The trick to enjoying the L.A. scene is the right mindset, including surrendering to its sprawl and negotiating the complexities of its patchwork of public transportation systems or driving. And of course if you’re a local, the other trick is getting out of work mode and valuing “home turf” enough to cover it like un touriste.
There are 100 great ideas here for L.A. experiences, organized in several categories in an excellent set of article links by Discover Los Angeles. I’m sharing their pieces all at once as one impressive catalog of free… local… experiences! Links abound to the original article segments on their website and to many of the rich individual ideas and offerings listed. Get inspired, and enjoy!
1. Cruise Mulholland Drive: One of the world’s most famous scenic drives, Mulholland winds from the Hollywood Hills, across the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains, and west towards the Pacific Ocean. More details.
2. Check out PCH: Pacific Coast Highway is a sun-drenched road that hugs the coastline and is undoubtedly one of LA’s signature drives. More details.
3. Experience the Sunset Strip: Few other roads have the multiple personalities of this legendary 1.5-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard. See what’s happening on the Sunset Strip.
4. Step into Hollywood history: The forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre has been one of the most popular free attractions since the 1920s, when actress Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement during the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings. Movie fans from around the world compare their hands and feet to those of stars past and present.
5. Get photographed with a star: Speaking of movie stars (and other pop culture leading lights), at Madame Tussauds Hollywood you never know which famous wax figure will be on display near the box office entrance off Hollywood Blvd., a free photo opp waiting to happen. For example, in the fall of 2011, the attraction featured Robert Pattinson for a limited time, to the delight of Twilight fans everywhere.
6. Walk the walk in Venice: Chainsaw jugglers, swamis on rollerblades, street dancers…the most amazing street entertainers in the world are in Venice Beach. Get the local’s perspective on Venice.
7. Window shop Rodeo Drive: Treasure hunt and star gaze along famed Rodeo Drive in tony Beverly Hills, home of the rich and super rich. See other shopping neighborhoods in LA.
8. Watch TV live: Be a part of a studio audience on your favorite television shows and game shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Tickets are free but must be obtained in advance. Get on a game show.
9. Treepeople: This LA-based nonprofit organization has helped spearhead the ecotourism industry by offering numerous opportunities for visitors to volunteer. For more than 30 years, Treepeople has helped plant and care for trees while educating people about the environment.
10. Take a Walking Tour of Downtown: With so many free cultural attractions, Downtown LA has become one of the city’s best places to see the sights for free. Take the tour.
11. Follow the paparazzi: Witnessing the paparazzi portion of the star-making cycle is an authentic LA experience, and totally free. Check out the top places to celeb watch.
12. Star gaze at Griffith Observatory: To learn about stars that are truly out of this world, the exhibitions and displays in the painstakingly renovated Griffith Park landmark are all free, as is an introductory video about the building and its contents.
13. See the reality behind reality TV: Whether it’s watching the American Idol finale live, or dropping into a Top Chef restaurant, reality TV fans have plenty of places to see throughout Los Angeles. Learn more about reality TV sightseeing.
14. Explore LA’s Fashion District: The people-watching alone makes the Fashion District one of LA’s premier shopping destinations and an experience all its own. Read more about the LA Fashion District.
15. Dance, dance, dance: You don’t always have to pay a cover charge to get your groove on in the LA dance scene. Great clubs without covers can be found in most neighborhoods, you just need to know where to look. Check out the hottest nightlife in LA.
16. Explore Exposition Park: Five major cultural attractions are within walking distance of each other in the USC/Exposition Park area, so be sure to take advantage with our walking tour.
17. Explore LA’s architecture: Los Angeles is full of architectural treasures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as more recent additions. Get more info about LA’s cutting-edge architecture.
18. Enjoy LA’s murals: These city treasures tell stories of the cultural past, present and future, of the hopes and dreams of the City of Angels. Visitors can find many of LA’s murals in Metro Stations, or visit the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles for complete information.
19. El Pueblo Historical Monument: Learn about LA’s birthplace at the site of its original settlement in 1781.
20. Olvera Street: Visitors shop, listen to mariachi music, watch folklore dances and dine at several authentic Mexican restaurants. Tour the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing house in LA. Other restored historic buildings include the Old Plaza Church and the Old Plaza Firehouse.
