Which park passes should you buy if you are a family living in Orange County, CA? It’s a question that plagues parents who wants to play outside more, but don’t have the time to research every possible outing or admission price.
I will try to make it easy for you. Your choices range from:
- Spend $0 – see FREE PLAY.
- Spend $55/year – OCParks.com County Regional and Wilderness Parks Annual Pass OR County Beach Parking Pass with Pay & Display Machines. (Purchase online or at some park offices)
- Spend $80/year – OCParks.com All County Parks and Beaches Parking Pass. (Purchase online or at some park offices)
- Spend $195/year – Access to almost all CA state parks and beaches in Orange County with CA Explorer Vehicle Day Use Pass. Also spend $0 here if you check out a California State Parks Library Pass with your library card. OR if your family is enrolled in CalWORKS you are eligible for the CalWORKS Golden Bear Pass at no cost to you.
- Spend $202.75/year (or less for Oct-Dec only) – City of Newport Beach Annual Parking Permit.
- Spend $50/year (resident) or $100/year (non-resident) – City of San Clemente Metered Parking Permits
- Spend $150/year – City of Huntington Beach beach parking.
Also, look for Senior parking permits which can be as much as half the price – if you are a grandparent looking for places to go with the grandkids.
Out of all these options I suggest buying a $55/year OCParks.com County Regional and Wilderness Parks Parking Pass AND a CA state parks pass at $195/year. But visiting and reporting on parks is a big part of my life!
After chatting with other local park lovers, I found that those who live inland like the county park pass – and those near the beach opt for the state parks pass.
Another strategy is to alternate your investment every year so that you get your money’s worth out of the state park pass one year and the county pass the next year.
I just included the Newport Beach, San Clemente, and Huntington Beach parking info for those of you who might live in or near those towns.
- Your backyard or patio.
- Your living room.
- The sidewalk around your neighborhood.
- Your neighborhood park.
- Community parks.
- And even some adventure playgrounds, like the one in Irvine.
- Kids can play anytime anywhere – it doesn’t need to be a playground or even a park you pay to support.
OCPARKS.COM COUNTY REGIONAL AND WILDERNESS PARKS ANNUAL PASS (OR choose the COUNTY BEACH ANNUAL PARKING PASS)
Regular Daily Entrance Fee: $3-$5/day .
Annual Passes: $55/year
Do the Math: You need to visit 11 times at the $5 rate. That’s only about once a month to make it worthwhile. It’s especially valuable if you frequent Irvine Park Railroad or the OC Zoo.
2 options for the OC Parks annual pass in 2023
- County Regional and Wilderness Parks Annual Parking Pass ($55)
- County Beach Annual Parking Pass ($55)
Regional Park locations:
- Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Brea
- Caspers Wilderness Park, San Juan Capistrano
- Clark Regional Park, Buena Park
- Craig Regional Park, Fullerton
- Irvine Regional Park, Irvine
- Laguna Niguel Regional Park, Laguna Niguel
- Mason Regional Park, Irvine
- Mile Square Regional Park, Fountain Valley
- O’Neill Regional Park, Trabuco Canyon
- Santiago Oaks Regional Park, Orange
- Yorba Regional Park, Anaheim
Wilderness Park locations:
- Aliso & Wood Canyons, Laguna Niguel
- Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
- Peters Canyon Regional Park, Orange
- Riley Wilderness Park, Coto de Caza
- Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, Trabuco Canyon
OR you spend $55 just to get access to these beaches:
- Capistrano Beach, Capistrano Beach – not as much an option anymore because of beach erosion closures and not much beach left at all.
- Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point
So lots of families go to Salt Creek Beach ALL summer long and this would be a good option for you.
Aliso Beach Park, South Laguna Beach used to be covered by this pass. It does NOT cover this beach as of March 1, 2023! OC Parks no longer manages Aliso Beach Park so your parks pass will not work here after February, 2023. You will need to pay the City of Laguna Beach for your parking fees at the kiosks in the park.
OCPARKS.COM ALL COUNTY PARKS AND BEACHES PARKING PASS
This is the same as above, but you get access to ALL the regional, wilderness, and beach parks listed for $80 vs. the $55.
Regular Daily Entrance Fee: $3-$5/day.
Annual Passes: $80/year
Do the Math: You need to visit 16 times at the $5 rate. That’s only a bit more than once a month to make it worthwhile. Best value if you go to Salt Creek Beach OFTEN.
