How to Experience the Best of Orange County on a Budget

There are so many cool things to do in and around Orange County I feel like I’ll never run out of ideas. My bucket list keeps getting bigger and bigger.

What happens when you’re trying to save money but you also want to get out of the house and do something fun? Trust me, we’ve got plenty of cheap things to do in Orange County!

Check out some of my favorite things to do in Orange County on a budget.

The Best Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Orange County, California

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Biking in Huntington Beach

Bike Huntington Beach

If there’s just one thing you do in Huntington Beach (ok, two things because you also have to try surfing in Surf City USA), let it be to cruise the bike path on one of those cool beach cruisers or e-bikes. The views are to-die-for, plus HB just has all the cool-kid vibes. Bring your own bike or rent one from one of HB’s many bike shops in downtown.

The Huntington Beach bike path extends from Newport Beach on the south side to Sunset Beach on the north side. Make it a whole day trip by adding in lunch with a view at Duke’s or Sandy’s, making a stop at Dog Beach, hang at SeaLegs on the Beach for wine and live music, admire the Pier during sunset and end the day with a beach bonfire and s’mores.

Read more: 7 Surprising Things to Do in Huntington Beach

Looking out from the Dana Point Sea Cave

Hike to a Sea Cave

Dana Point has this really pretty ocean view hike called the Dana Point Headlands Trail. It’s a super easy hike and the entire trail has amazing ocean views. Check it out in the springtime when the flowers are blooming!

For an extra special day, walk the beach right underneath the Headlands trail to find a sea cave that’s big enough for you to walk in! The hike to the Dana Point Sea Cave is easy, so even the kids can do this one. Check the tide before you go to make sure it’s low enough and wear supportive water sandals since the end of the hike gets a little rocky.

Read more: Hiking to the Dana Point Sea Cave

View over Crystal Cove State Park

Explore all of Crystal Cove State Park

There’s something for everyone at Crystal Cove State Park. You can hit the beach or the trails, hike, bike, swim, camp, eat, and even stay at a historic beach cottage. This park is amazing.

Some of the most popular things to see and do at Crystal Cove are to hike Moro Canyon, get a shake with a view at Crystal Cove Shake Shack and have a beach day at my favorite spot, Pelican Point. If you’re lucky enough to get a reservation at one of the cottages you can easily fill an entire weekend with activities in Crystal Cove State Park.

Read more: How to Spend a Day in Crystal Cove State Park

The bells at the Mission San Juan Capistrano

Learn about History at the Mission San Juan Capistrano

I think everyone needs to learn this part of California’s history at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. It is one of the cheapest attractions in Orange County, so you’ll get the most bang for your buck here. The Mission SJC goes back many years, so there are a lot of stories to learn. Plus, the place is absolutely gorgeous. It’s easy to spend a half-day here just roaming around and taking photos of every single thing.

Visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano is something the whole family can enjoy and for an affordable price. Feel free to roam around on your own or request an audio or private tour.

Read more: A Visit to the Mission San Juan Capistrano

The orange balloon in Irvine's Great Park

Have a Day at the Great Park

Spend Sunday Funday outside with the family at the Great Park in Irvine! Stop at the Farmer’s Market in between 10am-2pm every Sunday and grab some fresh tamales. Bring your blanket and set up a picnic in Palm Tree Court.

After lunch, hop on the orange balloon to see the best views over the OC. By the way, the orange balloon is dog-friendly! There’s also a carousel and a playground, plus tons of green space for the kids to play.

Read more: 7 Unique Outdoor Activities in Irvine, California

Sea Summit Trail ocean view hike in San Clemente

Admire the Best Ocean Views in San Clemente

There are two gorgeous and easy hikes in Orange County that you cannot miss. They are the Sea Summit Trail and the San Clemente Beach Trail. I recommend completing these hikes in that order so you can see the great views from above San Clemente on the Sea Summit Trail first.

Once you get to the Pacific Coast Highway on the Sea Summit Trail, you’ll have to cross and walk a little bit to get on the San Clemente Beach Trail. The Pier is the perfect spot to rest for lunch before you continue on the beach trail or head back.

Read more: 12 Easy Hikes in Orange County with an Amazing View

Stand-Up Paddleboarding in Newport Back Bay

SUP Newport’s Back Bay

If you’ve never tried stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), it is a must! It took me so long to try it because I honestly didn’t think I would be able to do it, but I found out that it’s not as hard as it looks. The board is really wide so it’s pretty easy to stay balanced, so as long as you’re in calm water you should be fine.

