Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Fullerton, CA

  • Published 2023/01/15

Fullerton is one of the biggest cities in Orange County, California.

It is a community with a strong spirit of tradition that treasures its rich history while keeping an eye on challenges that may arise in the future.

Situated 22 miles from Los Angeles, Fullerton is a full-service city with a unique blend of commercial, cultural, educational, industrial, and residential environments that offers a high quality of life for people and businesses.

Founded in 1887, the city served as a hub for petroleum extraction, transportation, and agriculture, especially Valencia orange trees and other citrus fruits.

It was home to a significant industrial base such as canneries, aerospace contractors, and paper product factories.

Fullerton is regarded as the origin of the electric guitar, thanks to Leo Fender, who founded Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

It’s also home to several institutes of higher learning, including Fullerton College and California State University, Fullerton.

Uncover the city without breaking the bank with these free things to do in Fullerton, California!

Learn about Wildlife at the Fullerton Arboretum

Bacon pavilion at Fullerton Arboretum

Steve Cukrov /

Located on the northeastern part of California State University, Fullerton, the 26-acre Fullerton Arboretum is a botanical garden featuring a collection of plants from all over the world.

With more than 4,000 plants, it is Orange County’s most extensive botanical garden.

The Arboretum preserves extinct or threatened species and offers a location for research and to study agricultural history.

The Fullerton Arboretum was officially created in 1976 and opened to the public in 1979.

A pond at Fullerton Arboretum

Steve Cukrov /

Initially a diseased orange orchard, the Arboretum was converted into organic farming plots.

The Heritage House, built in 1894 as Dr. George C. Clark’s home and office, is the focal point of the Arboretum, which was relocated to its current location in the center of the garden.

Admission to the Fullerton Arboretum is free. However, a donation is appreciated.

A butterfly at Fullerton Arboretum

Calvin Hy /

Enjoy Lakeside Views at Laguna Lake Park

Ducks on the waters of Laguna Lake Park

wzain /

Laguna Lake Park is a 28.5-acre park featuring hiking trails, picnic spots, an equestrian center, and Laguna Lake.

Visitors to the park can picnic in the green space below the dam, take a stroll around the lake, or cast a line for bass, catfish, bluegill, or rainbow trout (depending on the season).

Laguna Lake is Fullerton’s biggest lake and is regularly stocked with trout and catfish; a fishing license is required to fish at the lake.

Lakeside view at Laguna Lake Park

wzain /

The trail surrounding the lake is barely a quarter of a mile long, so it doesn’t provide much exercise.

However, both sides of the lake give access to other longer out-and-back trails.

Park benches are available around the lake, where you may relax and enjoy the view.

Enjoy the Laguna Lake Park!

Visit the Fullerton Train Museum

The Fullerton Train Museum, managed by the volunteer organization Southern California Railway Plaza Association, Inc. (SCRPA), keeps growing with its train-related exhibits, activities, and educational programs.

Walk through their extensive collection of vintage railcars, kept in “operating” condition.

The present collection includes three historically significant restored cabooses, representing the three intercontinental railroads that provided service to Southern California from the Roaring ’20s through the 1980s when cabooses were abolished from freight trains.

Additionally, two vintage-styled Union Pacific lounge cars from the 1940s and a 1951 Santa Fe streamlined sleeper car have undergone a complete restoration.

Look at their railcars collection and experience rail travel before AMTRAK and giant aircraft!

Fullerton Train Museum is open on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month and is open to the public for free.

Take the Kids for Fun at the Fullerton Downtown Plaza

Entrance arch of Fullerton Downtown Plaza

Steve Cukrov /

The Fullerton Downtown Plaza is a 1.2-acre city park located next to the Fullerton Museum Center that offers a playground and a splash pad.

With its entry monuments and arches, the plaza exudes a festive atmosphere.

Younger children will enjoy playing in the fountain during the summer!

It’s also where the weekly farmers market sets up.

Check out local vendors, food trucks, and live music to give everyone a lovely time.

The Fullerton Downtown Plaza also hosts festivals, concerts, and other fun and seasonal events.

Explore the Gardens of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center

Exterior of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center

Steve Cukrov /

The Muckenthaler Cultural Center, previously known as the Muckenthaler House, is a Spanish Colonial Revival-style house built in 1925.

The Muckenthaler Cultural Center’s goal is to preserve the history of the Muckenthaler estate while providing engaging educational programs, exhibits, and live performances.

Harold Muckenthaler donated the 8.5-acre property to the city in 1965 to use it as a cultural hub.

