8 Free Museums In Orange County, California

Hey there, budget-conscious explorers! Are you tired of scouring the internet for those elusive “free museum days” that always seem to fall on a Tuesday afternoon when you’re stuck at work? We feel you!

But fear not, because we’ve got the ultimate solution for you — going to one of these ALWAYS free museums in the OC that you can enjoy ANY time, on your own schedule!

Gone are the days of frantically rearranging your work calendar or trying to squeeze in a museum visit during your lunch break. Only to find that once you get there, the lines are insanely long.

The museums on this list are different—they offer free admission all the time! That’s right, you can saunter into these cultural havens whenever your heart desires, without having to worry about shelling out a single dime. It’s a museum lover’s dream come true!

Imagine strolling through fascinating exhibits, exploring captivating artworks, and delving into the depths of history—all at your own convenience. No more scrambling to find a parking spot on a crowded “free day” or fighting off hordes of people to catch a glimpse of that famous masterpiece.

So, whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or just someone looking for a fun and educational outing with the family, these museums have got you covered. Get ready to embark on a museum-hopping adventure, without breaking the bank or sacrificing your precious time.

Let’s dive into the world of free museums in Orange County, where you’re the boss of your own schedule and the wonders of culture await.

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8 Free Museums In Orange County, California

Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) – Santa Ana

Orange County Museum of Art OCMA - Free Museums In Southern California

The Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) is a brand-new contemporary art museum located in Santa Ana, Orange County. The museum features a collection of over 3,000 works by some of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, and Ed Ruscha.

During our last visit, we really enjoyed the Daniel Arsham: Wherever You Go, There You Are exhibit, which explores the artist’s concept of fictional archaeology. There was a huge variety of creative works that operate as future relics of the present—eroded casts of everyday objects and human figures built from geological materials like sand, pyrite, and volcanic ash. Quite a sight to see.

Admission to the Orange County Museum of Art is always free, no advance reservations or tickets necessary. The museum is located approximately 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and the drive takes around 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.

It’s perfect as a date spot in the OC, or for any art lovers who want to stay up to date on the latest trends in contemporary art!

Orange County Museum of Art OCMA - Free Museums In Southern California

Institute and Museum for California Art – Irvine

The Langson IMCA (Institute and Museum for California Art) is an art museum located in Irvine, Orange County. The museum is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of California art, and features a collection of over 3,500 works by California artists from the 19th century to the present day.

On any given day, you’ll find a large collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other media, providing a comprehensive overview of California’s rich artistic heritage.

Langson IMCA presents one exhibition at a time in the 2,500-square-foot gallery. Exhibitions change approximately every three months and include works from the museum’s permanent collection and on loan from private lenders and institutions. Check out what is currently on view.

Past exhibits include “The Great Park: A Laboratory for Art and Life,” which explored the intersection of art, nature, and community in Orange County’s Great Park, and “Tony DeLap: A Retrospective,” which celebrated the work of the California artist known for his geometric abstractions.

In addition to its exhibitions, Langson IMCA also hosts a range of public programs, including lectures, artist talks, and workshops. Be sure to check out their events calendar if you want a more in-depth visit!

Admission to the Irvine Museum is always free. The museum is located approximately 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and the drive takes around an hour from LA.

Hilbert Museum of California Art – Orange

The Hilbert Museum of California Art is a museum located in Orange, California, that features a collection of California representational art from the 20th century to the present day.

The museum’s collection includes paintings, drawings, and sculptures by some of the most important California artists of the last century, including Millard Sheets, Emil Kosa Jr., and Phil Dike.

You can expect the museum’s exhibits to cover a wide range of topics, including California landscapes, urban scenes, and portraits, as well as depictions of California’s diverse communities and cultures.

Admission to the Hilbert Museum is always free, but reservations are required due to limited capacity.

Fullerton Arboretum – Fullerton

The Fullerton Arboretum is a botanical garden and nature preserve located on the campus of California State University, Fullerton. The arboretum features a collection of over 4,000 plant species from around the world, as well as a range of natural habitats and ecosystems.

Visitors to the Fullerton Arboretum can explore the garden’s collection through a range of trails and pathways that wind through the various habitats and gardens. During your visit, you’ll see a range of themed gardens, including a desert garden, a Mediterranean garden, a woodland garden, and a collection of rare and endangered plants.

While the arboretum is free, they suggest making a $5 donation to support their efforts.

Fullerton Train Museum – Fullerton

The Fullerton Train Museum is a free museum located in the historic Fullerton Santa Fe Depot that features a collection of historic railroad artifacts, including vintage locomotives, cabooses, and other equipment, as well as exhibits and displays related to the history of rail transportation in Southern California.

Visitors to the Fullerton Train Museum can explore the museum’s collection through a range of exhibits and displays that showcase the history and culture of rail transportation in the region.

The museum’s exhibits touch on a wide range of topics, including the development of rail transportation in Southern California, the role of trains in the region’s economy and culture, and the history of the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot itself.

In addition to its exhibits, the Fullerton Train Museum also offers a range of public programs and events, including train rides, model train displays, and educational programs for children and families. 

The museum is open on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. Admission is always free. Overall, the Fullerton Train Museum is a must-visit destination for kids and train lovers of all ages!