This is the one we used to always purchase because we used to get access to 3 beaches plus all the other parks. It gave us the greatest access and flexibility. Plus, we are supporting our local county parks and beaches! However, I’m not sure we go to Salt Creek Beach enough to justify this pass this year.
ANNUAL CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS – CA EXPLORER VEHICLE DAY USE PASS
Annual Passes: $195/year
Do the Math: You need to visit more than 13 days a year to make it worthwhile. That’s only a little more than 1x per month. Here’s a big post about 3 Ways to Make Your Investment in California State Parks More Affordable with ideas for when you want to make this your Year of the State Park!
FREE CA Adventure Pass for families with 4th graders! But, wait, do you have a 4th grader? You can get the new CA State Parks Adventure Pass for free. It only allows access to a limited number of parks, though. And none are in Orange County. The ones you might be likely to visit are Silver Strand State Beach (San Diego), California Citrus State Historic Park, and Chino Hills State Park which are both in the Inland Empire. Go to the park list to see all 19 parks included.
FREE when you check out the California State Library Parks Pass from your local library. This is rolling out in April and May 2022 and you get access to the same 200+ parks as the regular annual state parks pass mentioned above! There is a comprehensive website called CheckOutCAStateParks.com which explains all the details and you can learn more from your local library. When it was first introduced there were a limited number of passes available at each library — there still are, but they have increased that number by a lot! So if you tried before and were on a waiting list — try again!
Eligibility for the CalWORKS Golden Bear Pass. Are you a family enrolled in CalWORKS? You can apply for this pass through the California Department of Social Services on a secure form. According to the CalWORKS info page: “The passes for the current application process are valid for the 2023 Calendar year.” If you qualify, the pass you get will be good through December 31, 2023. This is also good at the 200+ parks.
Get details on these pages:
- Official CA State Parks information
- My post on How to Buy a CA State Parks Annual Pass (with lists of the parks in OC)
- My post on the Best California State Parks in Orange County
CITY OF NEWPORT BEACH ANNUAL PARKING PASS
Hourly: $3.10/hour or $31.00/day during summer months – but rates can be less during off-peak season.
Annual Passes: $202.75/year (but less if you purchase Oct-Dec only for $50.75)
Do the Math: You need to spend around 65 hours at the beach per year – or about 7 six hour days at the beach.
Permit basically covers:
- Lots near Balboa Pier and on Newport Peninsula
- Includes Corona del Mar beach lots (NOT included in CA State Beach pass – even though it’s a state beach it’s run by the city)
- Make sure you really study the map and informational flyer to make sure you will be covered where you want to park.
CITY OF SAN CLEMENTE METERED PARKING PERMITS
Hourly: $1.50/hour unless you can find free street parking.
Annual Passes: $50/year resident or $100/year non-resident.
Do the Math: You need to spend more than 33 hours at the beach per year for residents or 66 hours for non-residents.
- General info about metered parking permits
- Specific info about beach parking
- San Clemente beach map and listings
Permit basically covers 9am-10pm at:
- North Beach
- Linda Lane
- Parque Del Mar/Pier Bowl
- Poche Beach
You need a STATE parks pass for Calafia at San Clemente State Beach and Trestles.
CITY OF HUNTINGTON BEACH
Hourly: $1.50/hour or $15 flat during spring/summer.
Annual Passes: $150/year (less for seniors $75/year or if you have a Disabled Persons (DP) Placard $125/year).
Do the Math: You need to spend 10 days or more days at the beach per year to make it worthwhile.
- Annual beach parking pass information | Beach parking rates page
- Actually purchase the pass through the HB Parking Permit Processing Center
- Huntington Beach parking map
The City of Huntington Beach website reports the pass covers:
- City beach parking lots from Beach Boulevard to the pier, the Pier Plaza “Pay & Display” lots at 6th Street.
- Parking meters along Pacific Coast Highway and Beach Boulevard.
- Metered parking lots between Goldenwest Street and Seapoint Street “Dog Beach” area.
- Parking lot adjacent to the Warner Avenue Fire Station and boat launch.
- The Main Promenade Parking Structure (200 Main Street) Walnut and Olive Streets. You must pull a ticket to enter the parking structure and the ticket must be given back to the attendant upon exit from the structure.