Los Angeles is a popular travel destination all year round; there are plenty of things to do and the weather’s never too cruddy (air quality be damned). With the ever-growing list of fantastic restaurants and cultural experiences, LA is no longer just a place to see famous people getting into bar fights, either. The fun child-friendly activities make LA great for a centrally-located family vacation too: Disneyland to the south, Knott’s Berry Farm and Malibu to the north, plus plenty to do right here too. But it’s the best cheap or free activities that help stretch our vacation budgets. What to do when your travel budget is smaller than you’d like? Go cheap, but still have fun. Here are my top five cheap and free things to do in Los Angeles, California.
Top 5 Best Free or Cheap Activities in LA, California
The Santa Monica Pier has a fun, old-timey carousel and small amusement park, making it a great spot for families to take their young kids. An all-day wristband for the Pacific Park on the pier is available there or cheaper online, though you can walk around the amusement park without going on any rides (yeah, right!) for free. Under the Santa Monica Pier is a no-frills touch tank style aquarium, run by the nonprofit Heal the Bay. Local marine life are featured here, and donations are appreciated.
The beach is, needless to say, really crowed in the summer right around the pier, but walk a little bit north or south of it, and the crowds thin out quickly. Parking is free on some streets, and there’s a fee (varies, but around 10 bucks) for beach lot parking. Venice Beach is a healthy walk south, and the best for people-watching. The Will Rogers State Beach is just a couple miles north of Santa Monica, and a lot less crowded. Drive north a few more miles, and you’re in Malibu. Goggling at surfers is free, though the beach equipment rentals will cost you a few bucks.
Hollywood Walk of Fame is free to walk around, and plenty of those stores have cheap touristy stuff for sale too. There are over 2,300 stars’ names inlaid along the walk here, and all sorts of characters strolling around for photo ops. (If you pose with one of them, it’s nice to give a tip.) The Walk of Fame is along Hollywood and Vine, itself an iconic intersection. There are fictional stars with stars on the Walk of Fame too; my kids got a kick out of finding The Simpsons’ star.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater is a landmark that tourists like to see; it’s right on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. The large red pagoda, Chinese dragon across the front, makes this an unmistakable spot: The footprints and handprints in front of Grauman’s are a fun place to take photos too. The oldest handprints include Mary Pickford’s in 1927, and more recent ones include Will Smith and Hugh Jackman. Anyone who wants to see a movie while on a Southern California vacation can see one here, though many grouse that ticket prices aren’t so cheap!
Television show tapings often need people to fill up the seats, especially talk shows and game shows. Grauman’s Theater is a good place to get free tickets to TV shows; other places to score free tickets to TV shows are the Glendale Galleria and Universal Studios Hollywood. Where else, besides New York City, can people on vacation have a chance to see some of their favorite TV personalities live at work? If you’re planning a trip to LA and really don’t want to leave this to chance, call Paramount Television Audience Show Guest Relations (323) 956-1777, Audience Associates (323) 467-4697, or Fox Television’s Audience Unlimited (818) 506-0043.
Griffith Park is the biggest city park in the United States. It’s probably most famous for the Griffith Observatory, and admission to the Observatory is free. There’s a fee to get into the planetarium, but this is also pretty cheap. Griffith Park as a whole is over 4,000 acres of trails and parkland, so obviously there’s lots to do. There are hiking paths and bridle trails, picnic areas and canyons. It’s a great place to take kids during a family vacation; the LA Zoo is here, as well as the Autry Center (for cowboy lovin’ kids), pony rides and “Travel Town.” The Greek Theater is also right in Griffith Park – this outdoor theater hosts year-round concerts.
Needless to say, these are just my picks for the top 5 free or cheap things to do in Los Angeles, California. What’s best for one vacationing couple or family may not be the top activity chosen by another. Have your own favorite cheap or free Los Angeles activities? I’d love to hear them – leave your comments below.