Free Things You Can Do When Visiting Los Angeles

Los Angeles: Say the name of this city to anyone, and they'll instantly conjure up images of sunshine, palm trees, and sandy beaches. With its fantastic year-round weather and fun attractions for all demographics, it's no surprise that people near and far flock to this hot spot. It can be a nice change of scenery, and the fact that you can wear shorts and flip-flops practically any day doesn't hurt either.

LA may be one of your dream destinations; however, a trip out there certainly isn't cheap. Not only do you have to pay for transportation to the city, but you'll also have to shell out money for accommodations and food (For how much you should spend on food in Los Angeles, expect $24 per meal on average, location-dependent). Add souvenirs and other leisurely things, and you'll soon have nothing left in your wallet.

Luckily, you don't have to go broke to experience LA. There are plenty of free things to do in this city, which will lessen your financial burdens. Here are some of the best activities to do without spending a cent, as recommended by a local.

Go to Venice Beach

If there's any beach you go to in LA, it should be Venice Beach. It's one of the most popular American tourist destinations and is free to visit. Many movies and TV shows have captured its boardwalk on film, meaning you'll see familiar sights in person. Lucky ones will catch Harry Perry, a busker in his 70s who zooms around on roller skates while playing an electric guitar. He's been at it since the 1970s, so you're taking in an authentic part of the beach's history.

There's lots to do on the boardwalk that spans over 2 miles long. You'll catch numerous performances by talented buskers, watch fit people working out at Muscle Beach, and nimble athletes at the public skatepark. In addition, there are souvenir shops and food stands as far as the eye can see, where you can shop and fill your empty stomach. For a completely free experience, stick to strolling the boardwalk or beach. You can also take a dip, sunbathe, or play beach sports. Whatever you choose, it'll be perfect to soak in the LA sun and people-watch. 

Check out Santa Monica Pier

If you enjoy the beach, this is another fantastic place to go. Take a slow walk down the wooden Santa Monica Pier while chatting with your loved ones and absorbing the Pacific Ocean's effects on your senses. Feel the cool ocean breeze on your skin, hear the waves crashing, smell the salty water, and see how beautiful Mother Nature is in the middle of a major metropolitan area. All this can be enough to refresh your soul, especially if you bring a beach towel and lounge on the warm sand afterward.

This National Historic Landmark has been around since 1909, making it over a century old. You'll have a splendid time watching people having fun at Pacific Park, the pier's oceanfront amusement park. Or, if you've got a few bucks to spare, you can pay to have a try at a game or a few minutes on a thrilling ride. Otherwise, view the shows put on by the street performers who are always on the pier.

Stroll Hollywood Walk of Fame

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is perhaps the most iconic attraction in LA. You'll know you're there when you step onto the landmark and gaze upon a sea of red stars on black terrazzo slabs. As of early December 2023, there are 2,767 stars stretching across 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and 3 blocks of Vine Street, and they honor big names in the entertainment industry. All you'll need are comfortable shoes and a bottle of water to see this landmark. You'll also need your smartphone or digital camera, especially if you want to snap photos with your favorite celebrities' stars. Like many other parts of LA, there are street performers who create special memories, so make your phone or camera handy to capture these moments.

Construction of this landmark started in February 1960, but the concept had already been in the works for years, thanks to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles City Council. It was finished in the spring of 1961, with 1,558 stars on the walk. To this day, stars are still being added, so the Hollywood Walk of Fame will change within your lifetime. While on this walk, you'll go past the TCL Chinese Theatre, where you can see the handprints and footprints of celebrities. You'll also come across Ovation Hollywood, a mall that offers a fantastic view of the Hollywood sign. While you're at it, get some shopping done as well.

Go to the Broad

Want to discover a more cultured side of LA? And do you like contemporary art? Then you'll love The Broad, a free museum (for its permanent collections). It's recommended as part of the best itinerary if you only have one day in Los Angeles, so don't miss out. You'll find The Broad on Grand Avenue in Downtown LA, which gives you an excellent opportunity to explore the surrounding area. In addition, you'll instantly know you're there when you see the building. It has a white veil-like appearance that's hard to miss.

The Broad is home to the immersive Yayoi Kusama exhibits. Do note that you'll need to reserve (free) tickets in advance for the Infinity Mirrored Room, so make sure to do that before your trip to secure your spot. The other exhibit, Longing for Eternity, doesn't require reservations. Both have flashing LED lights that look amazing when reflected on the mirror-lined walls, and the rooms' ambient lighting makes things absolutely magical. You should take plenty of pictures to have lasting memories of these exhibits.

