Credit: Kambria Fischer

Your Total is $0—18 Places in SoCal for Totally Free Fun This May

Skip Boozy Brunches and Expensive Shopping Excursions, These Free Things to Do Are Just As Fun

Put your wallet away and stop stressing—SoCal is brimming with free activities that everyone from your significant other to your parents will love. Take advantage! Thought-provoking art museums, humbling wildlife preserves and the best people-watching spots in town cover the bases. Here are 18 ways to embrace the SoCal lifestyle without breaking the bank.

 

Noguchi Garden

Free

Tucked between office buildings in the heart of Costa Mesa, Noguchi Garden is a serene oasis of architectural sculptures. The minimalist yet striking designs were commissioned by Artist Isamu Noguchi, who based each work on six California elements: Forest Walk, Land Use, Desert Land, Water Source, Water Use and Energy Fountain. Explore the tranquil garden between 8 a.m. and midnight any day of the week. 

Location: Costa Mesa

 

La Brea Tar Pits

Free weekdays, 3-5 p.m.

Free Activities in SoCal
Credit: Allen Brewer

The world’s only active Ice Age fossil site sits in the middle of bustling Los Angeles. Tar bubbles to the surface and real-time paleontological discoveries are made in our own backyard! If you’re an LA resident, discover where history meets modern science with free admission to the La Brea Tar Pits, Monday through Friday between 3-5 p.m. Note: these complimentary tickets are available on site only.

Location: Los Angeles

 

Getty Center

Free museum admission

Credit: Getty Center

Perched at the top of a hill off the 405 freeway is the iconic Getty Center. The museum was built 25 years ago, but the sleek minimalist architectural design is still trendier than ever. Come for the European art galleries and stay for a stroll through the maze of flowers in the sculpture garden. Just pay for parking; entry to the museum is free.

Location: Los Angeles 

 

LACMA

Free weekdays, 3-5 p.m.  

LACMA, aka the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is easily recognizable by its lamp post display where thousands of Instagram posts have originated. However, there’s so much more to see inside the museum. Walk under the boulder-covered bridge and enter for free from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Visit on the early side and then hit up one of LA’s happy hours! 

Location: Los Angeles

7/23

 

California Science Center

Free

Free Activities in SoCal
Credit: Steve Jurvetson

Dive deep into immersive underwater ecosystems and get lost in the stars with interactive cosmic displays at the California Science Center. The museum’s permanent galleries are free to explore and do not require reservations. Your first stop should be Endeavour, California Science Center’s new must-see space shuttle. When you arrive, allow for three to four hours to tour every exhibit.

Location: Downtown Los Angeles

 

Palos Verdes

Free

What the IRS can’t take away is access to the great outdoors! The Palos Verdes coastline is truly a hidden gem of LA County. Just 30 miles from the city, Palos Verdes is an alluring coast of seaside cliffs and mermaid-like coves. Abalone Cove Ecological Reserve’s two-mile bluff trail stretches across lush bluff tops to tide pools brimming with sea life. 

Location: Palos Verdes 

 

The Salk Institute

Free

Salk
Credit: Adam Bignell / Unsplash

You don’t have to be a scientist to marvel at The Salk Institute. This biological research center relentlessly searches for cures to cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes while embodying the founder’s mission to make dreams a reality. Learn about research projects on docent-led architecture tours and enjoy views of La Jolla’s expansive coast. Tours run weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They are free, but pre-registration is required.  

Location: La Jolla

6/27

 

MOCA

Free Tuesday-Sunday starting at 11 a.m. 

Free Activities in SoCal
Credit: Elon Schoenholz

MOCA Grand Avenue is the only artist-founded museum in Los Angeles. Today’s pop culture is reflected in the arched building design as well as in contemporary works housed inside—or outside, for that matter! MOCA’s Nest, designed by local artist Larry Bell, is a must-see outdoor art installation that plays off geometric designs for an echoing effect. Visit for free Tuesday-Sunday starting at 11 a.m.

Location: ​​Los Angeles 

People-Watch in Venice Beach at Muscle Beach 

Free

Credit: Kevin McCutcheon on Unsplash

Muscle Beach put Venice on the map as the “Home of Bodybuilding.” Fitted with retro pull-up bars, rings and ropes, Muscle Beach was widely known as the place-to-be for upcoming athletes and gymnasts throughout the 1960s. Arnold Schwarzenegger was even known to train here! Retro equipment still fills the outdoor gymnasium where it costs $10 to get a pump in. The people-watching, however, is complimentary!

