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Best Cheap Activities To Do With Kids In OC

kids beach playing camp
(credit: istockphoto)

Does your family resemble an ATM running in reverse? Are your kids' favorite activity to see how many hard-earned dollars they can spend in the shortest amount of time, with the least possible return? You may be in a financial rut but this doesn't be your fate, especially if you reside in or are keen to visit Orange County, California. Home to phenomenally popular, if admittedly expensive entertainment, the OC also offers a wealth of exciting, yet reasonable family activities. Spend some time and less of your net worth at a few of the following.

Dana Point (credit: C. Schmidt)
Dana Point
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 248-3500

Why would a cheap activities article send you to one of the wealthiest areas on the planet? Because, despite compulsion and tradition, you can spend a day at the beach, even within an exquisite, exclusive-seeming beach community, for next to nothing. If you can't walk within sight of an upscale bistro or art gallery and not purchase something pricey, then perhaps this is not the cheap and easy getaway for you. But, those with a modicum of restraint may want to check out Dana Point. With the harbor, beaches and miles of hiking and walking access. you don't have to spend a fortune if you don't want to. You may have to pay for parking, but look at the manicured beach mere steps from your parking spot.

irvine regional
(credit: Irvine Regional Park)

Irvine Regional Park
1 Irvine Park Road
Orange, CA 92869
(714) 973-6835

In a world dominated by movie theaters and iGadgets, something as simple as a Frisbee and a nap on a blanket is foreign at best, and probably unthinkable. Imagine spending some time with your family, while spending little or no money, for an entire day doing relatively nothing. Consider a park without roller coasters for truly affordable fun. Irvine Regional Park is massive, beautiful, peaceful and invites you to get lost in its innumerable free and low-cost activities. Want to take a walk with the kids? Want to throw a ball, ride a bike or sit beneath an ageless eucalyptus and make actual eye contact with the people you love? When you tire of the unfamiliar sentiment, you may spring for an enjoyable bike, pony or train ride. Even if you do all three, your day at the park will be cheaper than anything you could do at the mall.

Hanging out at Irvine Lake (Credit, C.Schmidt)

Irvine Lake
4621 Santiago Canyon Road
Silverado, CA 92676
(714) 649-9111

Camping, fishing, hiking and, of course, sitting underneath a tree doing next to nothing are cheap, delightful, accessible activities. In Orange County, they are closer than you think. Irvine Lake, just 10 miles east of the 55 freeway in Santiago Canyon, is a beautiful, relaxing, low-cost retreat for the entire family. Far more than a suburban park-and-sleep, you will find water hookups, picnicking, restrooms, a stocked shop and cafe, hot showers and a playground. Fees are charged, but are reasonable, particularly because you have only traveled 15 minutes outside of the city for real camping.

Related: OC's Best Spots For Family Photos

Mission San Juan Capistrano Thinkstock
(credit: Thinkstock)

Mission San Juan Capistrano
26801 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(949) 234-1300

Don't tell the area vendors or restauranteurs, but you can spend an entire entertaining day in San Juan Capistrano for free. Brimming with beauty, parkland and history, you and your family are a simple self-guided tour away from a fulfilling, cost-effective cultural experience. Park anywhere near the mission and take a walk in any direction. The weather encourages ambling and favors the generally aimless. Tour the mission for a wholly reasonable admission fee that goes to a worthwhile cause. Invest in an equally reasonable souvenir at the local galleries and gift shops. Take lunch in the park or splurge at any of the number of inviting eateries, and still consider your time and money well spent.

pool - three kids
(credit: Thinkstock)

Montanoso Recreation And Fitness Center
25800 Montanoso Drive
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
(949) 859-4348

Orange County has way more free things to do than you ever expected. Now here's an amazing activity for a minimal investment. The weather will soon be as hot as it's going to get around here and in case the beach is not completely convenient, a refreshing alternative awaits you in Mission Viejo. The Montanoso and Sierra Recreation and Fitness Centers are two exotically named swimming complexes that offer way more than the typical community pool. Located just off Marguerite Parkway, a couple blocks north (Montanoso) and south (Sierra) of Oso Parkway, each charges an admission but are open to residents and nonresidents. Priced reasonably between your own Rec. Center and a full water park, Mission Viejo offers the entertainment of the latter, without the suffocating crowd of either. Daily, monthly and flexible memberships are available. Each one's a screaming deal.

Related: OC's Best Water Parks And Pools

Christopher Schmidt is a freelance writer experiencing and espousing the glory that is Orange County. Driven to travel, drawn to sports, spirits and celebrity, Chris' work can be found on
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