Activities for When You Don’t Feel Like Making it Rain
Written by: Nick Pachelli
It’s no secret that LA is the land of glitz and glam, and with all the money that flies around, things can get a little pricey. With plenty of activities in the LA area that can drain your wallet, we thought it was time to come up with a list of what you can do in the City of Angels that will keep the fun going while still leaving you with some change to spare. Check out these free things to do in LA to keep ballin’ on a budget:
Walk the Venice Walk
You won’t miss a beat on the Venice Boardwalk. It’s a rowdy collection of live music, skateboarding dogs, and a rainbow of Ray Bans and board shorts in the local surf shops. Just watch out for chainsaw jugglers.
Abbot Kinney First Friday Art Walk
It’s easy to get lost in the sidewalk chalk, reflective status, and kinetic sculptures while exploring one of the artsiest streets of West LA. Snag free samples from the food trucks that line the boutique storefronts on the ‘First Friday’ of every month.
Shakespeare in the Park (or by the Sea)
Beware the resurfacing of high-school memories of you reciting Shakespearian classics. The set is modern, and you know every monologue. Wine, juice, and snacks all around – it’s a literary picnic – and the actors aren’t afraid to draw you into the action.
Stroll Olvera Street
You know you’ve arrived when you hear the slapping sound of fresh-pressed tortillas and the jingle of handmade trinkets. Olvera Street free tours shuffle you through the original LA, circa 1781.
Serenity Sunday at Gladstone’s
Breathe in, breathe out. Slow it down, repeat, and enjoy a free morning yoga flow at the classic Gladstone’s restaurant on the beach. Don’t worry about your inexperience, because other beginners line the walls, too. If you can’t focus, think of the Bloody Mary after class.
Kick off your flip-flops and groove in the sand to some live music at the Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert. Dance in the iconic Ferris Wheel lights with the waves crashing in the background.
Art Crawl at the Old PBR Brewery
The smell of hops has faded, but former PBR Brewery is still alive with the scents of oil paint and fresh clay as 100 artists from around LA display their work. Plus, there’s a beer garden (which is not free).
Find the next great talent at The Downtown Independent
For one night, you feel part of the up-and-coming movie scene. Open screenings of witty pilots and slapstick short films play at the Downtown Independent. Bring your questions in case the director hosts a surprise Q&A.
Swing, Climb, Bounce at Original Muscle Beach
Coat your palms with chalk and get ready for sore muscles tomorrow. This beach park is the best playground for agile adults like yourself. Parallel bars, ropes, swings, rings, and tight ropes help you swing, climb, and jump before floating in the waves.
Check Out Free Improv
The alleyway off Vermont Ave seems intimidating, with just a faint light coming from the basement-style Clubhouse. The skits, stand-up, and monologues are unbearably funny. Enjoy some local artists and remember: Tina Fey was once in free improv clubs. Just saying.
Downtown Art Walk
Eccentric street performers play when you show up at 9: 00 p.m., and they’re still at it on your way out. Their rhythm keeps pace with local wanderers poking their heads into painter’s galleries for the Downtown Art Walk on Spring St. and sculpture galleries down Main St. between 2nd and 9th.
Go to Catalina Island for Free on your B-Day
The lush hills, crisp air, and kickback attitude on Catalina are even better on your birthday. Free rides from the bustling port of Long Beach take you away to a free slice of island paradise on that one special day of the year.
SUP the Bay
In the mornings, the dolphins head north up the bay, and in the afternoon they meander south just off the shoreline. Join them on a paddle board near El Porto beach. No paddle board? Hop in and they’ll swim right past you.
Archery Lessons in Pasadena
The hay barrels are set, and it’s your first time with a bow and arrow in hand. The kid to the left fires an arrow on target with ease. The Pasadena Roving Archers instructor passes by to raise your elbow and steady your stance. Fire away (for free on your first time).
Santa Monica Pier
Explore the amusement park and win a prize or two, or watch the surfers and take a peek inside the aquarium. Keep an eye out for the Python Man at the front of the pier – well worth an Instagram post.
The arching bridges, beach houses, antique canoes, and occasional ducklings make for a calm afternoon on the five blocks of Venice Canals. It’s nestled in between Venice’s raucous boardwalk and hipster Abbot Kinney, and it’s the ideal setting for a picnic or mid-afternoon stroll.
Manhattan Beach Strand
Professional volleyball players flock to the public courts along the Strand, making a pass along the footpath well worth your time. The cozy beach houses — Colonials, to Victorians , to abstract moderns — are a practice in ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’.
Bonfire at Dockweiler State Beach
Ok, spare a few bucks for wood and head to Dockweiler where the bonfires burn until 10:00 p.m. Bring the blankets, warm clothes, and Frisbees, and set up camp up-wind. Warning: the seagulls will steal your snacks.
