Los Angeles, a sprawling urban metropolis of over sixteen million people, is known for its sunny weather, pristine beaches, and famous celebrity residents. But when you think of this city, I’m going to assume that “budget” and “free” are not words that automatically come to mind. Let’s face it – Los Angeles definitely has a (well deserved) bourgeois reputation. It’s the home of movie stars, overpriced organic gluten free food, pricey homes, designer boutiques… the list goes on.
But Los Angeles is more budget friendly than you would think, and it has a surprising array of free things to see and do. Museums offer a number of free options, as many feature free admission on certain days of the month or remain permanently free of charge. Outdoor activities also abound in Los Angeles – from parks to beaches and everything in between. Whether you’re riding solo, one of a pair, or have a family in tow, there are a variety of free things to do — including hidden gems that even long term residents aren’t aware of.
Check out the list below for an insider’s view of free things to do in Los Angeles, and prepare to be surprised…
15. Getty Museum
Admission to the Getty Museum is totally free, and even begins with a cool monorail ride up the hill to where this expansive arch museum is perched, overlooking Los Angeles. Once you arrive, take a moment to look at the surrounding views of the city and the well tended sculpture gardens that surround the museum, which are works of art themselves. Even the museum itself is an art piece, designed with the modern aesthetic of Richard Meier. The museum itself features rotating and permanent exhibits that showcase European and American art, from medieval times to present day.
14. Santa Monica Beach
Now, it goes without saying that going to the beach is free, but picking the right beach in Los Angeles will give you more bang for your buck. Adjacent to the Santa Monica beach is a pier complete with an arcade and Ferris wheel (not free), but well worth a stroll to take in the stunning vista of the Pacific that surrounds it. The beach is also steps away from the Third Street Promenade, which provides ample opportunity for window shopping.
13. Levitt Pavilion Concert Series
For a family friendly even, if you’re in Los Angeles for the summer, head over to MacArthur Park for a totally free concert series. The concert series features both new and established artists. The genres of music ranges from jazz to Americana. The artists who play here are nothing to sneeze at, as many Grammy winners have performed here. The range of artists include Barbara Morrison, Frankie Avalon, Brightside… the list goes on. No tickets or reservations are required. Seating is open on the grounds of the park, so bring the kids, your significant other, or just yourself, and enjoy the free concert.
12. Docent Tour of the Los Angeles Public Library
The Los Angeles Library is worth a visit based on its architecture alone. It’s an official downtown Los Angeles landmark, and the design is based on ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival designs. It’s also one of the oldest still standing buildings in downtown Los Angeles, with the original being built in 1925.
But even residents don’t know that the library also offers free docent led tours. These tours are completely free and walk in, and no reservations are required for groups of less than six. On Saturdays, there’s even a specialized “Art in the Garden” tour.
11. Old Los Angeles Zoo
The Old Los Angeles Zoo was once the zoo of Griffith Park, but it was shut down in 1966. It now serves primarily as a picnic area and hiking trail. Now filled with old and rusting abandoned cages and enclosures, it may not seem a fun place to visit. But the Old Los Angeles Zoo is worthy of a visit, with stunning views of the city from the hiking trails and ample grounds for a picnic. So head over to the zoo with a decent camera or even a book for a lazy and relaxing afternoon. You won’t regret taking the opportunity to witness a piece of the city’s storied history up close.
10. Venice Canals
The Venice Canals are another hidden gem that most visitors and residents to Los Angeles don’t even know exist. Tucked away in the bohemian Venice neighborhood, they’re a series of winding canals that offer the impression of the actual Venetian canals, with bridges that crisscross them and filled with boats that residents use to traverse the serene waters. If anything, the Venice canals are worth a visit for the serene calm they provide in a large metropolitan city.
