Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Free (or Almost Free) Things to Do With Your Kids in South Orange County

Jessica DeVoe Riley from All Rileyed UpJessica DeVoe Riley at All Rileyed Up is taking us on a tour of her home base of Orange County California, and giving us the insider's scoop on some of the less-expensive things to do with children. If you missed my interview with Jessica last month don't miss it, she had some wonderful thoughts to share.


I live in South Orange County, California, approximately one hour south of LA and one hour north of San Diego. Contrary to the suspicion that I have to go to those larger cities to have any fun, there are plenty of things to do locally that any tourist to southern California might consider before they go wait in line to see Shamu or sit in an hour’s worth of traffic to move eight miles in the direction of Griffith Observatory.

San Clemente BeachSan Clemente Pier
I think it goes without saying that the beach is a fine place to spend the day. There are beaches aplenty to choose from around here, though I recommend avoiding Baby Beach and Pocce if you plan to swim because their water quality is poor (I know it’s the same ocean--I don’t get it either).

If you’re looking for somewhere to spend the entire day, I’ll have to go with the San Clemente Pier. There’s a play area, restrooms, a large parking lot, places to eat, good surf for the surfer or surfer-gawker in you, a walking trail to North Beach, and in the summers, free concerts at sunset.

Try to catch Common Sense, an area reggae band. And if you’re here in October, there’s a clam chowder taste-off where you go from booth to booth along the pier tasting that decadently fattening soup (but like everything else you eat at the beach, the calories simply get washed away).

Boris the Lobster at Dana Point InstituteDana Point Harbor
This is a fantastic marina where you can boat-gaze to your heart’s content and challenge everyone to a “Who Can Spot the Boat with the Cheesiest Name?” contest. Winner gets treated to the coffee and ice cream place or the Chocolate Soldier chocolate shop. Jon’s Fishmarket at the harbor has the best New England clam chowder of anywhere (lucky for everyone else they don’t compete in the aforementioned pier taste-off).

A brisk walk from the harbor will take you to the Ocean Institute which boasts the biggest lobster I’ve ever seen (the 25-lb “Boris”) and a replica of the Brig Pilgrim, a ship of blah blah blah historical significance. If you’re up for a short drive, I highly recommend taking the time to go to Bluff Top Trail, which gives you a view of the entire harbor from, as the name suggests, the top of the bluff.

The Brig PilgrimThe Ins and Outs of Public Parks
I was just on the phone with my sister complaining about how cold I get in the shade when the temperature drops to the 60s because I have to put on a sweater. She was in twenty degree weather in Iowa and failed to commiserate with me. So there you have it: we have beautiful weather here. Stay outdoors. The public parks of San Clemente and Dana Point are awesome places to wear your children down so that they won’t even have the energy to fight you over the lima beans served at dinnertime.

As much as I’d love to recommend Pines Park in Dana Point which has an awesome playground, a view of the ocean, and free Easter activities and concerts in the summer, they do not have a public restroom which is a serious problem when your children are at the tender age where they can only hold it for, say, twenty seconds (at the public events, they do put up port-o-potties).

Heritage Park in Dana Point also boasts free concerts in summer, as well as city festivals during the year. Creekside Park in Dana Point has the ultimate playground (imho), but because of its layout, if you have more than one child around the toddler age it gets hard to keep an eye on all of them at the same time. Talega and Sunset Parks in San Clemente are easier places to keep an eye on the little ones, and often full of children, so there are plenty of playmates for the kids.

San Clemente Farmer’s Market and First Sunday Craft Fair

Every Sunday from 9am-1pm, Avenida Del Mar in San Clemente hosts a farmers' market where you can get fresh veggies, fruits, and flowers, fish, homemade breads (the jalapeno cheddar is the bomb), salsa, tamales, popcorn, potted herbs, and then some. It’s a wonderful market to visit every Sunday to teach your children about locally grown produce.

