Top Ten Free Things to Do in Los Angeles

My saga into discovering all the cool free things to do in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, started 20+ years ago, when my first child was a little guy. As a freelancer, I had a flexible schedule and ample time to sniff out hundreds of free things to do. I found out which museums had free days and how to turn an L.A. Zoo membership into year-long freebies there and elsewhere. All of which led me to create a series of travel guides I dubbed Free Fun Guides. Free L.A. was the title that crowned me the Queen of Free Fun.

Here are my top 10 free things to do in Los Angeles:

1. California Science Center
700 State Dr, LA 90037

Unveil the secrets of science at California’s biggest FREE museum. The 245,000-sq-ft science center astounds visitors with 100+ interactive exhibits. Exploration begins outside where the Science Plaza contains art objects with scientific senses. Inside, brave visitors pedal a bicycle on a wire 3 stories high. On the upper levels are 3 main galleries: Ecosystems, the newest permanent exhibit, features varied environments of land and sea. Creative World focuses on technological advances in communications, transportation and structure.  World of Life delves into life’s mysteries. On weekends, science really heats up with FREE Science Spectacular shows. The museum’s Air & Space exhibits from the closed SKETCH building will have a new home inside Science Court while the museum awaits a new wing to house them and the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Everything is free except the 7-story IMAX theatre –L.A.’s largest—and special attractions such as the high wire bicycle. Lot parking $10. Metered street parking.

2. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Bl, LA 90007

LA’s 2nd oldest cultural institution and the West’s largest natural and historical museum, holds 35 million specimens and artifacts. Underway is a tremendous transformation for its 2013 Centennial with its historic core, the 1913 Beaux-Arts building, already restored. Visit 3 floors of permanent exhibits including Dinosaur Mysteries, a new dedicated dinosaur hall with 3 T. rex specimens, an enormous Triceratops, and a long-necked Mamenchisaurus whose body is longer than a bus. Under the Sun, an exhibition on SoCal environmental history opens Spring 2012. The Gem & Mineral Hall glitters with the largest US collection of gold. The Discovery Center hosts the West’s largest live Insect Zoo. Kids spend hours making fossil rubbings, touching animal pelts and handling nature specimens here. Free 1st Tuesday of the month, except July and August.. Always free for teachers, active military. Free for USC students except on USC game days. Lot parking $8. Metered street parking.

3. Exposition Rose Garden
Exposition Park
701 State Dr, LA 90037

Inhale the scents from this 7.5-acre sunken bed of roses that blooms March to November. The garden’s 10,000 rose bushes (167+ varieties) are formally arranged in an oval around a picturesque central fountain. A one-time horse track turned perennial garden, everything has been coming up roses at this urban oasis since 1927, when local nurseries donated the bushes. The originals are gone but there are varieties dating from the 1940s and 1950s, including a Queen Anne that’s 60+ years-old. Each year the garden highlights the All-American Rose Selections top 3 best roses winners. Flanked by the Natural History Museum,
California Science Center and California African American Museum (also free admission), the garden is a popular wedding locale on weekends (permit, fee required). The garden is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Free 9AM to sunset daily; closed Jan 1 to Mar 15 for pruning, renovation. Lot parking $8. Metered street parking.

4. The Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Way, LA 90027

Happy trails lead through Griffith Park where you’ll find one of the nation’s largest museums of its kind. Its mission is to interpret the West and show how it influenced America and the world. Dedicated to legendary radio and television star Gene Autry’s dream of preserving and displaying Western history and art, the center’s goal is to recount the stories of settlers and their descendants who changed and were changed by the American West. Nine galleries display  78,000+ objects including paintings, pottery, photographs, quilts, clothing, and other artwork and artifacts. Recent special exhibitions have illustrated the lesser known contributions of women, Native Americans, Chinese and Jews to the saga of the Old West. If you’re bringing the young’uns, mosey on over to the McCormick Tribune Foundation Gallery for pioneer-related games and workshops. Free 2nd Tuesday of the month.

5. Griffith Observatory
2800 E Observatory Ave, LA 90027

Train your eye on the triple domed icon perched atop Mt. Hollywood, 1,134 feet above sea level. Better yet, visit the art deco “hood ornament of Los Angeles” and discover the architectural, artistic and scientific offerings it’s made to the city since 1935. After a $93 million renovation in 2006, the observatory continues its galactic reach. A new 39,000-sq-ft underground space includes the Gunther Depths of Space exhibit hall and Leonard Nimoy Horizon Theater. Popular viewing telescopes—the east dome’s 12-inch Zeiss for clear night skies and the west dome’s 3 solar telescopes on clear days—transmit real-time video/audio feeds to a new Hall of the Eye exhibit. Pose for a photo op with James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause statue (the movie was shot on this spot). Admission to the observatory building and grounds is free. Check the calendar for free public star parties held on the lawn, sidewalks and roof. Free lot parking.

6. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument
125 Paseo de la Plaza (Olvera Street), LA 90012
213.628.1274 (Tours)

Feel the beat of the city’s contemporary corazon (heart) in the oldest section of LA. Founded in 1781 by 44 pobladores (settlers), LA’s birthplace is home to world-famous Olvera Street, a Mexican-style marketplace with 11 historically significant buildings open to the public. Stop by the visitor’s center for the free 18-min film, Pueblo of Promise, a history of LA’s founding and development. Join a free 2-hr guided tour of the Avila Adobe (1818), LA’s oldest standing house; the 1855 brick Pelanconi House; the 1887 Eastlake Victorian Sepulveda House; LA’s oldest Catholic Church and Old Plaza Firehouse Museum with turn-of-the-century firefighting equipment. Or pick up the free self-guided tour brochure. Browse Olvera Street’s shops and stalls for crafts, clothing, and jewelry while mariachis and other musicians serenade you. Metered street parking.

7. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Bl, LA 90036

Escape into the largest visual artscape in the West via “Urban Light,” an outdoor installation of 202 illuminated vintage streetlamps. Boasting 100,000+ artworks in 7 buildings,
LACMA is undergoing a 10-year renovation, starting with the addition of the Broad Contemporary Museum. Permanent collections: American, Asian—the Japanese Pavilion is a must—Islamic and Latin American paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, costumes, textiles, photos and drawings. LACMA  and the Motion Picture Academy announced plans to establish a Hollywood Museum in the historic May Co. Building called LACMA West. Founded in 1910 in Exposition Park, LACMA collected most of its best-known art—Ancient Egyptian, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque—in mid-1940s, moving to its Miracle Mile home in 1965. Free 2nd Tuesday of the month; free after 5PM Mon – Fri for L.A. County residents; certain holiday Mondays courtesy Target ; 1 free adult w/NexGen member; free ages 17 & under. Check LACMA calendar for free concerts, films and art workshops. Parking at nearby garages is $10.

8. Japanese American Museum
369 E 1st St, LA 90012

Unfold the history of the Nisei, (1st generation Japanese Americans), at the only US museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the experience of being an American with Japanese ancestry. Learn about the pioneering Issei, (Japanese immigrants), who constructed the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple that now houses the museum. Once a hub of religious and social
activity in Little Tokyo, the temple was used to store belongings of Japanese sent to World War II internment camps. Abandoned, the ornate 1925 temple became the museum’s keystone after a massive restoration. Much of local Japanese American history was lost due to the internment. The museum works to recover that history and promote a community interest in Japanese heritage. Check the Website calendar for special events and free classes such as taiko drum sessions, crafting sakura (pop-up) cards and making origami (paper folding). Free 5PM to 8PM every Thursday; 12PM to 8PM every 3rd Thursday. Check calendar for Free Family Days. Parking $6.50 at APS lot, SE corner 1st & Central.

9. The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
5801 Wilshire Bl, LA 90036

Ooze into the museum home of the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits and discover what that bubbling black goop called tar is all about. Learn what LA was really like between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago during the region’s last Ice Age. The Tar Pits have the largest and most diverse fossil collection of Ice Age plants and animals including mammoths, saber-toothed cats, giant sloths and dire wolves. Since 1906, 1 million+ bones have been recovered. During excavation of a new parking lot, significant fossil deposits were found, including Zed, the first near-complete, semi-articulated skeleton of a Columbian mammoth from Rancho La Brea. These deposits are now part of Project 23, located north of Pit 91. Watch paleontologists uncover various fossils seven days a week, for free.  Inside the museum watch scientists and volunteers carefully brush, wipe and scrape the gunk off fossils in a glass-enclosed research lab. Museum free 1st Tuesdays October to June; free every Tuesday in September. Parking $7 in museum lot at Curson & 6th validated Page museum ticket.

10. Hollywood Walk of Fame
6100–7100 Hollywood Bl & 1500–1700 Vine St, Hollywood 90068

Stroll among Hollywood’s stars past and present on the world’s most famous sidewalk. Inaugurated in 1960 with the first star to Joanne Woodward on the NW corner of Hollywood & Highland, today there are nearly 2500 engraved bronze stars embedded in pink and charcoal terrazzo immortalizing the legends of Motion Pictures, Television, Radio, Recording and Live Theatre. Step through a 3.5-mile-long galaxy of Hollywood history spanning the dawn of the entertainment capitol’s birth from silent film stars such as Charlie Chaplin, to Golden Age icons like Judy Garland and today’s newer Hollywood stars such as Jamie Foxx, and Nicole Kidman. Track down music legend Elvis, see Mickey Mouse outside Disneyland and visit the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. Find the crew of the Apollo XI moon mission in 4 identical moons at 4 corners of Hollywood & Vine. Star ceremonies are free and open to the public.
HWOF free 24/7. $2 for 2 hours at Highland & Orange lot with validation from participating Hollywood & Highland merchants. Metered street parking.