17 Free Things to Do in Santa Ana, CA

Santa Ana, CA

Nestled in the heart of Orange County, Santa Ana is a vibrant gem.

This city is brimming with many opportunities to explore, learn, and enjoy without having to reach for your wallet.

Join me as we embark on a journey to discover the best things to do in Santa Ana, California!

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Rebecca Butterworth, Brandon Jackson, Jay Guan, Rafael Reed, Katalina Winters, Henrietta Barrios and Humberto Quick.

Visit Bolsa Chica State Beach

Scenic sunset over Bolsa Chica State Beach
K O Moore / Shutterstock.com

I've always had a deep connection with Bolsa Chica State Beach.

It's where my family and I have made countless memories over the years.

If you're a morning person like me who loves to soak in the beauty of the sunrise, you'll find peace in the early morning hours at the beach.

And if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the surfers riding the waves as the sun ascends.

Do you know what’s the best way to enjoy a summer evening? Bonfire nights!

My friends and I have spent countless evenings huddled around a fire pit, sharing stories of our day and just being in each other's company.

But be warned - you need to reserve a spot quite early, preferably by 3 a.m.

It sounds unbelievable, but trust me, it's worth it.

People enjoying the sun at Bolsa Chica State Beach
Regular Daddy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, let's talk about parking. Yes, it's $15, but it's worth it for a day at this incredible beach.

Plus, the sunset here is breathtaking.

Just a tip: they're pretty strict about the timing, so make sure you vacate the lot before 10 p.m. to avoid penalties.

Bolsa Chica State Beach also offers a myriad of activities.

There's something for everyone, from water sports like windsurfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding to land activities like hiking, walking, and skating.

And let's not forget about the beach clubs - Sealegs, Seasalt, Beach Provisions, and Pacific Kitchen.

They offer great music and food that you should check out.

Living near Bolsa Chica State Beach has been nothing short of a blessing.

The beach is not just a place to visit, but it's a community, a family, and a home.

It's a place that has something for everyone and never fails to put a smile on my face.

Lifeguard station at Bolsa Chica State Beach
Regular Daddy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Immerse Yourself in Culture at El Centro Cultural De Mexico

What a remarkable discovery I stumbled upon in my city! El Centro Cultural De Mexico is a hub of culture and heritage in the heart of our community.

It's more than just a building; it's an experience connecting you to Mexican culture and heritage roots.

One of the biggest draws of El Centro Cultural De Mexico is its free classes.

I've always wanted to delve deeper into the rich tapestry of Mexican culture, and these classes provided the perfect opportunity.

And it's not just adults who can benefit.

My sweet little girl adores this place.

Seeing her eyes light up as she learns about the culture that's so intrinsic to our identity is heartwarming.

It's like watching her fall in love with her roots again.

If you haven't checked out El Centro Cultural De Mexico, I highly recommend you do.

You'll come away with a renewed appreciation for Mexican culture and, more importantly, a sense of belonging that's truly priceless.

I guarantee you'll be glad you didn't pass up the chance to explore this cultural gem.

Hang Out at Carl Thornton Park

Last weekend, I decided to soak in the sun at Carl Thornton Park.

It's this beautiful green haven tucked away in Santa Ana.

I spent the day there, basking in the warm sunlight, and let me tell you, it was an afternoon well spent.

The park is known for its sports fields, and a charming small lake, but the children's play area catches my eye every time.

There is such a sense of life and joy in the laughter of kids playing.

Once, the city hosted a movie night at the park.

They screened a cute and heartwarming film perfect for a summer park show.

Nothing beats watching a fun movie under the twinkling stars surrounded by the cool evening breeze.

So, if you don't mind a bit of mud and are ready for a lovely day out, Carl Thornton Park is the place.

Spend the Day at Morrison Park

Every day, I wander down to the charming local haven, Morrison Park.

It's my little escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Stepping onto its lush green grass is like being welcomed home.

It's where my puppy takes his first excited leaps of the day, romping around joyously and making new friends with the dogs.

We both love the vast expanses of grass, perfect for a game of fetch or simply lounging and watching the world go by.

