Cheap Things to Do in Orange County, California

Dana Point is one of many stunning parts of Orange County, California
Dana Point is one of many stunning parts of Orange County, California | © Jon Bilous / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Kayelyn Rodriguez
18 August 2020

Orange County is one of the more expensive areas of southern California, and with theme parks as major attractions, it’s easy to understand why. However, there are quite a few activities that cost next to nothing or are completely free. We round up the places to visit without breaking the bank.

Orange County Great Park – hot air balloon ride

Market, Farmers' Market, Vegetarian, Fast Food, Street Food
Map View
Orange County Great Park, in Irvine, is a former Marine Corps Air Station that’s been converted into a community-serving gem, with horticulture gardens, farms and a farmers’ market. However, the massive hot air balloon that takes riders 400ft (121m) into the sky is the highlight of any visit. Enjoy a dazzling bird’s-eye view of the metropolitan and natural environs Orange County has to offer – for only $10.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Free Movie Mondays

Art Gallery
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In celebration of summer, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts presents family-friendly movies to the public for free on select Mondays. The shows take place on a movie screen outside the center, allowing visitors to enjoy the fantastic southern California evenings. Guests reserve their spots with blankets and chairs and are free to enjoy a picnic or pick up some scrumptious food from the food trucks that service the event.

Surf City Nights Street Fair

Market, American
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Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, hosts a free street fair every Tuesday night. Featuring farmers’ markets and numerous niche vendors and artisans, the fair provides interesting sights along with a fantastic location right on Main Street. To further pump up the vibe, live music plays throughout the evening, providing free entertainment.

Donation-Based Yoga Class at San Juan Capistrano Gardens

Botanical Garden
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Yoga classes can be costly, but this program, led by Goin’ Native Therapeutic Gardens and, allows you to enjoy a yoga session based purely on donations. The program is a wonder for people looking for a group but who want to save on classes. If close-to-free yoga isn’t enough, the sessions take place surrounded by glorious plant life, promoting connections with nature in the hopes of enhancing relaxation in the wonderful environment of Orange County.

Picnic at the Woodbridge Lakes

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Irvine Woodbridge south lake,with snow capped mountains view.
© WEI YANG LIN / Alamy Stock Photo
In the lively suburb of Irvine lies the community of Woodbridge, with lakefront houses around two sparkling man-made lakes, serving as a detour from the normal pavement and trees. This serene location serves as the ideal spot for a stroll or picnic during the day. Experience a beautifully lit and relaxing rest underneath the lakefront gazebo.

Explore Crystal Cove State Park

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View of the sandy beach from Vista Point, Pelican Point, coastal reserve, Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County, California
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
While much of southern California is highly developed, Crystal Cove State Park provides a glimpse into the past, with a glistening shoreline featuring sand, rocky terrain and tide pools. A range of wildlife lives just offshore, with many scuba divers exploring the protected reefs. Large, heavily wooded hiking trails cover the inland area behind the park, offering a glimpse of California’s lush native plants. Finally, as if Crystal Cove has been sitting in a time capsule, cottages from the first half of the 20th century offer a look at old architectural styles. You’ll only have to pay a small fee for parking.

Santa Ana Art Walk

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In Downtown Santa Ana, the Art Walk is held on the first Saturday of every month. Multiple art galleries open for free, allowing visitors to stroll through and admire new works by local artists. Vendors and crafts line the streets, while live music and entertainment delights the crowd, offering a sophisticated yet lively experience in the heart of Santa Ana.

Explore Irvine Regional Park

Park, Zoo
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Irvine Regional Park comprises small ponds and lakes that attract bird life as you walk along the trails, but to get a better view of the animals, visit the OC Zoo. It features native animals as well as wildlife from other southwestern states. A small train runs through the park, allowing passengers to tour all the historic sites. Admission and activities cost only a few dollars each.

Balboa Island and Peninsula

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BALBOA PENINSULA IN THE FOREGROUND WITH BALBOA ISLAND BEHIND (aerial view). Newport Beach, Orange County, California, USA.
© / Alamy Stock Photo
A model of beachfront architecture and culture, Balboa Island and Peninsula features a pristine beach surrounded by local shops and many historic buildings. There are many residential areas but also the Balboa Island Ferry; and for only a few bucks you can ride across the harbor onto the peninsula. Here, the Balboa Fun Zone features an inexpensive ferris wheel ride that takes its time and allows you to soak in the incredible harbor, a tradition that’s been around for over 80 years. Next to the peninsula lies the Balboa Pavilion, built in 1906 and still used as a water recreation activity center. After you’re done exploring the historic area, walk over to the beach and relax in the sunshine.
These recommendations were updated on August 18, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.