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Family Travel Files Ezine Family Vacations Resource
Orange County with Zoo Nights, Edgy Art, and a Christmas Train. Looking for quick, easy, affordable fun to share with your kids or grandkids in Southern Califronia? I am passing along the best Orange County family vacation ideas for review.
Here’s the scoop. Orange County may be one of the best-kept secrets in Southern California. True it always comes up as the destination with cheap flights. And while many families may fly in to Orange County and head for Disney it’s really not the only family vacation formula for fun. But really what else is there?  Within minutes of the airport there’s a variety of things to do with kids and during the holiday season - the crazy time between Thanksgiving and the early part of January – the area sparkles with good old fashioned fun.
Ride the Christmas Train. Each holiday season Irvine Park Railroad creates a magical Christmas Train experience taking passengers through Irvine Regional Park on an enchanting night time adventure to meet Santa Claus.  The train departs each weekend from the brightly-lit train station and drops passengers at Santa’s Village. After visiting with Santa, it’s back on the train for a ride through the magical “Tunnel of Lights”.   (Irvine Regional Park 1 Irvine Park Road Orange, CA 92869. (714) 973-6835, 973-6836 or

Imagine at Pretend City Children's Museum. Any time of year this is a delightful place to share time with your tykes.  Created for children ages infant to 10, the interactive "city" atmosphere encourages youngsters to explore and best of all pretend to be grown-up by going to work, buying groceries, setting a table, singing a song, mailing a letter, visiting the doctor, and using an ATM. Pretend Children's Museum Post Office in Orange County, CAn sBonus points: During the holiday season the museum provides an array of special activities for families including themed art studio sessions, mad science activities, storytelling, a Christmas countdown, a Las Posadas Fiesta, and Festival of Kwanzaa.  (Pretend City Children's Museum 29 Hubble Irvine, CA.(949) 428-3900 or

Discover Orange County Zoo. Located within the Irvine Park complex in the city of Orange, the zoo spans 477 wilderness acres. The population make up showcases animals and plants native to the American Southwest. On any visit expect to see black bears, coati, coyotes, island foxes, ocelot, porcupine, mountain lions, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, great horned owls, and turkey vultures. Bonus Points: For tiny tykes, the zoo also features a barnyard with domestic goats, Jacob sheep, pot-bellied pigs, doves, and pheasants. Here’s the deal. From any cell phone it is now possible to access a free audio guide recently created by the zoo staff. Hear about all of the zoo’s residents from the animal caretakers. Orange County Zoo Christmas CelebrationsWait for it! Christmas at the OC Zoo includes story time with Mrs. Claus and a visit with Santa plus seasonally inspired crafts and holiday face painting. Many of the zoo animals receive their own treats hidden inside Christmas trees. And the most popular activity is riding Irvine Park Railroad’s annual Christmas Train.  (Orange County Zoo 1 Irvine Park Road Orange, CA or

Celebrate a Victorian Christmas. Every year for more than three decades Heritage Hill Historical Park in Lake Forest has recreated a Victorian style Christmas with a Southern California twist. It’s been more than a decade since our family attended the event, dipped candles and ate too much gingerbread but I am happy to say the festive tradition continues and is an excellent place to share fun and create memories. Each year the park’s historic buildings are festively in order to frame the holiday happening which includes musicians, craft vendors, and tasty food. Bonus Points: Hands-on activities include butter churning, candle dipping, Victorian-inspired crafts, and cookie decorating with Mrs. Claus. Wait for it! Each year the park conducts a Candlelight Walk. For the event the park is transformed with more than a 1,000 luminarias, carolers and musicians, storytellers and flamenco dancers creating a magical holiday atmosphere with Saint Nick, warm cider, cocoa, and homemade confections.
Prepare to be inspired. I cannot resist including Beall Center for Art & Technology on the list even though it is a non traditional holiday venue. I love this museum because is a place where imaginations are stretched almost daily. The purpose of Beall Center is to showcase the very latest relationships between the studio arts, sciences, and engineering, and in so doing has essentially redefined the museum/gallery experience, both in content and form by connecting artist to artist, and artist to audience. Exhibitions change throughout the year creating new WOWs with each installation. Bonus Points: From time to time Beall Center offers free family days always associated with a new exhibition. These events typically include hands on art and science activities, art and technology demonstrations, and videos. (949) 824-6206 or email  (Claire Trevor School of the Arts at Beall Center for Art & Technology for Art & Technology 712 Arts Plaza University of California, Irvine Irvine, CA. (949) 824-4339 or

Location on the planet. Orange County includes the communities of Irvine, Buena Park and Costa Mesa. The area offers quick, easy access to beaches,  shopping, parks and natural spaces. Disneyland is 20 minutes from Irvine.
Make it happen. Our family vacation directory has options for creating the perfect family vacation base. For more ideas go to

Information about OC Parks provided by Kristi Bergstrom, OC Staff Specialist and additional comments provided by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files. Updated copyright 2017.

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