- Travel and Places
Fun Free Things to Do in Southern California
The Hollywood Stars are Just One of the Many Fun and Free or Cheap Ways to Spend a Day in Southern California
Sightseeing in Southern California
As a resident of Southern California, I love the almost unlimited number of cheap and free activities that are available virtually all the time. If you are willing to spend money on a tank of gas or bus fare, you can find plenty to do that doesn't require an admission fee or cover charge. At some locations, you may need to pay to park or you may wish to enjoy a relaxed lunch or ice cream cone. However, other than these nominal costs, all the attractions that are mentioned in this article are free to do in Southern California.
For example, many of the museums have free days and you will want to call them to see when they will be having their next free event.
My personal favorites are the two fabulous Getty Museums which have no admission fee, ever, although they do charge $15 for parking. However, considering that you can take a carload of people to the museums for that price, it is quite a bargain. In addition, if you take a bus to the museums, you pay nothing more than your bus fare. The Getty Museum in Malibu, along the Pacific Coast Highway, is an easy bus ride from a number of hotels strung along the coast from Santa Monica to Malibu. The Getty that is off the 405 freeway north of downtown Los Angeles not only has an incredible art collection but also boasts a commanding view of the entire Los Angeles Valley. Both museums are quite different and well worth your time.
Keep reading to see some of the favorite choices of our family. I will add to this list as we find new free places to visit, too!
(Photo of Hollywood Stars courtesy of www.morguefile.com)
Famous Laguna Beach is Just One of the Many Wonderful Beaches that So Cal has to Offer
Visit a Famous Beach
Some of the most famous beaches in the world are located in Southern California. Each one has its own style and appeal. Many of them are frequently featured in movies and on television shows.
One of the favorite ways that our family loves to spend time is to go to a beach and spend the day. Some of the beaches have fire pits and allow you to build bonfires. Others do not allow fires, but they have wide open spaces for sunbathing and paved walkways where you can take a stroll.
Listed below are some of my favorite Southern California beaches and a little information about each of them:
Orange County Beaches
Laguna Beach - This charming small town has over 100 art galleries and a wide variety of restaurants and casual eateries. You can take a stroll at Main Beach on the boardwalk while your kids play on the playground. Then, take your children to the tidepools at the north end of the beach where they can spend hours looking at the small sea creatures that sometimes get trapped there. At the south end of the beach, go surfing. Paddleboarding and scuba diving are also popular activities in this town.
Newport Beach - The Balboa Peninsula has wide open beaches as well as a sidewalk that goes the length of the peninsula. It's a great place for a long walk.
Huntington Beach - This is the famous Surf City that the Beach Brothers sang about. There are fabulous beaches there, firepits, and a spacious dog park.
Los Angeles County Beaches
Venice Beach - This artistic town has canals that run through it. It is a delightful community for anyone who wants to spend a romantic afternoon in a unique Southern California neighborhood.
Santa Monica - This beach town is frequently shown on television and in movies. Whenever you see people rollerblading along a walkway with the ocean in the background, there is a good chance that the scene is being shot in Santa Monica. Santa Monica also has a wonderful pier with a Ferris Wheel and lots of fun carnival activities.
San Diego County, Ventura County and Santa Barbara County all have their own beautiful beaches, too. Wherever you are planning to spend time in California, plan to include a little time at a beach. They are free, accessible and are often surrounded by interesting restaurants and activities. We love to just take a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway and stop at a Starbucks. To us, this is a great way to spend the day.
(I took this photo of Laguna Beach from Cliff Drive.)
Bring Along a Travel Guide
Before I list some more free things to do in Southern California, I want to suggest that you make sure you have a travel guide with you when you come. If you are a member of the AAA Automobile Club, you can stop by your local office and ask for a free travel guide to California, as well as any other location in the United States. Not only can you get the guide for free, but it will have lots of money-saving ideas to help you enjoy your trip.
It's also easy to order information from Amazon.com. The travel guides on their site are updated frequently, so contact information and pricing data should be up-to-date.
Below the shopping guide, you'll see my list of my favorite places to shop around Los Angeles and Orange County.
A Guidebook Can Also Help You Find Fun Things to Do in California
Fodor's has long been recognized as one of the leaders in producing excellent travel guides. This one is full of current information for Southern California.
Favorite Areas for Window Shopping and Restaurants
There are a number of fun places where you may want to take a stroll, do some window shopping and, perhaps, have lunch or a snack. Some of these locations are world famous, and others are only known to local people. Here are some of our favorites:
Balboa Island in Newport Beach - You can stroll entirely around this charming island in about an hour. While there are a wide variety of restaurants on the island, our favorite place to stop is for a chocolate dipped banana at one of the two banana stands on the main thoroughfare.
Fashion Island in Newport Beach - This open air shopping center is one of the few places where you can shop in upscale stores while looking out at the ocean. The escalator ride from the shops to the parking lot on the ocean side of the mall is spectacular. Even some of the most casual restaurants have ocean views.
Rodeo Drive near Beverly Hills - The expensive stores on this boulevard have been featured in many movies, most notably "Pretty Woman." However, there are some shops there with moderate prices. For example, from time to time there has been a Gap Store and a Forever 21 store on the street. While you are there, you will want to walk past the more expensive stores and do a little window shopping.
Third Street in Santa Monica - This street is blocked off and is a fabulous place for people watching. Whether you are sitting in a sidewalk cafe or strolling along watching clowns juggle and bands perform, this is a great location to get a real California experience.
Hollywood Walk of Fame - Don't forget to take the time to see the stars imbedded in the sidewalk in Hollywood. It is fun to find the stars of your favorite stars.
Downtown Disney - If you can't afford to go into the Disney Theme Parks (and they are quite expensive), you can always spend an afternoon at Downtown Disney. This area is located between the Magic Kingdom and California Adventure, the two theme parks at Disneyland. However, it is open to the public for just the cost of parking in their lot ... and the restaurants will validate your parking ticket. There is a movie theater, shops and restaurants. There are often little shows going on, such as a bird show or a musical performance. One of our favorite places to go is the Rainforest Cafe, which our grandkids love. After a couple of hours in Downtown Disney, we have nearly always satisfied our need to spend time in Disneyland.
All of the beach towns mentioned above also have fun places to take a stroll.
(Photo of Hollywood sign courtesy of www.morguefile.com)
More Useful Information You May Want to Have
The Los Angeles roads can be confusing and, even if you have a GPS, you may want to have a general idea where things are in relationship to each other. Picking up a map before your trip could save you a lot of frustration.
If Disneyland is on your list of things to do, make sure you get a good Disney guide, too.
Below you will find information on popular shopping areas and even more things you may want to do during your visit to Southern California!
If you are taking your children with you, here is another helpful Fodor's travel guide.