Updated: Nov 17
What do you picture when you think of Los Angeles? The glitz and glamour of Hollywood? Multi-million dollar homes? Well I have a slightly different take on the city because we lived there for two years while I attended grad school at UCLA. I was dirt poor and living on student loans, so we definitely didn't live that Beverly Hills lifestyle that people dream about. But despite that, we made an effort to get out and experience as much of the city as we could. Turns out LA isn't just for the rich and famous - we learned there are a ton of awesome kid-friendly, affordable, and even free things to do in LA!
Make sure to download our free LA Bucket List as a resource to help plan your next trip. The full list has 80+ fun, kid-friendly things to do in LA but keep reading this blog post to see some of our personal favorite free things to do from the bucket list.
Disclaimer: even though these attractions are free, parking in LA is rarely free! So whether you're going to the beach or a museum or anywhere else, make sure to budget (both money & time) for parking.
5 Best Museums for Kids in Los Angeles
The LA County Museum of Art is one of the most popular museums in Los Angeles. It isn't free for adults but it is free for kids, so it makes the list! Plus there are several outdoor art installations that you can visit without paying the entry fee to go inside. And as a bonus, the LaBrea Tar Pits are right next door. I always think of the Tommy Lee Jones movie Volcano when I see those. A 90s classic! The actual tar pits are free but the Natural History Museum is not.
4. The Getty Center
The Getty Museum is located just north of UCLA on the 405. It's famous for its beautiful gardens and collection of art from the Middle Ages. Admission is free but parking is not.
3. The Getty Villa
The Getty Villa isn't as well known as the other Getty, but it is much cooler, in my opinion! It's located in Pacific Palisades on the way to Malibu. It's perched up on a hill just off the PCH, so it has great ocean views. It also has breathtaking architecture and a vast collection of Greek and Roman antiquities.
2. California Science Center
The California Science Center is located next to the USC campus, in the same complex as The LA Memorial Coliseum. If you're a sports fan, that's a must-see as well. Otherwise, just spend the afternoon with the kids at this fantastic museum. My favorite exhibits were the aquarium and the Space Shuttle Endeavour. It's only one of four places you can see one of the real space shuttles up close and personal! The others are in New York, Washington DC, and Cape Canaveral.
1. Griffith Observatory
Built in 1935, the Griffith Observatory has now become the most-visited observatory in the world and it's featured in many movies like Yes Man and The Rocketeer, TV shows, and commercials. It's truly an icon of LA. You can tour the various exhibits that teach you about science and the cosmos, look through telescopes, admire the art deco architecture, get sweeping views of downtown LA, and even catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign.
5 Best Free Things to Do in Los Angeles
5. Beverly Hills Library
We love to take our kids to public libraries when we travel but the Beverly Hills library is one of our favorites. Brittany would take our two oldest here frequently while I was in classes at UCLA, just 10 minutes away. But it's not just the nostalgia that makes it our favorite - it's because it has an enormous children's section and enchanting murals throughout the library. We took all four of our kids back here on a recent visit to LA and they didn't want to leave!
4. Venice Canals
Yes, Venice California also has canals, just like Italy. They were built in 1905 by Abbot Kinney, who wanted to create the "Venice of America". The more you know! 💫 It's a great place for a relaxing sunset stroll, walking across the bridges, and wondering who on Earth can afford to live in these multi-million dollar homes lining the canals.
3. Palm tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills
I can't say the name Beverly Hills without singing the song by Weezer - "Beverly Hills! That's where I want to be!" Nothing screams LA quite like the plam tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills but did you know they aren't actually native to LA? They were imported and planted in as part of a city beautification project before the 1932 Olympics. And the trees only have a lifespan of 80-250 years. So enjoy them while they last!
The best spot to see the trees and get a pic like the one below (with NO traffic, what?!) is at around Carmelita Ave. and N. Hillcrest Road. Plus it's fun to just drive around Beverly Hills and look at all the dreamy houses.
2. Lake Hollywood Park
You can't go to LA and not see the Hollywood sign, right? There are lots of places to see it and several hikes that you can do as well, including one that takes you right behind the sign itself (although you can't walk up to the front - it's off limits). But those hikes are pretty long and not super kid-friendly. Our favorite spot to see it as at the Lake Hollywood Park. It's quite the hidden gem and it won't be overcrowded with tourists. You can get your photo opp with the Hollywod sign, but you can also see Lake Hollywood (did you know there was a lake up on the Hollywood Hills?), and get some good views of Donwtown LA if it's not too smoggy. And there's a fun little playground at the park for the kids, which is always a great way to bribe them for smiling in the picture.
1. Photo opps at the filming locations from your favorite TV shows or movies
If you're a fan of movies and TV shows like we are, there are lots of ways to experience Hollywood, whether it's Universal Studios or taking a tour of a movie studio lot. But those are expensive! And you're reading this because you're looking for the free stuff. Well some of our favorite outings in LA were to check out the filming locations of some of our favorite shows. There Hermosa Beach Pier or the Angel's Flight Railway (almost free - $1 to ride the trolley up Bunker Hill in DTLA) from LaLa Land. Or there's Pasadena City Hall from Parks and Recreation. Sorry to break it to you but Pawnee Indiana is actually Pasadena California! And the office from The Office is in LA, not in Scranton Pennsylvania. Our personal favorite was the Dunphy hose from Modern Family. The TV show was huge when we lived in LA and there were even fake realtor bus bench ads everywhere for Phil Dunphy #ninjainablazer. When we discovered we lived only two miles from the house from the show, we had to go take a picture!
5 Best Beaches in Los Angeles
When people think of LA beaches they usually think of the Santa Monica Pier or Muscle Beach in Venice. Those are crowded with tourists and they're actually not that kid-friendly. There are much better alternatives!