Facade of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center

Steve Cukrov /

The Cultural Center was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Today, the City of Fullerton keeps ownership of the estate, and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center Foundation operates it.

If you want to explore the center for free, check out its outdoor amenities.

The public can enjoy the Sunset Garden, Sculpture Garden, and grounds without paying for admission or making reservations.

Welcome sign of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center

Steve Cukrov /

Spot Birds at Ted Craig Regional Park

Ted Craig Regional Park, opened in 1974, features a tiny lake, rolling hills and open spaces, mature trees, a rose garden, and three creeks available all year round.

This unique setting adds to the overall tranquility and beauty of the park.

Ted Craig Regional Park’s 124 acres include footpaths, park benches, and picnic tables dispersed throughout the park.

Various recreational activities include bicycle and walking trails and a three-acre lake where fishing for bluegill and catfish is permitted with a California Fish and Game License.

The park is well-known as a great place to go bird watching as the lake is frequented by yearly migratory waterfowl and serves as a wildlife sanctuary.

Play sports at the park’s softball and baseball fields and sports complex with volleyball, basketball, and racquetball courts.

Wander Downtown Fullerton

Aerial view of Downtown Fullerton

Matt Gush /

Downtown Fullerton is increasingly becoming one of Orange County’s top tourist destinations, thanks to its vibrant culture and diverse population.

In these old-town streets, you’ll find an extensive array of specialty restaurants, unique shops, elegant houses, and entertainment venues.

At 135 years old, Fullerton has undergone various transformations as many older houses, structures, and buildings have been replaced with more contemporary ones.

A restaurant at Downtown Fullerton

Steve Cukrov /

Fortunately, the city has kept a few historic buildings for future generations to cherish and appreciate.

Downtown Fullerton is a terrific spot to go and socialize with family or friends and enjoy great music and delectable food.

You’ll encounter many people wandering the sidewalks of Downtown Fullerton.

It’s also a wonderful place to go even on your own.

Buildings at Downtown Fullerton

Steve Cukrov /

Play Sports at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park

A pond at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park

Davefoc, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, nestled at the base of the Coyote Hills, is an urban park in both Buena Park and Fullerton.

Established in 1981 as Los Coyotes Regional Park, Ralph B. Clark Regional Park was renamed in 1987 to honor the Orange County Supervisor’s retirement.

The 104-acre property ranges from expansive open grasslands to gently sloping hills covered in native vegetation to sandstone cliffs.

Park features include huge shaded picnic spaces, biking and hiking trails, play areas for children, and a three-acre lake stocked with fish.

It also has an amphitheater overlooking the lake, perfect for outdoor performances and recreational activities.

Those who play sports can enjoy the park’s sports facilities, including four tennis courts, three softball fields, a baseball diamond, and sand volleyball courts.

The paleontology museum at the park’s Interpretive Center, which opened in 1988, offers visitors an informative perspective on ancient Orange County through displays, lectures, and guided tours.

Set up a Picnic at Rolling Hills Park

The name Rolling Hills Park is quite fitting due to the many rolling hills guests can play around.

Park benches and trees around the park make it a wonderful place to spend a peaceful morning or afternoon.

Rolling Hills Park’s expansive green space is ideal for picnics in a beautiful setting; picnic spaces are available throughout the park.

There are lots of playgrounds where kids can have fun climbing and exploring.

There are fitness courses with several stations off the sidewalk for adults.

It’s safe to say that Rolling Hills Park is one for the entire family!

Climb the Stairs of Hillcrest Park

Stone stairs at Hillcrest Park

Darilynn /

Hillcrest Park is a 37.8-acre historic park perched on a hillside close to Downtown Fullerton, featuring important picnic areas, a recreation center, and a war memorial.

It is the oldest park in Fullerton, which opened in 1922.

Also within the park are trails, a large historic fountain, a duck pond, and the Hillcrest Stairs, which has become a fitness destination and a favorite among locals.

Water fountain at Hillcrest Park

Kevin Yuan /

The wooden stairs with viewing decks and benches lead up to the park’s peak.

Along the park’s edge is the Orange County Korean War Memorial, listing the names of 36,591 American service members who lost their lives in the Korean War.

The grounds of Hillcrest Park

Traveler100, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

View the Sunset at West Coyote Hills Tree Park

West Coyote Hills Tree Park, opened in 1979, takes up approximately 11 acres and offers views of several suburban communities perched on neighboring hills.

Its official name is “West Coyote Hills Tree Park,” although the roadside sign only reads “Tree Park.”

