Free Entertainment: Get Outside

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California is known for balmy weather and sunny skies. But, believe me, it does rain in Southern California. In fact, it even snows here. Promise. It doesn’t snow in San Diego proper, but we do get snow in the nearby mountains.

As a general rule, the winters are mild. In much of Southern California, there is not much variation in the season. I mean, we went to the tide pools in December.

Yes, I wear my wool coat in winter, but there is not usually, “extreme” weather.

Thanks to this fact it is quite possible to get outside and enjoy your natural surroundings any time of year. And this is a budget-saving characteristic of California! The great outdoors offer great entertainment, often for free.

In fact, when friends came to visit us at New Year’s, we spent one day at the zoo, which cost an exorbitant amount of money and one day at the beach. Upon reflection, we agreed that we enjoyed our day at the beach much more than our pricier “must-see” trip to the zoo.

Pitch a Tent

FishPapa took the boys camping a few weeks ago, and they had a blast. We’re hopeful that as the year progresses, either the guys or the whole family will make a few more camping trips. As summer approaches many campsites are booked for the weekend. But, we found out that “the weekend” ends on Sunday morning. Many Sunday nights and midweek dates are still available. California State Parks Camping Fees vary in price, depending on the season and the location.

If you’re just starting out in camping and don’t have equipment, ask friends and family if you could borrow tents and tarps before you make the investment. Talk with avid campers and find out what they like to use. Browse outdoor adventure stores and ask lots of questions. Then search craigslist, garage sales, and thrift stores before paying full price.

We’ve slowly built up our supplies over time. But, I think we ended up buying both our tent and our sleeping bags at Costco. The camping stove was a gift from my parents years ago. And we shop Walmart for the small stuff.

Go Fishing

Our boys are just now getting their feet wet with fishing. FishPapa didn’t grow up fishing so they are learning together. If you are an adult planning to fish in California, you will need a fishing license. These are valid for the calendar year and costs vary, depending on age, residency, length of time, and a number of other variables. Visit the California Department of Fish and Game fee schedule for more information. However, July 4 and Sept 6 are free fishing days.

Children under age 16 may fish for free. On their first fishing trip a few weeks ago, my big boys each caught a trout. And FishBoy12 cleaned and gutted them himself!

There are hefty fines for fishing without a license, so make sure that if you are “helping” your child fish, that it truly is just that.

Hit the Beach

I love the beach. We don’t go as often as we would like, despite our close proximity to the ocean. But, even if it’s just a leisurely stroll along the sand, it’s always refreshing.

Most public beaches in California are free, however, you may have to pay for parking. This past year we’ve noticed a change in our local beaches. Parking lots that used to be free are now charging a fee. If you don’t mind a short walk, you may be able to find free street parking.

Since restaurants on the sand are few and far between, pack a snack bag or a cooler so that you won’t pay high prices at hot dog carts and beachside snack shops. But, watch out for seagulls. We’ve had a few sandwiches stolen right from under our noses.

And don’t forget the sunscreen.

Take a Hike

California boasts a varied landscape. Everything is here! Mountains, desert, forests, and beaches are all within easy driving distance of one another. As such, hiking trails are everywhere throughout the Golden State, even near metropolitan areas.

Pack some snacks, water bottles, and a first aid kit, and hit the trails. FishPapa has taken our kids hiking through local hillsides, just a few steps from home, and they have had a great time.

Get Out!

Whether you love the beach, the forest, the mountains, or the desert, there is someplace for you to enjoy in California without paying a pretty penny. You may have to get creative about free parking in some places, but overall getting outside is a great way to entertain your family, enjoy God’s green earth, and save a few bucks.

Don’t forget to have your bags packed and you’ll be ready for any adventure!

What are outdoor activities your family loves and how do you make them affordable? (Regardless of what state you call home.)

Disclaimer: Neither the California Board of Tourism nor the California Realtors’ Association have ever heard of me. I freely offer up my opinions regarding life in the Golden State. I represent the experiences of one family who has lived in four different California counties. My opinion is just that — my opinion. Feel free to disagree. Your mileage may vary.

This is part of the series, California on a Budget.

