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!
Orange County Great Park – Hot Air Balloon Ride
Located in Irvine, the Orange County Great Park used to be a Marine Corps Air Station before being converted into a community-serving gem, housing horticulture gardens, farms, and a farmers’ market. However, it is the massive hot air balloon that takes riders 400 ft into the sky that is truly the highlight of any visit. Enjoy a dazzling bird’s-eye view of both the metropolitan and natural environments Orange County has to offer for only $10.
The Great Park does not have an address; driving directions can be found here.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts – Free Movie Mondays
In a celebration of summer, the esteemed 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 for visitors to enjoy the beautiful 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.
600 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, CA, USA +1 714 556 2787
Surf City Nights Street Fair
Huntington Beach, also famously known as 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 beautiful location right on Main Street. To further pump up the vibe, live music plays throughout the evening, providing free entertainment.
Main St, Huntington Beach, CA, USA +1 714 536 8300
Donation-Based Yoga Class at San Juan Capistrano Gardens
Yoga classes can cost quite a bit of money, but this program, led by Goin’ Native Therapeutic Gardens and pure.love.yoga, allows for visitors to enjoy yoga sessions 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 gorgeous plant life, promoting connections with nature in the hopes of enhancing relaxation in the wonderful environment of Orange County.
31661 Los Rios St, San Juan Capistrano, CA, USA +1 949 606 6386
Picnic at the Woodbridge Lakes
In the bustling suburb of Irvine lies the community of Woodbridge, with lakefront houses around two sparkling and crisp 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.
North Lake Park, Irvine, CA, USA
Woodbridge North Lake at Night © David Eppstein/Wikipedia
Explore Crystal Cove State Park
Explore Crystal Cove State Park
While much of Southern California is highly developed, Crystal Cove State Park serves as a glimpse into the past. Crystal Cove’s glistening beachfront features everything from sand and sunshine to rocky terrain with numerous tide pools. A plethora of wildlife exists just off shore, with many scuba divers exploring the protected rocky reefs. Large, heavily wooded hiking trails cover the inland area off the park, offering a glimpse into how lush California’s native plants can actually be. Finally, as if Crystal Cove has sat in a time capsule, cottages from the first half of the 20th century offer a look at old architectural styles. You only have to pay a small fee for parking.
Laguna Beach, CA, USA +1 949 494 3539
Santa Ana Art Walk
In Downtown Santa Ana, the Art Walk occurs on the first Saturday of every month. Multiple art galleries open for free, allowing visitors to stroll through and admire new, creative, and vivid artworks from local artists. Vendors and crafts line the dazzling streets while live music and entertainment entertains the crowd, offering a sophisticated yet lively experience in the heart of Santa Ana.
207 N Broadway Ave, Santa Ana, CA, USA
The Santora Building, often visited during the Art Walk © Cbl62/Wikipedia
Dana Point Summer Concert Series
Many cities in Orange County offer free concerts in the summer, but Dana Point’s Summer Concert Series offers a wide variety of musical selections spanning July and August. Additionally, three different locations are used throughout the summer, allowing you to attend multiple concerts and feel like you’re going to a brand new event. Each space is located next to the ocean, allowing for a beautiful scenic view alongside some rocking tunes.
Explore Irvine Regional Park
Irvine Regional Park offers a wide variety of activities. Small ponds and lakes attract bird life as you walk along the trails, but to get a better view of the animals, visit the OC Zoo, which is located in the park. The zoo 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 and beautiful sites. Admission and activities cost only a few dollars each.
1 Irvine Park Rd, Orange, CA, USA +1 714 973 6835
Balboa Island and Peninsula
An exemplary model of beachfront architecture and culture, the Balboa Island and Peninsula features a pristine beach surrounded by local shops and many historic buildings. Balboa Island is home to residential areas but also the Balboa Island Ferry; for only a few bucks you can ride across the harbor onto the peninsula. On the peninsula, the Balboa Fun Zone features an inexpensive Ferris wheel ride that takes its time and allows you to soak in the beautiful harbor, a tradition that’s been around for over 80 years. Next to the peninsula lies the Balboa Pavilion, a building which has been around since 1906 and is still used as a water recreation activity center. After you’re done exploring the historic area, walk over to the beach and relax under the sunshine.
Balboa Island and Peninsula