The park, situated in the heart of our community, prides itself on its cleanliness and maintenance.

I've never failed to be impressed by how well-kept it is.

One of the things I genuinely love about Morrison Park is its versatility.

It has sufficient space for a variety of sports.

The tennis, baseball, and basketball courts are always buzzing with activity, yet never feel crowded.

Every day at Morrison Park is a new experience, a new memory.

Whether I'm playing a game of pickup basketball with friends or simply sitting on a bench with a good book, there's always something special about this place.

It’s more than just a park. It’s our community's pride and joy.

Discover History at the Old Orange County Courthouse

Exterior of the Old Orange County Courthouse
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

I strolled into the Old Orange County Courthouse on a whim one sunny afternoon and was glad I did!

There's something so captivating about standing where so much history has unfolded.

The building, dating back to 1901, is a testament to the age-old tales of our local and regional history.

If you're ever in town, you should check it out.

The courthouse doubles as a museum on the entry-level, a quiet sanctum where time stands still.

I remember the day I paid for meter parking with change. I scrounged from my car's cup holder and walked into the museum.

And I could almost hear the whispers of the past echoing off the walls.

Moreover, the museum is usually chock-full of exciting temporary and permanent exhibits.

Interior of the Old Orange County Courthouse
mikeledray / Shutterstock.com

The recorder is upstairs for those of you interested.

But the most treasured memory of mine is the Valentine's Day elopement.

Picture an ancient courthouse, bathed in the warm hues of the setting sun, with love in the air, and just the right hint of mystery.

Plenty of picture-perfect spots are scattered around the building, perfect for a spontaneous photo shoot.

Remember to venture downstairs as well. It's like stepping into a time machine.

The entire history of the county is laid out there, waiting to be rediscovered.

So, whether you're a history buff or just looking for something different to do on a lazy afternoon, the Old Orange County Courthouse is a must-visit!

Judge's seat in the Old Orange County Courthouse
mikeledray / Shutterstock.com

Visit George Upton All Access Park

George Upton All Access Park is one of the local gems that has become a favorite spot for relaxation and play.

It's a lush, well-maintained area perfect for families and individuals seeking a retreat from the everyday hustle.

Nowadays, I find myself frequenting this park more often.

George Upton All Access Park is a haven in the middle of the city.

The relocated bathroom is a new addition to the park facilities, making the space even more family-friendly.

It's no wonder many families, including mine, opt to spend their weekends here.

While I miss the splash pad that was a fun feature when the park first opened, the current amenities still make for a great day out.

One of the main attractions at the park is the castle-themed playground, which has become a favorite among the kids in town.

The park also offers many tables, with a few conveniently placed in the shade.

And for sports lovers, the basketball court is a great facility to have around.

Though the park sometimes closes earlier than the posted time, especially during the summertime, it remains a popular spot for families looking to cool off.

With its cleanliness and friendly security personnel, complete with a security dog, George Upton All Access Park has been a charming spot that we locals have come to love.

Discover the Serenity at Santiago Creek Wildlife & Watershed Center

I am drawn to the Santiago Creek Wildlife & Watershed Center every weekend.

This is my sanctuary, where the city's hustle and bustle feels a million miles away.

I usually start my day at the park with a relaxing walk, appreciating the picturesque landscapes and the serene atmosphere.

The park is a haven for nature lovers; I often bring my binoculars for bird-watching.

Spotting various bird species fluttering about is delightful, adding to the park's charm.

This is also an ideal place for some quiet time.

I usually find a shady spot by the water to sit and lose myself in a good book.

When I'm in a bit more active mood, I hit the hiking trails.

They're perfectly maintained and offer fantastic views of the lush vegetation, massive rocks, and towering trees.

Plus, you get to see some small wildlife – nothing beats the thrill of spotting a deer or a rabbit in their natural habitat.

So, whether you're into hiking, bird-watching, or want a tranquil place to sit and relax, Santiago Creek Wildlife & Watershed Center has it all.

I highly recommend bringing your family and friends for a memorable day out in nature.

