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The best free attractions in LA

Make a pit-stop at these free attractions in LA—from wallet-friendly cultural centers to iconic sites in the city

Photograph: Michael Juliano
Venice Canals.

Explore the many free attractions in LA; from museums to iconic landmarks and lesser-known sites, we’ve listed the best places to visit on a budget. Whether you’re looking to get outdoors, spot celebs or explore a new neighborhood, read on for must-see LA attractions. Plus, you can even get some post-eating and drinking ideas for your next wallet-friendly date night.

RECOMMENDED: More free things to do in LA

La Brea Tar Pits

Back in 1875, a group of amateur paleontologists discovered animal remains in the pits at Rancho La Brea, which bubbled with asphalt from a petroleum lake under what is now Hancock Park. Some 130 years later, the pros are still at work here, having dragged millions of fossils from the mire in the intervening years. Though the Page Museum and excavation tours will cost you, it's free to explore the tar pits.

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Los Angeles

Venice Canals

Critics' pick

Tucked between the grimy Venice Boardwalk and the posh Abbot Kinney, the Venice Canals offer a completely different side of the famed beachfront neighborhood. Take a stroll through these three canal-lined blocks—hence the name, Venice—and you'll discover an idyllic scene: arching pedestrian bridges, charming beach houses, bunches of ducklings and the occasional paddle boarding bulldog.

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Venice Free

Griffith Observatory

The vista here is stunning, particularly at night when Los Angeles twinkles below. Inside you'll find a bevy of exhibits, including a Foucault pendulum, Tesla coil and planetarium show. Give yourself plenty of time before the 10pm closing to gaze through the 12-inch refracting telescope on the roof, otherwise you can look through the far less crowded modern, reflecting telescope on the front lawn.

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Los Feliz

Los Angeles City Hall

Critics' pick

The grand, white concrete tower has stood tall as a city icon since 1928, and today it's 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—weekdays 9am-5pm, enter on Main Street—then you owe yourself a visit to the 27th floor observation deck. While you're there, walk around the surrounding park and look for the 1984 Olympic torch near the Spring Street exit.

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Downtown Free

California Science Center

A fusion of two longstanding prior facilities, the California Science Center opened in 1998 in a bright, airy building directly in front of the Rose Garden in Exposition Park. The undisputed standout here is also the museum's most recent acquisition: Endeavour. The final ship to be built in NASA's space shuttle program, Endeavour inspires a reach for the stars ambition unlike any other exhibit in the city. Museum admission is free, but you'll need a $2 timed ticket to see the shuttle over weekends and holidays.

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USC/Exposition Park Free

Runyon Canyon

This 160-acre park at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains has one main loop, plus a bevy of dirt hiking trails. The sea of buff trainers and their sleek, sweaty clients can get to be too much during the busy morning and weekend workout traffic, but you'll be rewarded with some of the best views of the city (and, if you're lucky, a chance to gawk at power-walking celebs).

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West Hollywood

Annenberg Space for Photography

Specializing in photography, this privately funded space takes an innovative approach to displaying its digital and print works. More than just images on a wall, exhibits at the Annenberg often incorporate videos and/or music, creating a more dynamic experience for the visitor. The free admission and $1 parking attract a younger crowd to the otherwise more corporate neighborhood.

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Century City

Mariachi Plaza

Witness an 80-year old LA tradition—and hear some great music—at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, just east of Downtown. Since the 1930s, mariachi bands have gathered here, decked out in their charro (traditional Mexican horsemen) suits, waiting to be hired to play at parties or restaurants. 

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Boyle Heights Free

Bradbury Building

Critics' pick

The Bradbury Building's nondescript, brick exterior belies any sense of significance. Walk through the archway entrance on Broadway, though, and you're greeted with a stunning, light-flooded alley of wood, iron and brick. You'll have to do all of your gawking from the ground floor (and half a flight of stairs) as the rest of the building is private office space.

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Downtown Free

Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine

Just inland from the Pacific Coast Highway and easy to miss when you're rushing to catch the sunset, the mystical, mysterious Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is run by a non-denominational order that welcomes visitors but doesn't proselytise to them. Set on a ten-acre site that was used as a film set during the silent era, the lovely gardens evoke old Hollywood: look out for the Dutch windmill chapel, the Mississippi houseboat and a number of gliding swans. The East, meanwhile, is represented by a gilded lotus gate enclosing a shrine that contains some of Gandhi's ashes.

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Santa Monica
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