21. Leimert Park Village: Located in the heart of the Crenshaw district, Leimert Park Village lures tourists with the distinct African American culture of its shops, art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and jazz clubs. Read more about Leimert Park.
22. Downtown LA Art Walk: Check out the latest and hippest at the Downtown LA Art Walk, which occurs the second Thursday of the month. Get the scoop on the top galleries.
23. Abbot Kinney First Fridays: Support locally owned businesses in Venice by stopping by what is becoming one of LA’s top art walks. Read more about the art walk.
24. Chung King Road Art Walk: Discover the modern side of Chinatown by checking out the art walk at Chung King Road. The scene is surprisingly hip and young. See what galleries to visit.
25. San Pedro Art Walk: San Pedro’s 1st Thursday Art Walk has flown under the radar since its conception in 1996, but in the last few years, both locals and cruise-ship tourists from the nearby Port of Los Angeles have flocked to the area to experience San Pedro’s tight-knit artists’ community, impromptu street performances and conversation-worthy art — all classic ingredients for a great art walk. Get more information.
26. Little Ethiopia: Discover the refreshingly authentic scene in Little Ethiopia, where you can smell tumeric and paprika and hear colorful African pop blaring from store radios. Read more.
27. Little Tokyo: Lovers of all things Japanese will have to make Little Tokyo a stop. Take a self-guided tour of the National Historic Landmark District’s cultural sights. Get more info.
28. Chinatown: For many, the best way to approach Chinatown is as an urban adventure — not into China, but into a distinct culture both Chinese and American. As the first established Chinatown in America, the area quivers with cultural history, woven into a now-modern and bustling community. Check out the guide.
29. NoHo: The NoHo (for North Hollywood) Arts District is a square-mile area that is quickly turning into one of LA’s artsier communities with several galleries, public art, live theaters, boutiques, vintage clothing stores, ethnic restaurants and outdoor cafes. Check out the must-sees.
30. Watts Towers: Watts Towers represent 33 years of work by an Italian immigrant construction worker who made the project his life. Similar in many ways to the style of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the 17 interconnected structures represent a striking example of the American Naive art movement.
31. Get close to the sign: Feeling uninspired? Try changing your perspective on a familiar sight. While the Hollywood sign’s grounds are barred from public access, you can walk or drive near it to get great angles for photos. From Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, go north on Beachwood Drive; turn left at Ledgewood Drive and twist and wind uphill. Then go right at the three-way intersection onto Deronda Drive.
32. Tour the Los Angeles Central Public Library: The Los Angeles Central Public Library reflects the Egyptian-style architecture mania that swept the country in the 1920s post-King Tut discovery.
33. Discover fossil fun: At La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, the site of the richest discovery of Ice Age fossils in the world, more than 100 tons of fossilized bones representing nearly 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have been unearthed from pools of sticky asphalt dating back to prehistoric time.
34. Stroll the historic Farmers Market: The LA Farmers Market opened at the corner of Third and Fairfax in 1934 and retains much of its original flavor — the freshest produce, made-to-order peanut butter, gourmet meats and cheeses, corned beef and hot donuts — while adding a few modern touches (Brazilian barbecue, Cajun chicken, sushi).
35. Hollywood Walk of Fame: Since the 1960s, more than 2,300 terrazzo and brass stars have been unveiled on Hollywood’s major sidewalks.
36. Korean Bell of Friendship: Intricate reliefs represent spirits and goddesses of liberty, victory and peace, while architectural details impart the colorful nature of Korean culture. Best visited on a clear, sunny day for a picnic and a stroll, the area features pristine views complemented by the yachts and charter boats of the harbor below.
37. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels: This is one of LA’s most innovative buildings, and although it’s the third-largest cathedral in the country, it’s able to inspire visitors with its warm, inviting interior perfect for introspection. Read more about the cathedral.
38. Self-guided tour of Walt Disney Concert Hall: Take a brief tour of the concert hall’s highlights, complete with architectural facts and historical trivia to look for when you visit.