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  1. All the things I love about California. Our family is moving back at the end of June after a two year absence and I can hardly wait. I’ve spent my entire life there and I really missed it.

    The only thing I would add to your suggestions is to go to REI and join their groups to do hikes and camping. They seem to have it together in that department and it’s a great way to meet other folks with the same interests.

  2. We ride bikes a lot in the summer here in Colorado. After your initial purchase of the bicycle, this is a fairly inexpensive hobby (so long as you keep the same bike!). We have lots of trails here, so it’s easy to do and the view is frequently breathtaking. Hiking is also fun. You can buy an annual pass to Rocky Mountain National Park and it will pay for itself in about two visits. Pack your own food, of course! We also purchased a pool membership for the summer, so we’ll see whether we think that’s worth it after we’ve experienced a summer with it. In our case, I think we made some initial investments (bicycles and pool membership) and we expect to enjoy them over a period of time.

  3. Great list! We also love geocaching! We downloaded a free application on our cell phone that uses our GPS to go treasure hunting. It’s a lot of fun and free!

  4. Try Cardiff by the Sea for camping – there is a great State Park with campsites right on the ocean. And you can walk across the street and have a big breakfast burrito for very little money at Pipe’s. We live in IN, but visit family in CA regularly and always camp here – hard to get a site however!

    1. My brother took hubs to Pipes when he came out here for his job interview. I haven’t been yet.

  5. We just spent Memorial Day Weekend in Big Bear. We planned a day trip but brought a change of clothes and toothbrushes just in case we should decide to stay the night and… we did. We found a ton of vacancies in the cabins and motels and had no problem securing a place for the night… even on a holiday weekend. We rode the luge at Magic Mountain, ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant named Jacalito’s which was excellent, and got ice cream at one of the village shops.

    The second day we headed down to Barton Flats to do some fishing with the kids along the stream. And… we almost didn’t get out of the car because for miles as we drove along the stream we could see swarms and swarms of bugs surrounding our car. But… we finally decided to get out and brave the bugs just to check out the stream and we discovered all the swarms were ladybugs. It was AMAZING! I’ve never seen anything like it! They were everywhere. And… I must say…. ladybugs are awfully considerate little creatures. Even though they were everywhere, they never hit us or bumped into us or even touched us. They just fluttered all around. It was really neat!

    We fished, played “Pooh Sticks”, and threw rocks into the stream and admired the beauty of being outside in great weather and beautiful surroundings and then we headed home. It was a nice weekend.

    Big Bear also has a ton of places to camp right on the Lake as well as in Barton Flats along the stream. We haven’t tried camping yet… I think this summer we may give it our first try!

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Sounds soooo fun! Never thought of doing Big Bear in the summer. Great idea!

  6. Since our littles are still quite, um, little, we find it a bit stressful to do the camping / beach excursions. But those days are definitely coming! Instead, we do a lot of work on our yards, I include the boys in the vegetable / fruit gardening and lots of walks with park time thrown in there. Trips to the zoo and enjoying water features at the park are fun too!

    1. Sounds great! The parks in Kansas never had splash pads, but many in San Diego do. So fun!

  7. Our town, Lafayette, IN, has this fabulous city park–Columbian Park–with multiple playgrounds, a free zoo, and a very affordable water park (I think it’s $4 for adult admission, and you can get free passes for doing things around town such as working on a volunteer park clean-up crew for an hour, etc.). We love this park, especially with our soon-to-be 3 year old son. It’s a blast to pack a lunch and meet Daddy during the week, or end a morning of garage sale-ing with picnic at the park on Saturday.

    Garage-sale-ing is another of our favorites outdoor activities, although I suppose it does cost something to do. It does kind of take care of three activities at once, though–exercise for Mommy and Daddy with all of the walking, time outside for our son, and finding great deals (on things we actually need and will use–like clothes for our son for the next year and for our soon-to-arrive daughter, books that we’ve had on our Amazon wishlist, the occassional piece of worn furniture that my wood-working wonder of a husband can refinish and sell for a profit.:))

    I am getting excited to move to CA in a few months and start tryingout its outdoors, too! I am loving your California-on-a-Budget series!