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The Getty
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

All of the best free things to do in L.A.

Looking for free things to do in L.A.? Here are the best wallet-free ways to explore and enjoy the city.

By Michael Juliano
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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 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. 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.

Venice Canals
Photograph: Michael Juliano

1. Stroll along the Venice Canals

Things to do Venice

Tucked between the chaotic 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.

Longing for Eternity
Photograph: Courtesy Maris Hutchinson/EPW Studio/Yayoi Kusama

2. Stare into infinity at the Broad

Museums Art and design Downtown

The Infinity Mirror Rooms are temporarily closed, however the rest of the Broad is still open.

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.

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Hollywood Bowl
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ian D. Keating

3. Hike or picnic at the Hollywood Bowl

Things to do Event spaces Hollywood

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 on summer mornings (classical shows tend to fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays but the schedule varies, so it’s best to call 323-850-2000 to find out for sure).

Runyon Canyon
Photograph: Benny Haddad

4. See and be seen at Runyon Canyon

Attractions Parks and gardens Hollywood

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.

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Getty Center
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

5. Unpack a picnic at the Getty Center

Museums Art and design Westside

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.

Griffith Observatory
Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao

6. Watch the city and sky sparkle from the Griffith Observatory

Museums Science and technology Griffith Park

The museum is open Friday through Sunday, however the grounds surrounding the Observatory are open daily.

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.

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Endeavour
Photograph: Michael Juliano

7. Step underneath a space shuttle at the California Science Center

Museums Science and technology USC/Exposition Park

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 and the rest of the museum are technically free to visit, you’ll need a reservation—which includes a $3 service fee. You can skip the fee if you pick up your ticket at the box office, but you run the risk of missing out on a reservation, especially on weekends.

Korean Bell of Friendship
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ryan Stavely

8. Fly a kite by the Korean Bell of Friendship

Things to do San Pedro

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.

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Lake Shrine
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/J Jakobson

9. Find your zen at the Lake Shrine

Attractions Parks and gardens Pacific Palisades

Get lost in your thoughts at one of L.A.’s best kept secrets: the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. Set on a 10-acre site that was used as a film set during the silent era, its lovely gardens offer some increasingly rare assets today: peace and tranquility. You’ll need a reservation right now to visit the meditation gardens, which are open for free from Wednesday through Sunday.

Malibu
Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Jenna Day

10. Find free parking at the beach

Attractions Beaches Malibu

No matter how much some Malibu spots may try to gatekeep their exclusive shores, know this: Any expanse of sand below the high tide line is open to the public. Parking, on the other hand, is an entirely separate beast. That’s why Westward Beach is our go-to; you can skip the paid lots at Zuma and Point Dume and search for free all-day street parking on this stretch between the two. Plenty of spots are available along the Pacific Coast Highway and among the ritzy neighborhoods farther up the Malibu coastline, but those beaches aren’t nearly as spacious as the one here.

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L.A. Central Library
Photograph: Michael Juliano

11. Use your library card to get free stuff

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.

More free things to do in L.A.

Santa Monica Pier
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew LeJune

Free attractions

Things to do

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

The Broad
Photograph: Courtesy Sam Poullain

Free museums

Things to do

Free museums in L.A. abound, and it’s a beautiful thing.

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Venice Canals
Photograph: Roberto Nickson

Free date ideas

Sex and dating

Try these budget-friendly options that exist just slightly under the radar.

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Swings, rings and ropes south of Santa Monica Pier
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Free workouts

Things to do

Rev up your workout and head outdoors to the best free circuit training parks, located across the city.

More things to do in L.A.

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Hour to Kill: Free things to do in under an hour

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