Los Angeles has a huge variety of activities but did you know that many of them are free?
Of course there are many LA activities with a hefty price tag that are great fun. Universal Studios Hollywood, Celebrity Home Tours, Whale Watching Tours… the list goes on and on.
But there are also many activities and experiences that are just as fun and will cost you nothing!
Read on for a list of the best free activities in LA sorted by neighborhoods (because one of the best tips for a successful LA trip is to limit travel time as much as possible).
And at the end of the post I will recommend my personal favorite free activities for different traveler types – from art lovers to families.
Some general remarks
For the purpose of this post I am calling everything in the area from Malibu to Downtown LA “Los Angeles” even though numerous attractions are actually in separate towns (e.g. Santa Monica).
All the activities in this list are free but you will have to get there of course which means you may have to spend money for public transit or parking (which can be hefty in LA).
Some of the sights on this list are primarily places to shop or eat. I have only included those that are fun even if you do not spend any money. Still, it may be difficult to resist doing some shopping ore eating!
Finally, I have been to most of these attractions – some this summer and others in prior years. However, I have included some great free activities that I have heard great things about and feel confident that they would be worth a visit even if I haven’t had a chance to try them yet. These “third party recommendations” are marked with a *.
Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown LA is one of the best neighborhoods for free activities. My itinerary for spending a perfect day in Downtown Los Angeles covers many of them.
1) Visit The Broad Contemporary Art Museum
At the Broad you will find not only the mega-cool Mirrored Rooms by Yayoi Kasuma (an Instagram dream) but also many famous artworks even people who are not into art will recognize.
In order to visit you will need a free ticket you can get online on their website. The timed tickets for the Mirrored Room are gone fast so make sure to book yours as soon as they become available on the last Wednesday of the month prior.
2) Tour the Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Music Center offers self-guided (audio) tours of the Walt Disney Concert Hall most days during which you will learn more about the interior and gardens of Frank Gehry’s architectural landmark.
Check on the website to see if tours are available on the day you want to visit. No prior booking is necessary – just check in at the desk to the left of the entrance doors. Do bring a photo ID if you want to borrow one of their audio guides instead of using your phone (on mine the audio kept getting stuck).
3) Check out the Biltmore Hotel
You have probably seen the Biltmore Hotel in film and television before but did you know that in the past it was the venue for the Academy Awards?
The rooms are somewhat faded and the hotel isn’t as grand as it once was but the public rooms are definitely worth a quick look.
4) Visit the Los Angeles Central Library
Another architectural landmark: admire the Goodhue Building (the original library dating from 1926) and the Tom Bradley Wing.
I am not sure which of the two parts I prefer but both are definitely worth a visit.
5) Enjoy Mexican vibes at Olvera Street
Olvera Street is a bit tricky as far as “free” is concerned. It is completely free to meander through the stalls with their colorful souvenirs and visit the free museums.
However, it is difficult to refrain from spending any money here. There are just too many weird sweets, delicious treats, and cool souvenirs on offer!
There are often free concerts at the adjacent plaza and special events (e.g. for Dia de los Muertos).
If you do enjoy Olvera Street you should definitely put Old Town San Diego on your list for a visit though. They are similar but in my opinion Old Town is still nicer.
6) Make a stop at Union Station
If you are using public transportation during your time in Los Angeles, you will automatically stop by Union Station.
But if not you should definitely make a detour (it is just minutes from Olvera Street).
Not only is the station with its marble floor, leather seats, and ornate ceiling itself of interest, but various visual artworks are also on display.
7) Explore Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market is the largest and oldest public market in Los Angeles. Aside of a wide variety of ingredients you will also find many food stalls specializing in everything from eggs to Japanese bento.
Though Grand Central Market is always worth a look, it is probably best as a lunch spot (after all you do have to eat even when staying within a budget).
8) See even more (modern) art at MOCA*
General admission is free at MOCA Grand. Here you will find works from Ansel Adams to Joe Zucker.
Modern art is not my favorite so I still haven’t managed to stop in at this museum but if you have a more modern taste than me you should definitely not miss it!
9) Marvel at the Bradbury Building
This Art-deco landmark is still being used as an office building so access is restricted to the lobby on the ground floor. But a visit is a must for architecture fans and film buffs (the Bradbury Building has starred in many).
The brick, black metal and glass construction is much more to my taste than modern art – I wish more buildings looked like this!
