13 Free Family Things to Do in Southern California

Thank goodness we have family in California. Our family has been so spoiled to take trips every few years from chilly Minnesota all the way to warm, sunny California. We have taken trips with our youngest ones being as little as 1 and let me tell you, there are a ton of free family things to do in Southern California whether your kids are in diapers or headed off to college. Here are some of our favorite places (although there are a ton more).

*This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission on my recommendations at no cost to you.

Saving big

When our family used to travel, we would put most of our costs on a credit card and then just make payments throughout the year. Now we make sure to plan ahead and save for our trip.

One major thing I like to do is find the most cost-effective ways to travel. I have a great printout specifically for budget-friendly vacation planning in my budget bundle. I highly recommend using something like this when planning a family vacation on a budget.

Airbnb

We are fortunate enough to be able to stay with family whenever we go to California. However, whenever we travel and we aren’t able to stay with people we know, we always opt for an Airbnb.

One of the fastest ways to burn through a budget is on the cost of food! Whenever we get an Airbnb, we make sure to find one that allows us to cook! Click here to get $40 off your Airbnb.

Car rentals

Another major expense could be the cost of transportation. During our last trip to California we chose to get a rental car to save on the wear and tear on our vehicle. A lot of people avoid the additional cost of a car rental, but in reality you can rent a car for as little s $8 per day!

San Diego

San Diego is a major tourist attraction and because there are so many beautiful sites to see, it’s pretty easy to find free fun here. While the possibilities seem endless, I want to focus on the places that we have gone to multiple times and recommend over and over again for you and your family.

The Beaches

San Diego is no stranger to beautiful beaches. I wanted to walk you through 4 of our favorite ones that our family has personally enjoyed.

Coronado

During our most recent trip to Southern California, we took a day to visit Coronado Island.

I can’t believe we hadn’t visited here before because it has literally everything you could possibly imagine for free family things to do in Southern California. There are beaches, shops, restaurants, beautiful views, and boat watching.

You could easily spend an entire week on Coronado and still not take in all the sites.

For younger kids

For our little ones, we started out near Centennial Park. There were tons of adorable shops, places to eat and a perfect spot for all the younger kiddos to play at.

They loved running up and down the docks, checking out the view of San Diego and even getting their feet wet.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Enjoying the view from Coronado Island

For everyone

I was going to say “for older kids,” but who am I kidding, it was a perfect place for 1 to 92.

We decided to soak up more beach time in Coronado by cruising over to the other side of the island. Here there are wide open beaches, white sand, and seashells ripe for the picking

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!

La Jolla Shores

During our first trip to Southern California, we stopped at La Jolla Shores for a big event they were hosting. This made the shores and the grounds around it very busy, but we still had an amazing time.

Our daughter even got the chance to try out surfing for the first time and it was completely complimentary! According to La Jolla Mom, it is an ideal location for surf lessons and apparently Leapoard Shark sightings! Yikes.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Dezy’s first surf lesson at La Jolla Beach

Imperial Beach

It’s crazy to me that you could take in such a gorgeous beach and have it almost completely to yourself. Getting to watch the sunset at Imperial Beach was one of the most amazing things.

Our kids had room to run and the grown ups all had a reason to slow down and take in the views.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!

Mission Beach/Mission Bay

I don’t know if we just get lucky or what but every time we have visited Mission Beach or Mission Bay, we have had almost the entire place to ourselves.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!

Seaport Village

To be honest, I don’t love walking around shopping centers or malls all that much these days. Since paying off all of our debts, I have worked really hard to overcome my major shopping addiction.

That said, walking the Seaport Village in San Diego is one of the best ways to spend a day. It’s definitely nothing like your typical shopping center. On top of that, there is so much more here than shops.

Walking along the Seaport Village you get a full ocean view pretty much everywhere you go. There are a ton of great restaurants to choose from, plus they have fun events throughout the year.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!

Hiking

Call me crazy but when my kids were younger, I was not one of those moms who wanted to haul them on my back while hiking. Now that everyone has reached an age of more independence, it has been awesome being able to take our kids on mini hiking adventures.

During our most recent visit looking for free family things to do in Southern California, we knew hiking just had to make our list. We just weren’t sure where.

Everyone we talked to told us that Torrey Pines was the place to be. They were right.

We parked our car along the La Jolla shoreline and walked up to the hiking trails of Torrey Pines. Along the way we saw seals swimming in the water, collected seashells and took in some seriously breathtaking views.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
La Jolla on our way to Torrey Pines
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!

Save big in San Diego

If there are still places you want to go that are not free, you can snag a Go San Diego card where you can see multiple attractions for one low price and save up to 55%!

There are places like Sea World, Lego Land and of course, the San Diego Zoo. The Go San Diego card lets you choose your attractions and bundle them together so you are not paying each individual entrance fee!!

