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Getty Villa
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Free museums in L.A. and free museum days

Visit these free museums in L.A., plus find out when the city’s big-name institutions have free museum days

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Written by
Michael Juliano
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Who says L.A. lacks culture? Aesthetes and culture vultures can get their fix for free in L.A., with some of the best things to do from a Pacific Palisades estate to the hilltops of Griffith Park. Whether you prefer the greatest hits at LACMA or off-the-beaten-path museums, there is such thing as a free museum visit (especially if you have a library card). Here are the best free museums in Los Angeles, whether they offer free admission year-round or offer free museum days. 

RECOMMENDED: See the full list of free things to do in L.A.

All open museums below with a “book online” button currently require timed reservations.

Free museums and museum days in Los Angeles

  • Museums
  • History
  • Pacific Palisades

Free admission with timed ticket; parking $20.

In 1974, oil magnate J. Paul Getty opened a museum of his holdings in a faux villa. Eventually the decorative arts and paintings were moved to the Getty Center, and the villa was closed for conversion into a museum for Getty’s collection of Mediterranean antiquities. Today, there are roughly 1,200 artifacts on display at any one time, dated between 6,500 BC and 500 AD, and organized under such themes as Gods and Goddesses and Stories of the Trojan War. Even if you’re not interested in the art, the palatial courtyards and manicured gardens are worth the visit.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Miracle Mile

Free every second Tue 11am–5pm. L.A. County residents Mon, Tue, Thu 3–5pm; Fri 3–8pm.

Chris Burden’s Urban Light, a piece made up of 202 cast-iron street lamps gathered from around L.A. and restored to working order, has quickly become one of the city’s indelible landmarks. But you’d be selling yourself short if you don’t venture beyond the photo-friendly installation; LACMA’s collections boast modernist masterpieces, large-scale contemporary works (including Richard Serra’s massive swirling sculpture and Burden’s buzzing, hypnotic Metropolis II), traditional Japanese screens and by far L.A.’s most consistently terrific special exhibitions.

Just a heads up: The eastern half of LACMA’s campus (home to its permanent collection) is mostly closed as it gears up for a massive redesign due to be completed in 2024. On the plus side, though, the half-dozen sizable special exhibitions located in the Resnick Pavilion and BCAM are included in general admission—meaning free admission will get you into everything.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Downtown

Free with reservation. Infinity Mirror Rooms temporarily closed.

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.

  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • USC/Exposition Park

Free every first Tue (except July and Aug) 9:30am–5pm, L.A. County residents Mon–Fri 3–5pm.

The NHM’s original Beaux Arts structure was the first museum building in L.A., opening in 1913 with Exposition Park itself. The more recent Otis Booth Pavilion welcomes visitors into the museum with a six-story glass entrance featuring a stunning, 63-foot-long fin whale skeleton. Highlights include the gem and mineral hall, spectacularly presented dinosaur and mammal fossils, the 3.5-acre urban nature gardens and “Becoming L.A.: Stories of Nature and Culture,” which examines the Los Angeles region’s history from Native Americans to the present day.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Westwood

Free. Timed tickets required.

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.

  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Miracle Mile
  • price 1 of 4

Museum free every first Tue (except July and Aug), every Tue in Sept 9:30am–5pm; L.A. County residents Mon–Fri 3–5pm; tar pits area always free.

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. Many of these specimens are now on display in this delightfully old-fashioned museum. Outside, the pits still bubble with black goo—you can watch paleontologists at work in the excavation of Pit 91 and toil away at the fossils waiting to be found as part of Project 23.

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  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • San Marino

Free first Thursday of the month with advance ticket. Temporarily free if you’ve visited “Made in L.A.” at the Hammer Museum.

The bequest of entrepreneur Henry E. Huntington is now one of the most enjoyable attractions in the Los Angeles region. It’s also a destination that demands an entire day should you attempt to explore it in full: Between the art, the library holdings and the spreadeagled outdoor spaces, there’s plenty to see, and most of it is best enjoyed at lingering leisure rather than as part of a mad day-long dash. From a Gutenberg Bible to an exquisitely landscaped Japanese garden, nearly every inch of the estate’s grounds and collection is essential.

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • USC/Exposition Park

Free. (There’s a small service fee; you can skip the fee by buying tickets on-site at the box office, but time slots are limited.)

Permanent exhibit galleries at this kid-friendly Exposition Park museum explore life sciences, human innovation and powered flight (all with a decidedly ‘90s design flair). But the real attraction here 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 the rest of the museum is free, Endeavour requires $3 timed tickets on weekends, a bargain to come face to face with one of this country’s most iconic engineering marvels.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Westside

Free with timed ticket; parking $20.

This remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions houses ornate French furniture, recognizable Impressionist pieces and rotating exhibitions. Its relative inaccessibility is more than compensated for by free admission and panoramic views, from the hills and the ocean in the west all the way around to Downtown in the east.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Downtown

Free with timed ticket.

The main branch of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art houses thousands of artworks crafted from 1940 to today, and it’s an efficient primer on post-war art. Spend half an hour or an entire afternoon absorbing contemporary pieces from lesser known artists, punctuated by sightings of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock works.

Looking for more art?

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