Los Angeles may be a star-studded, celebrity-driven town where fine dining, wining, shopping, and self-pampering is an everyday norm. But that does not mean that Angelenos don’t adore free things, especially those wallet-friendly places and spaces that allow for exploring the city while on a tight budget. From museums to must-see landmarks, read on for twelve of the best free things to do and places to visit across the entire city— for tourists and locals alike.
Best Free Attractions in Los Angeles
Image Credit: Matteo Pagnelli
1. Santa Monica Pier – Santa Monica
It’s considered the center point of Santa Monica Beach- a sunny, sandy, and long busy ocean stretch adored by families, beach bums, and gym bunnies alike. Various fun attractions include an aquarium, fairground games, cotton candy stands, and a mini-amusement park complete with a good old Ferris wheel. Whether you’re planning an epic date night, a night out with the kids, a girl’s night out, or just a nice casual night out on the town, the Pier’s the perfect place for any warm weekend getaway.
Santa Monica Pier is located in Santa Monica at 200 Santa Monica Pier and is open all-day and everyday. Pacific Park hours vary by day, as well as specific hours for select attractions, but admission, as always, is absolutely free.
2. Getty Center - Brentwood
A remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions resembling a monastery-like retreat fit for the Queen, LA’s hilltop acropolis was built in 1984 and treats visitors to panoramic views of the hillsides and the ocean in the west, as well as the bustling one-way streets of Downtown in the east. The museum on site is constantly adding to its contemporary art collection, which are spread over four two-level pavilions, all linked on both levels by walkways. There is also an array of world-class photography holdings and a fine sculpture garden featuring works from Miró to Moore.
The Getty Center is located in Brentwood at 1200 Getty Center Dr. and is open
Tue-Thu, Sun 10am–5:30pm; Fri & Sat 10am–9pm. Admission is free but parking costs $15, though spots do become free after 5pm Mon-Fri for events and after 5pm on Saturdays.
3. The Hollywood Sign - Hollywood
What screams Los Angeles more than H-o-l-l-y-w-o-o-d? And what’s more Hollywood than that massive "Hollywoodland" sign sprawled lazily across the hills? Created in 1923, the city’s star icon was supposed to be up for only a year and a half. Yet it’s still shining bright over 90 years later and offers visitors a stunning 360-degree view of the entire town.
The Hollywood Sign is located in Hollywood at Mt Lee Dr. and is available 24/7. Individual shuttle and hiking schedules may vary depending on location.
4. Griffith Observatory - Griffith Park
With beautiful vista views, impressive architecture, and a bevy of exhibits, including a Foucault pendulum, a Tesla coil, and a planetarium show, the infamous dome-shaped building is one of LA's most popular date (and proposal) spots. It boasts a variety of neat nooks and crannies perfect for spending a close moment with that special someone-- not to mention other couple-friendly activities such as a camera obscura, a seismograph machine, and free nighttime star shows.
The Griffith Observatory is located in Griffith Park at 2800 E Observatory Rd. and is open Wed-Fri noon-10pm; Sat, Sun 10am-10pm. Admission is free but a trip to the Planetarium costs $7.
5. California Science Center - Exposition Park
A coming together of two longstanding prior facilities, the center opened its bright, airy building in 1998, directly in front of the Rose Garden in Exposition Park. However, the museum's most recent acquisition, Endeavour-- the final ship to be built in NASA's space shuttle program—is undisputedly the attraction’s claim to fame, offering touch-friendly and extremely kid-friendly exhibit galleries unlike any other in the city. A roster of temporary exhibits and an IMAX cinema, which often screens an array of dazzling, nature-slanted films, provides further entertainment.
The California Science Center is located near Exposition Park at 700 Exposition Park Dr. and is open daily from 10am-5pm. Museum admission is free, but you'll need a $2 timed ticket to see the shuttle over weekends and holidays.
6. Venice Canals - Venice
Sandwiched conveniently in between the posh Abbot Kinney and grimy Venice Boardwalk, these three stroll-worthy, canal-lined blocks help put the infamous L.A. beachfront neighborhood in a much different light. Visitors will discover an idyllic scene of charming beach houses, arching pedestrian bridges, hoards of noisy ducklings and can choose to bring along their own non-motorized vessel to tour the neighborhood at water level by entering via the launch ramp at Venice Boulevard.