Location: Venice Beach 

6/21

 

Hike to the Hollywood Sign

Free

Hollywood
Credit: Vincentas Liskauskas / Unsplash

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign is a bucket-list item for any SoCal local. Check it off the list! Routes range from easy to difficult, but be prepared for a little incline no matter which path you choose to follow. The Mt Hollywood Trail and Brush Canyon Trail are great for long leisurely hikes, while the Cahuenga Peak Trail is best fit for the well-conditioned.

Location: Los Angeles 

 

OCMA

Free

Credit: Orange County Museum of Art

The Orange County Museum of Art showcases works from around the globe in rotating exhibits. There is always something new to see! OCMA offers completely free and inclusive experiences for visitors at the Segerstrom Center of the Arts. Make sure to see Daniel Arsham’s display now through June 4, 2023. Arsham works across multiple mediums to uncover ideas through history and time with space-inspired concepts.

Location: Costa Mesa

 

Salvation Mountain

Free

Credit: Randy Laybourne

Salvation Mountain’s vibrant hillside is well worth a desert road trip. Crafted by resident Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain portrays the message, “God Is Love,” with abstract scenes of budding flowers, red pines and cascading striped waterfalls. Knight’s work towers 50 feet high and stretches 150 feet in width. The entire mountain is made of native adobe clay, making Salvation Mountain a truly unique desert phenomenon.

Location: Calipatria

 

Tour the LA Public Library

Free

Free Activities in SoCal
Credit: LA Public Library

If it was your New Year’s resolution to read more, this is your sign to actually do it. Pick up a book during a tour of the LA Public Library. More than books on a shelf, this library is an architectural landmark with vaulted painted ceilings that look like they belong in Europe. One-hour, docent-led tours share the history, art and architecture of this landmark. 

Location: Los Angeles 

 

Camp for Free at Blair Valley Campground

Free

Credit: Anza-Borrego California State Parks Flowers

Blair Valley Campground boasts endless desert views and off-roading adventures. Pitching a tent is free, but trash and water are not serviced (a friendly reminder to leave natural spaces tidier than when you came). The park encompasses two valleys on the western side of Anza Borrego Desert. Hike Pictograph Trail for sweeping valley views, or catch the super bloom in Borrego Springs just 40 minutes out. 

Location: Julian 

 

Stroll through the Venice Canals

Free

Off 25th St in Venice Beach are four quaint, quarter-mile canals that are easily missed if you aren’t looking. Waterfront sidewalks and fairy tale-like bridges make for the perfect Sunday afternoon stroll. Swap historic European brick buildings for charming seaside cottages and springtime shrubbery at the Los Angeles Venice Canals. Park in the Venice Blvd lot and lace up for a hot girl walk or afternoon date.

Location: Venice

 

The Wildlands Conservancy 

Free

The Wildlands Conservancy protects native wildlife throughout California while preserving space for recreational use. Mariposa Reserve is a sycamore savanna that sits in the backside of Irvine’s hills. It’s open for hiking, biking and bird viewing. Santa Margarita River Trail preserve outside of Temecula is one of the last free-flowing wild rivers in Southern California. For a weekend getaway, opt for free camping at Stone House Campground near Yucca Valley.

Locations: Irvine, Temecula, Yucca Valley

 

Watch the Surfers at The Wedge

Free

Free Activities in SoCal
Credit: The Wedge

The Wedge is Newport Beach’s premier surf spot known for waves that reach up to 30 feet! Summer through fall is the peak season for watching pro-surfers cascade down towering waves. Boards are prohibited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May 1 through Oct. 31 for the safety of local beach goers, so opt for sunrise or sunset viewing. Bring a beach blanket and camera to capture the action! 

Local Insight: Check The Wedge cam to see how big waves are before arriving.

Location: Newport Beach 

 

The Ecology Center

Free farm tours 

Credit: Akin Odebunmi

Get down to your roots at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. This certified organic farm focuses on regenerative farming with 28 acres of seasonal crops. Free farm tours are given on the first Saturday of every month at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and volunteers to help with harvesting or community events are always welcomed! 

Location: San Juan Capistrano

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Lover of the beach, food and fitness, Emily enjoys exploring all sunny Southern California has to offer! She has a passion for sharing about her favorite local gems and began writing for Locale in 2022. On the weekends, find her creating recipes for her food blog or out in Laguna!
Website | + posts

​Currently based in San Diego, ​Kambria Fischer is a lifestyle photo​grapher known for her impactful​, authentic​ ​imagery​ of lifestyle brands, food, ​people and travel.​​ ​​She holds a ​BA in Journalism​ and Public Relations​​ from CSULB and has an accomplished professional background in the hospitality and tourism industries. You can find Kambria hiking or playing beach volleyball on the weekends and eating tacos almost any night of the week.
Visit her at www.kambriafischer.com.

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