Most of the park is hidden from view due to the area sloping away from the main road to a basin.

In the parking area, visible from the street, are paved pathways that wind through various drought-resistant plants and beautiful landscaping.

The park has numerous hidden hiking and bicycle paths meandering through it, and with its mature shaded trees, it offers a lovely setting for picnics and peaceful walks for the locals.

West Coyote Hills Tree Park is also a fantastic spot for sunset views.

Take a Self-Guided Tour of the California State University, Fullerton Campus

Entrance arch of California State University, Fullerton Campus

Felipe Sanchez /

The California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), a public university in Fullerton, is the largest of the 23 campuses that make up the California State University (CSU) system, with over 41,000 students enrolled.

California State University, Fullerton also has one of the largest graduate student populations in CSU and all of California, with over 5,000 students.

Daily tours last about 60 minutes and are led by Titan Ambassadors, currently enrolled students at CSUF.

The tour highlights important campus areas, especially the eight academic colleges, campus resources, student life and services, and CSUF’s history.

A building at California State University, Fullerton Campus

Felipe Sanchez /

A self-guided walking tour is an excellent alternative to touring CSUF.

Walk around the campus grounds any day of the week to learn more about life on campus, the buildings, and the special programs and services that CSUF provides.

Drop by the Visitor Information Center in Gordon Hall 178 if you have further questions during your self-guided tour.

Gordon hall at California State University, Fullerton Campus

Steve Cukrov /

See Panoramic Views at the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve

The 72-acre Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve, a natural sagebrush habitat that the City of Fullerton has owned for about 40 years, is finally open to the public.

The nature preserve is named after Fullerton’s former mayor, who strove to preserve 510 acres of the West Coyote Hills.

It’s a tranquil natural environment with hiking and mountain biking trails offering expansive views of the desert landscape.

A small portion of the nature preserve has been partially accessible to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders since 2007.

However, the majority of the Preserve remained off-limits to the general public.

Due to gnatcatchers’ grounding habitats within the preserve, only hiking is permitted in the nature preserve’s inner trails.

Meanwhile, biking and horseback riding are allowed on the outer tracks.

You can also see a 360-degree vista of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges when you reach the summit.

Try this moderately complex trail, and see how breathtaking the panoramic views are at the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Stop by the Bradford House

Exterior of the Bradford House

Cbl62, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bradford House has been a cornerstone of Placentia, California, since wealthy rancher Albert Sumner Bradford constructed it in 1902.

It was his family’s residence and the hub of his citrus company.

The remodeled Queen Anne Victorian-style house has two stories with 15 rooms and a full basement.

This magnificent turn-of-the-century home features coved ceilings, a ruby glass window, a hemlock staircase, and a double fireplace that separates the dining room and the back parlor.

The spacious kitchen has built-in cabinets, an oversized work table with flour and sugar bins, and ceiling-high cupboards.

The Bradford House was preserved and maintained by the 1974-founded Placentia Founders Society (PFS).

Now a living museum, The Bradford House gives visitors a glimpse of the lives of a pioneer family who found success in the citrus business.

The museum has no entrance fee, but a donation is appreciated.

Likewise, the museum is 11 minutes from Fullerton.

Take a Nature Walk at the Carbon Canyon Regional Park

Welcome sign of Carbon Canyon Regional Park

Steve Cukrov /

Carbon Canyon Regional Park is a 124-acre regional park in Brea, California, built after the impoundment of Carbon Canyon Creek.

The Regional Park connects with the Chino Hills State Park on the eastern side.

Sixty acres were developed into spacious grasslands for picnics and sports facilities and a four-acre lake with two fishing piers.

For bird watchers, amateur naturalists, and adventurous hikers, the park’s stunning Redwood Grove is reached via a 1.1-mile nature walk.

Dirt trail at Carbon Canyon Regional Park

Arne Beruldsen /

You can obtain a trail guide at the park office for self-guided nature excursions.

Naturalist-led tours and group lectures are available all year and can be scheduled through the park office.

A parking fee is only required to enter the Carbon Canyon Regional Park, 16 minutes from Fullerton.

Playground at Carbon Canyon Regional Park

Arne Beruldsen /

Final Thoughts

Parks, nature preserves, and public museums are always good choices for entertainment that cost nothing, and Fullerton has many of these attractions.

If you’re coming from Los Angeles, Long Beach, Anaheim, or Santa Ana, you might want to try visiting Fullerton for a change of scenery.

Let this list of free things to do in Fullerton, California, inspire you on your budget-friendly adventure!

© All rights reserved.