It’s no secret that Orange County real estate is expensive, so when it’s time to have some fun, you want to take it easy on your wallet. Good thing there are tons of free things to do in Orange County and places to enjoy that don’t cost a dime. Check out our list of 21 free things you should check out if you’re bored and broke at home. Adventure awaits!

1. Go to the beach

There are so many beaches to go to in Orange County and you really can’t go wrong. Nab some street parking so you don’t have to pay in the lot, bring a towel and a friend and enjoy what makes SoCal the best place to be. Also, San Clemente and Seal Beach near Sunset Beach offers free beach parking.

If you’re in the mood for surfing or beach volleyball Huntington is a great choice. If you want to stop by bars on your way in from the waves then Newport Beach is calling to you. Or if you’re in a creative mood head down to Laguna for some sand, sun and art galleries (#6 on our list!).

2. Explore Downtown Disney

 

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If you don’t have the dough to make it into the park, enjoy the Disney atmosphere at Downtown Disney. Parking is free for the first three hours and you can enjoy musicians and other seasonal entertainment. Plus you can play and create with the Legos outside of the Lego store!

3. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, aka the Wetlands, is located in Huntington Beach and operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The area is just across the road from the beach with a trail that runs along the inside of the wetlands to the road. It’s a great place to bird watch and observe their natural habitat.

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Tidepools

4. Crystal Cove & 5. Doheny

 

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If you’re in the mood for the beach and want to get up close and personal with some sea creatures then you’ve got to check out the tide pools. Crystal Cove between Newport and Laguna Beach and Doheny Beach in Dana Point are the best tide pools to check out in Orange County.

6. Art Galleries in Laguna Beach

Not all of the artist studios will be open during summer if artists are participating in the art festivals, but there are tons of galleries free and open to the public in the arts community in Laguna Beach. Start strolling the streets and see what catches your eye.

7. Muckenthaler Cultural Center

Previously the mansion of a wealthy Fullerton family – Walter and Adella Muckenthaler – The Muckenthaler Cultural Center is now a museum with free exhibits, performances and educational programs. Known and loved as “The Muck”, the museum has beautiful grounds and gardens so it’s become a popular wedding venue. It’s a great free museum to enjoy local art, some lush grounds and the gorgeous vintage mansion. For more museums in Orange County, check out our post about all 40 of them.

8. Enjoy Old Towne Orange

 

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Old Towne Orange in the heart of Orange County is the perfect place for a free and easy stroll. There are tons of antique, collectible and specialty shops in the area to explore and a gorgeous plaza to enjoy at it’s center. Plus you can check out all of the beautifully preserved Old Towne Orange real estate surrounding the plaza. Homeowners take great pride in upgrading and maintaining their vintage homes with classic craftsman and Victorian styles which makes the neighborhood a great place for a charming old school real estate tour!

9. Tour Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Segerstrom Center for the Arts offers free docent-led tours Wednesdays and Saturdays. Check out the award-winning home for the performing arts in Orange County in a whole new light as you browse the magnificent lobbies, main stage and behind the scene secret spots. Tours are an hour and on Saturdays you can get a tour of the Concert Hall as well.

10. Take a Hike

We may not have a lot of wilderness here in Orange County but there are still plenty of places to do some hiking which is free and healthy for you – bonus points! If you need some some ideas on where to start, check out the best 8 hikes in Orange County. If you’re a beginner we suggest Crystal Cove and if you’re a pro check out Holy Jim or Black Star.

11. Sherman Library and Gardens

 

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Sherman Library & Gardens is a 2.2 acre Corona del Mar horticultural retreat. It may not be big but it’s definitely beautiful. Entrance into the Sherman Library and Gardens is free on Mondays and $3 on other days but kids 12 and under are always free.

12. Old Courthouse Museum

Admission to the Old Courthouse Museum is always free and it’s a landmark so you might as well check it out if you have a free afternoon. Located in Downtown Santa Ana, it’s a Southern California’s oldest court building and now holds an exhibition gallery of permanent and rotating exhibits on local history.

13. Check out a park

There are tons of parks all across Orange County that are totally free. Find a park near you or take a look at some of these top OC parks according to Yelp:

  • Santiago Park Nature
  • Citrus Ranch Park
  • Jeffrey open space trail
  • Dinosaur Park Laguna Hills
  • Balboa Pier Playgound
  • Top of the World in Laguna

14. Fullerton Arboretum

 

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Entrance and parking are free at the Fullerton Arboretum open daily 8AM to 4:30PM. The grounds include a woodlands collection, desert collection, Mediterranean collection, community garden, children’s garden and the Heritage house which as been converted into a museum. The Arboretum is a beautiful spot to sit and read or explore. There is a suggested donation of $5, but you can save the donation for your next pay day.

15. Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary

Located in Modjeska Canyon right off of Santiago Canyon Road you’ll find the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. There you can explore native habitats along nature trails and learn more about California’s plants and animals. It’s also one of the best bird watching sites in Orange County so don’t forget your camera! There are exhibits and hands-on activities for kids and inspiring wildlife for everyone to enjoy.

16. ExplorOcean Science Saturdays & Sundays

All ages are always free at ExplorOcean in Newport Beach. The educational center offers fun, interactive hands-on activities on Saturdays and Sundays at the Back Bay. Each month there’s a new theme based on one of the Ocean Literacy Principles so there’s reasons to come back again and again to learn more.

17. Art Walk

 

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Several cities in Orange County do art walks each month, which is totally free, and an amazing fun way to experience local art, dance, and culture. Each month and each art walk features new artists, different exhibits and something new and exciting to enjoy.

18. Dana Warf Sportfishing Kid’s fishing

Dana Wharf Sportfishing invites all children to come to their dockside fishing clinic and learn hands on techniques on fishing from the experts. The clinic is totally free and it’s a great fun way to start a day on the beach. After the clinic there’s also a fishing trip from 12:45 – 5:15PM. Kids are still free but adult tickets are $46.

19. Newport Back Bay Science Center

 

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Newport Beach’s Back Bay Science Center is located next to the Newport Dunes and it teaches you about the back bay through interactive exhibits, and lots of skeletons to examine. Although the facility is not a visitors center, they are open to the public on Sundays from 10 AM until 2 PM for their Community Day.

20. Bolsa Chica Conservancy Interpretive Center

Parking and entrance are free at the Bolsa Chica Conservatory. The center is 1,400 square feet and hosts several exhibits throughout the year on marine life species native to the California Coast, wetland ecology and more. It’s a fun and informative way to spend the day with the family in Orange County!

21. The Noguchi Garden

 

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The Noguchi garden is actually a hidden sculpture garden by South Coast plaza. The garden has art, a small river, benches, trees, and a calm ambiance which makes it the perfect spot to sit and read or meditate. It’s not a full day activity but it’s a great hidden gem to enjoy. It’s also aptly named the “California Scenario” because it embraces the stark deserts, trickles of water, jutting rocks, and peaceful forests that are so common to California.