Los Angeles is not only one of the nation’s largest cities, it also has one of the longest lists of free and cheap things to do and see, whether you are a resident or a visitor. You’ll find plenty to keep you entertained without spending a lot of money. Here are 10 of our favorite free things to do in and around Los Angeles.
- Beaches. With 75 miles of scenic, sandy beaches, you can walk and collect seashells or take photos to your heart’s content. Manhattan Beach has trendy shops and fun eateries. Surf the South Bay of Redondo or Hermosa beaches. Take in the show at Venice Beach. For more beach fun, visit www.beaches.lacounty.gov.
- Fossils. La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, the site of the richest discovery of Ice Age fossils in the world, has more than 100 tons of fossilized bones representing nearly 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish that have been unearthed from pools of sticky asphalt dating back to prehistoric times. The George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries offers free admission on the first Tuesday of every month.
- Museums. The California Science Center in Exposition Park, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro and the Getty Center in Brentwood are free all day, every day (except for parking). At the science center, however, there’s usually a $2 fee to see the space shuttle Endeavor. Other museums have free days, including the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum (free the first Tuesday of each month), Museum of Contemporary Art (free every Thursday 5-8 p.m.), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (free second Tuesday of each month) and Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum (free the fourth Friday of each month).
- The Library. The 1926 Downtown Library reflects the Egyptian mania that was sweeping the country, post-King Tut. It was almost destroyed in a 1986 fire but has been restored with a modern wing added. This is the third largest library in the United States and free docent-led walking tours are the best way to enjoy it (Tuesday-Friday at 12:30 p.m.; Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.). Highlights include the rotunda and mellowed murals depicting the history of California.
- Hollywood history. The forecourt of TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre) has been one of the most popular free attractions since the 1920s. Hollywood’s biggest stars have been imprinting themselves ever since, including John Wayne, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford and Denzel Washington. The TCL Chinese Theatre is a historical landmark that is frequently used for studio premiers, and visitors of the theater can enhance their Hollywood experience by watching their favorite stars walk the red carpet and enter the theater for these special events.
- Walk of Fame. When the Hollywood honchos realized how limited the footprint space was at the Chinese Theatre, they came up with another way to pay tribute to the stars. Since the 1960s, more than 2,300 terrazzo and brass stars have been unveiled on Hollywood’s major sidewalks. Among the stars sought out are Marilyn Monroe at 6774 Hollywood Blvd., Elvis Presley at 6777 Hollywood Blvd., The Beatles at 7080 Hollywood Blvd., and Johnny Depp at 7018 Hollywood Blvd. Find out more from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
- Street performers. Every weekend year-round, crowds flock to the Venice Boardwalk, where amazing street entertainers perform– a chainsaw juggler, a swami on rollerblades, mimes and more. Start at Windward Avenue and walk north, stopping whenever you see a crowd gathered — there’s sure to be someone intriguing in the center. Out of the sand, follow the beat to the drum circle, a Sunday tradition with dozens of drummers playing for hours. All drummers welcome — if you forgot yours, at least you can join in the dancing.
- Live TV. Be part of a studio audience on your favorite television show, such as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and “Dr. Phil,” and game shows like “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune.” Tickets are free but must be obtained in advance. Write for tickets or pick them up in person, since free tickets are available daily at some studio complexes. Tickets and seating for shows are on a first-come, first-served basis. Most shows have a minimum age requirement of 14. For more information, contact: Paramount Television Audience Shows, Audiences Unlimited at Fox Television Center, and Audiences Associates. Free tickets are also sometimes available outside TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Universal Studios Hollywood and Glendale Galleria.
- Arts/culture. The Walt Disney Concert Hall at the Music Center offers free guided tours on select days. The Paley Center for Media (open Wednesdays – Sundays only) is another great admission-free option for anyone interested in the culture behind film and television. The Annenberg Space for Photography displays digital and printed photography exhibits in an intimate setting, and provides free guided tours.
- Ethnic explorations. See the world while staying in this international city. Meet the people and enjoy the foods, arts, music and crafts of Japan, China and a dozen other cultures right in Los Angeles. Little Tokyo , Chinatown and Thai Town are three of the ethnic enclaves you may want to explore. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park is L.A.’s birthplace, the site of the original settlement in 1781. At Olvera Street, there’s a busy Mexican mercado. Shop, listen to mariachi music, watch folklore dances and dine. Tour the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing house in L.A. Other restored historic buildings include the Old Plaza Church and the Old Plaza Firehouse.
And there’s a lot more, from fascinating cemeteries to the original farmer’s market. To find out about more things to see and do for free or cheap in L.A., visit Discover Los Angeles. And check out 100 Free Things to Do in L.A.
Photos by Discover Los Angeles and David Iliff (Hollywood street scene).