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Recently I wrote about free museums in Los Angeles, and that got me thinking about all the free things to do in LA. So I decided to write about the places I’ve personally visited in this city that haven’t cost me a dime. My list includes 21 places, but in reality there are many, many more.
If you’ve been putting off a visit to LA because of the expense, I hope I’ll convince you that you can stay busy in this town and keep the cost down. And to help in your trip planning, I’ve organized the list geographically to make the most of your time, and keep parking expenses to a minimum.
10 Free Things To Do In Downtown LA
Downtown LA is loaded with great sights. In fact this has become my favorite part of LA.
The Downtown Arts District just keeps getting better and better. This warehouse district turned arts hub is home to dozens of large and colorful street murals. I’ve been here six times and I’m always seeing something new. I’ve taken a paid tour through LA Arts Tours, but there are also self-guided options.
Also located in the Arts District is the Hauser & Wirth Gallery. Located in a former flour mill, this place offers visitors multiple art exhibits, gardens, shops and a terrific restaurant, Manuela. The first time we visited they were exhibiting Alexander Calder, known world-wide for his sculptures and mobiles.
No one thinks about going to LA to see a cathedral, but Our Lady of the Angels is worth the effort. This is not your typical gothic church that is so prevalent throughout Europe. Instead, this is a contemporary place of worship designed to reflect its environment--and its really beautiful. Free tours are offered Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 1 p.m.--just meet in front of the fountain.
The Last Bookstore is like wandering into a quirky museum. This large bookseller has used books to create several sculptures that have become popular instagram spots in LA. But it’s also a real bookstore with a huge selection of topics and plenty of space to sit and read.
The Broad has quickly become one of the best museums in Los Angeles and the country. Their collection of contemporary art is very impressive and includes artists like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons. I highly recommend making a timed reservation online. You’ll need to do this a few weeks, or even months in advance.
Across the street from The Broad is the Museum of Contemporary Art or MOCA. This museum has been around much longer, but has not been as popular until it announced in January of 2020 that admission was now free. As a result these two museums have become a very hot spot in LA. I recently visited and enjoyed their current exhibit which is a selection of items from their permanent collection. Get here early to avoid crowds.
As long as you’re in this area, take the time to tour Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. They offer a free audio tour narrated by John Lithgow. You can walk around the interior and exterior of the building and even climb staircases to explore the unusual metal materials that make this building unique. It’s important to note that the tour does not include the auditorium.
To ride the world’s shortest railway, head to Angels Flight. (Technically this isn’t free, but at $1 per person, it’s darn affordable.) This tiny funicular was built in 1901 so that the wealthy residents of Bunker Hill didn’t have to walk up the stairs. It fell into disrepair for decades, but after restoration, Angels Flight reopened in 2017 and now serves as a tourist attraction in downtown LA. If you're hungry, head across the street to Grand Central Market. There's some seriously good and really affordable options here.
For some lively music and terrific Mexican food, check-out Olvera Street, the birthplace of Los Angeles. This pedestrian zone is great for strolling, shopping and sightseeing. Be sure to visit the Avila Adobe, built in 1818 to see what life was like in the early 19th century. Then view the David Siqueiros mural, America Tropical, originally painted in 1932, and restored between 1982 and 2011.
Movie buffs should visit the Bradbury Building, famous for its Victorian Court with wrought iron railings, marble stairs and an old-fashioned cage elevator. This has been seen in movies like Blade Runner, Lethal Weapon and Pay It Forward. Personally I love this place because it’s a frequent backdrop for the detective series, Bosch.
5 Free Things To Do In West Los Angeles
West LA is home to UCLA, upscale shopping malls and some of LA’s top restaurants. It can be very pricey to live and work in this part of town, but fortunately it also offers plenty of free things to do.