10) Don’t miss Los Angeles’ Chinatown
Maybe not downtown LA proper but definitely adjacent, the local Chinatown is not as famous as its San Francisco counterpart but still worth a visit!
The best time for a visit is of course during special festivals, like Chinese New Year or the Moon Festival.
But Chinatown is always worth a visit to just poke around the shops and maybe eat some exotic food.
We especially loved the Candy Shops with their (for us) unsual ingredients!
Exposition Park Area
Exposition Park is well connected to both downtown LA and Santa Monica via the Metro line.
11) Exposition Park Rose Garden
If you are lucky and there is no special event taking place, a visit at this Rose Garden is a real treat!
I am quite partial to roses and they have a great variety. This is a good place to take a short break after a museum visit to smell the roses!
12) See a space shuttle at the California Science Center
I love Science Museums (and have visited plenty, from London to San Francisco) but they can be pricey (I see you Exploratorium).
Not so the California Science Center – the permanent galleries (including the Endeavour) are free and you don’t even need a reservation.
You will have to pay if you want to see one of the special exhibits or an IMAX movie but there is enough in the free parts of the museum to keep you occupied for a while.
Wider Hollywood Area
Hollywood is definitely one of those destinations that you either hate or love. Still, I believe Hollywood should be part of any LA itinerary and luckily there are plenty of free activities in the area.
13) See the stars at the Griffith Observatory
The Griffith Observatory is another mega-cool free attraction in Los Angeles (though you will have to pay for a ticket to the planetarium shows).
Not only do you have a great view over the city from outside but the Observatory has also been in many, many famous movies (the best known probably “Rebel without a cause” with James Dean).
There are various interesting exhibits – our favorite was the Tesla coil. Quite surprising and just slightly scary!
14) Go on a hike in Griffith Park
Griffith Park is huge but maybe not what you expect from a city park. Instead of manicured lawns and flower beds you will find rugged nature.
Aside of visiting various attractions here (if they are free I have listed them separately) you can go hiking here. And it can be an actual hike not just a quick stroll!
This is not your tame city landscape – there are plenty of coyotes, rattlesnakes and even an occasional mountain lion!
If you are travelling South towards San Diego and are looking for a free visit of a more garden-like park with beautiful sea views I highly recommend the Meditation Gardens in Encinitas!
15) Enjoy the trains at Travel Town Museum
With kids or if you are interested in trains, Travel Town Museum is a must.
Unfortunately, it is rather hard to get here by public transportation but with a car it is not hard to find.
At this outdoor museum you will find over 40 historic railroad engines and cars and I remember it as a hands-on activity my kids really enjoyed.
16) Check out the Hollywood Bowl*
Attending a concert at this iconic music venue does incur a fee but you can explore the Bowl on a self-guided tour or visit the Hollywood Bowl Museum for free.
Even better, most Tuesdays and Thursdays during the Bowl season (generally June to September) you can attend rehearsals for classical concerts! The schedule changes last minute so you will have to call Audience Services ahead of time to find out whether this is available during your visit.
17) Look for your favorite star on the Hall of Fame and at the Chinese Theater
No, you likely won’t meet any life celebrities here but you can find the star dedicated to them on the ground. You may even see their actual hand or footprints in the cement at the Chinese Theater.
I feel touristy Hollywood Boulevard should be part of any visit to LA but not everyone agrees. You may want to read my post about Hollywood to see in which camp you fall.
18) Get some exercise at Runyon Canyon Park
Another chance to spend some time out in nature without having to leave the city. Similar to Griffith Park this is not a manicured city park like you find in London or Munich but a piece of nature next to urban sprawl.
19) Commune with the spirits of Hollywood Legends at Hollywood Forever Cemetery*
If you don’t manage to encounter any life celebrities during your visit to Hollywood you could always try your luck with the spirits of the dearly departed.
Numerous famous of the past are buried here – from Nat King Cole to Cary Grant. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is still actively used for funerals so visitors are expected to behave accordingly.
Regular visits are free, but if you are willing to splurge on a ticket you can also attend concerts, movies, and other events at Hollywood Forever (only in LA, right?).
A couple of years ago we spent four weeks at an Airbnb not too far from here and ever since I have had a soft spot for this area.
20) Marvel at the La Brea Tar Pits
While the museum at the La Brea Tar Pits does charge admission, you can look at the actual tar pits (with reproductions of the poor animals once trapped inside) for free.
