CA's Orange County abounds in family fun

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Pricey man-made attractions like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm aren't the only things that define Orange County as a family destination. As in life, some of the best things in Orange County are free, or next to it.

First among the low-cost options available in the county are its beaches.

Huntington Beach, Aliso Beach, Corona del Mar State Beach, Capistrano Beach -- these and many more represent the very best in Southern California seafront facilities, and they don't cost an arm and a leg to use.

Many of them have children's playgrounds, picnic areas, snack bars and barbecue pits. And some feature the kind of entertainment that cannot be bought in most places.

Huntington, for instance, is the site of a number of pro surfing events each year, and Corona hosts an annual sand castle and sand sculpture contest in midsummer.

The tide pools of Corona del Mar and Dana Point are a magnet for the younger set and, at the latter, ranger-led tours provide expert commentary on the sea life found in them.

Bikers following the cycle paths of Bolsa Chica State Park can visit the 700-acre Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, inhabited by blue herons and a wide variety of ducks and shore birds, including a number of endangered species.

Orange County history at nominal, or no, cost is available in several places -- at Heritage Hill Park just south of Irvine, for instance, where on weekends docents conduct tours of two turn-of-the-century houses, a church and a schoolhouse.

One of the most significant historical sites in the county is the Mission San Juan Capistrano, built in 1776. It boasts the oldest building still in use in California, picturesque gardens and a large collection of Spanish and Indian artifacts.

Places like these, along with the Magic Kingdom and similar attractions are what make Orange County a family playground.

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