LA Museums & Botanical Gardens with Free Admission

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LA has some of the best museums and botanical gardens in the world but here’s a little secret that most people don’t know—with a little planning, most of these world-class culture centers are accessible to us for free. Yep, you read that right—free to you and me, not just those under three. Check out the full list below and get ready to plan a year-full of free art, exhibits, exploration and more.

LA Museums with Free Admission (Always)

Travel Town Museum: Open every day except Wed. (and Christmas Day), this always free-to-visit, outdoor train museum is a must for even non-rail fans. Fair warning: It does cost $3-$3.50 to ride the 16″ gauge miniature train (well worth it) so keep that in mind when your trainspotter sees kids chugging along the tracks, enjoying the ride. PS: Here are the best places to take your train-loving kid in LA.

Parking: Free.

FIDM Museum & Galleries: Founded in 1969, this always free museum collects, preserves, and interprets fashion objects and support materials with outstanding design merit. Recently closed due to the pandemic, FIDM is re-opening its doors Mar. 15—No advance tickets or reservations required. Open Tue.-Sun.

Parking: Parking is available for $5 (cash) in the lot located underneath the FIDM building; entrance is on 9th Street just before Grand Ave.

The Wende Museum: An art museum, historical archive of the Cold War, and center for creative community engagement that explores and inspires change, this gem is located in Culver City and is open Fri., Sat. and Sun. 

Parking: Free parking is available in the city lots adjacent to the museum.

Fowler Museum at UCLA: Also known locally as just "The Fowler" this museum explores global arts and cultures with an emphasis on Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Indigenous Americas—from both the past and present. Open Wed.-Sun. 

Parking: Pay-by-Plate parking is available near the museum, one-hour is $3, 1.5 hours is $4, and two hours is $6 with a maximum of $14 for the whole day.

Yayoi Kusama

The Broad Museum of Contemporary Art: Giant teacups, massive balloon animals, Alice in Wonderland-esque splashes of color and the Infinity Room will convince any kiddo that contemporary art is where it’s at. 

Tickets: Advanced online reservations are required. Tickets are released on the last Wed. of each month at 10 a.m. for admission the following month.

Parking: Parking is available under the museum and cost $17 for 3 hours with museum validation, $5 for each additional 15 minutes, with a $27 daily maximum. There is a $17 flat rate after 5 p.m. on weeknights and all day on weekends. Bike parking is free and located on the P1 level. 

California Science Center: Explore over 150 interactive exhibits including Ecosystems–a free permanent gallery featuring live animals, seven immersive exhibits, and a 188,000 gallon kelp tank. There is no room for boredom when you visit this California institution.

Tickets: Advanced, online reservations can be made but come with a $3, per person, service fee. Day of reservations can also be made on-site at the box office with no service fee, but availability and your preferred entry time are not guaranteed for in-person reservations.

Parking: Parking is available in Exposition Park and cost: $15. You can also take the Metro Expo Line to Expo Park/USC Station.

Cayton Children's Museum: Located in Downtown Santa Monica just blocks from the Pacific Ocean, the Cayton Children’s Museum offers 21,000 square feet of discovery-based exhibits and immersive play.

Tickets: LA County residents enjoy pay-as-you -wish admission, donate as much as you would like–or nothing at all, for a day of play. Advance reservations recommended to guarantee your entry time.

Parking: Parking is available in Structures 7 and 8, owned and operated by the City of Santa Monica, which are immediately adjacent to Santa Monica Place. The first 90 minutes are free, with a fee after that. 

The Getty Center: The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world's largest cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts, you can discover art from ancient Greece and Italy, Europe from the Middle Ages to the early 1900s, and global photography from its invention to now. Closed Mon., it is by far one of our favorite places to hang in LA, both inside with artwork or outside in the garden. 

Tickets: Temporarily requires a timed-entry reservation.

