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Christmas in Orange County: 29 Mostly FREE Things to Do with Kids (2023)

Christmas in Orange County: 29 Mostly FREE Things to Do with Kids (2023)

I don’t know if there are truly best things to do around Christmas in Orange County because what is BEST for one family may not be BEST for another.

Instead, I like to highlight the family-friendly and mostly free things to do during the holidays. You know, those things that might become Christmas family traditions (or at least they have for our family!). I’ve also included lists and information about experiential gift ideas!

I am so excited to finally have ALL my holiday places to go and simple holiday gift ideas in one spot on the blog. They are currently scattered amongst my social media and annual blog posts, but hard to find in one place until now!

I’m always trying to find playful things to do that don’t require much of you. Things that don’t only happen on one night, but you can enjoy over the whole holiday season.

The things to do on this Christmas in Orange County list are things I have personally experienced doing with my family or friends who have encourage me to try them out.

In fact, I used to make a December advent calendar of winter activities — yes, California winter — with the kids and now that they are grown they are making them for the family (and including all the traditions throughout the years!).

Here’s the lists! Make sure you click through to the blog posts and websites for more information. And always check official sources to make sure the hours haven’t changed.

Make sure you go all the way to the end of the post for a FREE printable!

Free & Low Cost Family Christmas Traditions in Orange County (+ Gift Ideas)

There are so many lists of how to spend money at this time of year, that I wanted to create a list of free or low cost experiences for Orange County families that are perfectly fine on their own or you can choose to add to them. I'm not saying that paying makes them better, though. They are fine just as they are. I tried to highlight the costs so it's easy for you to figure out.

I will continue to add to it as we are out enjoying the season, but it’s a good start for now!

The reason I don’t have too many EVENTS on my list is because I don’t believe kids need more SCHEDULED activities. I’d rather highlight opportunities for play or open-ended visits to holiday lights. I also included some daytime ideas. We do a mixture of all these things as we go through every day in December.

The first 9 options in the list below have more details in the posts above! Here are 20 more classic family things to do in December that don’t take an event or much planning!

29 Mostly Free Things to Do with Kids at Christmas in Orange County

  1. Dana Point Harbor Holiday Lights (and Boat Parade)
  2. Beach Christmas Tree at Crystal Cove
  3. Candlelight Walk & Holiday Lights at Heritage Hill Historical Park in Lake Forest
  4. Holidayz at the Park (Great Park in Irvine) with weekend photo backgrounds pop-up
  5. Newport Dunes Lighting of the Bay
  6. Santa’s Village at Irvine Regional Park
  7. The Snoopy House Holiday Display at Costa Mesa City Hall
  8. Fashion Island – 50 Nights of Coastal Lights (Multiple Nightly Lighting Shows with Snowfall)
  9. Holiday Light Show at The District Tustin (Nightly)
  10. Drive by Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach to see the green & gold lights on the pine trees surrounding it (go inside if parking allows to see the holiday model train)
  11. Check your city or community center for light displays that last all month
  12. Watch a holiday movie at home
  13. Make a holiday recipe together
  14. Discover a new holiday scent with candles or soap (candy cane, balsam)
  15. Get a special hot chocolate out at a restaurant/bakery or try new cocoa packets from the store (Peppermint Hot Cocoa from TJs or Abuelita brand from the grocery store)
  16. Put up decorations or a tree
  17. Go to a local mall to see the decorations (South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island, Downtown Disney)
  18. Drive around to see Christmas lights with the kids in pajamas – love to do this one as a surprise!
  19. Make a Christmas music playlist or find out everyone’s favorite Christmas tune
  20. Use the playlist for a freeze dance party
  21. Take a walk through your neighborhood and see what lights and decorations are up
  22. Busy Toddler had the idea of putting up a wrapping station for kids with leftover wrapping paper scraps
  23. Check out library books about the holidays or winter season
  24. Make and mail a card to someone you are thinking about this season
  25. Get a peppermint frosty at Wendy’s (the junior size is only $.99) or a peppermint chip milkshake to share at Chick-fil-A for $6 (or soft serve ice cream with peppermint chips)– or some other inexpensive holiday treat at your favorite spot
  26. Meet friends you haven’t seen all year at a park for playtime
  27. Try a soup picnic on a chilly night
  28. Early (4pm-5pm!) beach sunset viewing
  29. Start a new holiday tradition with your family! Make one up! When I was 5 years old, my dad unwittingly started the tradition of taking me and my younger sister out to go Christmas shopping for mom followed by dinner (now that I’m older I see the reason was so that mom could wrap presents). It turned into something we do every year!! It’s the only night all year my sis and I have our dad to ourselves and it’s the BEST! We’re at 40+ years and look forward to it!

Ideas for Paid “Worth It” Splurges

Basically, I think you CAN get away with going through the holidays spending less than $20 to see & do some pretty cool stuff (see that list above!). Many of the FREE things are available multiple nights or throughout the season so you won’t miss them.

Some of the paid events we like continue on even after Christmas. You do not need to do a paid event to enjoy the holidays!

Our system? We pick and choose our free things every year depending on everyone’s mood and energy level. It’s OKAY if we miss out on some events. And then we sometimes pick ONE paid thing to do. Tickets usually sell out, so we have to commit early.

How to decide? I like to spend my dollars where they do good. So, we’ve invested in experiences at:

Other ideas that are outdoorsy at the holidays:

Enchanted Forest of Light red lanterns

5 Free Holiday Things to Do in Orange County PDF

And some of you asked for a PDF list of the 5 Free Holiday Things to Do in Orange County reel I did on Instagram with Jill from @popsicleblog. So I created it for you to download and print out!

Here is the printable!