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Venice Canals
Photograph: Michael Juliano

The best free attractions in L.A.

Make a pit-stop at these free attractions in L.A., including wallet-friendly cultural centers and iconic locales

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
&
Time Out contributors
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If you’re looking to explore the many free attractions in L.A.—including museums, iconic landmarks and lesser-known sites—we’ve listed the best places to visit on a budget. Whether you’re looking to get outdoors and hike or explore a new neighborhood, read on for must-see L.A. 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 L.A.

Free attractions to visit in L.A.

  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Miracle Mile

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 140 years later, the pros are still at work here, having dragged millions of fossils from the mire in the intervening years. Though the indoor museum and excavation tours will cost you, it’s free to explore the tar pits in the surrounding park.

  • 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, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons.

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  • 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.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Pacific Palisades

In 1974, oil magnate J. Paul Getty opened a museum of his holdings in a faux villa in Malibu, based on the remains of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. There are roughly 1,200 artifacts on display at any one time, dating from between 6,500 BC and 500 AD, and organized under such themes as Gods and Goddesses and Stories of the Trojan War. Admission is always free (with a timed reservation), though you’ll have to pay for parking ($20).

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  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Griffith Park
  • price 1 of 4

The museum is temporarily 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 per hour.

  • 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 (a bargain to come face to face with one of this country’s most iconic engineering marvels). 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.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Westwood

Industrialist Armand Hammer founded this museum in 1990, primarily to house his own collection, and it opened just three weeks before he died. Now, the free, UCLA partner institution stages fascinating shows of modern art, photography and design, often with an epmhasis on local artists. The shows are supplemented by the Hammer’s public events calendar (arguably one of the best in the city), chock full of free lectures, concerts and screenings.

  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Downtown Financial District

The city’s main library is worth a look even if you’ve no interest in borrowing books. The exterior is an Egyptian and Mediterranean beauty, topped with a dramatic, tiled pyramid tower and decorated with bas-reliefs. The most stunning features, though, reside in the second floor rotunda, with its deco-meets-arabesque dome, California history mural and globe chandelier.

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  • Things to do
  • Downtown Historic Core

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.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Pacific Palisades

Just inland from the Pacific Coast Highway and easy to miss when you’re rushing to catch the sunset, the mystical Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is run by a non-denominational order that welcomes visitors but doesn’t proselytise to them. Set on a 10-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. You’ll need a reservation right now to visit the meditation gardens, which are open for free from Wednesday through Sunday.

Looking for free museum days?

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