As for the rest of the museum, there are around 2,000 pieces of contemporary art made by 200 artists. Most notably, you'll view works by Andy Warhol, whose pop art is recognized globally. If you know the artist Cindy Sherman, you'll be pleased to know that The Broad has the largest worldwide collection of her art.

Visit the Getty Center

LA may be an expensive city, but one thing it's not short on is free museums. Another on the list is the Getty Center, which is much more than a museum. For one, it's perched on a hill, isolated from the city below. To get up there, you'll have to take a slow-paced tram from the parking lot, giving you plenty of time to admire LA's beauty. Once you arrive at the top, you'll get out and be greeted by the elegant yet stately central rotunda.

The modern architecture of the Getty Center already leaves you in awe, but what's inside will astound you further. There are art pieces from the Middle Ages to contemporary times, allowing you to see how artists have changed styles and techniques as the years pass. Outside, you can get a breathtaking view of LA, which will make the perfect backdrop for some selfies. Plus, there's a large garden that gives you a slice of nature amidst the buildings. Be sure to check out all the cool sculptures in the Lower Terrace Garden, too.

Visit the California Science Center

Those traveling with little ones who want to pinch pennies will find respite at the California Science Center. It's yet another free museum (for the permanent galleries), and it's family-friendly as well. It's a state agency and is the largest hands-on science center on the West Coast, so it's a fantastic place for learning, no matter how old you are.

The free admission is only for the permanent exhibits, but one of the coolest is the Space Shuttle Endeavour. You read that right: It's the actual space shuttle, not a replica. The Endeavour was in service from 1992 until 2011 and now has a permanent home in the California Science Center after retirement. While visitors cannot enter or touch the space shuttle, they can still get very close to it. It goes off display on January 1, 2024, for a few years, as its permanent home will be in the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. This extension of the museum is currently being built, and you won't see the space shuttle again until it opens.

Snap pictures at the La Brea Tar Pits

The La Brea Tar Pits are truly something special to see, and we think it's one of the most bizarre tourist attractions in California. Many Ice Age fossils have been uncovered at this site, and to this day, scientists are still excavating newly found fossils. In fact, this is the only actively excavated urban Ice Age fossil site in the world, so you won't get to experience this anywhere else.

Scientists have been working on the site since the early 1900s, and most of what they've pulled out lives in the on-site museum. Not only are there tiny and massive bones but also plant remains. If you want to view them, you'll have to pay admission to get into the museum. However, the tar pits are free to visit, as is Hancock Park, where all these things are located. At the Lake Pit, you'll see and smell the tar bubbling inside. In addition, there's a mammoth family placed there, with an adult sinking in the tar. Getting a photo or two here will make great souvenirs.

Go to the Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park

Getting an overhead view of the city is always a treat, so why not head up Mount Hollywood? Several hiking trails take you up there from the Greek Theatre and Fern Dell, but truthfully, it's quite an uphill trek, and it'll take around 20 minutes. To conserve energy and avoid breaking a sweat, you should drive up if possible.

Either way, when you reach the top of Mount Hollywood, you'll see the gorgeous Griffith Observatory. It's free to enter and has informative exhibits and a planetarium displaying shows throughout the day. Check out the daily programs, too, since there may be interesting demonstrations. Make sure you take a look around outside as well since Griffith Observatory is only one part of Griffith Park. There are over 4,200 acres to explore, meaning you could spend a whole day here if you desire to do so. Plus, there are picnic areas to take breaks, rest, and refuel if needed.

Pay your respects at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

We won't deny that going to a cemetery sounds like a strange choice for a day out in Los Angeles. However, it's something unique to do. Hollywood Forever is a full-service cemetery and funeral home, but it's more than that. Other than a final resting place for people (including celebrities), it's also a cultural events center. You can count on the business to have concerts, films, and events all year round. More importantly, it's somewhere you can find a little peace in the hustle and bustle of LA.

On these grounds, you can pay your respects to the souls laid to rest. It's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999. By walking around, you'll understand more about the city's history and appreciate the beauty, thought, and care put into each gravestone and mausoleum. It's completely free to tour the grounds on your own, but you can also pay for a 2.5-hour guided tour if you want to learn even more about this cemetery.