The Getty Center is among the best things to do for free in LA. The combination of art, architecture and gardens means this place has something for everyone. Not only is admission free, for so are the audio guides and docent led tours. Ok, you will need to pay for parking, but after a day spent here, you’ll be convinced this is one of the world’s best museums. Visit their website for special events and exhibits.
I recently discovered the Annenberg Space for Photography and now I can’t stop talking about it. Unlike most museums, this place has only one exhibit at a time and many of them were created just for the Annenberg. Each exhibit is accompanied by a 30 minute documentary about the topic. It won’t take you long to view the current show, but you will find it interesting, no matter what it is.
The Hammer Museum is known for contemporary, cutting-edge art, some of which can be challenging for the average visitor. But what makes this place worth the visit is the unusual and inviting lay out; a central, outdoor courtyard on the first floor features large seating areas and a restaurant while galleries on the second and third story open up to wide passageways, all with a view of the courtyard. And if you really prefer the Old Masters, there is one gallery featuring those as well.
You never know what you’ll see when you stroll the Venice Boardwalk, but it will be entertaining. This stretch of sidewalk adjacent to Venice Beach is home to dozens of quirky souvenir shops, lots of average food vendors and epic street performances. Take a few minutes to watch the skateboarders at the nearby skate park as well as the bodybuilders at Muscle Beach.
From the boardwalk take a stroll to the Venice Canals. Abbot Kinney had envisioned this area to be like Venice, Italy, but that dream was never fully realized. Most of the original canals have been filled and covered with concrete, but there are six remaining. Many of the homes lining the canals are colorful and feature lovely gardens.
2 Free Things To Do In Griffith Park
In fact, just visiting Griffith Park is free, but there are two attractions here that I want to call out. First, this is the place to hike to the Hollywood sign--or just view it up close if you’re not up to a hike. The round trip hike takes about two hours, and with plenty of uphill climbs, it’s a great workout. It’s important to note that you will still be far away from the sign, but the views of it while hiking are great.
Most people hiking to the sign will park near the Griffith Observatory, so why not do both on the same day? The observatory is small, but includes many excellent exhibits. For a small fee you can also view one of the shows in their planetarium. Outside on the terrace is a fabulous place for a view of the city. The observatory is also among my favorite things to do in Los Angeles at night.
2 Free Things To Do In Malibu
I’m focusing on two of my favorite things to do in Malibu--the Getty Villa and the Malibu Pier. But this small town also features long stretches of beach and hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the nearby canyons. So while Malibu sounds expensive, this can be a really affordable way to spend the day.
The Getty Villa is a replica of the Villa dei Papiri, which was rediscovered in the 1750’s in Italy. Here the focus is ancient art from the end of the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman Empire. I don’t get too excited about ancient art, but the grounds and gardens of the Villa make the trip worth it. And I especially recommend the free docent led tour of the gardens.
The Malibu Pier is an ideal place for ocean views and a nice stop for lunch while you’re enjoying the area. A well known restaurant chain in Southern California is the Malibu Farm Cafe, and its original location is on the pier. This farm-to-table spot serves delicious food and even the occasional celebrity sighting.
2 Free Things To Do In Beverly Hills
You may be assuming that a visit to Beverly Hills is only for the wealthy, but there are indeed free things to do here as well.
After graduating from college, I lived just outside Beverly Hills for a year, but somehow I never visited Beverly Gardens Park. That finally changed last year. This lovely 1.9 mile garden is full of sculptures including one by the world famous artist, Yayoi Kusama. Other features include a rose garden, two fountains, and a jogging path. Just across the street is Alfred Coffee and Tea. Pop-in for coffee and a snack and then spend some time strolling this peaceful setting in the middle of LA.
After the gardens you should spend time exploring the luxury shops along Rodeo Drive. This is not your average shopping mall, but instead features famous designer boutiques, all beautifully decorated. During our last visit we enjoyed checking out the Louis Vuitton store as well as Vera Wang. Rodeo Drive is among the best places in the city to spot celebs, so keep your eyes open.