Fifteen miles south sits Mission San Juan Capistrano. Founded in 1776 by Junípero Serra, the mission is home to the beautiful ruins of the Great Stone Chapel, the 18th-century Serra Chapel, and acres of cultivated gardens. Little ones, however, will be especially smitten with the Kids’ Clubhouse. In this interactive space, tykes can build arches out of blocks or “weave” vinyl strips into a huge basket. At lunchtime, kids (and adults) can buy fish chow at the gatehouse and feed the koi swimming in the fountains.
Your visit wouldn't be complete without a trip to the beach, and given Orange County’s 42-mile coastline, you’ve got options. Avoid the larger crowds by heading south to Doheny State Beach in Dana Point. The palm-fringed, white sand beach is classic SoCal, down to the bevy of surfers bobbing offshore. (Doheny’s break so impressed the Beach Boys, they name-dropped it in “Surfin’ USA.”) Onshore, cobblestone-lined tide pools at the north end lure land-based explorers, where you might glimpse a sea snail, a skittering crab, or—on rare occasions—an octopus. Once everyone has let off a little steam, take a moment, close your eyes, and listen to the tide roll in. —Megan McCrea