9. Shakespeare in the Park
There are a multitude of free Shakespearean performances in Los Angeles. In Griffith Park, there are summer performances, and a company called Shakespeare by the Sea has performances all over Los Angeles and Orange County in the summer as well. In Culver City, the Actor’s Gang performs free Shakespearean performances in their west side neighborhood. The plays range from the famous tragedies like Hamlet to the lesser known plays like Cymbeline. Since you have a variety of free performances to choose from, pick the performance that’s geographically closest to you, bring that handy picnic blanket, and enjoy the bard’s words.
8. Hiking to the Hollywood Sign
Like Paris’ Eiffel Tower or New York’s Empire State Building, the Hollywood Sign is Los Angeles’ most iconic symbol, and it has been since it debuted back in the days of old Hollywood.
Do you want to check out the sign and get some exercise in? If so, make your way over to Griffith Park and hike up the meandering hills for a close up view of the world famous sign. No visit to Los Angeles is truly complete until you see it. As you hike up the trail, you can take brief breaks to take in the expansive vista of the city below.
7. La Brea Tar Pits
While the George C. Page museum located here is worth a visit, there’s a natural wonder right out front that you can check out for free. For thousands of years, tar has naturally seeped up from deep in the ground. During this process, the bones of animals that died eons ago during the Ice Age were trapped here, making this area an archeological jackpot – the fossils here are among the best preserved bones ever found.
6. Downtown Art Walk
For a fun and free nighttime event, head to downtown Los Angeles for a self-guided tour of art galleries on the second Thursday of every month, rain or shine. The art walk is located in downtown Los Angeles’ historic center, but has expanded in recent years to include the Fashion and Financial Districts. The galleries include studio and contemporary art galleries, from the Andrea Bogdan studio to the Little Tokyo Art Complex. In addition to the plethora of art galleries to check out, there are also restaurants and bars dispersed throughout, but the walk itself is free.
5. Great Wall of Los Angeles
Located on Coldwater Canyon, the Great Wall of Los Angeles is a pleasant surprise and hidden work of art. A stunning mural designed by Judy Baca circa 1976 (with the help of hundreds of community artists), it covers six city blocks and it is one of the longest murals in the world. What does the mural depict, you ask? Only the entire history of California – from prehistory to modern times. These images range from depictions of the indigenous Chumash people to the rise of suburbia. from Head over to check out this mural and prepare to be amazed.
4. Metro Art Tours
Metro Art Moves are free docent led art tours that you can take on the Metro of Los Angeles. These year round tours occur at the Union and Red Line stations. The Union Station tours provide an overview of art in the station itself as well as in the Historic Ticketing Hall, Gold Line Portal, and more. The Red Line tours focus on artwork in the Red Line stops. The docents even provide free bus / subway passes for tour members. If you’re into art and / or the history of Los Angeles, taking one of these free tours is a must.
3. Blue Ribbon Garden at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Make no mistake — the Walt Disney Concert Hall is worth a visit in and of itself for its unique design alone. Its deconstructivist design stands out amidst the plethora of skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles. But tucked away on its rooftop is a tranquil garden that is free, open to the public, and worth a visit. The Blue Ribbon Garden is named for the Blue Ribbon Group, a women’s organization that supports the concert hall. In addition to the garden, it is filled with sculptures such as “A Rose for Lily” and functional art such as a tiled water fountain. It’s a combination of garden and art, and you should definitely take it in.
2. Whale Watching at Point Vicente
Since Los Angeles hugs the Pacific Ocean, it would be well worth your time to take in some whale watching. But rather than book a pricey boat tour, head down to Palos Verdes to take them in. Go to Point Vicente, adjacent to the Point Vicente Lighthouse, which includes a picnic area and dazzling ocean views. There’s also a natural history museum located here that is worthy of a visit.
1. Greystone Mansion
For a taste of wealth and luxury, head over to the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. The mansion is a Tudor revival home located on lush grounds that now serves as a public park owned by the city of Beverly Hills. Built in 1928 by oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, it was purchased by the city in the ‘60s and eventually converted to the park it is today. While the mansion itself is usually open only on special events, the grounds themselves are yours to explore. If you do want to peek inside the mansion, there are guided tours the first Saturday of the month from December to April.
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