Location: Rancho Santa Margarita: Off Santa Margarita Parkway
Hours: Dawn until dusk daily
For ages: All
Though not officially a “park,” Rancho Santa Margarita’s “lago” involves enough kids, skates, bikes, grass and sunshine to make it feel like one. What makes this “park” different is that it’s not the type of park where you go and sit on a bench all afternoon (at least not for long). It’s the type of place that draws you in and encourages you to move, move, move around the loop of the 1.1-mile lake. Once you see the sun sparkling on the lake’s ripples, you’ll be drawn to walk around it and view it from every angle. And your kids will be in good company on their bikes or skates.
If you enter through Mercado Del Lago parking lot off Santa Margarita Parkway, you’ll enter the lake area after descending a set of steps at the southeast end of the lake (if you have strollers or bikes you’ll have to carry them down the concrete steps). Also, be forewarned that there are no public restrooms around the lake, except in the Mercado (market) area. We often start our afternoon with lunch at Carl’s Jr., make sure the kids use the restroom, then cross the parking lot to the lake and start walking in either direction. You can also enter on the opposite side of the lake, off Las Flores, which has about 30 parking spaces.
Older kids will enjoy bringing their skates for some scenic skating practice, while the younger ones will enjoy riding their big wheels, tricycles, bikes and scooters. Benches all the way around offer great people-watching (or duck-watching) opportunities, and the fitness enthusiast will love the various fitness stations that offer a chance to work out at various points lakeside. The rocky north end of the lake, near the Las Flores parking lot, hosts a grassy amphitheater and is a prime fishing spot. Just east of that is a large, treeless, grassy area that’s popular for kite-flying in the spring. The Beach Club, on the west side of the lake, is open to residents only.
End your stroll back at the Mercado Del Lago shopping center, where you can top off the afternoon with a treat: There is an ice cream shop, donut shop, bagel shop, convenience store (with candy and treats), Taco Bell and a Ralph’s.
RSM lake is also host to a fishing derby in the spring and a fireworks show on the 4th of July.
Where to park: Enter off Santa Margarita Parkway by pulling into the Mercado del Lago shopping center. Parking is plentiful in the center of shopping center, but watch the lake-close “20-minute parking only” spaces unless you truly plan to stay that short a time. You can also park in the small lot off Las Flores, but this lot fills up fast on the weekends.
What to bring: Big Wheels, bikes, scooters or skates. Fishing poles if you have a license. Great place for moms with strollers. You might want to bring some cash to purchase an ice cream cone or fountain drink nearby. If you have remote-controlled boats, they’re allowed here.
Best time to go: Any time
Do you like to spend time at Rancho Santa Margarita Lake? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Any tips to share?