Madoline and I lived in Los Angeles (in the San Fernando Valley) for a year and a half, during which time we went through a shopaholic phase followed by a phase of extreme frugality (described in Our Family Financial History). When we decided to be frugal, I learned a lot about free and low cost activities in the area. Here we will share some suggestions for free and frugal things to do in the Los Angeles area. Note that I have not been to all the places listed here, but many are things I remember hearing or reading about while living there there and others have been gathered from online sources.
All activities listed below are FREE of admission charges unless otherwise noted (some activities are free on particular days or at particular times of day). Those that are not free cost $5 or less per person. Parking fees are noted whenever possible. Depending on the distance and number of persons in your group, public transit may or may not be less expensive. Check out an earlier post I wrote on How to Save Gas and Time by Using Google Maps, which includes tips on looking up public transportation directions and fares.
General & Sight-Seeing
The Grove Fountain Photo credit: r3m3dy
Our favorite frugal activity was walking malls and pretty places to both sight-see and get some exercise. Here are some of our favorite places to walk. Note that even though these include shopping centers, you do not need to shop in order to enjoy the scenery and atmosphere!
Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade
Grab a drink or ice cream cone and just enjoy the scenery and street performers. Check out Santa Monica Pier while you’re there. You don’t have to spend money on the rides, just enjoy the scenery, have a look at the famous carousel built in 1916.
More information: Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade
A very pretty outdoor mall with cute buildings and a park-like setting with fountains and outdoor seating. Includes free events such as Movies in the Park, Girls Night Out, Music in the Park, etc.
More information: The Grove
The Farmers Market isn’t only a place to shop for groceries, but they host free events all year round including a Summer Music Series; Family Fun with music, arts & crafts; Fall Festival with marching band, petting zoo, pig races, etc.; Holiday Festivities including music, Menorah lighting, caroling and a toy soldier band; Mardi Gras with Cajun bands, mask making, etc.; and the Gilmore Heritage Auto Show featuring more than 100 vintage and classic cars. (Photo credit: andy castro)
More information: Farmers Market Events
“Come Out and Dance” with live bands with free dance lessons, fine arts festivals, Halloween trick-or-treat, Holiday Cheer and more in Downtown Burbank.
More information: Events in Downtown Burbank
The Hollywood Bowl Museum
The Hollywood Bowl is the world’s largest natural amphitheater which has hosted symphonies, opera, jazz, ballet, presidential addresses, rock concerts, etc. The grounds are open to the public to during the day to see the amphitheater. During the summer months, the Bowl offers rehearsals every Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, from 9 AM to noon. Admission to the rehearsals is free. The Hollywood Bowl museum is open to the public during the day year-round, and nights before concerts.
More information: The Hollywood Bowl
TV Studio Audience
Attend a TV show or sitcom taping as studio audience. Tickets are free, but you may be there until midnight. A great way to see your favorite stars live and an episode of your favorite show before everybody else.
More information and tickets: TV Tickets, Audience Unlimited
Universal Studios Hollywood
Before films are released, they are often screened to audiences for input. Los Angeles, being the film capitol of the world, is full of films waiting to be screened. However, this one is more based on opportunity striking, because you often need to be invited. We used to go to the malls a lot, sometimes for shopping and sometimes just to walk, and perhaps 1 out of 4 times, we were approached by people looking for film screening audiences. After the film, you are asked to fill out a questionnaire of what you thought of the movie, and you might be selected to stay behind with a small group to answer questions and provide more feedback.
More information: Tips for How to Attend a Free Movie Screening
Universal City Walk Summer Block Party
Free entertainment and movies at Universal Studios City Walk (no admission fee) seven nights a week during the summer. But to save on parking, you will want to find free or low-cost parking elsewhere and walk up to the City Walk.
More information: Universal Studios City Walk
Grand Performances presents free performing arts that reflect the best of global culture and inspire community among the diverse peoples of Los Angeles.
More information: Grand Performances at California Plaza
Night Hikes at Griffith Park
The Sierra Club leads free 2-hour hikes open to the public to view nightlife and birds. They encourage you to bring binoculars to better see the wildlife.
More information: Night Hikes
Several parks that have free group hikes through several canyons and ranches. Some have a $1-$5 parking fee, but the hikes are free.
More information: L.A. Mountains Hikes and Events Calendars
Art & Culture
The Getty Villa
It is recommended that you check with each institution regarding admission and parking fees prior to visiting as the information may change.
The Getty Center
“The Getty Center presents the Getty’s collection of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present against a backdrop of dramatic architecture, tranquil gardens, and breathtaking views.” Admission is Free, but parking is $8.
More information: The Getty Center
The Getty Villa
The Getty Villa, located in Malibu, is an educational center and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.
More information: The Getty Center
Skirball Cutural Center
A great cultural and historical museum which offers free admissions on Thursdays and other free events such as film screenings. We once attended a great exhibit on Albert Einstein here.
More information: The Skirball Cultural Center
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The largest arm museum in the western United States. On the second Tuesday of each month, general admission to the permanent galleries and non-ticketed exhibitions is free to all. After 5 pm, you may pay what you wish. Evening special: Vehicles entering the 6th Street parking garage after 7 pm park for free.
More information: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Los Angeles Public Library
This is one of our favorite places in the world – a 5-story building full of books. Aside from books, it is also a center of art and architecture with its distinctive sphinxes and rooftop pyramids. Docent guided tours are available daily. Parking is $1 Flat Rate for cars entering after 3PM, and on Saturdays and Sundays.
More information: Los Angeles Public Library Tours
Travel Town Museum
A combination transportation museum and recreation center located at the L.A. Zoo. Has a miniature train ride tour of the perimeter of the museum for a small fee. Picnic tables and barbecue facilities are available on a first come, first serve basis. Admission is free, parking available on Museum premises.
More information: Travel Town Museum
Located at Griffith Park, Griffith Observatory’s grounds, exhibits, and telescopes are open and free to the public each day the building is open. The Observatory also offers programs, special events, and public star parties.
More information: Griffith Observatory
California Science Center
“The California Science Center offers fun and informative permanent exhibits presented in interactive worlds. Through hands-on experiences in our galleries, you’ll learn about human inventions and innovations, the life processes of living things and more.” Admission to permanent exhibits is free, additional charge for IMAX and special exhbitions. Parking is $6.
More information: California Science Center
Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society – Hollywood Museum 27
Museuem and exhibit of firefighting history dating back to the 1880s including a library and learning center on fire and life safety for both children and adults.
More information: LAFD Historical Society
Barnes and Noble Storytime
Barnes and Noble bookstore offers storytime for children, toddlers, and beginning readers. This is a nationwide program. Check the events calendar for the schedule of the store closest to you.
More information: Barnes and Noble Store Events Calendar
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
Exhibits and public programs to educate kids and families about the ocean, its animal and plant life. Children under 12 enter free, adults pay a suggested admission of $5 ($2 minimum).
Sources for More Free Events and Frugal Activities in the Los Angeles Area
- This week in … Guides to events such as concerts, movies, hikes and other activities in the area (some free, some not)
- Santa Monica
- Pacific Palisades
- Beverly Hills
- East San Fernando Valley (Encino, Sherman Oaks, Studio City & surrounding)
- West San Fernando Valley (Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Tarzana & surrounding)
- Southern California
- Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation
Guide of activities, programs and classes offered through the parks and recreations. Some may be free and some for a fee.
- Parents Connect Activity Calendar – Los Angeles
- Eye Spy L.A. Free Things to Do in Los Angeles