Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Santa Ana, CA

  • Published 2022/11/16

Santa Ana is home to many Hispanic residents, comprising about 70% of the population.

It’s the county seat of Orange County, California, and is the fourth-densest large city in the U.S.

Spanish Friar Junípero Serra named the area Vallejo de Santa Ana, a Spanish term for Valley of Saint Anne, after Gaspar de Portolá’s expedition in 1769.

In 1810, the Spanish governor of the Golden State granted soldier José Antonio Yorba land, which he called Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.

The land consists of ten cities, including Santa Ana, and was later sold to the Sepúlveda family, who also lost their claim.

William H. Spurgeon, in 1869, purchased the land and founded the city, which was incorporated in 1886.

The city is known for its vibrant nightlife, rich arts & culture, and historical sites you can explore without spending a dime.

Are you planning your next vacation?

Check out these free things to do in Santa Ana, California!

Wander the Downtown Santa Ana Historic District

Aerial view of Downtown Santa Ana Historic Districts

Matt Gush /

One of the best outdoor activities in the city is exploring the downtown Santa Ana Historic District.

The sub-districts include the Artists Village on Second Street, where you can see excellent art galleries, design workshops, studios, and creative offices.

The Calle Cuatro district is home to entertainment and retail, where you can find restaurants, bars, boutiques, and concert and movie theaters.

A courthouse at Downtown Santa Ana Historic Districts

Debbie Eckert /

Civic Center district houses government buildings, including the Santa Ana City Hall, library, courthouse, and district attorney’s office.

The Downtown Santa Ana Historic District, also called Downtown Orange County, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Learn more about the city’s history and culture by wandering Santa Ana’s heart without spending a penny.

A bar at Downtown Santa Ana Historic Districts

Steve Cukrov /

Join the 1st Saturday Downtown Art Walk

Mingle with the strong art community in Santa Ana by joining the 1st Saturday Downtown Art Walk.

The event happens on the night of the first Saturday of every month, featuring studios with rotating art shows, live music, and other performances.

Browse through the 20+ art galleries of different types around downtown Santa Ana districts and see the artists’ masterpieces.

The downtown has vendors where you grab food and drinks while enjoying the night scene serenaded by pop-up performers.

If you live in the Greater Los Angeles area or within Orange County, it would be easier for you to participate in volunteering for this monthly event.

The 1st Saturday Downtown Art Walk is another exciting outdoor activity to enjoy with your friends and loved ones.

Join the fun onNorth Broadway.

Take a Glimpse of the Old Orange County Courthouse

Exterior of the Old Orange County Courthouse

Jon Bilous /

Now a museum, the Old Orange County Courthouse used to be the city’s courthouse during the founding and incorporation of Santa Ana.

The Romanesque Revival structure was opened in 1901 and is a California Historical Landmark.

The museum is now a favorite spot for flicks and TV shows, including American Horror Story: Asylum and the 1950 film The File on Thelma Jordan.

Interior of the Old Orange County Courthouse

mikeledray /

The Old Orange County Courthouse was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Visit this historic building at Santa Ana historic downtown on West Santa Ana Boulevard, adjacent to Civic Center and Broadway streets.

Judge's seat in the Old Orange County Courthouse

mikeledray /

Explore the Santiago Creek Wildlife & Watershed Center

If you need to spend a morning or a fine afternoon close to nature, head to the Santiago Creek Wildlife & Watershed Center.

It’s located in Santiago Park, offering vegetation, wildlife, rocks, and trees to explore.

There are also shaded areas where you can sit and relax and see birds chirping around the park.

Bring a book to read and pack a lunch to spend a lovely afternoon at the park.

The center also hosts informative exhibits where you can learn about the city’s cultural history and ecology.

The Santiago Creek Wildlife & Watershed Center is on East Memory Lane.

Attend Free Classes at El Centro Cultural de México

About 70% of Santa Ana residents are Hispanic, which the city celebrates through its local culture and the arts.

Free classes and workshops at El Centro Cultural De Mexico help strengthen cultural identities, especially within the community.

Whether or not you’re a resident of Santa Ana, you’re welcome to attend these classes and celebrate the city’s Hispanic heritage.

There are dance classes of different genres, self-dense workshops, and many other culturally enhancing programs to join.

In 1994, local organizations of volunteers, teachers, students, and more founded El Centro Cultural De Mexico.

You can find it on North Ross Street.

Check Out the Historic Rankin’s Building

Exterior of the Historic Rankin’s Building

Steve Cukrov /

One of the oldest buildings in Santa Ana is the historic Rankin Building, which was once the city’s department store.

Built in 1917, the building comprises rectangular sand-colored brick, Chicago-style windows, and a blue-grey ceramic brick.

The building was called the Rutherford structure and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February 1983.

Entrance to the Historic Rankin’s Building

Cbl62, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It housed the Rankin Dry Goods and the T. D. Huff & Sons companies in the early days, founded in the late 1800s.

The historic Rankin Building is on West Fourth Street at Sycamore.

Exercise at Memory Lane Park

If you want to maintain your beach body while visiting Santa Ana, you can exercise at Memory Lane Park.

The small park features gym equipment that everyone can use for free.

What’s not fun about getting closer to nature and getting in shape at the same time?

The kids can also enjoy the park’s themed playground next to the exercise equipment.

You can take scenic walks or ride a bike on the trails with Trail Rest Stop close to the Santa Ana River Trail.

There’s also a picnic shelter and a drinking fountain inside the 0.47-acre park.

Memory Lane Park is at the intersection of West Memory Lane and City Drive.

Get in Tune with Nature at Carl Thornton Park

Santa Ana also offers one of the best morning walks courtesy of Carl Thornton Park.

