Orange County is home to some of the most sought-after destinations in California. But while there’s definitely something for everyone in Orange County, not all annual passes are created equally.
If you’re looking for something different to do or trying to get the best bang for your edutainment buck, we can help. Keep reading to discover our top picks for the best value annual passes in Orange County.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Pretend City in Irvine is the perfect place for your child to explore and play in a safe, air-conditioned space. Pretend City is an indoor child-size city with buildings and props that let kids explore their imaginations. Store clerk? Grocery shopper? Construction worker? Police officer? Doctor? Vet? No problem.
Pretend City is also a 501(c)(3) organization that offers free developmental screenings and community events. Play is facilitated by trained, highly professional staff.
- Age Range: Pretend City is aimed at young children. All kids must be accompanied by an adult.
- Membership Levels: Basic starts at $150 for a single adult and child, up to $255 per year for a family of four. A VIP Membership is available for $1000.
- Member Perks: Unlimited admission all year with no black-out dates, daily Members-Only Hour, exclusive after-hours Members Only Events, 10% off discount on purchases, parties and rentals, your child’s therapist added at no additional cost, and tax-deductible.
- Why it’s Great: Pretend City supports children with sensory processing issues. On request, headphones, weighted animal-shaped shoulder pads, weighted vests, sorting and patterning activities are available, and quiet spaces are accessible for children who’re overloaded.
La Habra Children’s Museum is an interactive enrichment center housed in a converted Spanish style 1923 train depot in beautiful La Habra, California. The museum is 10,000 square feet of interactive fun and culture. Kids can dress up in costumes and act on their own stage… explore an outdoor dinosaur garden, play on a hand-carved carousel, or wonder at the ever-changing model train village.
- Age Range: Perfect for 2 years old through 10. All kids must be accompanied by an adult.
- Membership Levels: Basic starts at $80 for a single adult and child, up to $280 per year for an adult and up to 9 kids/other guests.
- Member Perks: 10% off in the gift shop, 10-15% off on birthday parties (depending on membership levels).
- Why it’s Great: Basic ticket price is $12, but La Habra residents can get in for $11.
The Discovery Science Center is another hands-on learning facility that focuses on four core initiatives: STEM proficiency, early childhood education, healthy living, and environmental stewardship. There’s an outdoor dinosaur dig in addition to two floors of interactive exhibits where you and your child can learn and play together.
The Cube is built to let kids of all ages explore whatever they’re interested in, so it’s got long-lasting value.
- Age Range: Everyone
- Membership Levels: Memberships run from $79 (1 adult or child plus 1 free guest pass per visit) to a basic family membership priced at $124 (2 Adults and 4 Children (3-17) living in the same household.) There’s also a family and friends membership packaged at $203 that allows a little more flexibility. You can add up to two additional children to the family memberships for $20 each.
- Member Perks: Unlimited admission to the Discovery Cube and its two additional campuses. Discounted guest and movie attraction tickets, priority access to the summer camp, and discounts in the Science Store are just the tip of the iceberg.
- Why it’s Great: Discovery Cube has three different campuses, and your membership gets you into all of them. Not only that, but members enjoy discounts at the famous Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach.
This small but mighty zoo in Prentice Park has monkeys, a farm animal area, a playground, and an ever-popular Zoofari train ride around the grounds. It’s ideal for small children, although the 64-foot ferris wheel is great for anyone.
- Age Range: Everyone
- Membership Levels: Individual memberships start at $70, while family memberships start at $129 for two adults and up to four kids.
- Member Perks: Unlimited admission for 1 year, 10% discount on rentals, merchandise, rides and parties.
- Why it’s Great: Membership at the Santa Ana Zoo also gives you free or discounted admission to over 100 zoos around the US, including Los Angeles, Orange County, and Big Bear Alpine Zoos.
If you’ve always wanted to try rock climbing, top-rated Aesthetic Climbing Gym in Lake Forest is the place for you. Their staff is super-friendly and cater to all skill levels. Try bouldering, lead climbing and top-rope in their 10,000 square foot facility. The bouldering area is specifically designed to emulate the kind of climbing you’d find here in Orange County.
- Age Range: Everyone, but not suitable for babies/toddlers.
- Membership Levels: Monthly and yearly memberships are available.
- Member Perks: both levels of membership give you 2 guest passes/month, a free T-shirt and one free instructional course. Monthly passes are $125, but go down to $79 if you sign up for a recurring pass. Annual passes are $875 (students and military get discounted rates).
- Why it’s Great: ACG also has weight and cardio rooms, as well as recreational foosball.