The Venice Canals are located in Venice at Dell Ave. and are open daily from 9am-6pm.
7. Los Angeles City Hall – Downtown L.A.
Since 1928, this grand concrete tower has stood tall as a city icon and is the easiest way to take in an elevated view of Downtown and beyond. If you’re ever passing through the Civic Center during public hours, take yourself to the 27th floor observation deck where you’ll be able to roam around the surrounding park while looking simultaneously for the 1984 Olympic torch near Spring Street.
Los Angeles City Hill is located in Downtown at 200 N Spring St. and is open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm.
8. Runyon Canyon - West Hollywood
A massive sea of nature lovers, buff trainers, and power-walking celebrities habitually grace this 160-acre park situated at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. With one main loop and a bevy of dirt hiking trails, the workout hotspot offers some of the best views of the city. There are also two to three free yoga classes a day near the east end of the park (in the grassy area by the Fuller Avenue entrance) where the tough but friendly Yogi Steve provides you with an hour or so of peace and serenity.
Runyon Canyon is located in West Hollywood at 2001 N Fuller Ave. and is open from dawn until dusk. Yoga classes are offered Mon-Fri at 8:45am, 10:30 am and 2pm; Sat-Sun at 10:30 am and 2pm.
9. Hollywood Forever Cemetery - Hollywood
Consider by its owners as Hollywood's most lavish public park, the site houses the remains of popular posthumous celebs such as Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, and Rudolph Valentino. William Andrews Clark Jr., founder of the LA Philharmonic, even has a huge mausoleum in the middle of a lake. On a brighter note though—the grounds are also home to many summer outdoor movie screenings, Cinespia-hosted sleepovers with projected films, as well as unique concert events with performers from Bon Iver and the XX to Sigur Ros.
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is located in Hollywood at 6000 Santa Monica Blvd. and is open daily in the summer from 8am-7pm daily and in the winter from 8am-6pm.
10. Annenberg Space for Photography - Century City
The privately funded space takes an innovative approach to the way it displays its digital and print photographic works. More than mere images on a wall, exhibits often make use of videos and/or music, creating a much more dynamic experience for any visitor-- especially the younger crowd-- who would not otherwise be found hanging out in the surrounding corporate neighborhood. During the summer, Saturday evening concerts in partnership with KCRW further turn the space into a hip and vibrant Millennial hot spot.
The Annenberg Space for Photography is located in Century City at 2000 Avenue of the Stars and is open Wed-Fri 11am-6pm; Sat 11am-9pm; Sun 11am-6pm.
11. Hollywood Bowl Museum - Hollywood
A fine little museum situated within Hollywood’s precious Bowl, the space presents a lively account of the iconic venue’s history through archival film footage, audio clips, and unique photography. It’s the perfect place to learn just a bit more about Tinsel Town. Young ones are sure to gawk at the vast array of shiny memorabilia on display too.
The Hollywood Bowl Museum is located in Hollywood at 2301 N Highland Ave. near the US 101 Freeway and is open Tuesdays-Saturdays in mid June-mid Sept from 10am-showtime; Sundays from 4pm-showtime; and Tuesdays-Fridays in Sun. mid Sept-mid June from 10am-5pm.
12. Hammer Museum - Westwood
Founded by industrialist Armand Hammer primarily to house his own collections, the museum-- now under the ownership of UCLA-- regularly stages fascinating themed shows of modern art, photography, and design (which have included everything from video installations and American comic art to fine collections of graphic arts). Committed to showcasing the works of underrepresented artists from all across the globe, the Hammer's multimedia exhibits rotate very frequently, so it's always worth taking a quick peek at the calendar. As of February 2014, the space began offering free daily admission and its open-air courtyard café—Ammo-- makes it an even greater pit stop for good art and delicious food.
The Hammer Museum is located in Westwood at 10899 Wilshire Blvd. and is open Tuesdays-Fridays from 11am-8pm; Weekends from 11am-5pm.
L.A. Travel Resources
This article was written by Pamela Chan and edited by Lexi Perman.
Hero Image Credit: Florian Klaurer