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.
- Spend $180/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.
- 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 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.
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:
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.
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!
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)
CITY OF NEWPORT BEACH ANNUAL PARKING PASS
Hourly: $2.55/hour or $25.60/day during summer months – but rates can be less during off-peak season.
Annual Passes: $179.75/year (but less if you purchase Oct-Dec only)
Do the Math: You need to spend around 71 hours at the beach per year – or about 12 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)
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:
- Camino Capistrano
- North Beach
- Linda Lane
- Parque Del Mar/Pier Bowl
- Calafia (on street near State Park entrance)
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.
Do the Math: You need to spend 10 days or more days at the beach per year to make it worthwhile.
According to 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 PCH and Beach Boulevard,
- meter lots between Goldenwest Street and Seapoint Street “Dog Beach” area,
- parking lot adjacent to the Warner Avenue Fire Station and boat launch
- and at the Main Promenade Parking Structure (200 Main Street).
You need a state parks pass for the Magnolia/PCH entrance to the State Beach. Here is the state parks brochure on Huntington Beach State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach.