What are the five best free things to do in Orange County?

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You don’t have to buy up South Coast Plaza to have a good time in the O.C. It so happens that one of Orange County’s most fulfilling experiences is also one of its cheapest: being outdoors. Enjoying all of what regional parks, beaches and Huntington Beach Pier have to offer won’t cost you a penny. Plus, First Thursdays Art Walk in Laguna Beach is free, as well as the first Sunday of every month at the Bowers Museum.

1. First Thursdays Art Walk. Artists have flocked to Laguna since the 1800s for inspiration, and there remains no better place to see the fruits of their labor than the galleries in Laguna Beach. On the first Thursday of every month, take part in First Thursdays Art Walk — a free self-guided tour of gallery openings, including the likes of Laguna Art Museum to the Esther Wells Collection. All types of art are represented and the streets of downtown Laguna are picturesque.

2. Bowers Museum. The Bowers is arguably Orange County’s most respected, comprehensive museum, and on the first Sunday of every month you can get into the main museum, Kidseum and all activities for free. That means you can check out historic permanent art collections from Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands, among other places, along with a handful of special exhibits that span continents.

3. Huntington Beach Pier. The beautiful weather in Orange County — and California as a whole — begs you to spend your time outside all day and all night, which you can do at Huntington Beach Pier without ever running out of things to do. Amid palm trees, white sand and the crystal blue Pacific Ocean, you can play sports, go fishing, build a bonfire, fly a kite, surf, shop and much more. Plus, the actual pier’s boardwalk is practically designed for a night stroll. The beach is nicknamed Surf City because of the amount of surfers who hang out there, and it also hosts a number of surf competitions each year.

4. Regional parks. We suggest you soak in the beauty of Orange County and take to one of the area’s regional parks. Whether it’s just for the afternoon or the entire day, over a dozen parks in Orange County offer perfect landscapes with nature trails where you can jog, bike, or set up a picnic. Irvine’s park is particularly charming with its old-timey railroad and rustic feel, whereas Laguna’s 44-acre lake is a wonderful backdrop.

5. The beach. You simply can’t visit Orange County without sunning at the beach. Depending on the town you’re staying in, hit up Salt Creek Beach and Aliso Beach to ride some waves or bring your kids to Newport Harbor for calmer swimming. There, you can go boating and fishing, play volleyball, or just lounge on your beach towel. Warm weather and palm trees will undoubtedly entice you to swim, and you can’t beat the price tag.

Orange County provides a wealth of free activities that appeal to everyone. From a stroll on the beach and hiking the trails near The St. Regis Monarch Beach to exploring tide pools at Crystal Cove, window shopping in Laguna Beach or Corona del Mar, and taking a drive along Pacific Coast Highway, you can be entertained without spending a dime.

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