The Bowers Museum is Orange County’s premier art museum, with a variety of unique permanent exhibits. They also host a series of traveling exhibitions that run the range from watercolors to graphic art, carved gem art and more. If you’re looking for an excellent exhibition of California history or Mexican ceramic art, the Bowers has permanent exhibitions that will delight you.
- Age Range: The Bowers Museum is a great place for anyone who loves art, or wants to love art.
- Membership Levels: $50 will get you an individual membership, and a family membership that covers a family of up to six is only $96.
- Member Perks: Members get unlimited free general admission, in addition to discounts in the Gallery store and the Tangata restaurant. Add a parking pass for $20 to park stress-free all year.
- Why it’s Great: Since it’s local, it’s easy to take advantage of the member discount rates on museum programs, workshops, and camps for the kids.
The quintessential Southern California amusement park experience, Knotts Berry Farm is a fixture in Orange County, and for a good reason. It’s great family fun and with the addition of Knott’s Soak City, it’s also a great source of year-round entertainment.
- Age Range: Everyone
- Membership Levels: There’s no family membership, but the memberships are affordably priced to start at $140 for regular, $160 for gold, and $230 for the platinum pass.
- Member Perks: Besides unlimited access to the park, members get discounts on food and merchandise, the Knott’s Berry Farm hotel and the Knott’s Scary Farm experience.
- Why it’s Great: Knott’s is wholesome family fun with an educational edge, and since annual passes can be paid for in installments, it’s affordable.
Maybe the best value pass you’ll get all year, an OC Parks pass gives you access to all of the parks, wilderness areas, and beaches in Orange County. Get your hike on!
- Age Range: All ages
- Membership Levels: County beach or regional/wilderness parking is $55 ($35 for seniors), and an all-access pass to both is $80. A further discount is available to distinguished veterans. Passes are good for one year.
- Why it’s Great: Accessing Orange County’s gorgeous beach and wilderness offerings has never been easier.
The Ocean Institute in Dana Point teaches maritime history and living history alongside ocean-based science programs. Sail on a replica Revolutionary War schooner, test an underwater submersible, pet a starfish, or go on a whale watching tour.
- Age Range: Everyone
- Membership Levels: Memberships are flexible, starting at $25 and going all the way to $1000.
- Member Perks: Along with the year-round admission, all membership levels enjoy a 10% discount at the book and gift store, discounts and early registration opportunities, and a complimentary gift.
- Why it’s Great: The beach behind the institute is accessible and has great tide pools to explore for a great beach day.
For Disney Fanatics
Disney has ended their traditional annual pass program described below and has introduced the Magic Key program. There are four reservation-based Magic Key options:
- Dream Key ($1399): Dream Key includes reservation-based entry to Disneyland and California Adventure every day of the year. Includes standard parking, 20% off select merch, and up to 15% off select dining.
- Believe Key ($949): Reservation-based admission for most days of the year (see calendar for blackout dates.) Includes 50% off standard parking, and 10% off select merch and dining.
- Enchant Key ($649): Reservation-based admission to both parks on select days of the year. Includes 10% off select merch and dining.
- Imagine Key ($399): Reservation-based admission to both parks on select days of the year. This option is only available for SoCal residents in zip codes 90000-93599. Includes 10% off select merch and food.
Magic Key holders must have a valid Magic Key pass AND a reservation to enter the park. This program is new and evolving. Check the Disney site for full details.
Disney Southern California Select Passport (currently suspended)
The Disney Southern California Select Pass is only $399 per person for everyone ages three and over. While there are limitations with this pass, if you prefer to experience the Disney theme parks at off-peak times (and who doesn’t want to avoid the crowds?), this pass is the most affordable of the bunch. If you’re looking for a pass that includes parking, you’ll have to jump up to one of the pricier passports – the Disney Signature Passport for $1,149 or the Signature Plus for $1,399. With the Southern California Select, your primary time to visit the park is Monday through Thursday, with select Fridays open to SoCal Select Passholders. All weekends are blocked out, and all of June and July are a no-go. Plus, the parks are closed to SoCal select passport holders during the holiday season including the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas from December 16th – January 5th, nd Spring Break April 3 – April 12. Several of the major Monday holidays are blocked out as well. So while your visitation time is limited – if you choose to attend on less-trafficked park days anyway, this pass is your best, most affordable choice.
- Age Range: Everyone
- Membership Levels: Membership levels range from $399 per person to $1,399 per person.
- Member Perks: Along with the year-round admission to both parks, your membership includes a 10% discount off select dining and select merchandise.
- Why it’s Great: One trip to Disneyland is $129 to $149 per person. If you enjoy the park and want to be able to experience it, and California Adventure, to the fullest, you’ll need more than one day anyway. The Southern California Select Pass is a good option for locals.
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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.