Surfing Heritage & Cultural Center – San Clemente

The Surfing Heritage & Cultural Center is a museum and cultural center located in San Clemente, California, that is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history and culture of surfing.

The museum features a collection of historic surfboards, photographs, videos, and other artifacts related to the sport of surfing and its cultural significance.

Visitors to the Surfing Heritage & Cultural Center can explore the museum’s collection through a range of exhibits and displays that showcase the evolution of surfboard design, the history of surfing in California and around the world, and the cultural impact of surfing on music, fashion, and art. 

Admission is always free but donations are appreciated.

Bowers Museum – Santa Ana

The Bowers Museum is an art and cultural museum located in Santa Ana, Orange County. The museum features a collection of over 100,000 objects from around the world, including art, artifacts, and natural history specimens.

While you’re here, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn about local California and other world history. Previous historical exhibits include “California Legacies: Missions and Ranchos (1768-1848)”, “Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands”, and “American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times”.

There are usually also some really interesting exhibits showcasing artifacts/relics that are seen as art in our culture, as seen in previous exhibits like “Gemstone Carvings: The Masterworks of Harold Van Pelt”, “Miao: Masters of Silver”, and “Guo Pei: Art of Couture”.

Admission to the Bowers Museum is free to the general public on certain days of the year. Santa Ana residents get free access on Sundays, while members and children under 12 are free always. Have military affiliation? The museum offers free General Admission to all active duty military year-round with proof of ID.

The museum is located approximately 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and the drive takes around 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.

Laguna Art Museum – Laguna Beach

Situated in the picturesque coastal city of Laguna Beach, California, the Laguna Art Museum is a true gem that celebrates the rich artistic heritage of the region. The Laguna Art Museum offers diverse exhibitions that showcase the best of California art, from historical works to contemporary masterpieces.

Step inside the museum and get ready to be enthralled by the beauty and creativity that awaits. With its stunning ocean views, the Laguna Art Museum provides a unique backdrop for artistic exploration.

You’ll encounter a wide variety of art forms, including paintings, sculptures, photography, and installations. From landscapes that capture the essence of the California coastline to thought-provoking contemporary pieces that challenge societal norms, the museum’s exhibitions offer a delightful mix of beauty, inspiration, and intellectual stimulation.

While it’s not free for all, there are a lot of opportunities where you could enjoy this museum free of charge.

At the time of writing, admission is free to the public on the first Thursday of each month from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Admission is also free for museum members, children under 12 years of age, and for members of the military and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Looking for more free museums? Check out these 20+ free museums in the Los Angeles area!

Top Activities In Orange County, California

  • Visit Disneyland: Step into the magical world of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. Experience thrilling rides, meet beloved Disney characters, and immerse yourself in the enchanting atmosphere of the Happiest Place on Earth.
    • Pro Tip: Undercover Tourist is the trusted name for discounted theme park tickets. Depending on how many days you visit the parks, you can save up to $161 per ticket with them!
  • Explore Huntington Beach: Known as Surf City, USA, Huntington Beach offers miles of beautiful sandy shores, perfect for sunbathing, surfing, or strolling along the iconic Huntington Beach Pier. Take in the coastal scenery, indulge in delicious beachside eats, and embrace the vibrant surf culture.
  • Discover Balboa Island: Take a ferry ride to Balboa Island, a charming coastal community in Newport Beach. Explore the quaint streets lined with boutique shops, indulge in a famous Balboa Bar or frozen banana, and enjoy stunning views of the harbor.
  • Visit Newport Beach: Experience the luxurious coastal lifestyle in Newport Beach. Relax on the pristine beaches, explore the upscale shops and restaurants at Fashion Island, go on a whale-watching cruise, or take a harbor cruise to admire the stunning waterfront homes and panoramic ocean views.
  • Visit the Orange County Great Park: Located in Irvine, this expansive park offers a variety of activities for all ages. Take a ride on the Great Park Balloon, explore the Farm + Food Lab, or enjoy a stroll through the Palm Court Arts Complex.
  • Take the family to Knott’s Berry Farm: Explore four themed areas filled with heart-pounding thrills and family-friendly rides. Get your skip-the-line tickets here.
  • Explore Crystal Cove State Park: Dive into nature’s beauty at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach. Hike along the trails, relax on the sandy beaches, and explore the historic cottages that dot the coastline. The park also offers excellent opportunities for tidepooling and birdwatching.
  • Shop at South Coast Plaza: Indulge in a world-class shopping experience at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. This upscale mall is home to high-end retailers, luxury boutiques, and renowned designer brands. From fashion to home decor, you’ll find it all here.
  • Grab a meal at Rodeo 39 Public Market: Located in Stanton, Rodeo 39 Public Market carries a wide variety of food offerings and compelling flavors to choose from. And because it’s a public market, everyone can try something different!
  • Eat the most authentic Vietnamese food in Westminster: Seriously, pick any restaurant and it’ll be amazing. For pointers, we like Pho 79 and Pho Redbo!

Looking for more Southern California travel tips? You may also like:

20 Free Museums In The Los Angeles Area (That Are Always Free)

7 Best Disneyland Hotels With Free Breakfasts (That Don’t Suck)

24 Best Stops Between San Francisco to Los Angeles: PCH Road Trip

28 Fun Things To Do In The South Bay Los Angeles, California

21 Best Family Vacations In California

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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