Those who have lived in Lake Forest for more than 13 years can remember the days when loud Marine aircraft were just part of life next to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. I still have vivid memories of lounging in my mom’s pool while watching a B-2 stealth bomber run training exercises in the skies above me.
These days, the base is long gone, and the passing of Measure W has led to the creation of the Orange Country Great Park. Much of the master plan for the park has yet to be executed, partially due to the economic downturn over the past few years. However, some exciting progress has been made. The park is quickly becoming a popular, family-friendly destination. Here are the park’s highlights thus far, with many more great things to come:
The centerpiece of the park is the Great Park Balloon. We have all seen the big orange balloon up in the sky, but have you taken the time to go for a ride? If you haven’t, grab the kids and head over, because the ride is free, appropriate for all ages and just plain fun. The helium balloon (one of the largest in the country) can take up to 30 riders 400 feet above Orange County, providing amazing views of the region. Rides are Thursday through Sunday, with daytime and evening rides available.
Two of the newest attractions at the O.C. Great Park are the carousel and the Kids Rock playground. The carousel is free, and kids can go for as many rides on their favorite horse, zebra, or kitty cat as they would like. The rock playground is one the of the newest additions to the park, focusing on educating children about conservation and water ecology while providing a fun place to play. Climbing rocks, slides and caves are some of the highlights of this unique play area, along with faux clouds, which provide a cooling mist on warm summer days.
If your family loves fresh produce, flowers and bread, then a trip to the Great Park’s farmers market is definitely in order. There is nothing quite like a vine-ripened strawberry, or bread fresh from the oven, and the experience helps children take more interest in whole foods. The market is open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine. Local artists sell their handmade goods and gourmet food trucks provide plenty of tasty lunchtime options.
With the warm nights of summer just around the corner, Movies on the Lawn are providing a great night of family friendly movies and fun. A giant outdoor screen is erected at the Great Lawn, and families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and snacks before heading outside for a movie. Last weekend, How to Train Your Dragon was the film featured, and many other popular family films are slated to be shown throughout the warm weather season.
The Orange County Great Park entrance is at Sand Canyon and Marine Way, just off the 5 freeway. For hours and directions, visit the O.C. Great Park website.