39. Venice canals: Winding through quaint little (and very expensive) houses, the canals feature arched bridges, the occasional gondolier and LA’s beautiful weather, all of which contribute to the serenity of the canals. All in all, it’s a great place to cruise along on a bike. Start between Washington Avenue and Venice Boulevard.
40. Visit Hollywood Forever Cemetery: At the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, fans still gather every August 23 to pay homage to Rudolph Valentino. Cecil B. DeMille and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. also rest here. Plus, catch free movies here during the summers.
41. Step back in time 100 years: The Victorian era had its influence on local architecture, as evidenced by the homes in the 1300 block of Carroll Avenue in Angeleno Heights.
42. Bradbury Building: The one-of-a-kind interior features a five-story atrium finished with glazed bricks and wrought-iron grillwork (including the cage elevator that will be familiar from the many movies filmed here).
43. Watch the ceremonies on Hollywood Boulevard: The best way to see your favorite celebrities up close and personal is to check out the bimonthly handprint ceremonies on Hollywood Boulevard. Visit the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for more info.
44. Keeping up appearances: Sephora’s stores offer Express Service, a free, quick makeover. It’s a nice stop while you’re experiencing some of LA’s quintessential shopping malls, such as Glendale Galleria, the Beverly Center and Hollywood & Highland Center.
45. Neat market: The network of free farmers markets throughout Los Angeles has helped bring fresh-from-the-field produce to urban neighborhoods. Some of the most popular are open on Sundays, including the famous original Los Angeles Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax. Other great markets include the Hollywood Farmers Market (Ivar and Selma Avenue), Hermosa Beach Farmers Market (900 Valley Drive), Studio City Farmers Market (Ventura Place and Laurel Canyon Boulevard) and the Santa Monica Farmers Market (2640 Main Street).
46. Start “stairing”: The hills of Los Angeles inspired early housing developers to connect streets via sets of stairs, which often led to now-defunct trolley car stops. An online search with keywords “Silver Lake Stairs” connects you to several online communities that share tips and locations of favorite climbs.
47. Get fit with Fido: The city of Los Angeles operates nine dog parks where your canine friends can roam off leash. These fenced areas within parks offer a variety of facilities for humans and animals. Get more information about LA dog parks, or learn more about pet-friendly LA.
48. Ramp it up: The city also operates seven skate parks that offer a haven for skateboarders seeking challenging terrain. Check out the best skate parks in LA.
49. Build your beach body: Venice Beach is world famous for its funky folks, but it’s at least as well known for Muscle Beach, home to amateur and professional body builders alike.
51. Learn to swim: At select facilities, the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks offers Operation Splash, free summer swimming lessons sponsored by Kaiser Permanente. www.laparks.org
52. Get self centered: Sahaja Yoga Meditation Center in Sherman Oaks offers free weekly meditation classes in English, Spanish or Farsi. The free 90-minute workshops and guided meditations are scheduled three nights a week and once on Saturdays. For a schedule, check out http://sahajayogala.org/FreeClasses.htm
53. Banning Residence Museum: The 1864 Greek Revival residence, the Banning Residence Museum, is the former home of General Phineas Banning, the “father” of the Los Angeles Harbor.
54. California African American Museum: The California African American Museum’s exhibitions enhance public knowledge of African-American contributions to society.
55. California Science Center: Through hands-on experiences in the galleries at the California Science Center, you’ll learn about human inventions and innovations, the processes of living things and more. Also features a seven-story IMAX theater.
56. Fowler Museum at UCLA: Exhibitions from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas, past and present, lend a unique and intriguing atmosphere to Fowler Museum events.
57. Getty Center: Overlooking the California coastline and the L.A. skyline, the Getty Center surrounds guests with breathtaking views and a world-class art collection including European paintings, contemporary photographs and decorative arts.
58. Getty Villa: An educational center and museum in Malibu dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria.
59. Hollywood Bowl Museum: New exhibit of the renovation of the Hollywood Bowl bandshell and great moments in classical music, jazz, and rock & roll.
60. Homestead Museum: Historic site featuring two homes dating from the 1840s and 1920s and a private cemetery.
61. Los Angeles Maritime Museum: Located in San Pedro, inside the former Municipal Ferry Terminal building, this museum is dedicated to celebrating the maritime history of coastal California.
