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Marina Del Rey Boat Parade
Photograph: Courtesy Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau

Free things to do in Los Angeles this month

Make the most of your month without breaking into your wallet.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
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You’ve planned a day at one of L.A.’s best beaches and brushed up on the city’s free museum days, but there are far more free things to do in December. From a floating Christmas lights display to some free days for the biggest art exhibition in town right now, these are the best ways to make the most of your month without breaking into your wallet.

The best free things to do in L.A. this month

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Marina del Rey

Feel as though you’ve escaped to a small-town fishing village during the Marina Del Rey Boat Parade. Bring a blanket and gather around Fisherman’s Village or Burton Chace Park to watch as 70 boats glide through the marina with holiday lights and decorations in competition. Categories include Best Theme, Best Animation, Best Band, Best Lights and more. The festivities begin at 5:55pm with fireworks, and the boat parade starts at 6pm, rain or shine.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • South Park

Obsessed with Lady Gaga’s après-ski look and Adam Driver’s turtleneck sweater in House of Gucci? Then make sure to head over to FIDM for this photography and costume exhibition dedicated to the Ridley Scott flick. You’ll find a mix of designer Janty Yates’s costumes as well as film stills, behind-the-scenes shots and Cuba Tornado Scott’s cast portraits.

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  • Art
  • Painting
  • Miracle Mile

Two paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama, by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, are going on display at LACMA. Access to the exhibition is included with general admission tickets to the museum ($25), but there are a bunch of opportunities to see them for free: L.A. County residents can visit for free on weekdays after 3pm, and all visitors can do so on one last full-day free visit during the exhibition’s run (Dec 14).

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  • Music
  • Westside

Roam the grounds of the Getty to find musicians, dancers and artists interpreting Fluxus scores from the 1963 publication An Anthology of Chance Operations. If you have no clue what the avant-garde afternoon actually entails: Expect to see artists play parked cars like musical instruments or move rocks along a beach.

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  • Music
  • Downtown

Gather up your friends and family and go hear L.A.’s biggest holiday show, which includes more than 20 choirs, music ensembles and dance troupes from all over the city. The free three-hour show celebrates L.A.’s multicultural observation of the holidays with everything from an all-female mariachi ensemble to a Korean dance troupe. You can come and go as you please throughout the show. Reservations and tickets are not necessary; parking at the Dorothy Chandler is also free.

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Downtown

Stroll through Union Station’s handsome south patio as this holiday market rolls into the historic train station with over 30 vendors. The market also includes live music, food, wine and cocktails, plus a craft station for kids. And, of course, we couldn’t think of a more Metro-friendly location for a holiday market than Union Station.

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  • Things to do

Sledding and playing in the snow: Not exactly typical L.A. activities, but they will be come this December. On Fridays and Saturdays leading up to Christmas, L.A. County Parks and Recreation will be dumping 40 tons of snow across 33 parks in the county, and hosting holiday crafts, hot cocoa stations, filled stockings and visits from Santa. Find the full list of parks on the county’s website; snow sessions are held from either noon to 4pm or 4 to 8pm.

  • Things to do
  • Santa Monica Mountains

About 4,000 down and 46,000 to go: The National Park Service is setting out to give some love to the Santa Monica Mountains by planting 50,000 native trees over the next year, and it could use your help. On most Fridays and Saturdays through April 2022, you can register to plant and water coast live oaks, willows, elderberries, valley oaks and sycamores across the park.

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  • Things to do
  • Performances
  • Northridge

Mexican folk dance company Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles is taking the stage once again for a mariachi-infused holiday performance at The Soraya in Northridge. Billed as “Happy Holidays—L.A. style,” the two free shows (Dec 10, 11) will feature the musical soundings of L.A.'s Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar and special guest vocalist Lupita Infante. 