If you have the time, money, and interest I do encourage you to visit the museum. It is great fun, especially for kids.
But if not, a short stop to check out the iconic Lake Pit (and its distinctive smell) is nothing to sneeze at.
You will find free restrooms here and can spend some time in Hancock Park, a fun place to unwind and have a picnic. Also great for kids to blow off some steam after spending time in one of the nearby museums!
21) LACMA – Los Angeles County Museum of Art
This wonderful museum just barely makes it on the list as it does usually cost admission and at $25 for regular admission for out-of-town visitors is actually one of the pricier LA attractions.
However, they offer free admission to everyone on the second Tuesday of the month and to Bank of America debit or credit card holders on the first full weekend every month.
I did manage to visit on the correct Tuesday (yeah, me) and had a great time. But even if you don’t get there on the right day and don’t want to spend any money, you can still explore various outside art installations, including the Urban Lights.
22) Take a (lunch) break at the Original Farmers Market
Though you will find some stalls selling fresh produce and other groceries, many more are small restaurants/food outlets.
You will find delicacies from Korean to Cajun and Japanese to Brazilian here. My personal recommendation is Singapore’s Banana Leaf.
But of course there is no need to actually buy something – you can just marvel at the variety of hot sauces, jerky, and pickles on offer.
23) The Grove
Similarly, it may be difficult to hang on to your money at the Grove. This combination of shopping, dining, and entertainment venues has something for everyone.
But even without buying something there is plenty to do: look for one of the free events offered by the merchants (like book signings at Barnes & Noble or Apple TV+s Kids Club) or just enjoy the pretty street scene with the beautiful fountain.
Beverly Hills is of course the home of many beautiful mansions and a fair number of the rich and famous. Consequently, the local attractions are less splashy and often require pre-planning.
24) Greystone Mansion*
Admission and parking at the historical Greystone Mansion & Gardens is free to explore the park grounds daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
On the first weekend of each month parts of the mansion interior can be toured but this does incur a small fee ($8) and pre-registration is required.
25) Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation*
Frederick R. Weisman’s collection of modern and contemporary art in the Mediterranean-style villa is available on guided tours by appointment.
26) Feel like a millionaire on Rodeo Drive
No pre-planning or reservations are necessary to channel your inner Pretty Woman on Rodeo Drive.
Hopefully, you will be treated better than Julia Roberts when browsing in the upscale shops. Interspersed with stores like Cartier, Dior and Gucci you will find plenty of restaurants.
Personally, I like to buy something small (like a Sprinkles cupcake) to make me feel like I am rich. But even if you can resist, the cute street with its mix of Disneyland and European citystreet makes for a great photo motive (and is together with the famous Beverly Hills Sign an essential part of visiting LA).
Free attractions may be a bit sparse in Beverly Hills but the opposite is true for the Brentwood/Westwood area (much of it centered around the UCLA campus).
I used to live close by and even took a class at UCLA extension school – so it is a bit surprising that this neighborhood has the largest number of free activities I am recommending without having tried them myself.
27) Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden*
If you – like me – love plants and gardens, the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA should definitely be part of your itinerary.
You can even listen to a free audio guide so you know what it is you are looking at!
28) Explore global arts and cultures at the Fowler Museum at UCLA*
Wednesdays to Sundays you can explore global arts and cultures of the past and present with emphasis on Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Indigenous Americas at the Fowler Museum.
29) See even more art at the Hammer Museum*
Both regular admission and various public tours are free (no reservations required) at the Hammer Museum.
In addition to modern exhibits you can tour the collection of European and American paintings and drawings of the museum’s founder.
If not going on a tour, you might want to download the free digital museum guide before your visit.
30) Combine fresh air with art at the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden
This is your chance to admire outdoor sculptures by such famous artists as Barbara Hepworth, Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore.
31) Admire the UCLA campus
I always enjoy exploring college campuses and the UCLA campus is definitely worth a visit.
Aside of the various museums and exhibits mentioned separately you can also buy some UCLA souvenirs at the campus store, enjoy the view over LA, and admire (or not) the different building styles.
32) Enjoy architecture and art at the Getty Center
There is a fair number of museums on this list but the Getty Center may be my favorite.
Not only do you get a wonderful view of the city (weather permitting) from the top of the hill, but you can also see some of the most famous artwork anywhere.
My personal favorite part of this museum is the architecture and the gardens. Every time I have visited I just had a great time.
