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Stretching an expanse of land dotted with sycamore and oak groves, Irvine Regional Park is the perfect place to spend an idyllic day outdoors with friends and family. Santiago Creek meanders through the park, passing shaded hillsides dotted with picnickers, the Orange County Zoo, and group sites that accommodates all sorts of celebrations. The 475 acre park features built-in barbecue spots, restroom facilities and a biking and walking path that cuts through the park and shows off its best features. Equestrian enthusiasts can take their horses for a jaunt along the designated equestrian trail and past a lake that features a stone-work waterfall. The park also boasts the Irvine Park Railroad, which takes visitors of all ages on a 10-minute ride out to an oak grove and past several lakes. There is no entrance fee for the park itself, but there may be parking fees.
Take a leisurely walk through Orange County's past. Your path will take you through four buildings, each one a history lesson. The first is a building from the Rancho Canada De Los Aliso owned by the Serranos, who were cattle ranchers in the 1860s. Next you have the El Toro Grammar School, built in 1890, a one-room school-house just like in the Little House on the Prairie books. Then there is the St. George Episcopal Mission, built in 1891. Finally, there is the Bennett Ranch House built in 1908. The tour is free of charge, and reservations are not required unless you have a large group.
Crystal Cove State Park spans 3.2 miles (5.15 kilometers) of beach and over 2000 acres (809.37 hectares) of wilderness. Offering the best of nature, visitors to the park can relax on the beach and hike or horseback ride on the many trails that criss-cross the wilderness. Explore tide pools and hidden coves as well as canyon flora and fauna. Visitors can also take guided nature tours. The crystal clear waters have been designated as an underwater park and are great for scuba diving, skin diving, and underwater photography.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is a locals' favorite for hiking and biking, particularly during spring when a spectrum of wild flowers bloom. Two entrances are available. One is at the junction of El Toro Road and Aliso Creek Road where limited street parking is available for free. Despite its isolation from the majority of the park, this area features Barbara's Lake, Orange County's only natural lake. The other entrance is across Laguna Canyon, by the junction of Laguna Canyon Road and El Toro Road. Although there is no free parking, you can head straight to Crystal Cove from here. With "wilderness" in its name, no pets are allowed in the park. Some residents you may have the pleasure of seeing are deer, mountain lions, and snakes.
The panoramic view of the wilderness and the Pacific from Hortense Miller Garden is second to none. Yet, the view is not quite what makes it a treasure of Laguna Beach. It is the character of the garden and the house that reflects Hortense Miller's love of nature. The garden spreads across 2.5 acres on the upper slope of Boat Canyon, and has over 1500 plant species that grow with limited usage of fertilizers and chemical controls. In the middle of the garden, a simple but elegant house that is wrapped with floor-to-ceiling glass, quietly enjoys the company of its best decorator: nature. Reservations for the tour should be made at least two weeks in advance. Donations are appreciated.
This is a non-profit botanical garden situated on 26 gorgeous acres of the California State University Fullerton. Botanical collections are sectioned into zones: the temperate zone, the tropical zone and the arid zone. There is a rare fruit grove featuring subtropical fruits like cherimoyas, kiwis, papayas, guavas and rare citrus varieties. The Children's Garden is the site for educational programs and hands-on fun. Also on the grounds is the Heritage House, an Eastlake Victorian cottage built in 1894 by Dr. George C. Clark, an early Fullerton physician, as his home and office. There is a lot of nature and a little bit of history here, making for a wonderful outing. Although admission is free, a voluntary donation is suggested.
A short walk from the bustling downtown Laguna Beach, this park is an amazing hidden oasis. The grassy bluff and the sandy beach with giant rocks and hidden caves makes this park a favorite spot for photographers, brides and grooms, sunset watchers, picnickers (barbecue grills are provided, first come first serve), and even sea birds. There are also a variety of art stands selling local artwork. Keep your eye out for the one-of-a-kind sculpture benches. Heisler Park is considered one of the best parks in Orange County.
The Bolsa Chica Conservancy was established in 1990 in order to preserve the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. It includes the Bolsa Chica Interpretive Center and is run completely by volunteers. The conservancy has several exhibits, including live reptiles and sea aquariums. Visitors can walk through the wetlands on a 1.5 mile loop trail. No dogs, bikes or horses are allowed. This is both an educational and fun outing!
Chino Hills State Park is a 14,102-acre (5,706-hectare) park in the vicinity of Santa Ana Mountains. The land was originally used for cattle grazing and visitors can see some remaining features from that time, including an assemblage of ranch houses and elegant windmills. Declared as a state park in the year 1981, Chino Hills has been a popular attraction ever since, attracting adventurers from all parts of the country owing to its nearly 90 mile (144.84 kilometer) network of interconnecting trails that provide splendid opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Also a great destination for wildlife watching, the park's lush landscape of woodlands and grasslands are a sanctuary for with majestic red-tailed hawks, California gnatcatchers and bobcats. Chino Hill State Park is one of the few establishments in the country to shelter Chaparral woodlands.
Bordered by Aliso Creek to the north and rocky headlands to the south, Aliso Beach Park is not only picturesque, but also a unique Laguna Beach attraction. Many family-friendly features, particularly for families with toddlers, can be found here. A large parking lot is right by the sand, and the beach is on street level instead of down the bluff with steep steps. There is a designated children's playground with swings, a pirate ship, and other fun toys. But Aliso Beach Park is not just a family hangout place. Surfers frequent here to ride the waves, and friends often gather around the fire pits on the sand. There is no admission fee for the beach park itself, but there is a small parking fee.