Even if you are looking for free family things to do in Southern California, it can be tempting to partake in all of the other attractions. The Go San Diego Card lets you still see them without totally breaking the bank.

L.A.

I think just saying “LA” sounds intimidating to people with families. When you’re thinking of free family things to do in Southern California, a lot of people tend to overlook the LA area and I think that’s a big mistake.

There are so many things to do and see with kids. Here are some of the places we have visited more than once because they are just too fun to miss.

Venice Boardwalk

The best place to spend an entire day (or more) in the LA area is between Santa Monica and Venice. If you are big into just spending a day strolling around, under the sun with an ocean view (and tons of people watching to take in), you’ll love Venice.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Strolling the stroller friendly Venice Boardwalk

The Venice Boardwalk is lined with fun shops, food stops and street entertainment. If you’re not big into walking, there are biking and scooter options available as well.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!

Muscle Beach

Yeah, so maybe Muscle Beach is a little more laid out for people with…well…muscles, but kids actually have a blast there too. On the original Muscle Beach, they have swings and monkey bars for younger kids, but there are also more challenging things that older kids can test out too.

Our 9 year old actually did a pretty great job of getting across the aerial rings and the whole family tried out rope climbing. (Spoiler alert: none of us are very good at it.)

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Hanging around the original Muscle Beach

Santa Monica Pier

Now, to be fair the Santa Monica Pier can cost a pretty penny and you might not consider it one of the free things to do in Southern California, but honestly, besides a one-time ferris wheel ride, our family has never spent a dime there. Well, except on a cup of coffee and a scone.

It’s fun just to take in the sites, check out the shops and scamper about with the kids. Of course, you always have the option of having lunch on the pier or enjoying some awesome carnival rides.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Santa Monica Beach and carnival
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!

Santa Monica Beach

The last time I was in Santa Monica, I decided I want to own a condo on the beach. It might not happen until I’m 70, but I’m ok with that. At some point, I think I just have to have that view out my front window and the beach right across the street. It’s just what I was made for.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Santa Monica Beach
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Sand castles on Santa Monica beach

Famous TV and Movie Houses

What would a trip to LA be without hunting down some of the famous movie and TV houses? Before heading to the pier and Venice for the day, we just had to snap a quick photo in front of one of our favorite famous houses, The Dunphey House from Modern Family.

You can get a full list of all the houses and make a day out of taking a photo by all of them, but we decided to stick with just the one. We also tried to be really quick about it considering that this is someone’s actual home.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
The Dunphy House from Modern Family

TCL Chinese Theater

The TCL Chinese Theater is that famous place in Hollywood with all of the celebrity handprints. We visited when our little ones were still around 3 and 4 and they had a blast.

It’s fun to not only test out your hand and feet prints with celebrities but to see some of the movie memorabilia, wax statues and more. The TCL Chinese Theater is a great option for free family things to do in Southern California especially because it is also right next to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
A perfect fit for Jack Nicholson at TCL Chinese Theater
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Our little man trying our Michael Jackson’s foot prints? Hand prints?

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Take a stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame to find some of your favorite movie, TV and music stars. There are tons of shops to stop in and places to eat so you could easily spend an entire day just hanging out and having fun.

We have only made it there one time, but it’s definitely a place I’m hoping to go back to and spend more time at because I’m sure there are tons of things that I missed!

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
Tinkerbell on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!
My favorite.

Fun is always free

No matter what you find to do for free family things to do in Southern California, remember that no matter where you go, fun is always free.

Most of these places that I mentioned could easily empty your bank account if you let them. For us, we have always worked to find free or budget-friendly places for our family to spend a day and none of the kids have complained. (At least not out loud haha.)

How to travel more

A major way people are beginning to travel and explore more is through finding incomes that they are able to take on the road. Here are some ideas of how most people are doing it:

  • Blogging – Running a blog takes time, strategy and a lot of learning, but can bring in a very substantial income. Plus, travel bloggers can often get lodging at no cost in exchange for sharing their experiences. If you aren’t sure how to make money blogging, I have a course that is dedicated to helping other aspiring bloggers called Fun Sized Blogging Basics.
  • Digital Storefronts – Running a store through a place like Amazon can be very profitable. Sign up for a 7 day free email courses that can help teach you the basics.
  • Teaching English online – You can teach English to children from all around the world with platforms like VIPKid, SayABC, QKids and CourseHero.

Thanks to technology, there is no limit to the number of jobs that can allow you to travel more often. When you can bring your work with you, there’s really nothing that can stop you!

Most posts like this:

Pin this!

California can be expensive but it doesn't have to be. Check out top 13 free family things to do in Southern California no matter how old your kids are!