Skip to Content

Cheat Sheet to Park and Beach Passes for OC Families

Cheat Sheet to Park and Beach Passes for OC Families

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 $188/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.

Personal Note:

Out of all these options I always by an $80/year OCParks.com All County Parks and Beaches 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 info for those of you who might live in or near those towns. 

parks and beaches parking passes - sandbox with pine cones and sticks

FREE PLAY

  • 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.
parks and beaches parking passes - capistrano beach rocks and ocean waves along the shoreline at sunset

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.

Official information:

2 options for the OC Parks annual pass in 2022

  1. County Regional and Wilderness Parks Annual Parking Pass ($55)
  2. County Beach Annual Parking Pass ($55)

Regional Park locations:

Wilderness Park locations:

OR you spend $55 just to get access to these beaches:

Beach locations:

So lots of families go to Salt Creek Beach all summer long and this would be a good option for you. Aliso Beach Park is also a fun one for watching sunsets.

parks and beaches parking passes - aliso beach park at sunset with playground in silhouette

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.

This is the one we typically purchase because we get access to those two beaches plus all the other parks. It gives us the greatest access and flexibility. Plus, we are supporting our local county parks and beaches!

Official information:

 

parks and beaches parking passes - california state parks sign

ANNUAL CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS – CA EXPLORER VEHICLE DAY USE PASS

Hourly: $15.00/daily
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.

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. You can apply any time during 2022 and the pass is good through December 31, 2022. This is also good at the 200+ parks.

Get details on these pages:

parks and beaches parking passes - corona del mar beach view of beach and Newport Harbor entrance from bluff above the beach

CITY OF NEWPORT BEACH ANNUAL PARKING PASS

Hourly: $2.80/hour or $28.15/day during summer months – but rates can be less during off-peak season.
Annual Passes: $188.00/year (but less if you purchase Oct-Dec only)
Do the Math: You need to spend around 68 hours at the beach per year – or about 12 six hour days at the beach.

Official information:

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)
parks and beaches parking passes - san clemente beach near pier with lifeguard station along the sand

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.

Official information:

Permit basically covers 9am-10pm at:

  • North Beach
  • Linda Lane
  • Parque Del Mar/Pier Bowl
  • Esplanade/T-Street
  • Poche Beach

You need a STATE parks pass for Calafia at San Clemente State Beach and Trestles.

parks and beaches parking passes - huntington beach with wide white sand and green blue ocean

CITY OF HUNTINGTON BEACH

Hourly: $1.50/hour or $15 flat during spring/summer.
Annual Passes: $150/year.
Do the Math: You need to spend 10 days or more days at the beach per year to make it worthwhile.

Official information:

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.

You need a state parks pass for the Magnolia/PCH entrance to the State Beach. Here is the state parks info Bolsa Chica State Beach and Huntington Beach State Beach.

cheat sheet parks and beaches parking passes orange county