L.A. on a Budget: 15 Museums & More You Can Visit For Free

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Photo of the Griffith Observatory with a view of Los Angeles.
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For many a non-Los Angeleno, the thought of Los Angeles evokes an image of sunny beaches, celebrities on every street corner, and luxury as far as the eye can see. After all, the so-called La La Land is the place people go to make it big.

But just because L.A. is the city of stars doesn’t mean you need a star-sized budget to make the most of your visit. Here at Wanderu, we believe that you can travel the world without breaking the bank, which is why you can find cheap prices on bus rides to L.A. from places like San Diego, Phoenix, and San Francisco. 

Fortunately for you, many of the most trademark L.A. experiences can be had without spending anything at all. That’s why we’ve put together this list of Hollywood classics, musical events, museums and other L.A. adventures that you can enjoy for free. 

Some of the locations on this list also offer events, activities or souvenirs for a fee, but every item we’ve included here includes at least one gratis component that can be experienced whenever it’s open. The following list is sorted by category, so simply click the heading that most interests you, or scroll down to see the full ensemble.

HOLLYWOOD

Photo of the Forecourt of the Stars outside the TCL Chinese Theatre.
(Thomas Ormston / Flickr)

1. TCL Chinese Theatre

6925 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Since 1926, the Chinese Theatre has hosted scores of movie premieres. It’s also home to the famous Forecourt of the Stars, where the signatures, handprints and footprints of nearly 200 celebs have been immortalized in concrete. (For a more extensive — though less personalized — collection of stars, visit the nearby Hollywood Walk of Fame.)

Recent additions to the Forecourt of the Stars include all of the original MCU Avengers, the cast of “The Big Bang Theory,” and Keanu Reeves. The theatre also offers regular movie showings, although tickets aren’t free.

2. Griffith Observatory

2800 E Observatory Rd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
12 p.m. – 10 p.m. (Tues – Fri)
10 a.m. – 10 p.m. (Sat – Sun)
Closed on Mondays
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Griffith Observatory’s grounds offer a great view of L.A., and inside the observatory you’ll find exhibits and planetarium shows (when you’re in the mood for some star gazing of the more astronomical sort). Plus, Griffith Observatory is an essential part of film history, playing pivotal roles in movies like Rebel Without a Cause, La La Land and The Terminator.

3. The Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park

Los Angeles, CA 90068
Sunrise – Sunset
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: To state the obvious, nothing says “HOLLYWOOD” like this sign. You can get great views of the iconic letters from places like Griffith Observatory, but to get up close, hike on one of three trails in Griffith Part that takes you up behind the sign. (For specific directions, check out our guide to hiking the Hollywood sign.)

4. Hollywood Forever Cemetery

6000 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Mon – Fri)
8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Sat – Sun)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The beautiful park at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery allows visitors to pay their respects to some of classic Hollywood’s most beloved figures. You’ll find familiar names like Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille and Judy Garland, among many others. The cemetery also hosts various events for which visitors can purchase tickets.

5. Go to a TV Show Taping

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Sitcoms, talk shows, and competitions with live audiences — including “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “The Price Is Right” and more — offer free tickets for live tapings. Some shows offer standby lines for day-of tickets, but your best bet is to do some searching online ahead of time on sites like On Camera Audiences and request tickets in advance.

MUSIC

(Alan Light / Flickr)

6. Hollywood Bowl Museum

2301 North Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Off-Season Hours: 10:00 a.m. – Showtime (Tues – Fri)
Summer Hours: 10:00 a.m. – Showtime (Tues – Sat);
10:00 a.m. – 4 Hours Before Showtime (Sun – Mon)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Learn about the history of this iconic music venue, built in 1922. The Hollywood Bowl Museum has free entry year-round, and docent-led tours for groups of 10 or more can be booked in advance. From June through September on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, visitors can even attend a free rehearsal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic or Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

7. Amoeba Music

6400 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
10:30 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Mon – Sat)
11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Sun)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Amoeba is a California independent music chain with a vast collection of vinyl records and more. They also host free live shows and signings (for example, Paul McCartney performed there unannounced back in 2007). The store will be moving sometime in the next year or so — make sure to check for closings and an updated address before your visit.