In addition to the weekly farmers market, the first Sunday of every month offers an arts and crafts fair as well. You can get beaded jewelry, handmade paper notebooks, and for those of you who think your home isn’t complete without a unique hanging planter, look no further: there’s a lady who sells planters crafted out of conch shells, starfish, and the occasional dehydrated shark (I SO wish I could find my photo of it, but I’m disorganized).

San Clemente and Dana PointMission San Juan Capistrano
The Mission San Juan Capistrano, AKA the Jewel of the Missions, is the only place on my list that requires an admission fee, but it’s money well spent. I used to be a docent at the Mission and took many a fourth grade class and the occasional historical society around the Mission, giving them details on the Acjachemen people who dwelt on the land prior to the arrival of Fra Juníper Serra, the Great Stone Church which fell at the hands of an earthquake and a view of the remnants (which the Mission has spent a lot of money to retrofit to prevent any future earthquakes from doing them in), and the gorgeous gold reredos (altarpiece) that was shipped to the Mission in many pieces accompanied with zero instructions and a group of men who refused to ask for help in putting it together. Oh, how the women laughed when I added that detail.

Consider going on the second Saturday of the month, which is designated the Living History Day. People walk about the Mission in authentic outfits depicting the various eras of the Mission--my favorites are the pirate outfits (naturally). This month is a fun time to visit the Mission because March is when the famous swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, not to mention most of south Orange County.

You’re not a true local until you know how to identify a swallows nest (muddy beehive-like contraptions that they are). The official Swallows Day is St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th, and the city goes all out with festivities, live music, and parading the following weekend. And because I’m not above shameless self-promotion, if you stop by my blog on March 19th, I’ll be celebrating Swallows Day in the form of a special interview and giveaway. If you don’t think you’ll remember to come back to me on the 19th like my lovely swallows, then by all means, stop by today and subscribe (like I said, I’m not above shameless self-promotion).

So now you know what I do a good three-quarters of the year. I never get tired of these places. There’s too much beauty to soak up and people to watch. If you’re ever in the area and decide to check them out, keep an eye open for a gal chasing after two children. You can easily get my attention by shouting, “Hey! Aren’t you the woman who told me about the dehydrated shark planter?”


Congratulations to Donna for winning this weekend's Alison Kelley Designs Giveaway and Kathy55439 who has won the three books from Chronicle Books--please check your email boxes and respond to claim your prizes!

Sponsored by Mia Costello, running for the Anchorage School Board and by Annette Lyon's sixth novel Tower of Strength.


Jolanthe said...

From the snow of Alaska to the sunny, sunny Orange county...{grins}. Wish I lived closer to take advantage of it!

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

Nice tour. I can't wait to get home to California and the ocean.

Natural Mommie said...

Beautiful places to see...and the most important part? It's time spent with mom :)

corrie said...

My husband wants to live there so badly. When we lived in cold cold Michigan he would be continually searching for jobs in Southern California. We now live in AL and it's warmer, but I know he'd rather be in Cali.
This article makes it even more enticing! Beautiful.

All Rileyed Up said...

Thanks for the guest post Michelle!

angie said...

This is great. I rarely get to South Orange County, but it's nice to know places I should make a point to visit!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

One of my dreams is to travel around the world. Posts like this almost make up for the real thing, so nicely do they recreate the feel and vibe of a place.

Anonymous said...

What an excellent post. I'm always looking for free things to do with my kids (because they're usually better) too bad I don't live in Alaska! ha ha.

Courtney said...

Ah, apart of me wishes I lived on the beach. Sunny southern california would be so nice.

Heather said...

Great tips - I live in Nor-Cal and LOVE San Clemente - I'll have to print up all these new spots to visit then next time we're down south.

charrette said...

I've done all of these. You're totally making me homesick!

Walk of Faith Church said...

We would encourage you to visit us while you are in the area. We are in San Juan Capistrano.