Updated January 25, 2018
I’ve always said that Disneyland is hard work. While magical and memorable and fun beyond the ordinary, the parks can wear on you. You’re in luck, however, because Southern California is home to some of the most amazing beaches in the world. Consider this inexpensive and relaxing add-on to your trip.
Here, I’ve detailed 5 of the best Orange County beaches. I’ve also researched San Diego options for you with information on the zoo and other destinations.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorites in Orange County:
- Distance from Disneyland: 29 minutes
- The main idea: Located in Newport Beach, Balboa Island is old school charm. Park on the main land and walk to the ferry. For a small fee ($1 per adult, $.50 for ages 5-11 and free for under 5), board the boat along with a few cars and travel to the island. On the nearby Balboa Peninsula, enjoy the beach, the Balboa Fun Zone or walk the pier.
- What’s unique: I like Balboa Island because it encompasses many beach experiences in one. Ride a boat, walk an island and visit a pier all in one stop. Frozen bananas reign supreme here as far as snacks go. The most famous spot to buy them is called Sugar ‘n Spice – on the island – on Marine Avenue. Don’t miss out!
- Distance from Disneyland: 25 minutes
- The main idea: Known for wide open beaches and great surfing, Huntington Beach provides the perfect SoCal beach visit. Often called “Surf City USA”, this area is a favorite of many.
- What’s unique: A large shopping district borders the beach with plenty of restaurants. The pier is nearby and is larger than most with a Ruby’s Diner at the end, which is perfect for kids.
Check out our visit from June 2017 here.
- Distance from Disneyland: 30 minutes
- The main idea: Located on the north end of Laguna Beach, Crescent Bay is one of the most beautiful Southern California beaches I’ve ever seen. Only 1/4 mile in length, it’s secluded and scenic. About 120 yards into the ocean sits Seal Rock, named for the seals and sea lions who adorn it, and you can hear them from the beach.
- What’s unique: This area has excellent tide pools for exploration. The water is calm because of the bay and allows for great snorkeling.
- Distance from Disneyland: 26 minutes
- The main idea: Newport is the ‘luxury’ beach in this area and it does not disappoint. Fine dining, high end shopping and water sports fill your day.
- What’s unique: The Wedge is a famed beach spot for 30′ foot waves and fantastic surfing. Newport beaches are routinely rated at the top for cleanliness and family-friendly vibes.
- Distance from Disneyland: 28 minutes
- The main idea: Corona Del Mar is part of Newport Beach and is near the entrance to the Newport Harbor. Beach volleyball and fire pits are popular parts of this area.
- What’s unique: On clear days you can see Catalina Island from the shores. The hills above the beach include windy roads and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean sunsets.
Regarding transportation, Lansky can take you to the beach for the following rates:
* Disneyland from/to Balboa Island, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar – $70 flat / 1 way
* Disneyland from/to Crescent Bay – $90 flat / 1 way
* Fare includes driver gratuity – No hidden cost
* Fare same as yellow cab
And, since you already packed so much for Disneyland itself, you don’t want to be straddled with beach gear, too. Here are some tips on beach visits and how to minimize your haul to the sand.
- Rent gear – You can find everything you need including beach blankets, chairs and toys.
- Bring a sweater – SoCal beaches are beautiful for the day, but like Disneyland, the evening becomes chilly. Check the weather before departing and when in doubt, pack a sweater if you plan to stay late.
- Simplify – Because Disneyland is so stimulating and busy, encourage simplicity in your beach visit. Less toys and ‘stuff’ will help you all relax and enjoy the natural beauty California provides.
- Explore the tide pools – A veritable theme park of its own, sea critters gather along rocks and jetties just waiting for you to explore. Remember the rules, however, and leave the ocean as you found it.
- Pack the baby powder – A sprinkle of baby powder on dry feet will remove sand magically and will keep your hotel room looking less like the beach you just visited. Let kids dry, apply powder and brush off skin before climbing into the car.
A beach day can cost you less money than a meal at Disneyland if you plan it right. Pick up sandwiches and snacks en route, use hotel towels, and focus on the natural beauty of Southern California. Bring a book and let the kids play. Unwind. You’ve earned it!
Bonus tip: Consider hiring a professional photographer to take photos of your family if you add on this beach destination idea. I’ve done so for several of our vacations and I cherish those photos today.