18 Free Family Adventures in Orange County, CA
Huntington Beach, CA Photo by rachel_titiriga/CC Flickr

There is more to Orange County than Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, and you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy all it has to offer.  Whether you are in Southern California for vacation, or you call this area home, the family is sure to love these 18 FREE family activities.

  1. Low Tide Ecosystems. Observe and investigate anemones, starfish, barnacles and other water creatures by visiting the tide pools and various beaches around the county.  By venturing at low tide you are more likely to uncover the hidden flora and fauna. Bring a magnifying glass for observing, but remember not to disturb these delicate creatures or their habitats.
  2. Nature Centers. Orange County is host to a number of nature centers such as Turtle Rock, with a nature trail, native plant garden and labyrinth. Environmental Nature Center offers hiking trails, wildlife habitats and a butterfly house.  Muth Interpretive Center is a natural estuary with interactive displays.
  3. Bolsa Chica Wetlands. The Bolsa Chica Conservancy walks visitors through a free two-hour guided tour on the first Saturday of each month. Learn more about the birds and endangered animals of the wetlands. Discover more about the Bolsa Chica’s past, and how to restore the area and preserve it for the future.
  4. Huntington Beach Pier. Play in the sand, look for shells, and watch the surfers.  Older kids can bike or roller blade.  Bring a picnic blanket and a pile of books.  Fly a kite, or venture on the (much more crowded) weekend for a festival or farmers market.
  5. The Irvine Museum. Free on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, it is a lovely place to learn more about California impressionist art.
  6. Disney Fireworks Display. Load the iPhone with your favorite music, pack a “car” picnic and head to one of the top five locations outside the Park to view Disney fireworks, from VitaminOC.
  7. Heritage Park Irvine. Play in the pop-up fountains or take to the ocean themed playground.  Bring cracked corn and feed the ducks and geese in the grassy areas around the lake.
  8. Nixon Presidential Library. Explore campaign paraphernalia, news on Watergate, gowns of the first-lady and more at this library honoring the 37th president.  It is free on holidays.
  9. Vans Skatepark at the Block. After browsing the store, watch the local talent at the skate park.  Go Skateboarding Day each summer lets everyone skate for free.
  10. Heritage Hill Historical Park. Study the past with seven free walking tours over 4 acres of historical buildings.
  11. Orange County Great Park. Feel the dirt between your fingers in the hands-on garden lab, tour the Museum of Heritage & Aviation and walk the timeline of pivotal 1940’s events.  Check out sports equipment at the Visitor’s Center including Bocce ball, jump ropes, Frisbees and more. Climb Kids Rock to learn about ecology and the water cycle while working off some energy. See hot air balloons lift off or watch the carousel – and experience them for a nominal fee.  Sunday’s bring the farmers market and there are often outdoor concerts on the weekend.
  12. Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. See boards through history, ad sing a little Beach Boys karaoke. There are photos of famous surfers and ever-changing exhibits like movies and wax sculpted surfers.
  13. Bowers Museum. A museum celebrating cultural differences around the world.  There is also a Kidseum for a younger point of view.  Thanks to Target, admission is free the first Sunday of each month.
  14. Omar’s Exotic Birds. Visit this unique exotic bird store.  What makes it so unique? The birds are not in cages; they hang from perches around the store giving visitors a hands-on experience.
  15. Newport Sports Museum. See the world’s largest collection of sports memorabilia, with the benevolent mission of motivating at-risk youth to stay in school and off drugs. Who knows, you might even run into one of hundreds of well-known athlete volunteers.
  16. Pacific Marine Mammal Center. See the newest patients at this rescue and rehabilitation center.  Passionate volunteers care for seals and sea lions, and docents are available to answer your questions.
  17. Orange County Courthouse Museum.  Take a docent-led or self-guided tour of Southern California’s oldest courthouse.
  18. Fullerton Arboretum. A 26-acre botanical garden with plants from all over the world. Enjoy the historic house, volunteer veggie gardens, or just walking the dirt paths.

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