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IN THE NEWS

10 Family Favorites
Our sixth annual list of can’t-miss Orange County destinations

By Matt Susson

1. Sports Museum: Newport Sports Museum
2. Family Museum: Bowers Kidseum
3. Family Restaurant: Ruby’s Diner
4. Adventure: Ocean Institute
5. Beach: Huntington Beach
6. Picnic Spot: Irvine Regional Park
7. Teen Hangout: Downtown Disney
8. Movies: Irvine Spectrum Center
9. Ice Cream: Stricklands Homemade
10. Entertainment Arena: Arrowhead Pond

The school season has begun. The work season, if there is such a thing, continues weaving its masterful web of exhaustion and boredom. Summer’s come and gone. Now what? Fear not, families of Orange County, for I have taken it upon myself to personally scout out some prime "Family Bests" for y’all. From the sprawling foothills of Irvine to the whitewater of Huntington, here are prime local spots to spice things up or cool things down; you never can predict SoCal weather.

1. Sports Museum: Newport Sports Museum

John W. Hamilton has managed to amass one of the world’s largest sports memorabilia collections, and it’s all on display at the Newport Sports Museum. It’s free. Open since 1995, the museum contains more than 10,000 items, one more impressive than the next. While sure to satiate rabid sports fans of all kinds, the museum’s baseball exhibits far outnumber those of any other sport. It boasts baseballs autographed by every World Series championship team since 1940, every Cy Young Award winner, most Hall of Fame inductees, and the last seven presidents - Texas Rangers’ fan George W. included. Hamilton’s expansive collection doesn’t end with balls, however: He’s acquired jerseys, helmets, programs, tickets, even stadium seats, and manages to include every sport from baseball and basketball to curling and horseracing.

The sheer magnitude of the collection is awe-inspiring, and after awhile it becomes difficult to comprehend the volumes and volumes of sports history found under one roof. For you beginners out there (young and old), take advantage of the guided tours.

The museum’s proximity to Fashion Island makes it a perfect weekend family outing. So make a day of it, and give your children a glimpse of the glory days when shorts were just that...short.

IF YOU GO:
Located across from Fashion Island at 100 Newport Center Dr. in Newport Beach. Open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free. Visit www.newportsportsmuseum.com or call 949.721.9333 for more information.

2. Family Museum: Bowers Kidseum

Ever had the urge to impart crucial historical knowledge unto your child, but can’t deal with all the formality and fuss of a museum? Head on over to the Bowers Kidseum, a hands-on (the Buddha is off-limits though...sorry), child-friendly learning center designed to teach children about the multicultural world in which we live. They have a large collection of instruments that children are free to play (or at least make noise) with, as well as face painting, dress-up, story time, weaving and crafts. In the summer, the Kidseum hosts a seven-week summer camp, each week tailored to fit a different theme. During the year, however, it is open strictly on weekends to the general public, so plan ahead. Featuring a room dedicated solely to Native American history, the Kidseum openly advocates ethnic and religious diversity; in November they will celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, or the Mexican Day of the Dead, as well as Asian, African and World Cultures festivals in early 2005. Be sure to check the website for upcoming events, as they often celebrate the arrival of a new Bowers exhibit with a Family Festival at the Kidseum.

IF YOU GO:
Located at 2002 North Main St. in Santa Ana just down the street from the Bowers Museum. Open Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Holiday hours: Nov. 26, Dec. 21-24 and 28-31, noon-5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and children 3 or older; members free. Visit www.bowers.org or call 714.567.3600 for more information.

3. Family Restaurant: Ruby’s Diner

Venture out to the Balboa Pier to feast your eyes on Ruby’s flagship establishment, a modest structure with no more than a dozen tables located within a few yards of the pier’s end. With a view like that, it’s no wonder the place did well enough to warrant expansion. Now with 16 locations in Orange County alone, Ruby’s Diners have become a SoCal staple, and a dining treat for 1940s enthusiasts. Shooby Dooby down to Ruby’s in the a.m. for a nice family breakfast or brunch (may I recommend the cinnamon roll french toast...it’s killer), or drop in the next time you have the urge to splurge...on a burger and shake, that is. In keeping with culinary and health trends as of late, Ruby’s has also added some healthier choices to the menu. That way, you can look on as your children feast on cheeseburgers and chili fries (stewing over your jealousy of their raging metabolism) while feeling perfectly content and lean with one of their lighter choices. Some of the Ruby’s locations are themed as well: There is the AeroDiner in Laguna Hills, the AquaDiner in Irvine and the Surf City-themed location in Huntington Beach.

