Orange County has some of the best regional parks and they’re great places for family gatherings and weekend adventures. In addition to the standard play areas and picnic tables, Orange County parks offer amenities like fishing lakes, sports fields, camp sites, and hiking trails.
Most Orange County Regional Parks are open during the summer from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and during the winter from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Most also charge a parking fee of $3.00 per car Monday – Friday, and $5 per car on Saturday and Sunday. Parking fees may be higher on holidays and during special events. For more information about regional parks visit OC Parks.
Carbon Canyon Regional Park
4442 Carbon Canyon Road, Brea
Carbon Canyon Regional Park is perfect for spending a Sunday with friends and family enjoying the outdoors. The 164-acre park is features a 4-acre lake for fishing, picnic areas, paved trails, sports facilities, and a 3-acre grove of Redwood trees. The Redwoods are accessible via a 1.1 mile out-and-back hike out along a dirt trail. The hike is relatively easy and is worth the walk to enjoy a stroll under the canopy of these majestic trees in one of the only groves here in Southern California. In addition to the Redwood grove, there is a native garden, several fun playgrounds with unique features, volleyball areas, and much more to enjoy at this spacious and unique Orange County Regional Park. This park can get hot during the summer so if you plan on hiking, bring plenty of water or aim for getting started early in the day.
Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park
19251 Seapoint Avenue, Huntington Beach
This is the only free regional park in the OC Parks collection. The website calls this area the first phase of the park as there are plans to extend the area to include trails connecting Wieder Regional Park to Huntington Beach Central Park. As is, Wieder Park is a popular spot for early morning toddler time and after school play dates thanks to the unique play equipment. With the majority of Huntington Beach featuring the same type of playground at every park and school, Wieder’s plastic, climbable slide structures, spinners, and rope webs are a super fun alternative. There’s also a large grass area, a small trail lining the fence for kids to explore, and clean restrooms with an outside sink. The only downfall to this park is that there is only room for 24 cars to park and it fills up quickly during peak play time and on weekends.
Irvine Regional Park
1 Irvine Park Road, Orange
Irvine Regional Park is one of the most popular parks in Orange County. The location is packed full of fun family activities and educational programs all inside 491 acres. Visitors can enjoy six playgrounds located throughout the park, paved trails for walking and biking, a lake with paddle bike and boat rentals, softball fields, picnic tables, and easy access to restrooms. In addition to the traditional features, there is also a children’s train ride that chugs through the park, a three mile equestrian trail, children’s pony rides, and concession stands. The nature center is open on select days throughout the month. The park hosts many popular events throughout the year like the Annual Pumpkin Patch and the Christmas Train to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. Irvine Regional Park is also home to the Orange County Zoo. This small but fantastic zoo only charges $2 for admission and visitors will see a variety of animals including bears, mountain lions, coyote, snakes, a bobcat, and porcupines. There is a petting zoo near the entrance. The majority of the zoo residents were rescues that were injured and cannot be returned to the wild, like the mountain lion duo that live here. The two cubs were found in Oregon in 2012 with no mother and were close to starving to death. Now, they are some of the most popular residents at the OC Zoo.
Laguna Niguel Regional Park
28241 La Paz Road, Laguna Niguel
Laguna Niguel Regional park is most well know for the fishing. The 44-acre lake is stocked with bass, catfish, and trout (winter months only). The other unique feature to Laguna Niguel Regional Park is Kite Hill, an open space area that is perfect for remote control gliders. Hiking trails follow the lake’s shoreline and travel into the park, where additional paved and unpaved paths are available for walking. There are two playgrounds with fun play features, a bike trail through the park, two volleyball courts with sand, and four lighted tennis courts. Group picnic areas are available for up to 250 people. The group picnic shelters are available to reserve for a fee and the remaining areas are available on a first come first serve basis. This park fills up quickly, especially during the summer months.
Mason Regional Park
18712 University Drive, Irvine
Mason Regional Park has a lot to offer for locals. The 9-acre lake is a popular spot for model boat sailing. The Orange County Model Sailing Club uses Mason Regional for their weekly club meetings as well as other large club events. There is no fishing allowed in the lake here. There are paved trails throughout the park for walking or riding, with physical fitness course stations located along the path. There is an additional 123-acre nature area open for exploration where you might spot rabbits, lizards, roadrunners, and quail. If you need space for a large event, Mason has an outdoor group area that can accommodate up to 500 people. There are several playgrounds here with three separate tot lots, and there are several unique features on the play structures at Mason.
Mile Square Regional Park
16801 Euclid Street, Fountain Valley
Mile Square Regional Park is a busy park. Weekends are packed with family and friends picnicking, playing games, and enjoying the playgrounds. The park is a sports lovers dream with three golf courses and fields for soccer, baseball, and softball. There is an archery range and two lakes for fishing. An annual kids fishing derby is held here every March. There is a paved walking path with exercise stations located throughout the park. Mile Square also has a large nature area that is occasionally open to the public. This is a fun area to explore with little ones and showcases examples of native habitat – but keep an eye out, as coyotes have been spotted here at times. Many community events are held here including day camps, concerts in the park, and archery classes. In the middle of the large lake located near Edinger there are two small islands and many seabird and duck species make their home in Mile Square Park. Some of the species are quite unique so this is a great spot for bird watchers.
Ralph B. Clark Regional Park
8800 Rosecrans Avenue, Buena Park
Ralph B. Clark Regional Park is located in Buena Park at Beach Boulevard and Rosecrans Avenue. There is plenty of open, grassy space here to spread out, but there are also several unique features to this location. There are paved paths throughout the park for walking and biking, and there is a dirt hiking trail around the perimeter of the park for walking that extends up into the sandstone bluffs above the park. There is a stocked three acre lake for fishing, four tennis courts, and a sports complex for softball and baseball. The most unique element of this park is the Interpretive Center which houses a small paleontology museum. Visitors can view fossils from prehistoric creatures like early mammals and marine life that inhabited the Orange County area. Fossils on display include giant ground sloths, whales, ring-tailed cats, and a unique ancient llama. Keep an eye on the calendar for fun annual events held here like Family Fossil Day and Prehistoric OC. Kids who are over 8 years old are often invited to view the fossil beds during these exciting events.
Santiago Oaks Regional Park
2145 N. Windes Drive, Orange
Santiago Oaks is a personal favorite and one of our most-visited regional parks. The 1,700 acre park offers miles of hiking trails for all skill levels. Hike to the ridgetop for panoramic views of surrounding Orange County, or stay on the easy, lower trails and explore native habitat, an historic dam, and a 1938 ranch house turned nature center. We love spending time at the dam and have watched it change over the years. During droughts, the kids climb on the rocks that rest in the center of the lower dam. During significant rainy seasons, the rocks disappear and they skip rocks and search for turtles instead. The parks hills spring to life with wildflowers and turn a beautiful emerald green after a good rain. This dog-friendly regional park is ideal for family adventures and offers a playground, restrooms, picnic tables and BBQs, equestrian trails, bike trails, and a reception/ceremony area for weddings and other events.
|Best Hiking and Mountain Biking Trails in The OC||Wildflowers at Santiago Oaks Regional Park|
|Irvine Ranch Open Space Preserve||Best Picnic Spots in Orange County|
|Orange County Great Park||Irvine Lake|
Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, an expert at exploring all that Orange County has to offer, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.