62. The Paley Center for Media: More than just a museum, the Paley Center is an institution dedicated to educating the public and exploring the intersection between media and society. It leads discussions about television, radio and emerging platforms and the cultural, creative and social significance of these expressions.
63. Santa Monica Museum of Art: The Santa Monica Museum of Art organizes dynamic exhibitions of contemporary art in all mediums and across disciplines, complemented by outstanding educational programs for people of all ages.
64. Travel Town Museum: Dedicated to the preservation and celebration of railroading in the western United States, featuring displays of historic steam locomotives, passenger cars and trolleys.
65. FIDM: The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising’s collection of more than 10,000 costumes, accessories and textiles from the 18th century through the present day includes film and theater costumes.
66. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust: LAMH dedicates itself as a primary-source institution, one that commemorates those who perished and those who survived the Holocaust by housing the precious artifacts that miraculously weathered the war, the ghettos, and ultimately, the death camps.
Find out what days are free and discover some of LA’s best museums at no cost.
67. Autry National Center: The center’s galleries explore broad themes relating to the history and diverse cultures of the American West.
68. Craft & Folk Art Museum: Primarily focused on folklore and folk art, the museum features exhibits that cover artistic expression from around the globe, showcasing a wide variety of cultures.
69. Hammer Museum: Collections include works by Monet, van Gogh, Rembrandt and Sargent. Also featuring lectures, symposia, film series, readings and musical performances.
70. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: An oasis of art and culture on 207 acres. Explore breathtaking gardens, new Children’s Garden, Tropical Conservatory, Chinese Garden, four art galleries and a library showcasing collections of rare books.
71. Japanese American National Museum: Internationally recognized for its commitment to exploring the meaning of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by presenting and sharing the experience of Japanese Americans with exhibitions, public programs, award-winning museum store, and resource center.
72. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA): With more than 120,000 works in its permanent collection, LACMA is the premier visual art museum in the western United States. With the recent addition of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, LACMA becomes the first encyclopedic museum with a dedicated facility for contemporary art, which is uniquely appropriate to Los Angeles.
73. Mak Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House: One of LA’s most significant cultural venues, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture is located in the historic Schindler House and features rotating art exhibitions about cultural issues, experimentation and invention.
74. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA): Downtown’s premier art museum features one of the best permanent collections in the country, with works by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko and more.
75. MOCA Geffen: With cutting-edge exhibitions, hands-on education programs and popular evening events, this is your source for inspiration and a must-see for contemporary art enthusiasts.
76. Museum of Latin American Art: With a focus on rotating exhibitions, the museum highlights significant contributions to the field of contemporary Latin American art. Meanwhile, its permanent collection anchors the museum with works from Wilfredo Lam and Alejandro Colunga, among others.
77. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: The museum, recognizable by its 1913 original fitted marble walls and rotunda, holds the title of being the third-largest museum of its type in the U.S., boasting more than 3.5 million specimens and counting.
78. Norton Simon Museum of Art: Permanent collection features European art from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century, including works by Raphael, Botticelli, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau, Goya, Monet, Renoir, Degas and van Gogh, and sculpture from India and Southeast Asia.
79. Skirball Cultural Center: At the Skirball, enjoy museum exhibitions — including the ever-popular Noah’s Ark at the Skirball — family programs, performing arts, world music, film, lectures, classes, dining, shopping and more.
80. Sunbathe at the beach: Take your pick, whether it’s to show off your tan or to relax in solitude.
81. Wander around Griffith Park: With over 4,210 acres of both natural chaparral-covered terrain and landscaped parkland and picnic areas, Griffith Park is the largest municipal park with urban wilderness area in the country, and provides a mix of free activities for the whole family. Picnic on one of the broad lawns or hike one of the park’s many free trails.
82. Discover LA’s wilderness: Los Angeles possesses a wealth of natural wilderness, which attracts avid hikers and bikers to such sites as Topanga State Park, Griffith Park and the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles. Find the best hiking trails.
83. Go surfing: Whether you’re getting on a board for the first time or you’re a seasoned rider searching for LA’s best breaks, there’s something for everyone. Find the best waves.
84. Birdwatching at Audubon Center at Debs Park: The new Audubon Center at Debs Park is the first LEED Platinum-certified building, which alone might be reason enough for a visit, but the true gem is getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnecting with nature.