IF YOU GO:
For a list of their 16 Orange County locations visit www.rubys.com or call 949.644.7929 for more information.

4. Adventure: Ocean Institute

The Ocean Institute a few years ago raised more than $16 million, a chunk that allowed for a complete renovation and quite a tech boost. The facility now employs a staff of 110, with an extra 400 volunteers. The Institute is closed to the public on weekdays, when it serves almost exclusively educational purposes, hosting classes and field trips from schools around Orange County. On the grounds you’ll find classrooms, a theater, various observation laboratories, tanks, tide pools and a fleet of seafaring vessels - a full-size replica of a Revolutionary War tallship called the Spirit of Dana Point, the Research Vessel Sea Explorer and a 130-foot tallship, the brig Pilgrim. But beware, each of these ships is fully operational, so don’t expect each of them to be docked upon your arrival; they may be out. Visit the website or call for a schedule of events on the weekends, such as whale watching, overnight marine studies or snorkeling in Catalina. They also have age-tailored summer programs for children grades Pre-K and up. If you’re not quite sea-friendly enough for a class, just stop by with the family on a weekend and explore all the Institute has to offer; staff will be more than happy to lend a helping hand (or fin, or tentacle for that matter) and point out some worthwhile sights.

IF YOU GO:
Located at 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr. in Dana Point. Visit www.ocean-institute.org or call 949.496.2274 for more information.

5. Beach: Huntington Beach

It ain’t called "Surf City, U.S.A." for nothin’. Huntington Beach was recently named the best surfing beach in the nation by Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach) in the recently published Top 10 Family Beaches list. Leatherman emphasizes that Huntington (HB for short) is ideal for novices who can’t yet handle the punishment that a place like Oahu’s North Shore can dish out. As for you non-surfers out there, HB has more than 8 miles of coastline ideal for anything from just plain lounging to beach volleyball to taking a leisurely bike ride up and down the coast. And for the spectator in you, be sure to check out the frequent surf competitions - HB hosts the U.S. Open of Surfing every summer - held just down the beach from the bustling pier, which boasts a Ruby’s and a Duke’s. Once the sun sets on Surf City, head across the street to HB’s newly renovated downtown to grab a bite or browse one of the many surf shops or retailers in the area. Still not satisfied? Make a family weekend of it by checking out the Waterfront Hilton or the Hyatt, the two resorts (a third is on the way) on the Huntington coast.

IF YOU GO:
Be sure to bring money for parking; if you’re planning on parking downtown to shop for a bit, crack open the piggy bank and take along some quarters for the meters. About the only crime you’ll see if having to pay so much for so little time.

6. Picnic Spot: Irvine Regional Park

Purchased by the county treasury in 1897 from James Irvine for a tidy little sum of $1, Irvine Regional Park’s acreage has grown from 160 to an expansive 477. The park currently features six playgrounds, four softball fields, volleyball courts, a 4-mile equestrian trail, a lagoon, the Orange County Zoo, group picnic areas and the Irvine Park Railroad. The railroad is a great idea for families with younger children or those wishing to see the grounds of the park.

Despite the myriad of activities and amenities the park offers, simply resurrecting the lost art of picnicking with a relaxing afternoon or evening is the way to go. And the park is tucked far enough back in the hills to offer a placidity and serenity not often found in a county as perpetually poised for expansion as Orange. Did I mention you have dining options? Snag a table for a more traditional family meal, or do it au natural beneath one of the many oak or sycamore trees for which Irvine Regional Park has become known.

IF YOU GO:
Located at 1 Irvine Park Road in Orange. Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. until Oct. 31, then winter hours kick in. $3 parking fee for vehicles except on special holiday days; no admission fee for walk-ins or bikes. Visit www.ocparks.com/irvinepark or call 714.973.6835 for more information.

7. Teen Hangout: Downtown Disney

There is truly something at Downtown Disney for everyone. Dad will be happy to take a breather at ESPNZone, and mom is sure to enjoy shopping at a fun retail outlet. Young ones will enjoy the World of Disney store, as well as the LEGO Imagination Center and the Build-a-Bear Workshop, while tweens and young adults will find plenty to see at stores like Starabilias, and will also enjoy a night out at the House of Blues or the AMC Theatres. The House of Blues features performances by headlining artists, although be forewarned: anybody age 16 or under must be accompanied by an adult at least 18 years old with a valid state ID. Additionally, there are more than a dozen dining options to choose from, including a Rainforest Café, Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria, and, of course, Haagen-Dazs for a little nightcap. Live entertainment and merchandise kiosks provide a splendid clutter that really makes this place bustle. For those expecting the anachronistic Disney of yesteryear, you will be truly disappointed: Downtown Disney is proof that his Mouse-ness can still dress to impress.

