Five Southern California Activities that Won’t Break the Bank



Story by Ronnie Kaufman

Sophomores Lexi Smiertka and Taylor Freedman both had different experiences with Southern California when they came to Chapman.

Smiertka, a film studies major, was raised in Texas, although she had visited multiple times and fell in love with the excitement and beauty of California before she attended Chapman. She had a few favorite spots, like Huntington Beach, but was aching to do more exploring the minute she got to Chapman.

Freedman, a screenwriting major, is a Southern California native. She had done all the tourist activities at one point or another, and knew most of the hidden spots too. As a native, these attractions lost their new-ness for Freedman. With new out of state friends, however, Freedman was excited to show them around and re-experience everything that she had already done.

Together, Smiertka and Freedman make a perfect pair to explore the wealth of Southern California activities, either just together or with other friends included. 

The bad news is that Southern California has a reputation for being an expensive destination. A one day, one park ticket to Disneyland is a whopping $99, a two hour Warner Brothers Studio tour $54, and the prices of food and shopping at destinations like Laguna or Newport Beach can make the place seem infinitely more pricey.

The good news is that not everything in Southern California is super expensive. In fact, there are plenty of things to do that are cheap, if not free, that are just as fun. Smiertka and Freedman have done a lot of exploring, as well as many other Chapman students, and have done it without spending too much.

Even better, Chapman programs like University Program Board often take students up to certain destinations like the Hollywood sign or museums for free, or at a heavily discounted price.

Here are five great ways to explore Southern California on a budget.

1) The beaches. One of the best parts of Southern California, hands down, is the beaches. They’re beautiful, relaxing, and for the most part, free. A picnic lunch, good book, and driving to the nearest beach can make for a pretty cheap day. 

There are plenty to choose from up and down the coast and each have their own unique vibe. Huntington Beach is laid-back and surfer-y; Laguna is intimate and artsy; Newport is trendy and upscale; Santa Monica is vibrant and hip; and Venice Beach is simply crazy.

 “I could spend so much time at the beach, especially since it’s right in Chapman’s backyard,” said Rachel Beltran, a sophomore digital arts major. “Mother nature is as free as it gets.”

2) Hiking. Some may not think that Southern California is an area where people really enjoy the great outdoors: they think smog, traffic, and sprawling shopping malls. The truth is that Southern California also has plenty of great hikes that are completely free, minus the parking. For one, beaches themselves are a great way to get outdoors, but there are plenty of more traditional hikes as well.

Newport Beach’s Crystal Cove is a beautiful hike in the hills above the beach and offers more of the traditional hiking experience than walking on the beach itself. There’s also a path directly on the cliffs above the beach with amazing views.

A more difficult but must do is hiking up to the Hollywood sign. It’s definitely not an easy hike, but the view and the photo-op make this hike worth it.

“The Hollywood sign hike is good if you want something more challenging than your average trail,” said Tammy Taller, a sophomore public relations and advertising major. “But the end makes it worth it because it’s something so iconic.” 

Huntington Beach offers the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, one of the largest remaining salt-water marshes in California, with five miles of beautiful hiking trails. There’s a certain peace to it that’s unique to the hustle and bustle of California. 

3) The shows. One of Hollywood’s biggest secrets is the chance to attend a live TV show taping. Ever wonder how you can sit in the audience of shows like “American Idol” or “The Ellen DeGeneres Show?” Or who exactly laughs at the funny parts of “The Big Bang Theory?” It’s easy, and totally free minus the gas it costs to get to Burbank, where most of the TV shows tape.

To get tickets, visit sites like,, or the website of the TV show itself. Some shows, such as “Ellen” and “The Big Bang Theory,” are harder to get tickets to, and require more persistence in registering. 

“Being so close to Los Angeles has really opened up some fun opportunities. I’ve attended three Ellen show tapings and a Jimmy Fallon show taping,” said Smiertka. “These tapings have all been free and it’s a great way to have an eventful day on a budget. Plus, sometimes they hand you prizes and you have more money than what you went in with.”

“Being so close to Los Angeles has really opened up some fun opportunities. I’ve attended three Ellen show tapings and a Jimmy Fallon show taping,” said Lexi Smiertka, a sophomore film studies major. “These tapings have all been free and it’s a great way to have an eventful day on a budget.”

When Smiertka and Freedman first attended “Ellen” they randomly won a drawing to go back for Ellen’s famous “12 Days of Giveaways” taping. There, they won a free hotel stay, a tablet, Beats headphones, hundreds of dollars in gift cards, and more. 

4) The museums. Southern California may not seem like a New York or Paris in regards to art, but there are plenty of amazing museums and pieces to see.

Admission to the Getty Center and Getty Villa is totally free, minus the cost of parking, and you can see paintings such as “Irises” by Vincent van Gogh. Many other museums throughout Southern California, like LACMA and the Bowers Museums, also have free admission days once a month.

5) The usual. Places like Disneyland will never be cheap, or free; there’s just no way around it, no cheats or tricks (unless you know a cast member who wants to give up a ticket). However, there are ways to make these theme parks cheaper.

For anyone who wants to go to Disneyland more than three times, the best deal is going to be an annual pass. The cheapest one is a hefty $300, but it becomes more and more worth it the more times you use it. After three uses, the pass becomes cheaper than buying one day tickets.

Parking at Downtown Disney is also free for up to three hours – but sometimes the later at night you go, they don’t have people at the gates on the way out – and it becomes totally free.

To save money inside theme parks, many people don’t know that you can bring your own food and drinks. Bringing a lunch and a water bottle can save big time, as food can often be a big expense.

For those who want to visit all the theme parks or have out of town guests, the Southern California CityPASS offers a 26% saving off combined attraction prices, and you get a three day Disneyland Park Hopper ticket, a Universal Studios ticket, and SeaWorld admission. The price tag on one of these is $339, but it can be a big money saver in the long run.

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