85. Hike the Urban Trail: At any given time of day or night, the renovated walking path around the Silver Lake Reservoir is filled with joggers, walkers, strollers and dogs on leashes. With a crushed granite surface, the flat, two-mile path has become an outdoor gym for residents of the artsy neighborhood.
86. Relax on LA’s own “Riviera”: The Marina del Rey harbor offers spectacular views and many outdoor activities, including jogging, roller-skating, bicycling or just relaxing in the park.
87. Palisades Park: Palisades Park features some of the city’s most magnificent sunsets and views of the ocean. It’s one of the city’s oldest parks, and also one of the most beautiful. A jogging and biking path runs along steep cliffs overlooking the ocean, while palm trees are scattered throughout, adding to the peaceful landscape.
88. Stop and smell the roses: On UCLA’s campus you can enjoy three beautiful gardens for the price of nothing. Check out the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens, the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden and the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, as well as Exposition Park’s Rose Garden near USC.
89. Point Fermin Park and Lighthouse: Perched above the Pacific Ocean, Point Fermin is often overlooked by visitors. But the 37-acre park and its coin-operated telescopes offer some of the best views along the coast, while the 1874 lighthouse makes for picture-perfect photo-ops. Picnic, go for a jog or just sit and lose yourself.
90. Free archery lessons in Pasadena: Bet you didn’t think of this one. Pasadena Roving Archers offers free lessons every Saturday. Visit www.rovingarchers.com for more information.
91. Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve: Located in Van Nuys, the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve debunks the myth that LA is a concrete jungle. In the reserve, it’s difficult to tell that you’re in the city at all. Groves of trees fill out the landscape, while a variety of wildlife — waterfowl, ducks, herons and more — go about their day.
92. Farm-fresh summer music at Farmers Market: It’s all about jazz and wholesome family fun at this annual summer music series. Combine great food from LA’s original farmers market with groups hailing from traditions such as Latin jazz, country swing, funk jazz and more. Thursdays and Fridays through September.
93. Grand Performances Summer Festival: At lunchtime, hundreds of Angelenos put down their work and take a cultural break with a bit of fresh air. Grand Performances presents 40-plus free performing arts events — music, dance and theater — as multicultural as their audience, giving local talent a chance to shine. Mid-June through mid-October.
94. Ford Amphitheatre Summer Season: Imagine watching dance, comedy, film and music performances in the midst of California weather, cypresses and chaparral, courtesy of The Los Angeles County Arts Commission. June to mid-October.
95. Pershing Square Summer Concert Series: In the high-rise heart of Downtown is a palm tree oasis known as Pershing Square, where the summertime brings neighbors, tourists and professionals together for lunchtime concerts, films on Fridays, kids events and sizzling Salsa Sundays. June through late September.
96. Live at Hollywood & Highland: This summer series gives you a chance to hobnob with the coolest cats of jazz while sampling the gifts of Bacchus and helping to end world hunger, all at the same time. Although it is a free event, wine tasting donations benefit Project Angel Food. June through late August on Tuesdays.
97. Twilight Dance and Music at the Santa Monica Pier: Hawaii, Jamaica, Britain, Argentina, Africa…these are just a handful of the exotic locations represented by the Twilight Dance and Music concert series this summer. Late June through late August.
98. Summer Sunset Music Festival in Culver City: The sun’s not the only thing that’s going down in Culver City during the summer. When the day ends, the music begins, bringing you an eclectic array of musical offerings including classic rock, bluegrass and even zydeco. Mid-July through early September.
99. Also I Like to Rock at the Hammer Museum: Indie 103.1 hand picks local upcoming bands to perform at the Hammer’s outdoor courtyard. In the past, bands such as Sea Wolf and Tokyo Police Club have played to a packed crowd. 2009 dates haven’t been posted yet, but check their site for updates.
100. Saturdays Off the 405 at the Getty Center: “Saturdays Off the 405” (formerly “Fridays Off the 405”) takes over the museum’s courtyard, which boasts incredible nighttime views of the city. Grab a drink at the cash bar and then check out the musical guests, curated by Flavorpill magazine. May to September.