Make an Escape to Centennial Park

I've come to find that serenity is best found at Centennial Park.

It's one of those places in Santa Ana you can't help but fall in love with.

I often spend my afternoons there, taking in the tranquility of the lake, watching the ducks, and enjoying the warm sand.

The park is conveniently located on the Santa Ana College campus (continuing education center), making it a safe and quiet haven that draws local families and solo visitors alike.

Likewise, the three different playgrounds offer plenty of fun-filled moments when I need some activity.

Evenings often see me cycling through the park, its winding paths providing a scenic experience that never gets old.

Picnics are a popular pastime here, with kids and adults enjoying a meal amidst the greenery.

Fishing is another activity you can indulge in at Centennial Park, though you might have to share your space with some local homeless folks.

They've unofficially claimed the restrooms, but that doesn't deter from the park's charm.

Once in a while, the park might make the news of an unfortunate incident, but regular visitors like me will assure you that it's generally a safe and fun place to be.

One of the highlights is the park's dog-friendliness. This is where your four-legged friend can have just as much fun as you.

With so many things to enjoy, Centennial Park is a place where I never get bored.

Whether you're looking to soak up some peace or get active, Centennial Park in Santa Ana is the place to be.

Make a Weekend Retreat to Memorial Park

Every weekend, it's the same routine for me: a stroll in the lush greenery of the Memorial Park right here in Santa Ana.

As I step into the park, the chirping of the birds and the rustle of leaves under my feet create a symphony of nature that soothes my soul instantly.

The park is a sanctuary for trees, boasting a variety of species that provide a shady retreat, especially during the hot summer afternoons.

I love walking along the trails, surrounded by the verdant beauty.

Each path leads to a different part of the park, with numerous benches on the way to sit and enjoy the picturesque view.

On Saturdays, I make sure I get my adrenaline rush. The basketball court calls out to me.

It's always in great shape, ready to play some rounds with my friends.

We usually play every Sunday morning, the court bustling with energy and camaraderie.

And what's a weekend without some family time? The park has a playground that my kids adore.

It's their little world of joy and laughter from swings to slides.

Besides, the park features a ball field where we often enjoy a family baseball game.

But the cherry on top has to be the community pool.

Open just for summer, it's the perfect place to cool off after a day of fun and games.

For those who prefer a more active lifestyle, the exercise area at Memorial Park is pretty impressive.

It's my go-to place for a quick workout amidst nature.

My weekends at Memorial Park are a beautiful blend of relaxation, exercise, and family time.

Explore Downtown Santa Ana from Dawn to Dusk

Aerial view of Downtown Santa Ana Historic Districts
Matt Gush / Shutterstock.com

There's never a dull moment in Downtown Santa Ana.

When the sun rises, it beckons me out of my home to take the day by the horns and make the most of it.

Starting the day off on the right foot is essential, so I usually head out for breakfast.

Thankfully, the district has many dining options, all offering delectable dishes that set the tone for the day.

When the day is in full swing, I often find myself wandering the streets, visiting various stores ranging from shoe outlets to small, locally-owned businesses.

The sidewalks are filled with vendors selling their wares on weekends, adding a vibrant, bustling atmosphere to the lively district.

Moreover, the district is a shopper's paradise, whether you're looking for the latest fashions or quaint, unique items from mom-and-pop stores.

Among the myriad dining options, there's a good selection of food and drink venues close to each other.

I'm never disappointed with the food here, whether it's lunch or dinner. Each spot has its unique flair, with dishes catering to many tastes.

The district transforms once the sun goes down, revealing a lively evening scene that keeps the energy levels high.

A courthouse at Downtown Santa Ana Historic Districts
Debbie Eckert / Shutterstock.com

It's perfect for those looking to unwind after a long day or have a good time with friends.

Downtown Santa Ana is a hub of activity and culture that caters to all.

From the stunning murals that decorate the walls to the charm of the old buildings, there's always something new and exciting to explore.

There's also an air of anticipation, with ongoing construction hinting at the promise of new things while preserving the district's rich history.

If you're planning a visit, I recommend starting your day early.

