Things to Do

Have a Car Free (and Cheap) Weekend in Orange County

You’ve heard about the rat race: it entails daily commutes in traffic to get to work and then turning around and sitting in traffic to get home. If the last thing you want to do on the weekend is to sit in traffic again, you can test-drive a Metrolink Weekend Pass that gives you all-day access on Saturday or Sunday for $10. We’ve got a full itinerary of places to visit without getting in your car in Orange County.

But I love my car! you’re saying. I can go to the drive-thru and get burritos in my pajamas. I can have a dance party in my car with embarrassing music. I never a saw a train go through a drive-thru and I have rarely seen dance parties on trains. 

I know. I agree. Your car is awesome and a vital way to get around town in a place that’s spread out and built by developers who gave exactly zero value to walkability. But going car-free once in a while has some benefits:

  • See your daily landscape in a new light
  • Arrive stress-free in places where parking is a hassle
  • Save money on gas and reduce carbon emissions
  • You can actually text without fear of killing yourself or others
  • Use the existing infrastructure of public transportation (who said infrastructure isn’t sexy?)

Metrolink gets you to plenty of Orange County destinations and beyond. Each station has ticket machines where you need to buy your pass before you board. The pass is also good on some adjoining buses and also on LA’s Metro light rail system, so hold on to your ticket if you do hop on a bus or the light rail.

Recently, I was dropped off at the Laguna Niguel Metrolink Station. Within 10 minutes the train had arrived, I boarded, and was off. Just 30 minutes later we rolled into the Anaheim station. It would have taken me over an hour if I’d driven in the traffic, and the ride was quick and comfortable.

How to Have a Car-Free Day in Orange County

To start your car-free day, you will need to get to your nearest Metrolink station. Most stations have ample free parking, which you can confirm on their site. Tickets are sold at machines on the platform. You only need a few minutes before your train departs to get your ticket and hop on the right train.

The weekend Metrolink trains start running at about 9 AM and run every two or three hours until early evening so you can get in a great day in one or more of the towns along the route. Amtrak also stops at some of these stations and has a more robust schedule, but doesn’t offer a $10 weekend pass.

OCTA

october schedule

San Clemente

San Clemente is our first stop on this tour of Orange County as we make our way north. 
san-clemente-coastal-trail-native-plants

During the week, Metrolink trains stop at North Beach only and zip past the pier. But on Saturdays and Sundays, the train stops right at the base of the San Clemente Pier.

After you get off the train at the pier, just walk across Avenida Victoria and you’ve arrived at La Galette Creperie. They serve crepes from 7:30 AM until 2:00 PM every day except Wednesdays. The crepes are amazing and they can be breakfast, lunch or dessert. This spot is cash only.

Bear Coast Coffee is opening their new location on Avenida Victoria, and the new San Clemente outlets are within easy walking distance up Avenida Pico.

You can spend the rest of the day at the beach, walking up Avenida Del Mar, or walking the 2.3 mile San Clemente Beach Trail, which starts at the end of the parking lot off Pico and Calafia.

San Juan Capistrano

The next stop north is San Juan Capistrano, and the heart of downtown San Juan Capistrano is centered around the historic train station depot. 

visitoceanside.org

visitoceanside.org

You can spend a full day at this stop alone.

The original station was built in 1894 and now houses restaurants and the Amtrak office in vintage rail cars that sit next to the tracks. You can also get a historical walking tour or follow a map to visit other sites within the nearby streets. The information kiosk at the depot usually has volunteers to give you tips.

Across the tracks is the Los Rios Historical District, the oldest neighborhood in California. Not only are there historic adobes and homes, but there are art galleries, boutiques, and beautiful gardens, but there is also Zoomar’s Petting Zoo and pony rides.

Many weekends you can catch a matinee live play at the Camino Real Playhouse.

Just one block away is the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

You can’t go wrong at any of the restaurants in the area with ambiance and prices to match every mood. From authentic take-out Mexican at El Campeon to a winery tasting room at Rancho Capistrano Winery. Check out the map here.

Orange

We’re heading off the coast and into the heart of Central Orange County for a stop in Orange.

oldtownefountain-orange

The City of Orange has the most famous downtown in Orange County and one of California’s top private universities. And everything in Old Towne Orange is a quick walk from the train station.

Chapman University is right across the street from the station. They have a brand new art museum (opened on February 26, 2016) dedicated to California art and it is free to the public, and open Tuesday – Saturday 11-5 (closed Sunday and Monday). Check out the Hilbert Museum of California Art while you’re in Orange.

Walk a few blocks more and you’ll arrive at the Orange Circle. You could spend days going through the local antique, vintage, and eclectic art shops. Delve into the restaurant scene from the map or go for comfort and eat at the Ruby’s right at the station.

This is also the perfect way to avoid driving if you attend the annual Orange International Street Fair held Labor Day weekend.

Anaheim

Anaheim is the next stop on Metrolink’s Orange County Line, and it’s bustling.

artic night anaheim

Flickr: Roving Vagabond

Catch a baseball game any day of the week at Angel Stadium. The train is practically curbside service to the stadium. You can get roundtrip passes for $7  during the 2016 season, details here. The last train south leaves 30 minutes after the game.

The new Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) is a hub for local transit in an impressive 67,000 square foot steel framed building. You take the stairs from the train platform and arrive in the center to connect to the buses or the parking lot. There are plans for restaurants and shops, but currently there isn’t a lot there. Watch this space though, we know that California’s politicians have big plans for it.

Finally, the Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) Shuttle offers a free ride to Disneyland from ARTIC. Disneyland without paying for parking means you can spend more in the park on Dole Whip and churros and other must-eats, which is at least 50% of the reason to visit Disneyland as an adult.

Fullerton

Today’s final stop is in Fullerton, but the Orange County Line has still a lot more to show you until its final destination of Union Station in downtown LA.

fullertonact.org

fullertonact.org

There’s a lot more than a university that makes this town one of the best downtown destinations in the county. Find a map and more information at

You don’t have to leave the station parking lot to have a great meal! Hopscotch, located in the old train depot has amazing food and cocktails and microbrews. Or take the family to the Old Spaghetti factory in a grand old Mission style building. Within a couple blocks is the complete Fullerton restaurant scene, use the map to head to your favorite.

The most iconic electric guitar ever, the Fender Stratocaster, is a Fullerton native. Check out the Fullerton Museum Center focused has local art and an exhibit on local guitar maker legend Leo Fender. Open Saturday and Sunday 12-4, Tuesday – Friday 9-5. 

They say nobody walks in LA...but you can still have a great car free weekend in Orange County  with this fun guide to riding the train in Southern California.

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