Los Angeles can be a pricey destination to visit, but there are plenty of free attractions in the city if you're on a budget. Luckily for visitors, many of the most famous sights in the city do not charge admission. Once you add the city's stunning free beaches, numerous public gardens, and the myriad of entertainment options, it's easy to see how you can visit the City of Angels without spending a dime.
Sometimes parking charges in L.A. are steep, so consider the Metro Day Pass to get you to some of these sights if funds are tight.
See the Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica Pier
It may cost money to ride the attractions at Pacific Park, the amusement park on Santa Monica Pier, but visiting the pier is free of charge and worth visiting even if you don't get on the rides. Santa Monica Pier is such an iconic piece of Los Angeles that you really can't miss it—plus it's within walking distance from other top attractions like downtown Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Not only is it a great place for people watching and photography, but Santa Monica Pier is also the western terminus for America's most famous road trip, Route 66.
Take a Drive Down Sunset Boulevard
Whether you're a fan of classic cinema or just want to traverse Los Angeles' most famous thoroughfare, Sunset Boulevard is 22 miles of scenic road that stretches from the Pacific Palisades neighborhood along the coast all the way to Downtown L.A. However, it's the stretch through Beverly Hills and West Hollywood that most people want to see, with the recognizable palm trees and Bel Air mansions. If you decide to take this scenic drive, it's worth checking out traffic conditions first since Sunset Boulevard can quickly fill up with cars.
Seek Out Celebrities at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the movie industry's biggest stars, especially those from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Here you can see the tombs of stars like Judy Garland, Cecil B. DeMille, Fay Wray, and George Harrison. There's also a plaque commemorating the work of Oscar-winning "Gone With the Wind" star Hattie McDaniel, who requested to be buried in the cemetery but wasn't allowed at that time due to segregation laws. In addition to visiting celebrity graves, the grounds are also used as a cultural center with a line-up of events throughout the summer.
Fly a Kite at the Korean Bell of Friendship
The Korean Bell of Friendship sits in a picturesque pavilion overlooking the water in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles in Angels Gate Park. It's a replica of a bell in Korea called the Emille Bell, which was cast in the year 771 and is still one of the largest bells in existence. The L.A. version was a gift from South Korea to the U.S. government and has been designated a Cultural-Historical Monument. The pavilion and surrounding park are great spots to have a picnic, fly a kite, or just enjoy a warm sunny day. If you happen to be around on the first Saturday of the month, be there at noon to hear them ring the bell.
Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Two of California's most important contemporary art museums are located across the street from each other, and both of them are free to enjoy. The original one is the Museum of Contemporary Art, or the MOCA, which has been a staple of the L.A. art world since 1979. The permanent collection focuses on paintings, photographs, and sculptures from the 1940s to the present, including big names such as Rothko, Pollock, and Basquiat.
Visit the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art
The Broad, a museum of contemporary art, was created by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad to house their extensive collection and visiting exhibits. Located in downtown L.A. next to the Disney Concert Hall and across from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Broad is completely free to visit. However, given its popularity, you may want to reserve your tickets in advance, especially if you want to see the museum's most popular permanent exposition, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. This Instagram-famous exhibit only permits a limited number of people per day, so try to arrive early to be sure you can enter.
Hit the Beach
Spending a sunny day at the beach is perhaps the quintessential Southern California activity and one of the most popular free things that you can do in Los Angeles. There are over 70 miles of beaches in the L.A. area and thanks to the region's year-round balmy weather, you'll see people sitting out on the sand even in the middle of January.
While the beaches are always free, sometimes parking your car isn't. Even if there is a free parking lot, you'll need to arrive early to get a spot since many of them are full before noon, even on weekdays. Will Rogers State Beach and Point Dume State Beach both have free parking lots in addition to nearby paid lots—just in case you arrive and the free one is full. If you want to ditch the car altogether, L.A. public transit brings passengers directly to Downtown Santa Monica, which is within walking distance from the famous Santa Monica Beach and Venice Beach.
Head up to the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park
The Griffith Observatory, located in Griffith Park, has a free astronomy museum and offers visitors a free glimpse at the cosmos through their super Zeiss telescope. Get in line before dark if you want a look at the night sky, especially in summer since they close the line at a certain number of people. Even if you aren't particularly interested in the museum itself, Griffith Observatory is considered to be one of the best viewpoints in all of Los Angeles, offering a panorama of the entire city below. If you can time it right, arrive at sunset for an unbeatable view.