While many places open around 10 or 11 a.m., gems like the Taqueria open early for business.

It's a place that has a lot to offer, and I guarantee you won't leave feeling disappointed.

A bar at Downtown Santa Ana Historic Districts
Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy a Weekend at Lillie King Park

There's nothing like a weekend at Lillie King Park to recharge after a busy week.

It's my go-to spot whenever I yearn for a touch of nature or need a break from the city's hustle and bustle.

The park boasts open grassy areas where I like to spread my picnic blanket, read a book, or bask in the sun.

Likewise, the children's playground with a swing set is an absolute show-stealer, especially the ship-shaped structure.

Seeing the kids' faces light up as they explore and embark on their imaginary adventures is always a delight.

The fitness area is a great addition, providing an excellent opportunity to exercise.

Whether you prefer a leisure walk, a run, or enjoy a game of frisbee, there's something for everyone.

Simply put, Lillie King Park is a small yet vibrant oasis tucked away in the heart of our bustling city, where peace and playfulness coexist.

I recommend it to anyone looking for a quiet, relaxing spot or having fun with the family. It's worth a visit.

Take a Leisurely Stroll at Mabury Park

Mabury Park is one of those parks that gives you just what you need: peace.

The serene ambiance of nature here is just perfect. It's not a park teeming with facilities, but the tranquility appeals to me.

One of the best things about living close to Mabury Park is that it allows me to escape the city's hustle and bustle, even for a little while.

With its lush trees and well-maintained grass, the park is a breath of fresh air.

As I walk along its sidewalks, I can't help but appreciate the simplicity of it all - just trees, grass, benches, tables, and trash cans.

There's an understated beauty to it.

It's also a place for animal lovers.

Keep an eye out for those squirrels - they're quite a sight!

And a word to dog owners: remember to keep your dogs on a leash.

The park has a calm energy maintained by respecting every creature's space.

It also offers a covered area for small family gatherings or parties.

Just bring your BBQ grill, and you're good to go. This quaint park is a community gem.

Mabury Park is a great place to hang out, breathe, and clear your mind.

You can find more information here if you want to visit Mabury Park. Trust me, a stroll here is a great way to appreciate the simple joys of life.

Go Biking at Memory Lane Park

I've spent countless hours exploring the winding bike paths at Memory Lane Park.

Since the county of Orange gave it a makeover, it's become my sanctuary for solitude and exercise.

The park is well-maintained, with lengthy bike paths stretching for miles.

Moreover, it boasts a playground with body-weight exercise equipment near the lush greenery and scenic views.

I've often watched with amusement as my boys challenged each other on the various apparatus.

The playground has novel features like leaf/butterfly climbing structures and intriguing toys I haven’t seen at other parks, including drums and a steering wheel that clicks.

This park is a hidden gem in our community, a piece of tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of Orange County.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Visit the Orange County Museum of Art

Exterior of the Orange County Museum of Art
Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

I've always deeply appreciated the arts, so naturally, one of my favorite local spots to spend the day is the Orange County Museum of Art.

You'll find a variety of modern and contemporary artwork that often changes, keeping every visit unique and exciting.

The museum is a work of art with stunning architecture that's hard to miss.

When I walk in, I'm immediately drawn to the different exhibits throughout the museum.

Each captures a different facet of contemporary creativity, from minimalist sculptures to bold, colorful paintings.

The museum also offers guided tours if you're a fan of them.

You learn more about the artwork and the artists behind them, making each piece even more meaningful.

I also appreciate the various events offered at the museum, which often revolve around the current exhibits.

Building sign of the Orange County Museum of Art
Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

Once I've had my fill of the exhibits, I usually head upstairs to the cafe.

The cafe boasts indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy a refreshing drink with a view.

While it's not ideal for families with young, energetic kids, it's a perfect spot for quiet contemplation or catching up with a friend over coffee.

One of the unique aspects of the museum is its gift shop, which houses a collection of artsy keepsakes.

It's a small, quaint place but houses some unique gifts.

I've purchased a few items here for my artist friends, and they've always been well-received.