IF YOU GO:
Visit www.downtowndisney.com for directions and general information. First three hours of parking are free, $6/hour for every extra hour without validation.

8. Movies: Irvine Spectrum Center

When the Irvine Spectrum Center opened in September 1995, it was little more than an enormous movie theater with a couple stores and restaurants - the theaters alone comprised more than 50 percent of the total square footage of the entire center. The center has since grown from 220,000 square feet to 805,000 square feet, boasting a 108-foot Giant Wheel, Robinson’s May, countless restaurants and shopping opportunities, as well as a host of other retail attractions (Nordstrom and Target are on the way). A new California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang’s, The Cheesecake Factory and a food court offer a wide variety of dining options for those with wallets (or purses, to be completely PC) bursting at the seams, or seeming to never burst. The theater itself has more than 6,400 seats and the former IMAX theater that scrapes the sky at 8 stories. Besides being one of the largest theaters in the country, it’s now beginning to present movies with DLP (Digital Projection) technology, a privilege for the average moviegoer. So grab the family, scoot on over to the Spectrum Center with your favorite low-carb movie snack (does popcorn count?), and allow the magic of the movies to whisk you away as only a film can.

IF YOU GO:
Take the Alton Parkway exit from the 5 Freeway, or get off the 405 at Irvine Center Drive. Visit www.irvinespectrum.com or call 949.753.5180 for more information. For movie times visit www.fandango.com or call 1.800.FANDANGO.

9. Ice Cream: Stricklands Homemade

When you think of ice cream, only one place comes to mind: Ohio. Right? OK, a bit of a stretch, but regardless, Strickland’s first franchise outside of its home state of Ohio is located in Irvine, down the street from UC Irvine. They have a rotating schedule of "Flavors of the Day" that features more alternative flavors such as pineapple, grape and maple nut, while sticking to the basics with vanilla, chocolate and a host of other favorites. Perhaps the most fascinating and unique feature that Strickland’s has to offer is that all the ice cream is made on the premises throughout the day in trademark ice cream batch freezers. Interestingly, these machines were built in the 1930s by hand and were not available for purchase commercially. Thus, Strickland’s was not able to expand and remained a small operation at the original location in Akron, Ohio. In 2002, however, an engineer was able to successfully reverse-engineer the machines, allowing Strickland’s to offer quality choices to more ice cream-aholics across Ohio, and now the country. Give it a try next time you’re looking for an excuse to indulge your craving for the cream...chalk it up to curiosity.

IF YOU GO:
Located at 4523 Campus Drive, just down the street from UCI in Irvine. Visit www.stricklands.info or call 949.387.9955 for more information, including the Flavors of the Day. Hours of operation: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. seven days a week.

10. Entertainment Arena: Arrowhead Pond

What do Phil Collins, the Lakers and the Ringling Bros. all have in common? "Great hair," you say? Well, besides the obvious, they’re just a few of many events the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim hosts annually. Since opening in 1993, the Pond has hosted the Mighty Ducks, the John R. Wooden Classic, the Harlem Globetrotters, Stars on Ice, and World Wrestling Entertainment. This year they are joined by the Anaheim Storm, Orange County’s contribution to the National Lacrosse League; the season runs from January through April and will include eight home games. With a seating capacity of nearly 20,000 , it’s the perfect place to catch a concert, show or game. In its first 10 years of operation, the Anaheim Pond sold more than 2 million hot dogs, 420,000 Carl’s Jr. hamburgers and 450,000 pizzas. Why do I mention this? If you and your family are shying away from the fast-food scene, you might want to grab a pre-show bite to eat elsewhere. We simply can’t recommend warmed cheese.

IF YOU GO:
Located at 2695 East Katella Ave. in Anaheim off the 57 Freeway. Visit www.arrowheadpond.com for upcoming events or call 714.704.2500 for box office information.

Matt Susson of Irvine, a summer intern with Churm Publishing, Inc., has returned to school at UCLA.



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