Find peace at the Lake Shrine

The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is another quiet place in LA where you can rest, relax, and reflect. This beautiful and serene area offers you a slower-paced look at the city, with a deep blue lake enveloped by greenery. The Lake Shrine has been around since 1950 and honors the five principal religions of the world. However, you don't need to be religious to appreciate it.

In addition to strolling through the grounds, you can check out the Meditation Gardens. It's open from Wednesday through Sunday, and you'll need to make an advanced reservation to get access. It's still completely free to visit, and there are two different arrival times to choose from. While inside, you can traverse the paths and find peaceful meditation areas and docks. There's also the Windmill Chapel if you want to meditate or pray. Plus, you can pick up gifts from the visitor center or gift shop.

If you're interested, the Lake Shrine Temple is open every Sunday for morning services. You don't need to make a reservation, but if you're bringing your kids, make sure they're always supervised and taken out if they become restless or upset. There's indoor overflow seating available with video as well as outdoor seating with audio, which you can utilize if you don't want to go into the temple itself.

Explore Runyon Canyon Park

It's important to stay fit, even if you're on vacation. Some accommodations have free gyms to use, which can help you save some money. However, the view at your hotel's gym probably isn't great, and it's bound to get boring soon. You're in Southern California, after all, so why not take advantage of its amazing trails and access to nature?

One particular place you should go to is Runyon Canyon Park, which has the best hikes to take in LA. The paths are available all days of the week, from sunrise until sunset, so you have no excuse for missing out. The park has no restrooms, so prepare before embarking on this adventure. Runyon Canyon Park has 160 acres for you to explore, and the view's not too shabby either. It's popular with locals too, including celebrities, so you never know when you'll rub elbows with a huge movie star. And when you get to the top, you'll be rewarded with a grand perspective of Los Angeles that you'll never forget.

Read books at LA Central Library

LA Central Library is the city's main library and one of the largest public libraries you'll find in the nation. It's in downtown LA and has served residents for almost a century since its opening in 1926. Get yourself to the Civic Center neighborhood, and the library won't be hard to spot. It has a dazzling Art Deco facade, with steps on either side leading up to the library.

When you step inside, you'll be astonished further by the interior architecture. Make your way to the rotunda, which is marked by the Zodiac Chandelier and all the delicate motifs and the mural on the ceiling. The other wings feature more works of art, as well as public art projects. Outside, you'll see the Maguire Gardens, a space combining plants, hardscaping, and artwork. After soaking in LA Central Library's elegance, browse the many racks of books. Grab one or two that interest you, then settle down in a comfortable seat. You can stay as long as you like to read the pages that fascinate you.

Tour Greystone Mansion

Beverly Hills has a reputation for being opulent, and Greystone Mansion is no exception. This fancy building has gardens and has been standing since 1928. It was originally constructed for the son of an oil tycoon, so you can only imagine how much money went into this area. In 1965, the city of Beverly Hills purchased the property and made all 18.3 acres into a public park in 1971.

Today, the mansion and gardens are popular with visitors, and it's common to see people having their weddings and corporate events here. You may even spot photoshoots while here, especially in areas recognizable on TV shows and movies. Walking around the grounds is free, but note that you aren't allowed to bring pets except for ADA service animals. And unfortunately, picnics aren't allowed, even though the grounds seem ideal.

Inside the mansion, you can take self-guided tours of the first floor and the theatre on each month's first Saturday or Sunday. Otherwise, Greystone Mansion is only available for special events, and the park grounds may be closed for reserved events, too. So check ahead of time and plan accordingly.

Walk around Olvera Street

Southern California already places you near the border, making it easy to experience Mexican culture. But what if you haven't brought your passport, or you don't want to make the journey across? Then you need to go to Olvera Street. It's a relatively small block, but it's known as "the birthplace of Los Angeles" and is packed full of stalls, shops, and historical museums. Not only will you be able to purchase unique gifts, but you'll also eat authentic Mexican food, listen to mariachi bands, and watch traditional events and celebrations. Olvera Street is also part of El Pueblo Historic Park, which stretches across 44 acres. Admire the 27 historic buildings and stop in the plaza to see performances.

If you want to kill two birds with one stone, you'll be happy to know that this street is near Grand Central Market. This historic landmark is over 106 years old, and you'll discover lots of delicious foods in the 30,000-square-foot arcade. It's free to go in, but you'll have to pay for the food, of course.