While the museum may not be as grand as the Getty, it has its own charm.

Whether you're a local art enthusiast or a visitor exploring the area, I recommend setting aside a few hours to stroll through the museum.

You never know what artistic gem you might discover.

Interior of the Orange County Museum of Art
Jermain P / Shutterstock.com

Stop by the Old Santa Ana Historical Marker

Throughout my years here, I must admit that I've lost count of the times I've driven past the Old Santa Ana Historical Marker.

It's nestled right at the heart of a bustling intersection, a small monument that can be easily missed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Finding a spot to park can be challenging due to the marker's busy location.

But one day, my curiosity improved, and I parked my car across the street.

I crossed over to read what it had to say, and I was glad I did.

The marker offers a fascinating glimpse into the city's history, and I’d hate to see it neglected or forgotten amidst rapid urbanization.

Being a resident for many years, I've seen the place change quite a bit.

I distinctly remember an old building right next to the train tracks - it could have been a packing house, although I'm not entirely sure.

It was a part of the scenery until it unfortunately caught fire in the late 90's.

I believe the historical marker was set up after the building was lost to the fire, serving as a reminder of the rich history that once stood there.

It’s a little piece of our city's history, quietly standing its ground amidst the rapid pace of life.

Explore Mile Square Regional Park

A bench at Mile Square Regional Park
Lina Altoaimi / Shutterstock.com

Let me tell you about my last Sunday at Mile Square Regional Park.

It's my go-to spot whenever I want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The vast park is so well-kept it feels like a different world. It's never crowded - you can always find a little corner to sit and relax in.

Starting the day with a quick round of golf on one of their three courses is a tradition of mine.

Then, it's off to the sports fields.

You'll always find a match to join, whether it's soccer or baseball.

And if you're not into team sports, they even have a space for archery! Yes, you heard that right!

But my absolute favorite part is the lake.

You can rent bikes there, but the pedal swan boats are a must-try.

Paddling out onto the lake is such a tranquil experience.

Plus, you can often see baby ducks swimming around.

The park is also teeming with wildlife.

There are squirrels, turtles, and all kinds of waterfowl.

It's like a mini zoo! And let's not forget the farmers market. It's the perfect spot to grab a quick bite.

And the cherry on top? A visit to the kids' park by the lake on a Saturday or Sunday.

Trust me, seeing the ice cream man is just as exciting for adults as it is for kids.

Once you've filled the park's offerings, savoring the ice cream from Hug Life - a fantastic vegan ice cream spot not too far from the park - is the perfect way to end the day.

So, if you're looking for an excellent spot for outdoor family fun and a little exercise, Mile Square Regional Park should be on your list.

Discover Noguchi Garden

Daytime view of Noguchi Garden
Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

Sometimes, amid the hustle and bustle of city life, you stumble upon an oasis of calm sitting right under your nose.

For me, that hidden gem was the Noguchi Garden.

Tucked amidst the towering business buildings, it's a compact, minimalist sculpture garden designed to represent the state of California.

It's like stepping into an alternate universe - one where the noise of the city fades away to be replaced by the serene ambiance of the creatively designed space.

The garden is easily accessible, and the available parking makes it all the more convenient.

Likewise, the minimalist greenery scattered against the backdrop of fun architecture softens the texture of the space, offering a refreshing contrast to the concrete jungle surrounding it.

Simply put, the Noguchi Garden is stunning.

The grounds of Noguchi Garden
Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

The tranquility is palpable as if the garden has been purposefully designed to offer a sanctuary from the outside world.

Despite its location in the city's heart, the garden often feels like your own haven.

You will often find yourself alone there, free to soak in undisturbed serenity.

For those who find joy in simplicity and quiet moments of reflection, just sitting on a bench and soaking in the landscape is therapy.

The Noguchi Garden is a slice of tranquility amidst the chaos, a place to escape it all, even for a while.

And the best part? This gem of a place is right here, hidden in plain sight.

Final Thoughts

I've found many free activities to enjoy in Santa Ana, California.

Enjoy your time exploring Santa Ana!

There's something for everyone here.

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