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Fun Free Things to Do in Southern California

Updated on October 17, 2015
DeborahDian profile image

Deborah lives in Orange County, California and often writes about the lifestyle and places of interest 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

Look for the stars of your favorite actors and actresses.  Some of the names you will find may come as quite a surprise!
Look for the stars of your favorite actors and actresses. Some of the names you will find may come as quite a surprise! | Source

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

Famous Laguna Beach is Just One of the Many Wonderful Beaches that So Cal has to Offer

The beaches in Southern California are a wonderful way to spend the day.
The beaches in Southern California are a wonderful way to spend the day. | Source

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 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 Southern California 2015: with Central Coast, Yosemite, Los Angeles & San Diego (Full-color Travel Guide)
Fodor's Southern California 2015: with Central Coast, Yosemite, Los Angeles & San Diego (Full-color Travel Guide)

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

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!

Fodor's Disneyland & Southern California with Kids, 10th Edition (Travel Guide)
Fodor's Disneyland & Southern California with Kids, 10th Edition (Travel Guide)

If you are taking your children with you, here is another helpful Fodor's travel guide.


Do you have any favorite memories of Los Angeles?

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    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Now that we are in southern California, we need to visit each and everyone of the beaches you mention.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I had to stop in and say hello. It's been a long time. I hope all is well in your world.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      What a nice list you have of things to do in Southern California! I've been there, but I see interesting things I didn't now about when I was there. Really very good of you to make a list like this because living there you know what's worth doing and seeing.

      I like those souvenir LA cups near the bottom of the page, too. I think getting souvenirs online can save space on a trip because you don't have to pack things into an already overstuffed suitcase or car.

      I did a lot of traveling here in the states with my second husband several years ago and one thing I remember is people from other places (both other states than the one we were in as well as other countries) ordering certain souvenir merchandise to be shipped straight from the stores we were in, back home to wherever. A clerk was following them around with a notepad taking down the items they wanted sent.

      Vacation season is underway and California is a good destination if someone hasn't been there (and even if they have). Voted up and useful and sharing with followers.

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 2 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thanks, catravel. Many people only know about the obvious places to visit in California, or they have heard that everything is expensive. There are plenty of things to do here on a budget!

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      Even people who live in Southern California will enjoy this list of fun, free things they can do!

    • catravel profile image

      Zoka 3 years ago

      Great list of new/ less known CA places.I like it :)

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      Yes, sushi in one of the shops in little Tokyo. This was about 30 years or so ago. I'm sure it would be a lot different today.

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      @WriterJanis2: I think most people who come here want to make sure they go to Disneyland. However, I wanted to give people some other options, too, that would not cost a lot of money!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      I visit southern CA every year. My favorite place is Disneyland.

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      @anonymous: I hope you do get to travel to California one day. It is a really diverse state with everything from mountains to beaches, big cities to tiny towns. There's something here for everyone!

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      I'd add Corona Del Mar to the list of beaches.

      For LA and Orange County, I love Griffith Park, and many mountain areas such as in the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Ana Mountains, etc.

      Mostly I love nature, hiking, and the beach and tide pool areas.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Never been to California. North, South, East or West. Great travel tips though! Especially the one about buying souvenirs online. Good to know.

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      @TanoCalvenoa: These are excellent suggestions. While I prefer the Balboa Peninsula to Big Corona, I know that many people enjoy Corona more. Your other suggestions are great for people who want to explore nature during their visit. Thanks for your helpful comments!

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      @poutine: I hope you do get to visit Southern California one of these days. There are plenty of fun things to do here!

    • profile image

      poutine 4 years ago

      Unfortunately, I never had the chance to visit SC.