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Beyond Disneyland – Great Things to Do in Southern California with Kids

Beyond Disneyland – Great Things to Do in Southern California with Kids


Los Angeles (and specifically Orange County) is one of my favorite places to spend time because there is so much to do in this sunny SoCal area! Besides Disneyland in Anaheim, there are other amusements very close in Buena Park, Santa Ana, Valencia and San Juan Capistrano. And you can’t forget the sandy beach side fun all along the Pacific Ocean. These are my suggestions for things to do in Southern California with kids, beyond Disneyland!

Things To Do in Southern California With Kids

Hey, y’all know how much I love Disneyland! But Southern California is more than just a single amusement park. Come to Los Angeles for one thing and you’ll miss out on some really cool attractions. There are some great places to explore in Southern California with kids. I’ve compiled a list of my top don’t-miss things in Orange County and beyond.

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Of course you can't miss Disneyland when visiting SoCal! But these are the top 10 can't-miss things to see and do in Southern California (other than Disneyland!)

4 Things to Do at Knott’s Berry Farm

With humble beginnings in the 1930s, Knott’s Berry Farm has built upon the success of the boysenberry and Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken to create a family-friendly destination. The theme park, restaurant, water park and historical  Consider an overnight at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel so all the Knott’s fun will be within quick walking distance. The large Knott’s compound has several offerings for family entertainment.

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park celebrates at their annual Boysenberry Festival. See what amazing boysenberry-inspired foods there are to taste as well as a guide on what to see and experience during this unique special event! #VisitBuenaPark

1. Knott’s Berry Farm Theme Park

Looking for family fun? How about thrill rides? What about history and a look back into the old West? Or maybe you just love really good food! Well, Knott’s Berry Farm has you covered on all fronts. With Camp Snoopy for little visitors and extreme coasters for big kids & adults, there is entertainment for all. We’ve loved our trips to Knott’s Berry Farm over the years (I’ve been visiting since I was very young). After Disneyland, Knott’s is our favorite theme park in Southern California with kids.

Don’t miss Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies, our favorite live show. The amazingly detailed Calico Mine Ride is a don’t-miss family attraction! And my big kids hit all the thrill rides like Xcellerator and GhostRider. 

Of course you can't miss Disneyland when visiting SoCal! But these are the top 10 can't-miss things to see and do in Southern California (other than Disneyland!)

Knott’s Berry Farm day passes are considerable less expensive than Disneyland. Purchase discounted Knott’s Berry Farm tickets through my partner Get Away Today (under tickets, click “Huntington Beach” to find them).

I highly recommend planning your Knott’s Berry Farm visit in the spring, to take advantage of the popular Boysenberry Festival. Dining on all the boysenberry treats is a definite highlight!

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park celebrates at their annual Boysenberry Festival. See what amazing boysenberry-inspired foods there are to taste as well as a guide on what to see and experience during this unique special event! #VisitBuenaPark

SoCal Insider Tip: Line waits for the rides in Camp Snoopy can be ridiculously long, especially on the weekend. If traveling with younger kids, read more about how to maximize your time with little ones at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Use code REWRITTEN to save an extra $10 off your Southern California vacation package of 2+ days!

2. Knott’s Soak City

Making a splash under the California sun is a great way to spend the day! Knott’s Soak City features 7 new water attractions including one with an Aqua-Launch chamber – the floor drops out from under your feet! I love a good lazy river and the one at Knott’s Soak City is one-third mile in length – one of the longest water park lazy rivers in the world. Knott’s Soak City is located across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm theme park.

SoCal Insider Tip: This seasonal water park is usually open in mid-May to early September. Be sure to check the schedule online as Soak City is only open select days during the season.

3. Knott’s Independence Hall

History lovers will enjoy a side-trip to Knott’s Independence Hall, an exact, brick-by-brick replica of the original building in Philadelphia. This is the nation’s only exact replica of the Philadelphia landmark. View a replica of the Liberty Bell, explore presidential artifacts and hear the forefathers discuss the Declaration of Independence.

Independence Hall is located outside Knott’s Soak City (across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm) and is open every day except Christmas from 10 am – 5 pm. Admission to Knott’s Independence Hall is always free.

Of course you can't miss Disneyland when visiting SoCal! But these are the top 10 can't-miss things to see and do in Southern California (other than Disneyland!)

4. Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant

Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park offers a pretty great All Day Dining Plan. However I still recommend leaving the park for at least lunch or dinner to hit this popular restaurant. You can sometimes walk-in, but to avoid a long wait it’s best to make a reservation.

Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant has been remodeled within the last few years. The new design reflects a rustic chic that is so popular now. The restaurant is very large, with three indoor dining rooms, outdoor seating and a full-service bar (with boysenberry-infused cocktails!)

Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant

Order the chicken dinner, you won’t regret it! Each complete dinner comes with handmade biscuits, side salad, choice of cabbage or cherry rhubarb, three pieces of fried chicken and mashed potatoes smothered with gravy. And for dessert,  your choice of boysenberry pie or boysenberry sherbet. Seriously, the BEST fried chicken!

SoCal Insider Tip: Share the chicken dinner- the portions are huge. But order an extra dessert, because you won’t want to share the boysenberry pie!

5. Discovery Cube Science Center

Just down the freeway about ten minutes from Disneyland is the Discovery Cube Orange County, a science center with a hands-on focus for kids. Ongoing exhibits (like the water lab and healthy kitchen) are mixed in with limited time exhibits (like Rainforest Adventure). During spring break, their annual Bubblefest is can’t miss (extra add-on cost per ticket).

Bubblefest at Discovery Cube OC

SoCal Insider Tip: The Discover Cube does not allow in and out privileges and guests cannot bring in snacks or food. There is a Bean Sprouts restaurant inside with healthier options, however the prices are higher than the usual fast food choices.

Discovery Cube OC

6. Dining Suggestions All Over the OC

Looking for a reliable and delicious lunch spot in SoCal that the entire family will enjoy? These four restaurants have locations all over the OC. A quick Google search while you’re out-and-about should pinpoint them on a map for you. I’ve chosen chain dining so where ever you are in the area, one of these restaurants should be close by.

Rubio’s Coastal Grill

More than just seafood, through you should at least try the original fish taco. Beer battered fish drizzled with white sauce and topped with cabbage and salsa, it’s a California tradition! I’m a fan of the loaded grilled chicken nachos (big enough to share). Don’t forget to try the salsa verde and roasted chipotle salsa, they are delicious!

Rubio's nachos with chicken
Rubio’s Coastal Grill nachos with chicken

Blaze Pizza

I love pizza but I don’t always love the toppings that my husband wants to order. And the two little ones always just want pepperoni. I like that Blaze Pizza is super fast – pizzas cook in 180 seconds! And everyone can order their own personal sized pizza with whatever toppings they want.

Baby with a messy face eating at Souplantation
Don’t forget the soft serve after your Souplantation meal!


This is one restaurant we frequently regularly because it offers something for everyone. The large salad bar has amazingly fresh toppings. Then there are the fresh baked breads and muffins, fruit, pasta and soups. You won’t leave hungry! I sign up for their email list and get great coupons.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company

Fancier dining than you expect for a brewery (crispy tofu appetizers, black garlic fondue, veggie linguine). Or course there’s plenty for kids too, including burgers, mac and cheese and root beer floats. Plan ahead and call to book a brewery tour during your visit.

Of course you can't miss Disneyland when visiting SoCal! There are so many great things to do in Orange County with kids! These are the top 10 can't-miss things to see and do in Southern California (other than Disneyland!) #VisitBuenaPark #Snoopy

7. Hit the Beach

A free day on the sand is a great way to take in Southern California with kids. No matter where you are along the coast of Southern California, you’re never too far from the sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Beaches in SoCal feature some great view points, walking trails, tide pools and yes, even ocean swimming. Note that these are not tropical waters and even in the early summer, the Pacific Ocean can still be quite chilly. If you plan on visiting the beach early in the day, bring at least a hoodie to keep you warm from the “May Gray” or “June Gloom”.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach offers ten miles of coastline for surfing, swimming or sun on the sand. The 10.5-mile Back Bay Loop Trail in Upper Newport Bay is great for hiking and biking. Kids will be drawn to the Balboa Fun Zone amusement areas with the waterfront Ferris Wheel and arcade games.

Southern California beach with dad and baby

Huntington Beach

Enjoy Huntington Beach’s ten unbroken miles of sand for swimming and sand castles by day and beach bonfires at night. If it’s salty sea air in your hair that you’re after consider a ride on Captain Dave’s Dolphin And Whale Watching Safari. Hi-speed catamarans take you out in search of gray whales, blue whales and dolphins. Discounted tickets for the Safari can be found through my partner Get Away Today (under tickets click “Huntington Beach” to find them).

Laguna Beach

Seven miles of coastline include tucked-away coves and viewing-only tide pools in beautiful Laguna Beach. This is also home to the famous Pageant of the Masters theater show in which actors recreate famous works of art (you have to see it to believe it!)

