As we stare down increasing gas, apartment and cocktail prices, we often think that Los Angeles can be a frustratingly expensive city. But then we think of this city’s wealth of free museums, taco trucks and miles of public coastline and remember that there are plenty of incredible free things to do in L.A. Sure, we may be living in a celebrity-driven town where indulging at the best restaurants and bars, working out and pampering ourselves is the norm, but we still jump at the chance for free things. Explore the city beyond the usual weekend hikes, gratis yoga, bargain jazz and cheap eats. Read on for the best free things to do and places to visit across L.A., for tourists and locals alike.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Los Angeles
Best free things to do in L.A.
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.
Three words: Infinity Mirror Rooms. Downtown’s persistently popular contemporary art museum has two of Yayoi Kusama’s immersive, mirror-laden rooms (and the standy queue to prove it). Elsewhere in the free museum, Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection of 2,000 post-war works includes artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons.
The iconic amphitheater doubles as a semi-secret county park. As long as the venue isn’t holding a performance (an admittedly rare occurrence from July to September), you’re welcome to park for free and stroll about the grounds as you please. Hike all the way up the hilly environs to admire the views or walk into the seating area where, chances are, you’ll see people working out on the stairs or, if you’re lucky, an open LA Phil rehearsal during the summer (these days vary, so call 323-850-2000 for a schedule).
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.
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). If you’re only after the views and not hiking, head to the northern entrance on Mulholland Drive, which is just a short walk from the summit.
From the ocean to the mountains northeast of Downtown L.A., the panoramic views from this artopolis more than compensate for its relative inaccessibility (you need to ride a tram to the museum). You’ll find proper picnic tables down the hill at the tram station, but we highly suggest sitting on the lawn adjacent to the Central Garden. While the museum is free, you’ll have to pay $20 for parking (or $15 after 3pm and, on Saturdays, $10 after 6pm).
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. Just a heads up that parking now costs $8 to $10 per hour—though you can catch a DASH bus up there for only 50 cents.
The real attraction at this kid-friendly museum is the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which was very pubicly paraded through L.A. to reach its temporary home at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion—a permanent structure slated to display the ship upright is in the works. While Endeavour requires $3 timed tickets on weekends, you can visit it and the rest of the museum for free on most weekdays.
Perched over the Pacific sits one of the most idyllic spots in all of L.A.: the Korean Bell of Friendship. The mighty metallic bell’s rusty green finish complements the ornately painted hipped roof—its paint job has seen better days, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the 1976 goodwill gift from South Korea. The exposed, grassy bluff is an ideal spot to fly a kite or just lounge in the grass of Angels Gate Park.
Music (aside from film, possibly) is arguably the city’s most abundant form of entertainment. Look to Hollywood, Silver Lake and Echo Park-area venues like the Satellite, the Echo, the Bootleg and Bardot for free Monday night shows.
And we’re not just talking about books. You can stream classic films and indie flicks on Kanopy, download e-books and audiobooks through Hoopla or OverDrive, take language-learning courses via Mango Languages and follow software tutorials on Lynda with a Los Angeles Public Library card. If you don’t feel like going to a physical library (though you should), you can apply for a library e-Card on the LAPL website. It grants access to the aforementioned online resources. If you have a County of Los Angeles Public Library card, you can also reserve free tickets to 13 local museums, including the Skirball, Autry and Natural History Museum.
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