(credit: VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Families are often looking for something fun to do to create lasting memories and beat the back-to-school blues – without breaking the bank. Let’s face it, multiply that entrance fee by four or five and life can get expensive. Not everything in the OC has to be a budget buster. This fall, there are lots of free activities to offer entertainment and even learning experiences for the entire family.
Irvine Park Railroad
1 Irvine Park Road
Orange, CA 92869
Sure, you’ve been to Irvine Park and taken a ride on the famous Irvine Park Train, but have you seen the pumpkin patch? Running through Halloween, Irvine Park’s fifth annual pumpkin patch offers activities the whole family will enjoy. Take advantage of the Halloween decor and farmhouse setting and capture some great fall snapshots. You can also choose the perfect pumpkin for your jack-o-lantern. While admission to the pumpkin patch is free, prices vary for additional festivities such as panning for gold, pony rides, moon bounce, face painting, hay rides and visits to the hay maze and haunted house.
2002 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706
Visitors to the Bowers can enjoy free access to the museum, Kidseum and all activities on the first Sunday of every month. Santa Ana residents also enjoy free general admission each Tuesday with proof of residency. If that isn’t enough, Bowers is also part of the Blue Star Museums program and offers free admission to our brave military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Be sure to bring your military ID. Visit www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums for more details on this great program.
Huntington Beach Art Walk
Downtown Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Sunsets, sand and… art? Come experience the artsy side of Huntington Beach as you take a free, self-guided walking tour through downtown Huntington. On the third Thursday of each month from 6 to 9 p.m., this monthly art show features displays in local stores and restaurants and also includes live music. You can meet the artists first-hand and maybe even buy that special piece of artwork that you just can’t leave without. And if that’s not enough entertainment, you can always grab a seat and people watch.
Related: Best Fall Festivals In Orange County
Dana Wharf Sportfishing
34675 Golden Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629
Every Sunday, Dana Wharf offers a free fishing clinic for kids. No reservations are needed, and from noon to 12:30 p.m., the experts share their secrets for catching a whopper. Kids won’t need their sea legs as they stay dockside to learn hook tying and fishing techniques and have the opportunity to win raffle prizes. And if that’s not cool enough, kids can fish free on a half-day trip immediately after the clinic and their rental gear is included too.
Bolsa Chica Conservancy
18000 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Enjoy your Saturday with a free tour that covers the Bolsa Chica story presented by docents that will entertain your entire family with an overview of the birds, ecology and history and restoration of our local coastal wetlands. With more than 300 acres in the sanctuary, Bolsa Chica features a 1.5-mile trail loop and is a popular preserve for bird watching. Nearly half of the birds found in the U.S. have been spotted in Huntington Beach. Look for a docent at the south lot of the reserve near the footbridge next to PCH to take you on The Amigos de Bolsa Chica tour between 9 and 10:30 a.m. Parking is free.
Related: Best Playgrounds In Orange County
“Kids Free San Diego”
These activities might be in San Diego, but the drive is short enough to make it worthwhile to drive downtown to enjoy some of the free activities the city has to offer for kids this fall. Some of San Diego’s favorite attractions including USS Midway Museum (children under 5 get in free), San Diego Zoo (kids get in free in October!) and SeaWorld San Diego which is offering free admission with a paid adult. You can also explore more than 35 museums, most offering kids free ticket prices, including San Diego Automotive Museum, Birch Aquarium at Scripps and San Diego Natural History Museum.
Erin Johnson is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.