The park’s hiking trails are well-maintained for you to take advantage of while enjoying the calm and fresh atmosphere.

A small lake inside the 32.83-acre park adds to its scenic surrounding with ducks, geese, turtles, and swans.

You’ll also see many birds, perfect for a nice morning walk.

You’ll like the park’s baseball diamonds if you’re a sports enthusiast.

The kids can also have a good time playing at the playground.

Carl Thornton Park is on West Segerstrom Avenue.

Watch Free Sports at the Santa Ana Stadium

Signage of Santa Ana Stadium

Steve Cukrov /

Built in 1963, the Santa Ana Stadium hosts many sporting events, including high school and college football games.

Many local leagues are free to the public, especially those sponsored by the city of Santa Ana.

You can visit the stadium to check for free access to local sports games if you’re in the city.

It has also hosted notable sports events, such as the international soccer match of the Orange County Soccer Club against German team Bayern Munich.

The field of Santa Ana Stadium

Santaniego, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The stadium, also referred to as Eddie West Field, is owned by the City of Santa Ana and has a 9,000 capacity.

It was named after Eddie West, a writer for the newspaper Orange County Register.

You can find the Santa Ana Stadium on North Flower Street.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Located only a few minutes past the city limits, many of Santa Ana’s neighboring places also have tourist attractions.

Check out these exciting free activities to do nearby.

Drop by the Old Santa Ana Historical Marker

The California State Park Commission placed the Old Santa Ana Historical Marker at the busy intersection of East Lincoln Avenue and North Orange Olive Road in Orange, California, 12 minutes from Santa Ana.

The marker describes the movements of the early Spanish settlers of Santa Ana, such as José Antonio Yorba and Gaspar de Portolá.

There’s minimal parking in the area, but if you’re wandering nearby or around North Orange Olive Road, you’ll see the marker on the road.

The Old Santa Ana Historical Marker will be a short but sweet destination in the city to get a glimpse of its history.

Appreciate Modern Art at the Orange County Museum of Art

Exterior of the Orange County Museum of Art

Steve Cukrov /

Modern and contemporary art is the centerpiece at the Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa, California, only ten minutes from Santa Ana.

Check out the works of contemporary artists in rotating exhibitions, showcasing the masterpieces of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The collection of more than 4,500 artworks is in the museum.

Building sign of the Orange County Museum of Art

Steve Cukrov /

See the masterpieces of contemporary artists, including the Abstract Cross of Llyn Foulkes in 1961 and the Resin Pyramid of DeWain Valentine in 1968.

Thirteen passionate women founded the Orange County Museum of Art in 1962 to help support, preserve, and present contemporary art.

Formerly known as Balboa Pavilion Gallery, the museum is in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on the Avenue of the Arts in Costa Mesa.

Interior of the Orange County Museum of Art

Jermain P /

Get Your Beach Fix at Bolsa Chica State Beach

Scenic sunset over Bolsa Chica State Beach

K O Moore /

Nobody can stop you when the beach is calling!

Drive to Bolsa Chica State Beach, about 26 minutes from Santa Ana, to satisfy your beach craving.

Enjoy the time of your life swimming and surfing.

People enjoying the sun at Bolsa Chica State Beach

Regular Daddy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The three-mile public beach stretches from Warner Avenue to Seapoint Avenue in Huntington Beach, which is a great spot to walk around à pied.

Camping with a classic bonfire is also allowed at the beach, which is another fun activity if you visit with friends or loved ones.

Bolsa Chica State Beach is also one of the go-to spots for first-time surfers because the waves are typically small that break softly for an easy glide.

Lifeguard station at Bolsa Chica State Beach

Regular Daddy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario

In Pacific Arts Plaza, Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario is a minimalist sculpture garden representing the Golden State.

Also called Noguchi Garden, the sculpture was completed in 1982 and described the state’s different geographical characteristics.

It incorporates plants and materials as symbols of California’s heritage.

Take a nine-minute drive from Santa Ana to Costa Mesa to see the iconic California Scenario.

It’s a great way to spend another day from Santa Ana!

Enjoy Fishing at Huntington Beach Pier

Daytime view of Huntington Beach Pier

Ken Wolter /

Some beach cities in Orange County require a fishing license to drop your line, but you don’t need one at Huntington Beach Pier.

It’s the favorite spot for most anglers visiting the beach, especially since it’s a public beach.

Catch some large spotfin croaker, barred surfperch, or shallow-water corbina, which are all close to the beach whether you’re a pier or a surf angler.

People walking along Huntington Beach Pier

The Image Party /

The iconic 1,850-foot Huntington Beach Pier is among the longest public piers on the West Coast.

It stretches from Main Street to Pacific Coast Highway and is only a 29-minute drive from Santa Ana.

The pier was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Aerial view of Huntington Beach Pier

Unwind /

Stroll the Gorgeous Bayside Boardwalk of Balboa Fun Zone

Daytime view of Balboa Fun Zone

Phil Feyerabend /

One of the perfect destinations for traveling families is Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach, California, 21 minutes from Santa Ana.

There are no admission fees if you stroll around the bayside boardwalk, which offers an excellent harbor and ocean experience.

Savor the terrific ocean views while admiring the vibrant and lively atmosphere with a drink in your hand.

People strolling along Balboa Fun Zone

The Image Party /

If you choose to get on the rides, you will have to pay for them depending on your liking.

Balboa Fun Zone was established in 1936 on East Bay Avenue.

Cotton candy for sale at Balboa Fun Zone

The Image Party /

Final Thoughts

The historic city of Santa Ana brims with a rich culture preserved from its early days that continues to shape its development.

It’s one of the jewels in Greater Los Angeles and Orange County, offering charming attractions to visit.

Pack your things and explore the free things to do in Santa Ana, California!

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