Visitors traveling on a budget to Los Angeles can explore numerous free attractions all over the city. Some of the most popular of these options include main tourist draws such as walking Hollywood Boulevard, strolling the Venice Boardwalk, window-shopping in Beverly Hills, and relaxing along the many beaches.
But there are other free and cheap ways of getting to know Los Angeles, too—I know because I live here and have experienced many of them myself. Here are three of my favorite low- or no-budget activities around town.
Enjoy the farmer’s markets
L.A. boasts literally dozens of farmers’ markets. On any day of the week, you can visit these markets, mingle with locals, and observe impressive California produce and cuisine. All of the markets are free to attend.
The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market is one of the oldest and largest freestanding markets in Los Angeles. It’s open Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday in different locations around the neighborhood. Find metered parking on the street or in one of the many City of Santa Monica parking structures, where the first 90 minutes are free.
Another favorite of mine: The Original Farmer’s Market on Fairfax and West Third Street, just south of West Hollywood. This outdoor, covered market was established in 1934 and is open all week long. It showcases local restaurants, and serves up food from all over the world. My favorite stalls in the market to visit are La Loteria, for great Mexican food, and Moishe’s Restaurant, for a plate of Mediterranean spreads and a kebab wrap. The market also has a collection of unique specialty stores that sell various products from toys to clothes and hot sauce.
The atmosphere at The Original Farmer’s Market is bustling; sometimes the market’s narrow passageways can get crowded! Adjacent to the market you’ll find parking that is free for the first two hours with validation from any market vendor. My advice: Get there before 9:30 a.m. on weekends to guarantee yourself a spot.
In the garden at the Getty Center
Join the street party
On designated dates each month, certain areas in Los Angeles come alive, allowing locals to ditch their cars and adopt a temporary pedestrian culture. My favorites: the Downtown Art Walk and Abbott-Kinney First Fridays.
The Downtown Art Walk is held on the second Thursday of each month, and usually includes an afternoon and evening of programming. Pedestrians pour into the streets bound by Spring, Main, Second, and Ninth streets. Galleries open their doors, artists set up studios on the sidewalks, top Los Angeles food trucks cook delicious food, and a lively street culture takes over. Joining this street party is free, but parking will cost you something. There are many lots in the area and each charges a different price.Plan ahead and reserve a spot here.
Abbot Kinney First Fridays is another energetic street event, and is a great way to experience the local vibes of Venice off the boardwalk. This pedestrian-focused shindig takes place on the first Friday of each month. It lasts from 6-10 p.m. During the event, food trucks move into the area, shops stay open past regular hours, and locals mill about to experience it all. Be sure to arrive early because parking in the surrounding neighborhood can disappear quickly.
Explore a museum
Museum-hopping in Los Angeles is affordable, as many museums have free admission either all the time or during specific periods of the week or year.
Viewfinder Tip: When budgeting for a trip to Los Angeles, don’t forget to factor in extra money for parking and gas.
Two of the best of this bunch: The Getty Center and The Getty Villa. These museums are completely free, meaning visitors can see the European art collections, impressive architecture, and spectacular views of the city without breaking the bank. A trip to the museums will cost you something, however, as parking is US$15. Also, the Getty Villa requires reservation in advance. Reserve your visit here.
Another great free museum: The Annenberg Space for Photography, which is located in Century City, just west of Beverly Hills. Exhibits here feature both digital and print photography by some of the world’s most renowned photographers and emerging talents alike. Check the official site for hours as the schedule changes seasonally. Also, be sure to get your parking ticket validated by Space staff; US$3.50 will buy you three hours in the lot—more than enough time to see everything..
Finally, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) showcases a bountiful and world-class collection of contemporary works. The museum encompasses three locations around town. Admission to the Melrose Avenue location is free year-round, while admission to the Downtown locations on South Grand and North Central avenues is free on Thursdays from 5-8 p.m. For more information, visit the museum website here.
What sorts of free things do you like to do when you travel?