Guest post by Alanna Koritzke
Los Angeles is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. so it might seem like travel activities will also be overwhelmingly expensive. However, you can actually find some great free things to do in Los Angeles. Here are my top 10!
This is a great hidden gem in Los Angeles that’s also free! Olvera Street is an actual historic brick street that’s been around since 1930. Instead of driving along this street, you’ll find a Mexican marketplace with brightly colored stalls, street vendors, and various restaurants. Olvera Street was established to preserve early California history and some of the vendors are descended from the original vendors of 1930! Enjoy your time on Olvera Street by listening to local street music, watching traditional dancers, eating authentic Mexican food, and learning about Mexican culture in California at Avila Adobe, the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles (it’s free to enter).
The most direct way to get here is by taking the Metro to Union Station. Tickets cost $1.75 each way or $7 for a day pass. If you drive, I recommend parking on N. Broadway in Chinatown as there is more parking there. Union Station also has limited parking.
As a local, Griffith Observatory is my number one must-do for any visitors! I really think it’s the best the city has to offer. It has a great, free museum with beautiful and interactive exhibits, stunning views of the Los Angeles skyline, and a clear view of the Hollywood sign. It has so much to offer and the best part is that it’s free!
Be sure to see a planetarium show in the round dome theatre, which was featured in La La Land. As you make your way outside, don’t forget to go upstairs to get better city views and get a chance to see the telescopes that operate every clear night!
View the Hollywood Sign
If it’s your first time in Los Angeles, an easy free thing to do is scout out the Hollywood Sign. It sits atop Mount Lee and can be seen from many different places around the city. First, you get a clear view from Griffith Observatory so you can do a 2-for-1 deal here. Another popular spot is from Lake Hollywood Park (3000 Canyon Lake Dr.). There is a dog park here and multiple trailheads to get closer to the sign. For the palm tree lined street that has the view of the Hollywood Sign in the background, go to Windor Ave between 4th and 5th Street.
Be extra courteous in this area because these are residential streets, all the way up to the mountain front. Be careful that you are not trespassing on someone’s private property to get a better view!
The Last Bookstore
Famed by Instagram, The Last Bookstore is a fun, two-story literary wonderland. Full of amazing books, you’re sure to find anything your heart desires from the classics, groundbreaking nonfiction, fantasy novels, and even true crime and horror books housed in a literal vault.
Bring your camera because upstairs you’ll find the flying books display, the book window, and book tunnel! Upstairs is also where you’ll find the vault and cozy reading nooks along the windows that overlook historic downtown Los Angeles.
As you make your way through the upstairs, you’ll also find art vendors selling beautiful pieces so drop by and say hello!
Walk of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is first and foremost a tourist attraction. If you’re interested in finding someone’s specific star or seeing the TCL Chinese Theatre, I definitely recommend visiting the area. However, if you’re looking for local hidden gems, I would skip the Walk of Fame as it is the most touristy area of Los Angeles.
California Science Center
A great family-friendly destination, the California Science Center has great interactive exhibits for everyone! Check out the awesome ecosystems exhibit and catch a show with Tess the giant human robot to teach you about the human body!
For a fee, you can also see educational IMAX films and see the Endeavor Space Shuttle. Either way, the California Science Center is a great museum in Los Angeles. For an extra freebie, walk out to the back of the building to see Exposition Park’s free Rose Garden (and huge fountain)!
I recommend taking the Metro to the Expo Park/USC Station for the cheapest form of transportation.
Chinatown lies near downtown Los Angeles and is super close to Olvera Street. I recommend taking a self-guided walking tour through Chinatown to see the ornate Central Plaza, Saigon Plaza, Chinatown Plaza, shops, restaurants, historical buildings, places of worship, and more!
See if you can find the statue of Bruce Lee!
Go to the Beach
It’s no secret that Los Angeles is lined with beautiful beaches. For a relaxing activity, take a beach day! My personal favorite is El Matador State Beach and Little Corona Del Mar Beach near Malibu and Newport Beach, respectively.
Another option is walking the Santa Monica Pier or along the Venice Beach Speedway. If you want an entirely free experience, El Matador State Beach is one of the few beaches in Los Angeles that has free parking. There are stairs to the beach from the parking lot, so be mindful in carrying beach gear. Many photographers love this beach as it has these beautiful rocks and arches.
Discover the many murals of LA
Los Angeles is covered in many beautiful murals so it’s not too difficult to find some incredible ones, especially in downtown! My favorites are the Global Angel Wings Project by Colette Miller and the Pink Wall, which is the exterior of the Paul Smith store at 8221 Melrose Ave. You can also take a free self-guided walking tour of LA’s art district.
You can go pretty much anywhere in Los Angeles and end up finding a beautiful mural!
The Getty Center and Villa
My final recommendation for a great free activity in Los Angeles are the Getty museums. There are two: The Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. Both of these art museums are free to the public, however the Getty Villa requires a timed entry ticket that you can obtain free online.
The Getty Center has beautiful European art collections, stunning gardens, and picture-perfect views of the Los Angeles skyline. I recommend the Getty Center if you need to stay closer to downtown. The museum houses works by van Gogh, Cézanne, Rubens, Raphael, Turner, Degas, and da Vinci, among others!
The Getty Villa is my personal favorite as it is modeled after a traditional Roman country home complete with elaborate gardens, architecture, fountains, outdoor sculptures, and pools. It’s very relaxing and usually less crowded than the Getty Center.
About the author
This post was written by Alanna Koritzke of Periodic Adventures. Alanna is a full-time PhD graduate student in chemistry and a part-time traveler with a love of travel planning and proving to broke college students everywhere that they can actually travel. She’s from Los Angeles originally and loves sharing local tips! Her blog is filled with detailed travel guides, funny travel stories, and resources to help you bring more travel into your life and spend less time planning and stressing.
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