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Where To Find Free or Nearly Free Things To Do On Vacation in Southern California

Posted on | April 19, 2010 | Comments Off on Where To Find Free or Nearly Free Things To Do On Vacation in Southern California

The true beauty of So Cal is the diversity. Here’s a few tips on how to find things to do that won’t cost you and arm and a leg:

See free concerts during the Summer by Grand Performances at California Plaza, an urban amphitheatre. Brazilian Samba to modern dance — their upcoming season schedule is posted on their website in April. Seating opens two hours before performances (Fri-Sun) and you can bring a picnic lunch. For more info: 

Go to and check out their FREE cultural event listings for all over Los Angeles County. You can participate in Drawing Hour at the Getty Museum, enjoy a Chamber Music concert at the LA County Museum of Art, or join in the Old Time Music Jam at the Center for Folk Music in the San Fernando Valley. 

Or, meet Hollywood’s BIGGEST star – The Santa Monica Mountains. These beautiful mountains have portrayed everything from Africa to the Old West in a variety of TV shows and movies. For more info and a downloadable map, visit the National Park Service website. 

Other inexpensive stops: The Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino, The Aquarium of The Pacific in Long Beach (check online for discount tickets), Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and the Natural History Museum.


Seal Beach – it’s the last of the small family beaches with a charming walkable downtown area that boasts numerous $ -$ $ range restaurants, antique shops, the 2nd longest pier in CA, and a family friendly beach complete with a playground area. Parking is reasonable, and there are several major grocery stores and health food stores nearby (within 5 mi. radius). 

Huntington Beach – Surf City USA. Surfing and Volleyball championships are held here, along with free entertainment downtown, a Farmers Market on Fridays and a little-known jewel called Central Park. Central Park’s 350 acre complex is host to the main library (two story with indoor fountain) horse riding rentals, frisee golf course, picnic grounds, dog park, sports complex and more. Best of all, it is literally within 2 miles of the beach off Goldenwest. 

Newport & Laguna Beaches are world-renowned and rightfully so, but can be pricey. However, if you are savvy, you can find lots of inexpensive or free things to do in the beach communities and surrounding areas. 

The cities of Fullerton, Irvine and Brea also have great events throughout the year that are worth looking into. Oh yeah, Disneyland,in Anaheim is close by as is Knott’s Berry Farm…


Home to the San Diego Zoo, Legoland, Camp Pendleton and the Naval Base, among others. It’s free to stroll through the Gaslight Quarter with its historic buildings, great restaurants and charming shops. Check out the 14-acre bayfront outdoor mall known as Seaport Village – a quaint, Cape Cod feel that can resulting in a fun low-key afternoon walk. Speaking of which, Walkabout International offers free guided walking tours. 

All the museums in Balboa Park (1100+ acres!) offer free admission on Tuesdays (on a rotating schedule – Natural History Museum on the 1st Tuesday, and the Aerospace Museum on the 4th Tuesday). 

La Jolla – north of the city of San Diego, and in my opinion, the best of the best! Check out the 1/2 mile coast walk, enjoy the tide pools, sea lions, beautiful ocean view and the Children’s Pool. It also has beautiful restaurants, art galleries, and if you happen to be in a convertible or on a motorcycle, follow Scenic Drive for a 360-degree view of the area.

Amtrak has an easy train route from San Diego to Los Angeles. A recent roundtrip ticket from Carlsbad to Orange County was less than .
Less expensive grocery chains in the area: Fresh & Easy and Trader Joes. Both have great selections of prepared foods, healthy vegetarian meals, and even wines — without the restaurant prices.
Consider craigslist for finding alternative short term housing as opposed to a hotel or motel. Many houses are available on and off season for up to 2 weeks at a time.

Additional resources
How To Find Campgrounds In California