10 Fun Free Things to do in Los Angeles
Los Angeles can be an expensive city to visit. I can’t deny that the hotels and restaurants in this city aren’t cheap. But there are a surprising number of free things to do in Los Angeles (commonly known as LA), and due to the great weather, you can see these sites year round! What’s even better, the quality of these free sites is top-notch.
Visit the Getty Center and Getty Villa
How two such impressive museums can be free amazes me. Not only is admission free, but so are the docent-led tours, audio guides, and public programs.
We’ve have been to the Getty Center in West Los Angeles about a dozen times since it opened and never get tired of it. There is something for everyone. Since the museum is designed as a series of buildings with plenty of open space and gardens, children can feel comfortable moving around and making noise. But for art-loving adults, this is a serious museum with a wide range of exhibits.
The Getty Villa, located in Malibu, specializes in antiquities, so the art may be of interest to fewer people. However, the buildings and grounds are lovely, so it’s worth a visit even if you have different tastes in art. (Both locations charge $15 for parking.)
See a Rehearsal at Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl is near and dear to many Angelenos, and probably one of the most recognized landmarks in the city. Every summer this venue offers a wide range of great outdoor concerts. The tickets can be quite pricey depending on the seats and performers, but twice a week rehearsals for the LA Philharmonic are free. Since Gustavo Dudamel is currently the conductor of the LA Phil, this is a really a treat.
Photo by Rob Sinclair / CC BY-SA
Tour the Murals of The Arts District
At one time The Arts District in LA was an industrial area dedicated to the packing and shipping of citrus fruits grown nearby. Now, this is a hip and colorful section of Los Angeles displaying hundreds of murals, many with social and political messages.
Simply wandering around the arts district is a great way to enjoy all the murals for free. There will be plenty of restaurants, coffee shops and boutique stores to visit along the way. If you want to know more about this part of town, click here.
Explore Grand Central Market, Angels Flight and the Bradbury Building
Each of these sites is free, but since they are all located within one block of each other, it’s worth seeing them all at the same time.
Grand Central Market has served the downtown community for 100 years. Originally it was the market selling essential goods to the local residents. In recent years its become a trendy collection of food stalls combined with some of the original purveyors. Even if you’re not hungry, it’s a fun place to explore and take photos. But if you are hungry I highly recommend EggSlut for delicious breakfast sandwiches and Sarita’s Pupuseria for a tasty lunch or dinner.
Across the street is Angels Flight, the world’s shortest railway. This 117-year-old funicular was originally created for the convenience of local residents but now serves as a short ride for visitors. It’s not completely free but costs just a dollar.
Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns / CC BY
Also across the street from the market is the Bradbury Building with its beautiful interior Victorian court. You will be limited on how much of this building you can explore unless you are on a tour. But even a quick glimpse inside is worth it.
Take a Free Tour
There are many cities in the world that offer free walking tours, but unfortunately, Los Angeles is not one of them. For some reason, the economics of this type of tour just don’t work here. Fortunately, there are a few sites that offer their own free tours, all located in the downtown area–Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles Public Library, and Union Station. If you appreciate art and architecture, then these tours are for you.
Hiking may not come to mind when thinking about Los Angeles, but all the hills surrounding the city make for great workouts and spectacular views. Two of the most iconic hikes are to the Hollywood sign and Runyon Canyon. Be prepared for steep hills, lots of people and plenty of dogs–these are not isolated trails. Further North are some terrific hikes in the Malibu area which also offer ocean views.
Visit The Broad
Opened in 2015, this contemporary art museum has become a top destination in Los Angeles very quickly. While it is free, reservations are definitely recommended in order to avoid long lines. Even people who don’t ordinarily enjoy contemporary and modern art like this museum. The curators have done a nice job of featuring many large and interesting works that engage visitors.
Photo by Peter Alfred Hess / CC BY
Check out Griffith Park
This impressive park has over 4,000 acres of space, much of it still wilderness. Attractions include museums, a zoo, 53 miles of hiking trails, a theater, the Griffith Observatory and of course the Hollywood sign. Several options are free including the hiking trails and observatory. If visiting on a weekend come early to avoid the crowds of locals and visitors.
Tour Olvera Street and View the América Tropical Mural
One of the oldest parts of the city is Olvera Street which predates the state of California joining the United States. There are several historic sites here including the Avila Adobe. There is also some great shopping and dining. If you enjoy Mexican food then this area is for you.
Also located on this street is the America Tropical Mural, a highly controversial artwork painted by David Siqueiros–a contemporary of Diego Rivera. This fascinating mural caused so much backlash that eventually it was painted over and forgotten. A few decades later the Getty Conservation Institute partnered with the city to refurbish it. A small museum has been built around the mural to educate visitors about the art and artist.
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Visit Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles and see the John Nava Tapestries
This is not your parent’s cathedral. You will not think you are in Europe. Instead, you’ll encounter a modern place of worship that is representative of Los Angeles in the twenty-first century. I love this cathedral, but it has certainly caused controversy in the city, especially amongst Catholics.
What I especially enjoy seeing are the 46 foot high John Nava Tapestries hanging on the walls of the sanctuary depicting the saints. You can learn all about the cathedral and tapestries on a free tour.
Photo by Christopher John SSF / CC BY
This is by no means an exhaustive list of free things to do in Los Angeles, but these are my favorites. I hope you’ll consider them the next time you visit the remarkable City of Angels.
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Have you been to LA? Is there anything else you would put on this list?