From exciting new restaurants to world-class shopping, Los Angeles is overflowing with enticing places to splurge. But if you’re looking to explore the city without blowing your budget, there are plenty of fun and action-packed options that are totally free (or at least refreshingly inexpensive). Here are our favorite free things to do in LA, from exploring secret gardens and zoos and seeing the stars up-close to enjoying art and live music without spending a cent.
Explore the secret staircases of LA’s historic neighborhoods
Before LA become a car-centric city, winding staircases offered Angelenos an easy way to navigate some of the city’s steeper hillsides and access the now-extinct streetcar system. Thanks to the Secret Stairs
guides, you can explore these forgotten pathways and get a unique look at historic neighborhoods across the city, including Echo Park, Hollywood, Pasadena and Pacific Palisades.
Visit a spooky, abandoned zoo and watch Shakespeare for free
While LA has a fun, modern zoo
that’s worth checking out, those looking for a free (and spine-tingling) adventure can wander through the ruins of empty cages and cave-like animal enclosures of the Old Zoo inside Griffith Park. You can also catch a free Shakespeare festival
during the summer on the lawn in front of the Old Zoo.
Find peace and quiet in a beautiful garden
The hustle and bustle of LA can be a thrill, but sometimes you need a moment of calm and quiet reflection. Thankfully, there are several stunning gardens that are free and open to the public, including a hidden Japanese garden
in Little Tokyo, the expansive Rose Garden
of Exposition Park, the meditative Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens
and a sculpture garden
Join the star party at the Griffith Park Observatory
Although it can be fun to try and spot celebrities around LA or look for their stars on the Walk of Fame, if you’re hoping to see some real stars up close, head up to the historic Griffith Observatory for its monthly star parties
. Peer through telescopes, learn from astronomers and enjoy a spectacular view of the city at night.
Get inspired by free art walks
LA offers plenty of opportunities to see the works of local artists during the many free art walks hosted around town. Visit dozens of galleries during the Downtown Art Walk
on the second Thursday of each month, interact with artists and hear live music at Mar Vista’s Art Walk
or enjoy a free guided tour of the Metro’s underground art installations
Play games and trivia at Grand Central Market
The historic marketplace hosts game nights, trivia events, live music and even drag queen bingo on different nights throughout the month, and it’s all totally free. It’s a great chance to check out all the amazing food and drink vendors, while also testing your Jenga skills and trivia knowledge.
Rock out year-round with free concerts
Throughout the spring, summer and fall, LA plays host to tons of free outdoor concerts featuring big name and local artists at series such as Grand Performances
, Twilight Concerts
at the Santa Monica Pier and KCRW’s Summer Nights
. You can catch free shows at Amoeba Records
and during Monday night residencies at venues like the Echo, the Satellite and the Bootleg.
Soak up some culture during free museum days
Several of LA’s biggest museums offer free admission year-round, including the recently opened Broad
, the Getty Center and Villa
, and the Hammer Museum
. Plus on select days throughout each month, you can check out plenty of other institutions without spending a dime, including LACMA
and the Natural History Museum
Learn the origin story of Los Angeles
Get a close-up look at some of LA’s most historically significant locations, including Pico House, Olvera Street and the Avila Adobe, on free walking tours led by the knowledgeable Las Angelitas del Pueblo
guides. Learn how the city grew from a small Spanish farming community to a booming metropolis.
Learn how beer is brewed and taste the final product
Angel City Brewery
in the Arts District offers free behind-the-scenes tours that conclude with complimentary tastings of several of their beers. You can also catch free comedy, bingo and trivia nights at the brewery throughout the month.
Witness impressive skateboarding tricks and wander the canals in Venice
Scope out the gravity-defying feats of some talented pros and up-and-coming skateboarders at the famous Venice Skate Park
, right on the beach. You can also catch plenty of free entertainment from the performers along the boardwalk or escape from the bustle to explore the bridges and charming homes along the historic Venice Canals.
Danny Jensen is a LA-based freelance writer and photographer covering food, lifestyle and travel.