Stroll the Venice Beach Boardwalk
Take a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk to check out the street performers, the hard bodies at Muscle Beach Gym, and the interesting characters wandering the strand during the summer and on weekends. Parking in the area ranges from $3 to $15 depending on the lot and the time of year, but some free street parking is available around the neighborhood if you have the patience to look for it. Even though the area is a bit touristy, it's one of the most iconic places in all of Los Angeles and an obligatory stop for any first-time visitor.
Watch a TV Show Taping
If you've ever dreamed of attending a live taping of your favorite sitcom, game show, talk show, or reality show, a trip to Los Angeles is a chance to make that dream a reality. Many of the most popular television shows are filmed in L.A. and virtually all of the tapings are free, as long as you're able to acquire a ticket. The ticket process depends on the individual show, with some tickets released online up to 30 days in advance, while others are first-come-first-serve on the day of taping. Even if it's a show you've never heard of, seeing the process of a real live taping and getting up close to celebrities is an Angeleno experience all in itself.
Wander the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Meander along the Hollywood Walk of Fame to find the stars of your favorite celebrities. The Walk of Fame runs east to west on Hollywood Boulevard from Gower Street to La Brea Avenue and north to south on Vine Street, from Yucca Street to Sunset Boulevard. There are over 2,600 stars on the Walk of Fame so finding a specific celebrity can be a bit of a scavenger hunt. While you're there, any diehard movie buffs must pop in the TCL Chinese Theater—formerly known as Grauman's Chinese Theater—and the adjacent Dolby Theater for a history of all things related to the Oscars.
See a Collection of Prehistoric Fossils
The La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park next to the L.A. County Museum of Art is the most significant source of prehistoric fossils ever excavated. These fossils have made their way into museums around the world, but the largest collection is here at the Page Museum. It's free to wander the park and look at the tar pits and outdoor exhibits, where you can see paleontologists actively working to uncover further discoveries. However, the museum itself does charge admission to enter.
Visit the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument
Explore the Mexican marketplace at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument at Olvera Street. The entire block of historic buildings is like stepping into a Mexican town, but it's the street market through the alleyway of Olvera Street that is the biggest draw for visitors and locals alike. Here you can pick up crafts and souvenir items from all over Mexico at the outdoor street stalls. Make sure you arrive hungry because it's nearly impossible to resist the smell of grilled carne asada, Mexican-style corn on the cob, or freshly fried churros sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. To get a full overview of the history of Olvera Street and Mexican culture in Los Angeles, join a free walking tour to complement your visit.
See World-Class Art at the Getty Center
The Getty Center, a modern hilltop fortress in Brentwood that locals simply call "The Getty", houses one of the finest art collections in the world and has manicured gardens with stunning views of the city below. The architecture of the building and panorama view of the city are worth a visit even if you're not interested in the art. While the museum is free, parking can be expensive and costs up to $20 per vehicle, although the city bus stops at the gate if you're arriving from downtown L.A.
Tour the Getty Villa
The Getty Villa is the permanent home of the J. Paul Getty Museum's Greek and Roman art collection, housed in the Malibu mansion that was modeled after the partially excavated Villa dei Papiri in Italy. Located on Pacific Coast Highway north of Sunset Boulevard, the museum is free but advanced, timed tickets are required, and parking can cost as much as $20 per vehicle.
California Science Center
Taking the kids to a museum while on vacation doesn't always sound exciting, but the California Science Center is not just any museum. Located in Exposition Park, this preeminent science museum is fun and educational for all ages, but the interactive exhibits are especially geared toward younger guests. Kids will be able to touch, play with, and get involved with the items in the Science Center, rather than just strolling along or reading information cards. For outer space enthusiasts, the actual Endeavor Space Shuttle is on display in the museum.
General admission into the museum is free, but the IMAX theater and some special exhibitions do charge a fee. Weekday mornings are crowded with school groups, so afternoons and weekends are better to visit.
Tour Disney's Incredible Concert Hall
Performances at the Walt Disney Concert Hall may be on the pricey side, but the dreamy exterior of the building is just as impressive as the shows that are performed inside. Frank Gehry's metallic masterpiece is one of the most iconic buildings in all of Los Angeles, and free walking tours let guests roam around the nooks and crannies that Gehry designed to be explored. You can schedule a guided tour or a self-guided audio tour to get a full view of the museum from inside and out. Don't forget to climb up the stairways outside of the building for an above-ground perspective as well.