Admission is free but you do need a timed entry reservation. The Getty Center also offers various free events, tours, and even concerts!
Santa Monica/Venice/Marina del Rey
While I love many things about LA I do have to admit that Santa Monica has a special place in my heart. Pedestrian streets, nice shops, and a beautiful beach – what more could you want?
33) The Santa Monica Pier
It is easy to spend money in one of the restaurants, amusements, or shops on the iconic Santa Monica Pier.
However, you can also just stroll along, enjoy the fresh sea air, watch street performers, observe the other visitors, or take part in one of the special events during the year.
34) Check out the bergamot station arts center*
If you still haven’t gotten your fill of art and culture in Los Angeles, the numerous galleries and exhibitions at the Bergamot Station Arts Center may be for you.
Exhibitions at the galleries change so do check on their website to find out if there is something on offer that would interest you.
35) Santa Monica Place and Third Street Promenade
There is no shortage of shopping to be had in Santa Monica: Upscale mall Santa Monica Place and the adjacent Third Street Promenade offer something for everyone.
But even without spending money you can people watch, browse in stores, and admire street performers.
On my recent visit, Third Street Promenade did seem much emptier than usual and a number of stores had closed. However, there was still plenty to see and do and it remains one of my favorite places in the LA area.
36) Spend time at the beach
No question about it: the beach is one of the best (and most famous) attractions in LA. And Santa Monica has an especially popular stretch with palm trees, volleyball pitches, plenty of restrooms, and a paved path for pedestrians, bikes, and skateboards.
If you are coming from overseas you may be surprised about the amount of space at the beach. No need to squeeze your towel in between other sun lovers – you can stretch out as much as you want.
However, a less pleasant surprise in Southern California is probably the water temperature. Even in the summer the Pacific ocean has a definite chill!
37) Hang out at Venice Beach
Just south of family friendly, upscale Santa Monica you will find the much hipper (or trashier depending on your view) Venice Beach.
Tatoo parlours, weed shop, greasy junk food, and trashy T-Shirts abound but you can also admire colorful buildings, street artists, and the unique atmosphere.
38) Enjoy a stroll through the Venice Canals
In a stark contrast to the cheap and adult vibe of Venice Beach, the Venice Canals are the picture of yuppie lifestyle and cute cottages.
Take some time to stroll along the canals, admire the pretty houses, watch paddle boarders or canoes go by, and bask in the calm atmosphere. You won’t regret it!
39) Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey
In this quaint recreation of a New England fishing village you can look over the Marina with its sailboats, browse in small shops and observe the wildlife.
On our visit we saw plenty of pelicans, sea lions, and a film shoot.
Once you leave Santa Monica northwards, it gets more and more rural. Malibu itself is somewhat underwhelming – even though many celebrities live here there isn’t really a town as such, just a stretch of freeway passing through this exclusive neighborhood.
40) The Getty Villa Museum*
Just like at its sister institution Getty Center you get free admission but need a reservation at the Getty Villa Museum.
In this “original” Getty Museum you will find ancient Greek and Roman art and beautiful gardens.
And just like at the Getty Center you can take part in a number of events, including tours, talks, concerts, and family activities for free.
41) Will Rogers State Historic Park
On this estate that once belonged to Will Rogers, the then highest paid actor in Hollywood, you can have a picnic, watch a Polo game (most weekends form May to mid-October), go hiking, and tour the original ranch (Thursdays and Fridays).
While admission is free you do have to pay for parking here and it may be difficult to reach this gem of a park without a car (but if you manage it is free).
Best free LA activities for different types of travelers
Given that the list of free activities in Los Angeles is so long it can be difficult to decide which to prioritize if you don’t have an entire week (or even longer) in LA.
So here are my personal recommendations based on what you are most interested in:
Best free LA activities for Art Lovers
- Getty Center
- The Broad
Best free LA activities for Architecture Buffs
- Walt Disney Concert Hall
- Los Angeles Public Library
- The Bradbury Building
Best free LA activities for Outdoor Enthusiasts
- Santa Monica Beach
- Griffith Park
- Runyon Canyon
Best free LA activities for Shopaholics
- Rodeo Drive
- The Grove
- Third Street Promenade
Best free LA activities for Families
- California Science Museum
- Griffith Observatory
- Travel Town Museum
How about you? Which is your favorite free activity in Los Angeles? Did I miss one on my list?