This article covers all of the best things to do in Santa Ana California with Kids!
Wondering what to do in Santa Ana with kids? Do not worry, we have you covered! Santa Ana is a vibrant community just outside of LA. While most holidaymakers mark Disneyland on their family vacation to Southern California, there are plenty of opportunities to experience local culture and hidden gems right on Disneyland’s doorstep. Santa Ana is one of those places. It lies in the heart of Orange County and is known for its large Hispanic and Latino population (that currently faces a rapidly gentrifying downtown area).
Santa Ana is the perfect place to explore as a family. There is so much history and culture and kid-friendly activities. It is full of authentic Mexican cuisine for cuisine-curious little ones and offers plenty of hands-on experiences that thrill and delight kids of all ages.
I recently spent three days exploring Santa Ana with my kids and this list is their favorite things to do in the city.
We were hosted by Travel Santa Ana during our time in the city but all opinions are our own.
Things to do in Santa Ana with Kids
Mission Control in McFadden Public Market
This hidden gem was probably our favorite thing to do as a family in Santa Ana. McFadden Public Market has two restaurant options, a Twisted Tiki, and Mission Control. Mission Control has a bar but is also a huge arcade. It features pinball and retro video games that are in amazing condition. You will not find broken-down machines that are constantly found in kids’ play areas.
My favorite part was that it still uses coins. Most pinball machines were seventy-five cents (a few were fifty and a few were a dollar). Coins are equivalent to twenty-five cents and can be obtained by cash only from their coin machine. (There is an ATM on-site if you do not have cash). My favorite game was the original Super Mario Bros. game (with all of the hidden cheats that you also found on the original Nintendo system). It was only twenty-five cents! I could have played for a whole hour on that! While the kids had trouble adjusting to the delayed controls and 2D action, they were wowed at my 90s skills!
Twenty dollars lasted the three of us over an hour in Mission Control, and we would return anytime! The food at McFadden Public Market included pizza, tacos, and wings. Their current food vendors are Mongiello’s Pizza & Wings and Tacompadre as well as the Twisted Tiki (over 21) and Mission Control (also serves drinks while playing pinball).
Location: 515 North Main St, Santa Ana
More Info: mcfaddenmarket.com
Note that kids are not allowed in Mission Control after 9 p.m.
Lyon Air Museum
The Lyon Air Museum is based at John Wayne Airport in Orange County. The museum houses a fleet of superbly conditioned, operational, and historically significant World War II-era aircraft and vehicles. If you are lucky enough to fly into this airport (SNA), you can visit the museum before you even leave! The kids loved the flight simulator and being able to climb into the WWII vehicles. The replica cockpit was their favorite and they could have played in there for an hour if it wasn’t closing time! I suggest at least an hour in the museum. The kids spent time on the simulator as well as playing in the interactive area. They had the whole place to themselves at closing but I can imagine when other guests are in the Museum, there will be a wait to use the simulator, etc.
Location: 19300 Ike Jones Road Santa Ana
Admission: Adults $14, Children (5-17) $7, Seniors/Veterans $11, Children under 5 FREE
American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park
Located in MainPlace Mall, American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park combines a trampoline park with a parkour park. It is one of the best kids’ attractions in Santa Ana. With replica obstacles from the TV show, kids (and adults) can test their strengths and skills on each obstacle. If you are familiar with the show, you will find Monkey Swings, Spider Walls, Tilting Logs, Floating Bridges, and the Warped Wall.
The inflatable side of the course offers slides and a race, where you need strength and power to climb and slide through the course. You can purchase an hour, ninety minutes, or 2 hours inside the course. An hour was enough, if my kids had had more friends they may have wanted to stay longer!
Location: 2800 N Main St, Santa Ana (Inside MainPlace Mall)
Admission: 90 Minutes for $24.95
Notes: You need running shoes for the obstacle part of the course. The inflatable course is done in socks (You need to use their grip socks)
Test your Aim at Galactic Challenge
Galactic Challenge was a hidden gem right next to the American Ninja Warrior Park. For $15 or $20 kids of all ages can test their aim by shooting airlift rifles (pellet guns essentially) at targets. We opted for the 120 package and Markus, my 10 year old turned out to be the sharpshooter! He hit 88 of the 120 targets! I think these great indoor activities are what make MainPlace Mall number 5 on Tripadvisor’s best things to do in Santa Ana list!
Location: 2800 N Main St, Santa Ana (Inside MainPlace Mall)
Learn About Science at Discovery Cube OC
Discovery Cube OC is a well-known science center in Orange County (It was previously known as the Discovery Science Center). It is known to be one of the best things to do in Santa Ana for kids and is really perfect for those up to 12 years old. Our favorite game was the trash sorting game (but we did get a lot wrong since Canada recycles a lot differently than Santa Ana does).
The boys also loved the vault where they had to pass under and around lasers without breaking the beams. They loved the bed of nails and could not believe it didn’t hurt. They spent a lot of time in the hockey area, which included shooting games. The outdoor space area was also fun as they adjusted fuel and thrust to get their rockets to various places in our solar system. The Discovery Cube is open 10 am to 5 pm 7 days a week.
