Park
Egg's Benedict from Basilur Tea, located in The Source outdoor shopping mall.
Your days are going to be jam-packed in Buena Park and it’s important to ensure that you and the little ones get a hearty breakfast in before it starts. Buena Park recently opened a brand-new Porto’s Bakery & Café right on Beach Boulevard. The array of pastries, savory sandwiches, coffees, and their famous potato balls will guarantee that every member of your picky-family will leave happy and full. There’s a ton of seating throughout the café, including a covered outdoor patio, ideal for those with restless children. Basilur Tea is a quick breakfast spot for those who appreciate a variety of tea and possess an affinity toward eggs benedict.
Camp Snoopy's Pig Pen's Mud Buggies at Knott's Berry Farm.
With so many world-renowned attractions swirling around Orange County, you might be wondering why you should choose Knott’s Berry Farm for your amusement park fun. To start, Knott’s won’t burn a large hole in your wallet. Your little ones can visit Snoopy, teens will love the Wild West stunt shows, and everyone will want to enjoy boysenberry-themed treats that are exclusive to Orange County—the birthplace of the boysenberry. If you stay at the Knott’s hotel, you have access to the best priced park tickets as well as other great deals if you’re a Knott’s Berry Farm Passholder. The Snoopy-themed wing, pool, and sports courts make it a perfect home-away-from-home for the kids.
Another great part of Knott’s is that there are fun, changing attractions to look forward to all year round. In the Spring, visit for the Knott’s Boysenberry Festival. In the Summer, experience Ghost Town Alive! and enjoy the fourth of July fireworks show. Knott’s Scary Farm is Southern California’s original and scariest Halloween event and occurs mid-September through October. In the winter, your family can enjoy Knott’s Merry Farm, when the park transforms into a winter wonderland complete with holiday food and nightly snow fall.
For lunch, don’t even bother leaving park property. Mrs. Knott’s is a famous southern-comfort eatery with everything from fried chicken to biscuits and boysenberry pie. I strongly recommend a reservation; this place can get pretty busy!
Dinner & Evening Entertainment
Knott’s closes on the earlier side (6pm), so if you’re family is still looking for fun before heading back to the hotel, John’s Incredible Pizza Tour is open until 10pm on weekdays and 11:30pm on weekends. The mini bowling alley is a great way for the family to bond at the end of a long day. If the kids still have a few more rides left in them, there are three indoor rides too. Not to mention, this arcade offers all-you-can eat and six themed dining rooms, so you’re sure to find an option for every picky-eater in your family. My personal favorite was the Cabin Fever dining room because of the cozy cabin getaway feel.
Big Air Trampoline Park, located in the same shopping center, is open until 9pm most week nights and 11pm on the weekends. This one will surely tire your kids out before heading to bed. Don’t worry.
If you’re looking for a lax day away from the park, The Source is a beautiful outdoor mall perfect for shopping, eating, and even a little playing! The variety of global retail venues range from shoe stores to clothing stores to makeup stores and more. The cultural exploration doesn’t stop there, because The Source offers cuisine from Japan, China, Italy, and more. Not to mention plenty of coffee shops to stop at when you’re just about crashing from all of the family bonding.
Two Knight's sword fighting at at Medieval Times in Buena Park.
The non-stop fun doesn’t have to pause for a dinner break in Buena Park. Both Medieval Times and Pirate's Dinner Adventure are exciting, high-energy dinner performances that will make you feel like you’re a part of the show. At Medieval Times, feast on a chicken leg (no utensils allowed!) corn, warm garlic bread, and tomato soup while watching a jousting tournament that really gets the heart racing. Pirate's Dinner Adventure offers a similar menu and loud, rowdy pirates who will really plot each team against each other. You’ll find yourself cheering “go red!” with a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
Day 2: Huntington Beach
When you (and the kids) are tired from the non-stop, high-energy fun of Buena Park, it’s time to take a relaxing drive 15 miles to the coast of Southern California to visit Huntington Beach.
An oceanfront room at the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel.
If you want an authentic, surf city hotel stay, the Kimpton Shorebreak is a no-brainer. This modern-bojo style getaway is right across the street from the beach, with remarkable ocean views from certain rooms. The vibrant colors and surf-inspired décor will make you feel like a local. It’s convenient location allows for restaurants, surf shops, bike rental, and, of course, the beach, all within walking distance of the lobby.
Pacific Hideaway, located within the Shorebreak Resort, takes inspiration from global surf destinations, making you fully-immersed in the Huntington Beach surf-culture from the second you wake up. The breakfast options range from health-conscious overnight oats and granola parfaits to waffles and bread pudding toast that the kids will love. My favorite was definitely the Socal breakfast burrito.
Ruby's Diner, located at the end of Huntington Beach Pier.
The 1,850-foot Huntington Beach Pier is one of the longest recreational piers in the world. At the beginning of the pier, Duke’s offers out of this world seafood accompanied by out of this world ocean views; a great lunch place for the family. If you work up an appetite again by the end of the pier, you have to try a bag of fries from Ruby’s, the diner located at the very end of Huntington Beach Pier. Just be sure to keep a watchful eye over them if you’re eating outside, the seagulls are not exactly polite.
While you’re here, if you can muster up the courage, taking a surf lesson is a must. At Toes on the Nose, the surf instructors will walk you through everything, beginning with how to put on your wet suit and ending with successfully riding a wave. You’ll practice getting up on your board on dry land and be sure to get your footing before taking to the ocean. If you’re a natural and you don’t need a lesson, Toes on the Nose also offers surfboard rentals, along with bike rentals. There’s also a variety of fun surf-inspired souvenirs to prove to everyone back home that you actually surfed in Southern California! (Or at least visited a surf shop.)
If getting on the board isn’t quite for you but you still want to dive into the surf culture, the International Surfing Museum is the next best thing. Learn about the past, present, and future of surfing culture worldwide and feast your eyes on the world’s largest surfboard! Admission to the museum is a $2 donation per person. If you’re in town on a Sunday, Surfin’ Sundays is a concert series featuring a variety of surfing music, located at the Huntington Beach Pier. Best part? It’s free.
Bolsa Chica Wetlands and Ecological Reserve, the largest saltwater marsh along coastal California.
If surfing wasn’t enough of a workout, visit Bolsa Chica Wetlands and Ecological Reserve for a free tour of the largest saltwater marsh along coastal California between the Monterey Bay and the Tijuana River Estuary. Take in 1,400 acres of fresh and saltwater wetland habitat, walk over the boardwalk over the marsh, hike over five miles of trails through the lowlands, and learn about the Bolsa Chica wetlands at the Interpretative Center. This park will give you a whole new perspective on California.
Dinner & Evening Entertainment
For an array of easily accessible restaurants, shops, and activities, Pacific City is a stone’s throw away from The Kimpton and a shopping hub for everything a Southern Cali visitor might need. The architecture is inspired by beach bungalows and offers patio dining, outdoor movie nights, and lax hang-out spots with unobstructed beach views. Pacific City’s artisanal market and California culinary experience LOT 579 serves everything from gourmet sandwiches to fresh ocean-to-table seafood. A must-visit is Ola (Spanish for “wave” and Hawaiian for “life”) for delicious Mexican cuisine and beautiful views of the sunset over the Pacific. If you want to be deemed coolest parent ever, order the churros. Trust me.
If you’ve still got any room after dinner, wind-down from your action-packed, Southern California weekend with a complimentary fireside s’more on the Kimpton Shorebreak Patio. The bonfire goes on until 10pm and it is a perfect, relaxing way to end a family trip that you won’t soon forget.
Images courtesy Visit Huntington Beach and Development Counsellors International