See Art in an Old Trolley Station
Even though there are plenty of free art museums to visit around Los Angeles, there's something uniquely appealing about visiting art galleries. Not only are they more intimate, but sometimes the artist themselves are on-premise to explain their work. Nowhere in L.A. is better for visiting art galleries than Bergamot Station, the former trolley turnaround station located in Santa Monica. Admission to all of the galleries is always free, and even the parking is free of charge. If you're arriving by public transit, the galleries are adjacent to a modern-day light rail station as well, the 26th Street /Bergamot Station.
Tour the Los Angeles City Hall
One of the few classically Art Deco buildings on the West Coast, the Los Angeles City Hall is free to visit during regular business hours. In addition to the dome that you can see from the third and fourth floor, there's a 27th-floor observation deck that's also free to visit. The Bridge Gallery at City Hall showcases art created in various city-run programs or exhibits related to the city's various Heritage Month Celebrations.
See the Books at One of LA's Libraries
Bookworms can't miss a stop at the downtown Los Angeles Central Library, which is worth a visit for its architecture, public art, gallery shows, and special programs as much as it is for its books. But the main branch of the city library system isn't the only worthwhile library around; the West Hollywood Library also has some interesting art, including a molded wood ceiling installation and numerous murals by well-known artists. They also have a full calendar of family programming, including literary events, music, staged readings, and theatrical performances.
Hear a Free Concert at Amoeba Music
Amoeba Music in Hollywood, a mecca for fans wanting to actually buy music—from CDs to vinyl and cassettes—regularly hosts free in-store concerts. Space is limited, so it's good to be there early. Even if you aren't around to see a concert, Amoeba is a cultural icon in California and one of the few remaining record stores in the digital age of music. It's easy to get lost in the store browsing through records and listening to songs at the kiosks.
Visit One of L.A.'s Many Free Public Gardens
Many of the most beautiful gardens in Los Angeles charge a fee, but there are also lots of gardens you can visit for free.
The Rose Garden at Exposition Park near Downtown L.A. is always free, as are the beautiful Greystone Mansion Gardens. These are owned by the City of Beverly Hills and are open to the public daily unless they're booked for a private event.
The Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA is a teaching garden and free to visit. Free docent-led tours are offered the first Saturday of the month at 1 p.m., and there are also occasional events such as plant sketching workshops.
Additionally, the James Irvine Japanese Garden at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo is free to visit. The JACCC also has free exhibits that highlight Japanese and Japanese-American artists to complement your trip to the gardens.
Get Your Laughs in at a Free Comedy Show
Lots of comedy clubs around L.A. have free comedy shows. Some, like The Comedy Store, still require a minimum drink purchase at free shows, but others, like the Upright Citizen's Brigade or Westside Comedy Theater, don't. If you get on their email lists or follow them on social media, especially Twitter, you'll get announcements of free shows. Some have free advance tickets, but many are first come or lottery.
Even the comedy clubs that charge admission usually only cost about $5, unless you're seeing a celebrity comedian. You can also check Goldstar for free comedy tickets, but there's a processing fee that is sometimes more than the $5 admission charged at paid shows.
Take a Free Art Walk All Over L.A.
There are galleries and art districts around L.A. that you can visit and explore for free any time, but during monthly and quarterly art walks, all the galleries have receptions at the same time, music and food are added to the mix, and crowds of people come out to enjoy. Laguna Beach host theirs monthly, on the first Thursday of each month, while others, like Abbot Kinney's in Venice, are held on the first Friday.
Go for a Hike
With 4,000 acres of mountains and canyons right in the middle of the city, and a couple more mountain chains surrounding the Greater Los Angeles area, there is no shortage of places to hike in L.A.
If you don't have a lot of time, the busy trails of Runyon Canyon are within walking distance of Hollywood Boulevard. The many trails in Griffith Park, including the Hike to the Hollywood Sign, are just a short drive from Hollywood or downtown L.A., and parking is free.
Beyond the city, the Santa Monica Mountains and Angeles National Forest offer an abundance of terrains and trails for hiking, but unlike in Griffith Park, parking in the national forests and recreation areas is not free.