It’s been two years since COVID-19 arrived on the scene and up-ended virtually every aspect of our everyday lives. Thankfully, we seem to have rounded the corner, allowing us to largely return to life as we knew it before the pandemic.

So let’s celebrate this by reclaiming some of the time we “lost” to COVID. What better way to do that than by re-engaging in some good ol’ family outings, some of which were put on hold by the virus. And what better place to do it than in our own county, where there’s no shortage of amazing places to visit and things to do.

We’ve compiled a list of places for you to consider – it includes some tried and true favorites, as well as some ideas which may be new to you. BONUS: Places identified by the letter “F” are free of charge.

Bowers Museum
2002 N. Main Street, Santa Ana, 714-567-3600
OC’s largest museum, Bowers seeks to celebrate world cultures through their arts. With a permanent collection of over 100,000 pieces and a rotating series of exhibitions, it offers something for everyone. Be sure to check out their programs designed specifically for families.

Oak Canyon Nature Center
6700 E. Walnut Canyon Road, Anaheim, 714-998-8380 (F)
A year-round stream winds through this 58-acre natural park which has trails ranging from flat to moderate incline. The on-site John J. Collier Interpretive Center – a museum with live animals and natural history exhibits – is open most weekends.

Adventure Playground
1 Beech Tree Lane, Irvine, 949-724-6808 (F)
An interactive playground featuring climbing poles and stumps, a tree house, a fort zone, art wall, and natural play areas (READ: get dirty!), this ain’t your momma’s park. Most appropriate for younger children.

Sender City at Sender One
1441 S. Village Way, Santa Ana, 714-752-3452
Looking to add some physical activity to the fun? Sender City is an indoor climbing center with “fun walls” where kids can scale building ladders, climb a wall, or balance on wall-mounted spinning gears. Other features include a giant drop slide and a “mineshaft” where you can climb in the dark. For little ones (less than 40 pounds), check out the toddler park.

Corona Del Mar Tide Pools
3712 Ocean Blvd., Corona Del Mar (F)
Creatures of all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors call the tide pools at CDM home – sea anemones, hermit crabs, small fish, crabs, starfish, and sea slugs. Be sure to check out the tide schedule before you go.

Goods and Goats Market
29458 Trabuco Creek Road, San Juan Capistrano, 949-212-4357
Don’t let the fact that they do goat yoga here scare you off! Their “Kids Playtime” affords children the opportunity to play with the goats, look for chicken eggs, and feed the hens. But beyond the animals, there’s a kid’s zipline, sandbox with antique Tonka Trucks, a Nerf shooting gallery, and a storytime.

Discovery Cube OC
2500 N. Main Street, Santa Ana, 714-542-2823
This is a place where kids explore with excitement and are captivated by curiosity. “The Cube” boasts over 100 hands-on science exhibits and includes several themed areas such as Science of Hockey, Dino Quest, Rocket Lab, Eco Challenge, and Quake Zone. Warning: Your kids won’t want to leave!

Great Park
8000 Great Park Blvd., Irvine, 919-724-6247 (F)
Here’s your chance to get a 360° look at Orange County from the sky … for free! The blazing orange Great Park balloon soars up to 400 feet high, providing upwards of 40 mile visibility on a clear day. There’s a whole host of other free activities to enjoy during your visit here, including several kid play areas and the Farm + Food Lab.

Balboa Fun Zone

600 E. Bay Ave., Newport Beach
This quaint seaside area harkens back to a simpler day and time. Ride the waterfront Ferris wheel, play some arcade games, and stroll through the nautical museum. No trip to the Fun Zone is complete without a classic Newport Beach “Balboa Bar,” so be sure to grab one (or two?) before you leave.

So … where will you and your family go first? Do you have any other great ideas about being out and about in the OC? If so, leave a comment for us below.