As a city with a small-town feel and an abundance of natural surroundings, Lake Forest, California, is one of the best places to live in the state – and one of the best places for visitors to base themselves when traveling in the region.
Lake Forest, situated in the scenic Saddleback Valley in Orange County, is home to 82,000 people. It’s known for its pleasant climate, many parks, and green spaces. The central location just outside of Irvine gives easy access to major cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego.
There are 30 parks in Lake Forest, including two human-made lakes, a forest area with Eucalyptus trees, and a Regional Wilderness Park. Many outdoor activities can be pursued in the city and surrounding areas, including hiking, biking, golfing, horseback riding, boating, and swimming.
Lake Forest is also home to many restaurants, cafes, and retail shops. Free concerts are held during the summer months.
Several festivals and events are held throughout the year, including the Tustin Food & Wine Festival and the annual concert held at Pittsford Park.
Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around Lake Forest, California.
1. Catch up on Local History at Heritage Hill Historic Park
Heritage Hill Historic Park is a four-acre property showcasing the history of Lake Forest and all of Orange County. On-site, there are four restored and furnished buildings representing the Mexican Rancho period up to the days of citrus farming.
A number of artefacts are on display, and you can walk through the park on your own or take a tour with a knowledgeable guide.
2. Sample Local Wines at Frisby Cellars Winery
For more than a decade, Frisby Cellars Winery in Lake Forest has been offering quality, prize-winning wines to visitors. The grapes, sourced from vineyards in Paso Robles, are delivered to the tasting room at this micro-winery.
Learn all about the winery and its wines and sample some of the handcrafted, barrel-aged options on offer.
3. Tee Off at Lake Forest Golf and Practice Center
Whether you are new to golf and would like to learn how to play or you’re a seasoned pro seeking a course with some challenges, Lake Forest Golf and Practice Center is perfect for golfers of all levels.
This nine-hole, par 29 course features two lakes, sand bunkers, and orange trees. A practice area, putting green, and disc golf facilities are also on-site.
4. Indulge With Fine Southern Cuisine and Hospitality at Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que is a family-run BBQ restaurant that has been serving up Southern cuisine with a side of Southern Hospitality for more than 20 years.
While the slow-cooked meats are the main draw for most patrons, there are many other delicious items on the menu. A variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and burgers are available from the menu, along with popular Southern favourites like Southern Fried Chicken and Jambalaya.
When it comes to the delicious barbecue entrees, many options are available, including Baby Back Ribs and Texas Beef Brisket. Finish your meal with dessert and head to the on-site Flying Pig Lounge to enjoy cocktails and lively music.
Happy hour is every weekday, and many events, including game nights, take place throughout the year.
5. Visit the Heritage Museum of Orange County
Dedicated to preserving some of the history of Orange County, the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana is a historic attraction situated on a dozen acres of beautiful citrus groves and gardens.
On-site, you’ll find buildings from the late 1800s, including the Kellogg House, which showcases a unique interior with a nautical theme. Tours are available, and several interactive programs are offered.
6. Spend a Day Outdoors in Serrano Creek Community Park
Serrano Creek Community Park in Lake Forest is a beautiful place where the whole family can relax in unique surroundings with a Western feel.
The park is quite large and runs all the way to Bake Parkway. The Serrano Creek with willow and eucalyptus trees lining its banks passes through the park, and a walking trail runs along this creek. The imitation sandstone rocks are fun to climb, and a children’s playground is on site.
7. Catch a Live Performance at the Modjeska Playhouse
If live theatre is something you love to do when travelling, it’s worth your time to check out the Modjeska Playhouse’s schedule during your visit to Lake Forest.
This not-for-profit venue has been entertaining locals and visitors alike for 30 years. It started with a few high school students putting their love of theatre into a community venture and eventually turning it into something much bigger.
The seating is open, so you can sit wherever you want during the performance but must get there early to get the best seats.
8. Hike to Red Rock Canyon
Situated in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park just outside of Lake Forest, the trail leading to Red Rock Canyon is approximately four miles long and suitable for all hiking levels.
The Canyon features unique red rocks and stunning views of the rugged landscape. Along the trail, you’ll see a variety of wildflowers, birds, and wildlife. There are 23 other scenic trails in the park.
9. Feast on Traditional Mexican Cuisine at La Cocina de Ricardo
For a lively atmosphere and delicious food, visitors to Lake Forest head to La Cocina de Ricardo Restaurant. This family-owned and operated establishment serves quality, authentic Mexican cuisine surrounded by colourful decor.
On the menu, you’ll find appetizers, soups, salads and a variety of egg dishes, enchiladas, burritos, and many other classic favourites. A full bar is also on-site and is said to serve the best margaritas in Lake Forest.
10. Learn About Other Cultures at The Bowers Museum
Located in nearby Santa Ana, The Bowers Museum is a learning experience like no other in the area.
Learn about some of the word’s cultures through exhibits showcasing items from different cultures in Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. You can also admire beautiful Pre-Columbian art and Native American artefacts.
In the past, the museum has hosted exclusive exhibits, including Treasures of the British Museum and Terra Cotta Warriors. An interactive children’s museum is also on site.
11. The Arden Helena Modjeska Historic House and Gardens
The Arden Helena Modjeska Historic House was constructed in the late 1800s as a refuge for Madame Helena Modjeska, a well-known actress.
Currently, the beautiful home, situated in an oak grove along the Santiago Creek, is a California and National Historic Landmark. You have the choice to explore the house on your own or take a guided tour with advance notice.
12. Visit the Santa Ana Zoo
The Santa Ana Zoo is a 20-acre facility that features a variety of plants and animals from Central and South America.
Some of the animals you’ll see as you make your way around the zoo including anteaters, howler monkeys and green iguanas. You’ll also discover many exotic bird species in a tropical habitat that mimics their natural home.
Also on site are a farm and thrilling rides, and you can ride on the Zoofari Express Train.
13. Stay Fit at Lake Forest Sports Park
Lake Forest Sports Park is the perfect place to head to with the whole family to stay fit, have fun, and get some fresh air.
This huge 86-acre park features a wide variety of sports facilities and amenities, including basketball courts, soccer fields, and softball and baseball fields. There are also playgrounds, outdoor exercising equipment, and picnic areas.
Dogs are welcome in certain parts of the park.
14. Learn and Have Fun at The Discovery Cube
The Discovery Cube in nearby Santa Ana is not hard to find because it’s a very noticeable ten-story solar cube. Inside this structure is a world of science and discovery, with many interactive exhibits for all ages.
These exhibits are meant to stimulate young minds and make learning about science fun and exciting.
There are more than 100 exhibits on-site, including the Air and Space exhibit, the Quake Zone exhibit, and the Dino Quest exhibit.
There are also some travelling exhibits in the Showcase Gallery.