Well away from the noise and congestion of Los Angeles, Aliso Viejo is a California suburb not far from Laguna Beach. In fact, you can get to the beach in only 15 minutes.
Aliso Viejo is notable as it is the only city that has been incorporated in Orange County in this millenium! Despite being new compared to its neighbors, Aliso Viejo has been settled since the late 1800s.
Today, it’s home to just over 50,000 residents, with great access to big cities and even bigger natural spaces.
Things to do in Aliso Viejo, California:
Visit The Aliso Viejo Ranch
In the center of Aliso Viejo is a beautiful, local historic site. Home to a 19th century barn and bunkhouse among other picturesque sights, the Aliso Viejo Ranch is a complex that the public can take advantage of year-round.
The ranch holds regular after school programs, summer classes, recreation classes, and senior programs. The site actually has five different outdoors spaces and six different venues at which you can host your own affair, from corporate events to weddings.
There is also even a real working farm on site with orchard and vegetable garden.
Hike The Willow Trail Loop
The Willow Trail Loop is a trail set on the eastern edge of Crystal Cove State Park. It’s part of the Laurel Canyon hike, starting at Willow Canyon Road Staging Area, from where you can take the trail clockwise or counter-clockwise.
It’s a moderately challenging route, but reviews suggest that the counter-clockwise direction is slightly easier. The 3.29 mile hike takes an average of an hour and a half.
It’s a popular route for mountain bikers, so share the trail. Note that dogs aren’t allowed and the park closes at 5pm.
Check out a Concert or Movie at Grand Park
In the center of town is Grand Park, a community outdoor space that is sandwiched behind the main shopping center in town.
Aside from being an everyday, relaxing green space to stroll around in, Grand Park also hosts concerts, movies, and other events regularly. You can let down your hair and get grooving to soul and motown, Jimmy Buffet cover bands, and more live music.
They also have family friendly fresh air screenings of some of your favorite films and new releases. It’s also a site for holiday celebrations, such as fireworks for the 4th of July.
Aliso Viejo Community Park
Another great outdoor space right in the center of town, the Aliso Viejo Community Park is a great place that’s easily accessible. You can walk if you live nearby, drive, or bring the bikes – there’s plenty of parking for two wheels or four.
Right next to the middle school, there are three different baseball diamonds which are serviced by a concession stand.
If you’re passing time before the game or just need a relaxing afternoon, there is a playground for the little ones and picnic tables, all of which have shade!
The park also connects to the Aliso Viejo Riding and Hiking Trail.
Pacific Marine Mammal Center
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is so much more than your usual aquarium. It’s an aquatic preservation center that focuses on the research, rescue, and rehabilitation of marine mammals.
It is home to 34 different mammals, from sea lions to elephant seals, to harbor seals. All of the animals are temporary residents, being rehabilitated so that they can go back to life in the wild.
Since the ‘70s, they’ve been taking care of local wildlife and educating the public. You can visit any day of the week for free; the center relies on donations to continue their work.
While there are no namesake residents like at the Marine Mammal Center, Dinosaur Park is a community spot designed by a paleontologist to bring millennia of history to Laguna Hills.
Over 9 million years ago, the area was overrun with different species. Children can explore both real and replica fossils of the dinosaurs that roamed their playpark.
The climbing frame is a 33 foot long whale bone skeleton – a replica a mere 1/3 the size of a real skeleton unearthed on site! Inside the Community Center next door, there are fossils on display.
A whole different ballpark, Gamecraft Brewing is a playground not for minors (unless they’re cool, then they’re welcome).
Your usual craft beer goodness, serving fresh beers brewed on site, Gamecraft goes above and beyond. The brewery lives up to its name, as it’s more than just a taproom.
Gamecraft is the perfect place to order a round and compete with friends in one of the brewery’s board games from their extensive game library.
Every Tuesday, they host the classics: Uno, Yahtzee, Boggle, and Sorry! Pair your game with some delicious food from their in house kitchen.
Oso Creek Trail
Get back to nature and enjoy the great outdoors along the Oso Creek Trail. There are over 5.5 miles of trails that wind through the acres of wilderness.
Trails follow the creek that flows down from the Santa Ana Mountains and continues out to the Pacific. On the trail, you pass the butterfly garden, a life-sized plant maze, and more.
The area is replete with indigenous plants left to grow wild and naturally. The Creek Trail also gives way to artificial beauty, as it’s home to many artistic endeavors.
There are mosaic walls, vibrant murals, and a respectful obelisk dedicated to the victims of 9/11.
Visit Soka University
You could go to college! While you may not be looking to complete a full degree, you can still peruse the beautiful campus at Soka University.
A liberal arts school specializing in humanities, life sciences, and environmental studies, the school also offers creative and performing arts concentrations and has a requisite year abroad.
This interconnected, international center of learning was established by the founder of the Soka Gakki International Buddhist movement. Its peaceful roots are reflected in the campus’ breathtaking design.
You can stroll through campus on your own time or take a guided tour.
Watch a Movie At The IMAX Theater
Prefer to sit back and relax for a couple of hours? How about taking in a movie? The Regal Aliso Viejo IMAX theater next to Grand Park is part of the Regal chain of cinemas.
It’s the perfect place to spend an evening, watching a big blockbuster hit with the whole family. The movie theater has several screens, including an IMAX one for the full 3D experience.
They always show the latest releases, so grab a bucket of popcorn and lean back in your reclining armchair to be transported away into a new world.
Aliso Viejo Ice Palace
Sometimes it can be hard to keep cool in California, but luckily the ice rink is always open. The Aliso Viejo Ice Palace is the perfect place to go cool down on a hot summer’s day.
There are public skating sessions morning, noon, and night throughout the week. For those who can really shred some ice, the Ice Palace is home to both youth and adult hockey.
If you want to learn a bit more about ice skating, you can take lessons at their skating school. They even have freestyle sessions for figure skating.
Nix Nature Center
Up Rte 73 on the edge of Crystal Cove State Park is Nix Nature Center, home to the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park’s headquarters.
The Nature Center has really affordable all-day parking that gives you access to the Center. Nix acts as a gateway to 20,000 acres worth of wilderness.
There are a whopping 40 miles of trail throughout this space, winding you through woodlands, past rocky bluffs, and spilling out onto scenic vistas.
The Nature Center works to protect rare and endangered species, so there’s plenty of interesting things to see on your hike.
Niguel Botanical Preserve
A bit closer to home, the Niguel Botanical Preserve is an equally awe-inspiring, natural adventure, but wiith a bit more cultivated sites to wander ‘round.
The preserve is set on 18 acres of land just south of Aliso Viejo. Open every day with free entry, the Botanical Preserve is home to a diverse 2,000 different species of plants.
You can take in the view while meandering about their four miles worth of walking trails. The preserve is even pet friendly, so you can bring the family dog along with you!
Laguna Niguel Regional Park
Not as wild as the Nature Center, nor as landscaped as the Botanical Preserve, the Laguna Niguel Regional Park is great for recreational use.
Within the vast expanse of grass you can picnic on, there is a 44 acre lake. Active sportsmen can go fishing at the lake and catch trout, bass, and catfish.
There are also volleyball courts, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and a two-mile trail perfect for walking, biking, or running. Hobbyists will enjoy Kite Hill, offering a great space for – you guessed it: flying a kite! Or electronic gliders.