Location: 2500 N Main St, Santa Ana
Admission: Adults $22, Child (3-14) $17, Senior $19, Parking $7
Opened in 1936, the Bowers Museum prides itself on showcasing world-class arts and cultures in a warm, inviting space located in the heart of Orange County. It tops Tripadvisor’s best things to do in Santa Ana list and was worth a quick visit for my kids. Art enthusiasts will spend more time in each room but mine were keen to have a quick look and move on. Our favorite exhibit was the Pacific Islands as our extensive travel in the area brought a lot of familiar sights.
Location: 2002 N Main St, Santa Ana
Downtown Walking Tour with Alicia Rojas
If you have the opportunity to book a walking tour with Alicia Rojas it is well worth the time. Alicia is a community artist and the director/co-founder of the Santa Ana Community Artis(a) Coalition, an organization founded with the mission to connect local artists to their communities in a collaborative process to create art that transforms public spaces, generates civic engagement and promotes personal and social change.
Alicia’s tours can be booked online on the Alta Baja Market website and are usually scheduled quarterly. If you are visiting Santa Ana and there are no tours available make sure you take some time to explore the art district. You can find information about all of the public Art in Santa Ana on the tourism board’s website
Location: Alta Baja Market, 201 E. 4th St
First Saturday Art Walk
If you are lucky enough to be in town on the first Saturday of the month or can plan your visit around it, I highly suggest taking part in the First Saturday Art Walk!
More info: https://dtsaartwalk.org/
Shop For Souvenirs Downtown
While wandering downtown you will find no shortage of Santa Ana souvenirs and small businesses with unique items. Grab a Santa Ana t-shirt, browse the local sticker and pin shop, and check out the small business spaces that have locally made products.
Santa Ana Zoo
The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park is a forested oasis in the middle of Santa Ana. It is in the middle of a multi-year reconstruction. It is known for its monkeys and also has a beautiful butterfly display. We loved the ant-eater pen! I never knew they were so huge! It is a great area for toddlers and preschoolers to run around and provides education on over 80 species of animals. Parking is free at Santa Ana Zoo!
Location: 1801 E Chestnut Ave, Santa Ana
Admission: $13 Adult, $10 Child, $10 Senior
The Best Places to Eat with Kids in Santa Ana
Food is such a huge part of a destination and Santa Ana has some great restaurants. We ate a combination of authentic Mexican as well as pizza, pasta, chicken wings, and hamburgers! There really is something for everyone!
The Little Onion became an early favorite during our three days in Santa Ana. Their authentic Mexican tacos were delish! Mattias fell in love with flautas at the Little Onion and he continued to order them whenever he saw them! Markus opted to be a little less adventurous and got the chicken wings, but they were also really good! They have a great selection of Mexican cuisine, as well as happy hour specials!
Location: 110 W. MacArthur Blvd, Santa Ana
Three Roots Mexican Cocina is located in the mall. We visited on Taco Tuesday for $2 tacos and again, Mattias my adventurous eater went for the beef tacos (twice!). They also have delicious appetizers.
Location: 2800 N. Main Street
Bari Pizza and Pasta
Bari Pizza and Pasta is known as the “home of the pizza skulls.” These pepperoni and cheese stuffed skulls are like a pizza pocket, but much more fun!
We went in for lunch and every table was full with a stream of walk-in customers! It is well known for serving up good pizza and pasta!
Location: 1640 E First St, Suite A
Hammer Burger is a brand new restaurant in Santa Ana and it is quickly gaining popularity! You place your order and then sit down and a hammer-thin burger patty is quickly delivered to your table. There was a lineup out the for lunchtime as it seems like a popular place for locals taking a lunch break.
Location: 313 N Bush St
How to get to Santa Ana:
LAX Los Angeles International Airport (For local Vancouverites there are plenty of nonstop flights per day from Vancouver – various airlines including Air Canada)
SNA John Wayne Airport (nonstop from Vancouver – various airlines including WestJet)
Driving: Santa Ana is just 20 minutes from Disneyland and less than an hour from Los Angeles! It is an easy place to visit with a car or even a rideshare!
Best Hotels in Santa Ana with Kids
Courtyard by Marriott Santa Ana / Orange County: Comfortable and convenient, the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Ana / Orange County is perfectly located for families. Its swimming pool gives kids somewhere to cool off and burn energy in between exploring the area.
Getting around Santa Ana with Kids
Do you need a Car? This is the first question I get asked about Santa Ana. Thanks to Uber, you pretty much do not need a car to get just about anywhere. However, I do suggest using a rental car while in Santa Ana. It makes it so much easier to get out of the hotel and explore the area. It is perfect if you are coming to Southern California to go to Disney and the other theme parks to hop in the car and drive 20 minutes to Santa Ana!
More California Resources:
Check out the best way to fly into Southern California by searching flights here.
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Lindsay Nieminen hails from Vancouver, Canada and shares her love of travel on this website. She is passionate about showing others that they should not put off traveling the world just because they have young children or are single parents. She aims to encourage them to seek out adventure, whether it is at home or abroad by providing information on how just about everywhere can be a destination to explore as a family.