Picnic at Echo Park
The restoration of Echo Park resulted in a true oasis: lotus plants, nature walks, fountains, and a boathouse – all surrounding Echo Park Lake. It’s the perfect place for some time away from it all, or a game of pickup basketball, soccer, or tennis.
LA Central Library
Libraries aren’t boring, not in LA at least. One-hour tours explore the historic Los Angeles Central Library every day with Saturday art-in-the-garden tours too. The five-times-your-size lanterns and massive chandeliers make you want to grab a book and channel your inner bibliophile.
Dance on the 3rd Street Promenade
While the pros are twisting, spinning, and shuffling at a fierce pace, the elderly couples and kiddos hop in on the fun, too. Every Sunday from 4:00-9:00 p.m., the north end of the 3rd street promenade is buzzing with salsa, tango, and meringue dancing. Perfect for viewing or participating.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery movie
The lawn chairs are out, it’s dusk, and The Goonies is on the Jumbo-tron at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. After the movie, fireworks erupt over Santa Monica Blvd (free tickets may vary depending on screening).
Walk of Fame/Chinese Theatre Walk
Street actors clamor through the herds of tourist eyeing each and every star on the walk of fame. Spiderman bumps into you and Elvis runs to his next gig. It’s Hollywood; they’re probably shooting a commercial or movie around the corner.
Drop-In Beach Volleyball at Will Rogers
Sun’s out, and 70-degree weather begs for some beach volleyball at Will Rogers. No experience required. The vibe is laid back so you can run into the water for a quick dip to beat the heat, then get back in the game.
La Brea Tar Pits
Visit the old-fashioned museum and excavation site at the La Brea Tar Pits on the first Tuesday of every month. The walking-tours highlight 3 million year-old fossils, taking you on a prehistoric adventure.
The Last Bookstore
Hidden rooms and surprising turns fill the Last Bookstore, and the mystery thriller room tops the list. It’s full of vintage typewriters and burnt pages to set a very 1970’s-scary-movie tone. The hardback arch sculpture and the whimsical trail of typed pages are pretty sweet, too.
Free Wine Tour and Tasting
The urban crowd mingles with historic flavors at the San Antonio Winery. Sign up for the free tour (and free tasting!) through the visual history and tasting room containing massive barrels dating back to the winery’s opening in 1917.
LA City Hall (Observation Deck)
Whether or not you have an interest in the local political scene, LA City Hall is worth a stop for the views from the Observation Deck. The upscale hotels and restaurants dominate the downtown rooftops, and you can get everything from the US Bank building to Grand Park in one Panorama. Find the 1984 Olympic Torch while you’re there, too.
CA Science Center
Exposition Park is abuzz. The museums are swapping patrons from open to close, most of them headed for the main attraction, The Endeavour. The shuttle is gargantuan. Staring up at the underbelly of the ship and envisioning it in outer space sparks memories of a younger version of yourself dreaming of life in space.
Peruse Little Ethiopia
A small strip of South Fairfax Avenue is ringing with the sound of drums and begenas. Clothing stores, vintage furniture shops, and family-owned restaurants all sport the same vibe of everyone’s family hospitality. Find the patriotic red, yellow, and green patterns, and you know you’ve arrived.
It’s important not to give up on this Downtown structure. The lackluster exterior is not inviting, but down the brick ‘n wood alleyway, you’ll be gawking at the Bradbury Building’s architecture you thought no longer existed. Let us know if you recognize the interior from Blade Runner.
Hike Runyon Canyon
Runyon Canyon is full of walkers, hikers, runners, sprinters, impressively dressed personal trainers, and the occasional DJ on the hilltop. The dirt paths and stairs wind through the Santa Monica Mountains, making it all too easy to get lost with your thoughts (and your iPhone).
Hollywood Bowl Museum
The Bowl is home to one, if not several, of your most memorable of concert experiences. You go around back to an area you’ve never visited, and see the heart of the venue in the Latin, Rock & Roll, R&B, Classical, and Jazz hall of fame. The vintage posters make you a firm believer that you may have been born in the wrong decade.
The views from the top of the hill at the Griffith Observatory are epic day or night (duh!). The city is painted orange, the layer of smog tucking the city in at night, and you link up with a local observer and their telescope. Together, you scan the sky for hours. Planets, solar systems, galaxies: it’s all flippin’ sweet.
See a taping of Conan
Are you a fan of Conan O’Brien? Well, all you have to do is request free tickets on teamcoco.com, and you may just be able to see a live taping of the show. Who knows? You might go on a day when your favorite celebrity is a guest!
Venture to the Old Zoo
There is an abandoned zoo in Griffith Park, and it’s believed to be haunted. If you’re feeling brave, you can explore the remains and take pictures in the cages.
Find Tranquility at the Lake Shrine Temple
What is better than inner peace? The Lake Shrine Temple is the perfect place to take in a variety of flora and fauna as well as meditate by the lake to reach self-realization and inner peace.