MUSEUMS

Photo of The Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA.
1200 Getty Center Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90049
10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Sun, Tues – Fri)
10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Sat)
Closed Mondays
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to visual arts. Opened in 1997, The Getty Center houses collections of European art, The Getty Conservation Institute and more (like a free Sketching Gallery). Notable works on view in the museum include Van Gogh’s “Irises” and Monet’s “The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light.”

9. The Broad

221 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Tues – Wed)
11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Thurs – Fri)
10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Sat)
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Sun)
Official site

Established in 2015, the Broad features 2,000 works of contemporary art by more than 200 artists from the 1950s to the present. Notable works include Andy Warhol’s “Single Elvis” and various rotating installations. The museum also hosts gallery events and public programs to encourage audience engagement in art.

10. La Brea Tar Pits

5801 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Open Daily
Official site
The Tar Pits are free and are part of the Natural History Museum, which is free on the first Tuesday of each month (except July and August) plus every Tuesday in September.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Part of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (which is only free on select days), the Tar Pits comprise fossils of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish dating back to the Ice Age. It’s an active dig site, so in addition to viewing fossils, you can watch excavators at work. Including the artifacts on view at La Brea Tar Pits, the Natural History Museum holds more than 35 million specimens and artifacts.

11. “Urban Light” at LACMA

5905 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
11:00 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Mon – Tues, Thurs)
11:00 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Fri)
10:00 a.m. – 7 p.m. (Sat – Sun)
Closed Wednesday
Official site
The LACMA is free on second Tuesday of each month and some federal holidays

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: “Urban Light,” the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s famous outdoor sculpture made of 202 restored cast iron streetlights, is beautiful at night and the perfect backdrop for your latest Instagram post. On Fridays, you can also attend a free jazz concert at 6 p.m. at BP Pavilion near the sculpture. The main museum, where you’ll find art from a wide range of cultures and historical periods, is also free on select days.

12. California Science Center

700 Exposition Park Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90037
10:00 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The California Science Center boasts permanent exhibitions on anatomy, space, transportation and ecosystems from around the world. Because it’s an education center, not just a museum, there are more than 100 permanent, hands-on exhibitions and activities. For instance, check out the Structures Center, where you can build your own structures from wood and see if they would stand up to the test of an earthquake, play games to learn about saving energy, and more.

MISCELLANEOUS

13. The Bradbury Building

304 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Mon – Fri)
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Sat – Sun)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Constructed in 1893, the Bradbury Building is known for its unique architecture and five-story atrium, which features wrought-ironwork, including its famous caged elevator. You’ll likely recognize the unique interior design from a number of famous films, including Blade Runner, The Artist and (500) Days of Summer.

14. Los Angeles City Hall

200 N Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Mon – Fri)
Closed Saturday & Sunday
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: In downtown L.A., City Hall offers one of the best views of the skyline from its free observation deck. Beyond the skyscrapers, you’ll see the ocean in one direction and mountains in the other. Inside City Hall itself, the third floor has a beautiful tiled rotunda, with marble columns and metal chandeliers that are worth a gaze.

15. Venice

Los Angeles, CA 90291
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Venice has a lot to offer, as you might expect for a neighborhood named after the Italian city. Venice boasts picturesque canals, houses and arched bridges that are ideal to explore on a walk (assuming it’s not sweltering outside). Less than five minutes from the center of the neighborhood is the Venice Boardwalk along the beach, where you can visit souvenir shops or settle in the sand.

So whether you want a glimpse of the glam or just want to spend a weekend in the sun, you don’t have to be Mr. 💰 to make it Los Angeles.

These historic sites, cultural touchstones and museums are the absolute best way to explore The City of Angels on a budget. And the best way to get there is by booking through Wanderu, where you can compare cheap bus, train and flight options all in the same search. 

And once you’re in SoCal, don’t just settle for staying in one place. Take a look at all the places you can visit from L.A. for less than $20.

Interested in low-cost activities in other expensive cities? Check out our guides to Philadelphia, Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. for more free tours, museums and more. 

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About the author
Karen Krumpak

Karen Krumpak

Karen Krumpak has eaten her way through the flavors of Europe (when she’s traveling, you’re likely find her visiting the local grocery stores and markets) and hopes to someday experience the cuisine on other continents. In the meantime, Karen is a freelance writer and editor with a soft spot for cookbooks that help her explore other cultures and countries from her own kitchen.