As Disneyland prices climb year after year, Southern California parents look for fun-filled and budget-friendly alternatives to the popular Anaheim theme park. Fun family adventures abound in many Southern California museums, gardens, parks, and other destinations that are easier on the wallet. Although Disneyland is a place that every Southern Californian should visit at least once, families may need more time to save up for that trip so they can go next summer. This summer, budget-conscious parents may want to take trips to the 20 Southern-California attractions listed below.
Huntington Library – This is a large private, nonprofit institution with a library, art collections, gardens, and a tea room in San Marino, CA. Admission is free on the first Thursday of every month with advance tickets. Children under five years of age are always free.
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Garden Botanic Garden – Located in Arcadia, CA, the L.A. Arboretum is beautiful and lush. According to their website, it is “127 acres of plants, natural landscapes, wildlife and historic buildings. You will discover plants and trees from all over the world as you wander along paths and learn about California history on your journey through the garden.” Admission is free on the third Tuesday of every month.
Kidspace Children’s Museum – This museum offers hand-on learning experiences and exhibits in their indoor and outdoor areas for preschool and elementary school aged children. Admission is $11 for adults and children, but children under 1 year of age are free. The first Tuesday of every month is Family Free Night, when admission is free to everyone from 4-8pm.
Pennypickle’s Workshop (Temecula Children’s Museum) – A cool museum for kids who love science. Admission is $5 per person, although children under the age of 3 are free.
Riley’s Farm – This farm has a working apple orchard and living-history museum in Oak Glen, CA. Families can visit on Saturdays for activities such as archery, tomahawking, and candle-making. They also have dinner events, a bakery, and gift shop.
Zimmer Children’s Museum – According to its website, “the Zimmer Children’s Museum is a non-profit cultural institution located on Museum Row in Los Angeles, and features hands-on exhibits for children 0-8 to explore big ideas in creative and inspiring settings.” Admission are as follows: $8 for adults, $5 for children 1-17, free for children under 1, and free for grandparents on Thursdays when accompanied by a grandchild.
Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park – Admission is $10 per adult, and $7 per child or senior citizen at this smaller-sized zoo. It has a section of farm animals, rainforest animals, a bird lab, and it also has a playground and train ride
Pretend City Children’s Museum – This children museum’s website says that “Pretend City Children’s Museum features a small, interconnected city designed to ‘build better brains’ through purposeful play, hands-on learning experiences, role playing, and educational programming.” Admission is $12.50 for adults and children, free for infants under 12 months, and $9.50 for military and family. Admission prices are also discounted after 4pm
Discovery Science Center – The Discovery Science Center is better known as “The Cube.” It is filled with science-based programs and exhibits. General admission at this Santa Ana, CA museum is $12.95 for ages 3-14, $16.95 for ages 15 and up, and $12.95 for seniors. Parking is $4.
The New Children’s Museum – “The New Children’s Museum is an arts-based children’s museum that commissions contemporary artists to create pieces with tactile, physical and participatory elements, opening up a world of art to children through opportunities to observe and create,” according to its website. Located in downtown San Diego, admission to this museum is $10 for adults and children, $5 for seniors and military, and free for children under the age of 1.
San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum (SDCDM) – This museum in Escondido, CA says it serves “children ages 0-10, [and it] focuses on these critical years of child development while also encouraging families to learn together. Through professionally designed exhibit spaces and programs, children engage a wide range of concepts about science and world cultures.” Admission is $6 per person, free for children under 1 year old, $3 for military members.
The Living Desert – This unique zoo in Palm Desert, CA offers exhibits of exotic desert wildlife and gardens. Admission rates are as follows: $17.25 for adults, $15.75 for seniors, military, and AAA, $8.75 for children ages 3-12, and free for children under 3.
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden – Its website says, “Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, established in 1927, is the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants.” This botanic garden is located in Claremont, CA, and it offers lots of activities for kids. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors (65+), $6 for students w/ valid ID, $4 for children age 3-12, and free for children under 3.
L.A. Zoo – This is a large zoo in Los Angeles, CA, complete with animals, a botanic garden, shows, hands-on activities, shops, and restaurants. Admission is $18 for ages 13 and up, $15 for ages 62 and up, $13 for ages 2-12, and free for children under the age of 2.
Irvine Regional Park – California’s first regional park offers hiking, boat rentals, a nature center, a zoo, train rides, and ball parks. Fees to enter the park are as follows: $3 per vehicle, per entry on weekdays, $5 per vehicle per entry on the weekends and up to $7 per vehicle per entry on special use days, zoo admission is $2.00 for those 3 years of age or older, children under 3 are free.
The Getty Center – Although parking costs $15, admission is free to all visitors at this magnificent Los Angeles institution. The art, modern architecture, and gardens are amazing.
The Getty Villa – Modeled after a Roman villa, this is the Getty Center’s better-half, located in Pacific Palisades, CA. Parking costs $15, and admission here is also free, although tickets must be reserved well in advance.
Aquarium of the Pacific – Located in Long Beach, CA, this aquarium focuses on the sea life of the Pacific Ocean. Admission is $28.95 for adults, $14.95 for children, and $25.95 for seniors.
Pacific Marine Mammal Center – According to their website, “The Pacific Marine Mammal Center rescues, rehabilitates, and releases marine mammals, and inspires ocean stewardship through research, education and collaboration.” It is open to the public daily from 10am-4pm, and admission is free, although donations are appreciated.
Anthony C. Bellenson Park at Lake Balboa – This gem of a park in Van Nuys, CA boasts two Vikiing-themes playgrounds (one for children under six, and another for children over the age of 6), activities like fishing, boating, and swimming, a trail for walking, jogging, bike-riding, and dog-walking, and lots of cherry blossom trees! It’s a public park, so it’s free!