Attend a Reading at the Hammer
If you ever wanted to attend a reading, the Hammer provides free readings with some of our favorite writers. Come down, listen to the reading and be prepared for a lively discussion while sipping coffee and tea.
Stand Under the Chandelier Tree
Located on the front yard of a residency, the Chandelier Tree is a sight to behold. Drive by during the evenings to see the tree at its best: the chandeliers hanging from it will be beautifully lit up. Date night? Yes.
Walk Up (or down) the Music Box Stairs
If you’re looking for an intense workout, why not try retrace the steps Laurel and Hardy took while trying to haul that piano. Just be sure to bring something to drink!
Tour the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Did you know the JPL launched the first American satellite in 1958? We didn’t either. And now they’re up to bigger things, like sending rovers to Mars. The free tour tells all (and might even let you take a glimpse of what’s goin’ down on Mars that day).
Self Guided Tour of Walt Disney Concert Hall
Ok, the sparkling steel exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall is stunning. It glistens and is red hot to the touch (do not attempt). But there are lush gardens inside that no one really knows about – and access is free. There’s no finding a more tranquil afternoon in Downtown LA.
The Getty Center (and Saturdays off the 405) + Getty Villa
You survived traffic on the 405 North. Congratulations. You pay the parking fee (as you do everywhere in the city), and enjoy the only monorail in LA (Disney aside). The history exhibits at the Getty keep your attention, but not quite like the city-scape paired with live music at ‘Saturdays Off the 405’.
See the Natural History Museum
Plan your trip to NHM on the first Tuesday of each month—excluding July and August—or any Tuesday in September to get free admission.
Exercise at the North Hollywood Recreation Center
If you’re looking to get a workout, but don’t want to pay to go the gym, this spot is the place to be. It may look like a mere playground, but fret not; the contraptions found will certainly help you get the workout you’re looking for without the cost.
Visit the Annenberg Space for Photography
If you’re an aspiring photographer, or if you just want to see some gorgeous still life, Annenberg’s will provide a plenty. View and admire photographs that truly capture how diverse and beautiful the world can be.
Ring the Korean Bell of Friendship
A piece of history, the KBOF celebrates the bicentennial of US independence, veterans of the Korean War and the friendship between the countries.
Hike the Hollywood Sign (duh!)
Ever want to see the notorious sign up close? Then, why not take the hike?
Listen at Monday Night Residencies at the Echo
Jazz at LACMA
The Brooklyn city lamps – the exhibit featured in every Instagram posts at the LACMA – is but a faint backdrop. The bright red and white scene at LACMA is all about Jazz during the summer concert series. Forget what time it is and kick back every week.
Be on a game show
It’s not only free, but most shows will pay you to be on TV as you to try to win some cash! The energy level is high (like real high), and the potential for a big win is tangible. You’re nearly begging Wayne Brady to invite you up for the deal of the day.
The windows are down, music is blaring, and the roadside strawberry stand with fresh produce from the San Fernando Valley is chalk full of free berry samples. All the while, surfers are out in droves for your entertainment.
Savor Japanese Village Plaza
If you’re a fan of Japanese culture, go down to the Japanese Village Plaza. Even if you don’t want to spend money, it’s always fun to check out the shops—be sure to take mental notes for stuff to buy a later date—and listen to live music.
Wander the Japanese American National Museum
If you’re in Little Tokyo either on the third Thursday of the month or on Thursday between 5-8 p.m., admission to JANM museum is free! By going through the exhibits and seeing over 130 years of Japanese American history.
Visit MOCA on Grand Ave
Free on Thursdays from 5-8 p.m., LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s main branch features over a thousand works that date back to 1940.
Who doesn’t like free music? Up and coming artists get every Monday of the month to perform and show off their skills. Be sure to RSVP online to get first priority entrance!
Smell the Roses at the James Irvine Japanese Garden
This Japanese garden is the epitome of Zen. Enjoy a peaceful walk around streams, flowers and trees. It will definitely take your mind off your stress.
Explore The Broad
It’s pronounced like Brode, FYI. Recently opened in September 2015, The Broad is LA’s newest contemporary museum. Admission is always free, but it’s suggested you reserve advance tickets
Envy the Best While Window Shopping
It may be frustrating to walk past a store and not buy anything, but it can also be fun. Just walk around the Hollywood shops and gaze at the mannequins in the window wearing gorgeous clothes. If you’re creative, those clothes can be inspiration for a future project!
Visit the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising
Whether you’re an aspiring fashion designer or you just want to see some famous costumes, FIDM is the perfect place to go. You’ll see a fantastic array of costumes featured in various shows and movies.
Visit the California African American Museum
A free and powerful museum, CAAM features a variety of works that captures what it means to African American. You will learn about the culture and leave having learned an important piece of history.