8. Six Flags Magic Mountain

If you have plans to drive into northern Los Angeles county, a day at Six Flags Magic Mountain is a thrill-lover’s delight. Recommended for older kids and teens who meet a 48″ height restriction to take advantage of the most rides. Rides like X2, Twisted Colossus and SUPERMAN: Escape from Krypton are fan favorites. Everyone should wear closed toed shoes and not flip flops or sandals that will fly off on rides.

Six Flags Magic Mountain map

There is very little for toddlers, preschoolers and younger kids to do in the park. If you have younger kids with you, they’ll be able to ride mostly in the Bugs Bunny World area. Elsewhere in the park, they’ll likely be relegated to the stroller. Consider bringing someone in your group who doesn’t want to go on the intense rides and can stay back to entertain young kids.

Six Flags Magic Mountain entrance fountain with kids

SoCal Insider Tip: The drive through Los Angeles on a weekday is no joke. It took us 2 hours to drive north and 3 hours to drive back south on a Wednesday visit. Consider a late night drive after busy traffic dies down then stay at a hotel in the Valencia area. Or perhaps plan a weekend visit, when traffic will be slightly better but park crowds heavier. It’s a trade-off to think about.

9. Dinner & a Show at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament

I’ve visited the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament several times while in the Buena Park area (you can read about taking kids to the Medieval Times experience here). In a nutshell, this attraction is well worth the cost! Exploring the castle grounds during the pre-show is fun. The meal is hands-on delicious. And the show is really top notch entertainment.

Purchase discounted Medieval Times tickets in a bundle with Knott’s Berry Farm from my travel partner Get Away Today.

Medieval Times in Buena Park

10. Farrell’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour

Farrell’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a lot of fun! Yes, they have burgers, salads and sandwiches. But save room for dessert because there are shakes, build-your-own sundaes and a candy shop with old-fashioned favorites.

Back when I was a kid, Farrell’s was the place to have your birthday party. I have distinct memories of spending one of my earliest birthdays hiding under the table because my family had ordered THE ZOO! This enormous ice cream sundae big enough to feed ten was delivered to your table in a loud fanfare of banging drums and sirens! Farrell’s has the same tradition today, should your family order THE ZOO.

SoCal Insider Tip: Dine on Tuesday night and the kids will eat free with the purchase of an adult entree.

Southern California with kids travel planning starts with this travel guide from Visit Buena Park. It’s filled with tips, transportation, maps and special event information.

11. Pirate’s Dinner Adventure

Just a block away from Medieval Times, Pirate’s Dinner Adventure is another family fun dinner show. This show combines a hearty meal with live entertainment, music and audience participation. There’s a little something here for everyone from dramatic fight scenes, acrobatics, a fun story line and even a Loch Ness monster. Oh and I forgot to mention…shirtless pirates! Read more in this Pirate’s Dinner Adventure review.

Pirate's Dinner Adventure in Buena Park

Purchase discounted Pirate’s Dinner Adventure tickets from my travel partner, Get Away Today.

12. Universal Studios Hollywood

Like Six Flags Magic Mountain, taller height restrictions and added thrills make Universal Studios Hollywood more appropriate for older kids and teens. But if you have kids who enjoy movies or thrills, this is a great park that covers all the bases. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed area is can’t miss! This theme park is also a cleaner and more safe option of getting an authentic “Hollywood experience” in SoCal with kids instead of the gritty Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Be sure to check out my first timer’s guide to Universal Studios Hollywood for all the helpful touring tips. Purchase discounted Universal Studios Hollywood tickets from Get Away Today, my travel partner.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

12. San Juan Capistrano

Visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, the legendary location where the swallows return each year. These birds migrate 6,000 miles from Goya, Argentina to San Juan Capistrano in large groups, arriving every March 19th. Founded nearly 200 hundred years ago, guests visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano can still see the chapel where Saint Junipero Serra celebrated Mass. Hands-on activities like basket weaving, art and both audio and guided tours are engaging for older children. There are also 10-acres of beautiful gardens and fountains for little ones who just want to be outdoors.

SoCal Insider Tip: There are a number of businesses occupying historic buildings around the Mission, including several museums that offer more details on the heritage of the area.

Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California with kids in front
Photo credit: LaVerne McMillion

Looking for More to Do in Southern California With Kids?

For more information on what to do in Los Angeles and Orange County, be sure to download the Buena Park travel guide stuffed with tips, transportation, maps and special event information. There are some great ideas for things to do in Southern California with kids!

There are SO many fun things for kids to do in SoCal outside of Disneyland! Check out this guide of activities to do in Southern California with kids, including amusements parks, dinner shows, beaches and where to get the best food. #MomRewritten #California #SoCal #AmusementParks

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