Pirate Coast Paddle in Newport’s Back Bay is the perfect place to try SUP for the first time. The great thing about the Back Bay is that the water is calm and there’s a lot of areas to explore. If SUP doesn’t sound like your thing, try kayaking in the Back Bay instead.

Hop the Ferry to Balboa Island

Spend a day exploring Newport Beach by bike or rollerblades as I do sometimes. Start on the Balboa Peninsula where you can enjoy a nice long bike path next to a wide stretch of sand. Head to the Balboa Fun Zone and hop on the car ferry to Balboa Island, which isn’t just for cars! The ferry is cash only so make sure you bring a few bucks for each trip.

Once you get to Balboa Island you have to try a frozen banana, they are delicious! You might recognize the banana stand from the tv show Arrested Development. There are also some cool little boutique stores to check out before you head back. Once you’re back on the Peninsula head to The Wedge, Newport’s famous surf spot. 

Read more: The Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops in Orange County

The Sinks at Limestone Canyon

See Orange County’s “Grand Canyon”

If you love to go hiking, one place you cannot miss in Orange County is Limestone Canyon, or “The Sinks”. This place is super special and can only be experienced through scheduled activities or quarterly open access days through the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. It’s definitely worth the wait though!

Within Limestone Canyon you can find two viewing platforms over “The Sinks”, which is a large area of really cool looking geological formations. It pretty much looks like a mini Grand Canyon. There are a lot of trails within Limestone Canyon, which makes it a great place to mountain bike or hike. 

Read more: A Women’s guide for How to Start Mountain Biking

Hang at Heisler Park

One of the best free things to do in Laguna Beach, and one of my personal favorites, is to hang out at Heisler Park. I LOVE Heisler Park because it is the prettiest park in Laguna Beach. Probably in all of Orange County actually. It has so many palm trees, the views are great, and the water is the most perfect blue ever.

You can spend the whole day at Heisler Park starting with breakfast at Las Brisas. Then, find a good spot on the grass or down on the beach, relax with a good book, maybe have a cookout, and definitely stay to watch the sunset. After that, walk over to Gelato Paradiso for a little night time snacky. It’s the best gelato around!

Read more: The Best Beaches in Laguna Beach

Outdoor yoga class in Laguna Beach

Practice Yoga Outside

There are so many outdoor yoga classes in Orange County, and many of them are donation-based. That means you can enjoy high-quality yoga classes at a lower price than you would pay in the studio. And I can assure you that they are just as good.

Two of the most popular outdoor yoga classes are Karma Yoga in the Park in Laguna Beach (daily at 10am in Treasure Island Park – my favorite is Saturday with Laura Love) and Yoga on the Beach Huntington Beach (several daily classes on the beach at PCH & 14th Street). For some extra fun try baby goat yoga at Goods and Goats Market in San Juan Capistrano.

Read more: The Best Outdoor Yoga Classes in Orange County

Whale watching in Newport Beach

Peep some Whales

One of the coolest things to do in Orange County on a budget is to go whale watching. It’s surprisingly pretty cheap compared to other tourist destinations, and most companies guarantee you will see something during your tour.

During my trip whale watching in Newport Beach, I saw several whales, even one momma with her baby, and tons of dolphins. For me even just seeing the dolphins is so exciting because you can watch them swimming and jumping right next to the boat. But when you see a whale – wow. There’s nothing like it.

Best Time to Visit Orange County

There’s no bad time to visit Orange County since we have nearly perfect weather all year long.

  • Spring is great because you’ll enjoy greener scenery and possibly wildflowers, but you may see some gloomy mornings around May and June.
  • Summer is hot and sunny. Temps can get over 100 and beaches will be crowded.
  • Fall is also hot and sunny, but it starts cooling off at night. It is very dry and sometimes windy, this is peak fire season.
  • Winter can have a few days of rain, but the temps are very comfortable. This is the perfect season to visit if you want to avoid crowds.

Where to Stay in Orange County

You can find plenty of budget hotels in Orange County, but obviously along the coast is more expensive. There are a lot of budget hotels in Huntington Beach that are near the beach, so I would check there if you want to be close to the ocean.

If you are dealing with a low budget, consider staying inland and driving to the beaches and other attractions. Cities like Irvine, Anaheim, Costa Mesa, San Juan Capistrano, and Aliso Viejo are only 20 minutes or so to some of the best things to do in Orange County.

"The OC"

Now that you have all these ideas of things to do in Orange County on a budget, which one are you most excited about doing first? You could make each one a day trip and you’ll be busy every weekend for the next three months! Enjoy!


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