Marina del Rey New Year’s Eve Fireworks
  • Things to do
  • Fireworks
  • Marina del Rey

Marina del Rey rings in the new year with two pyro-filled countdowns. The waterfront city has fireworks at both 9pm and midnight (or a minute before, to be precise). While the fireworks are set off near Burton Chace Park, all of the restaurants with harbor views should have visibility of the fireworks. Some of the restaurants host ticket dinners for a pricey cost, so we suggest finding a spot along the water and enjoying the fireworks for free.

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  • Music
  • Pop
  • Inglewood

This annual free AIDS Healthcare Foundation-produced concert commemorates 40 years since the CDC first acknowledged HIV and AIDS, and 35 years since AHF’s founding. Randy Rainbow hosts an evening at the Forum that features performances by Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera and students from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, plus a lifetime achievement award presented virtually to Bernie Sanders.

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  • Things to do
  • Newport Beach

Ah, the joys of Christmas in a Mediterranean climate, where boat owners can deck out their ships in holiday lights and set sail without the impediment of icy weather. For the 113th year, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is doing just that as over 100 decorated yachts and ships parade around a 14-mile circuit in the Newport Harbor. You can see the parade for free during each of the five nights from any bay-facing point along the harbor, but there are also reserved seats, dining packages and cruises available for purchase.

  • Art
  • Painting
  • Hollywood

Kehinde Wiley curated this collection of self-portraits by contemporary African artists living around the globe, who collectively challenge visual definitions of what it means to be African.

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  • Art
  • Sculpture
  • Downtown Arts District

When Barnsdall Art Park pruned the branches on its 130-year-old olive grove this past summer, the East Hollywood park decided to turn the trimmings into art. Swing by Luis De Jesus Los Angeles on the edge of the Arts District to see how 22 local artists, including Janna Ireland, JPW3 and Cayetano Ferrer, crafted the olive branches into new art objects.

  • Art
  • Mixed media
  • Downtown Arts District

As Lorna Simpson started to assemble works she’d created over the past year or so, she thought she’d use the exhibition title to head off all of those “what’s this about?” questions.

That’s certainly the case in “Everrrything,” a show at Hauser & Wirth that employs a mix of found photographs, screenprints, paintings, video and sculpture to tackle matters of race, gender and identity—a recurring thread for Simpson, who’s toyed with the trustworthiness of the assumed narratives in art since her work in conceptual photography in the ’80s.

The mood, as you might expect, isn’t always cheery. Dark, muted portraits balance against the wall in one gallery, while in another only the climate-change–ravaged environs of the Arctic, with Black faces smeared into icebergs, can seemingly portray the bleakness of our current time.

But there’s also pure aesthetic beauty to be found here, particularly in the opening display of collages, where the bodies of Ebony and Jet centerfold models have been carved out and filled with a celestial skeleton of woodblock constellation prints from the 1800s, both layered atop vibrant indigo-dyed paper.

Before you enter the galleries, you’ll pass by stacks of stones outdoors topped with obsidian singing bowls, a sort of stand-in for the types of small, safe gatherings we’ve become accustomed to over the past year and a half. Don’t be afraid to rub a provided mallet around the rim; the bowls sound particularly resonant in the Arts District couryard.

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  • Art
  • Westwood

You’ll have to hop between Westwood and the Arts District to catch both parts of this survey of mid-career women artists. The Hammer Museum and ICA LA are teaming up for “Witch Hunt,” a showcase of 16 artists who use feminist, queer and decolonial viewpoints to unpack the sociopolitical world. Participating artists include Leonor Antunes, Yael Bartana, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, Candice Breitz, Shu Lea Cheang, Minerva Cuevas, Vaginal Davis, Bouchra Khalili, Every Ocean Hughes (formerly Emily Roysdon), Laura Lima, Teresa Margolles, Otobong Nkanga, Okwui Okpokwasili, Lara Schnitger and Beverly Semmes.

  • Art
  • Photography
  • Beverly Hills

See 10 black-and-white Richard Avedon portraits—all of which clock in around seven feet tall—that haven’t been on view since the 1985 debut of his “In the American West” series. The Gagosian exhibition also includes supplementary archival photos from the series.

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