Parking: Parking is $20 per car but the good news is, you can get same-day parking at both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa Museum (also free admission) for one fee. To do so, make reservations for both sites on the same date. (Please note that driving between the Center and the Villa usually takes 20–45 minutes, depending on traffic.) At the first site you visit, go to the Museum Information Desk and ask for a coupon for same-day parking at the other site. After staff verify your reservation, you will receive a coupon. Not valid on Mon. & Tue.

Museum of Modern Art (MOCA): Established in 1979, this artist-founded museum in Los Angeles with two distinct venues—MOCA Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA—is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art. Housing one of the most compelling collections of contemporary art in the world, comprising roughly 7000 objects, MOCA is continually showcases ground-breaking, historically-significant exhibitions.

Tickets: Advance ticket reservations are required. Tickets are released every two weeks on Tues. at noon.

Parking: Parking rates vary by location, both locations are accessible via the Metro.

 

LA Museums with Free Admission Days

Skirball Cultural Center: There are so many innovative exhibitions on display throughout the center, the kids; however, will no doubt gravitate toward Noah's Ark, a completely unique and award-winning installment featuring a floor-to-ceiling wooden ark where little dreamers can imagine themselves inside the pages of a storybook. Taking up an 8,000 square foot gallery, this exhibit is filled with art, puppets and whimsical animals encouraging kids to play, climb and build. 

Free Museum Days: Free every Thurs. of the month. Advance ticketing required. 

Parking: During normal business hours, parking is free and open to Skirball visitors only. At this time, visitors must park in the Skirball’s North Parking garage, located underground on the north end of the Skirball's main driveway. 

Kidspace Children's Museum: As one of the crown jewels in the hearts and minds of many little locals, this favorite spot in Pasadena inspires little ones to channel their inner scientist by exploring the Galvin Physics Forest, climb to new heights in the Arroyo Adventure, watch caterpillar chrysalises take shape at the Nature Exchange, and create to their heart's content in the Imagination Workshop. Be still our beating butterfly wings!

Free Museum Days: Admission is free on the first Fri. of every month. Advance reservations are required and are released two weeks prior to the date of visit.

Parking: Free parking is available in Rose Bowl Lot I near the Jackie Robinson Baseball Field and the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. 

Natural History Museum: Antarctic dinosaurs? Rare and priceless gemstones? More mammals on display than you can shake a tail at? Yes please! Kids (and parents for that matter) will beg to visit to the Natural History Museum. From Dinosaur Hall and the hands-on Discovery Center to the African Mammal Dioramas and Nature Gardens outside, this museum is sure to peak your bitty botanists interest and then some. If all this interactive learning has your brood a little hangry, stop by the NHMLA Grill which offers plenty of kid-friendly dishes to please even the pickiest palette.

Free Museum Days: L.A. County residents can visit the museum for free daily from 3-5 p.m. (just bring a utility bill to confirm residency). Closed Tue.

Parking: $15 flat rate in the NHM Car Park, located on Bill Robertson Lane, just south of Exposition Blvd. You can also take the LA Metro Expo Line to visit—the closest stations to NHM are the Expo/USC and Expo/Vermont stations. 

La Brea Tar Pits Museum: Make no bones about it, the La Brea Tar Pits Museum is one of the most unique and exciting places to visit for paleontologists of all ages! There’s so much for elementary excavators to see and explore. Kiddos can check out over one million ice age fossils from 650 different species and they’ll really dig the Fossil Lab where they get to watch real live paleontologists clean, study and prep fossils for exhibit. After your visit, the grounds around the Tar Pits outside are a perfect place to picnic (and maybe even roll down the giant hill once or twice).

Free Museum Days: L.A. County residents are admitted for free from 3–5 p.m. Wed.-Mon. (with proof of residency).

Parking: For $15, you can park in the museum's parking lot, located at the corner of Curson Ave. and 6th St., directly behind the museum. Enter from the western side of Curson Avenue.

The Autry Museum of the American West: Saddle up your lil cowpokes for a free taste of the American West at the Autry Museum on the second Tues. of every month. During your visit, youngins will learn about everything from Native American history and culture to the California gold rush and westward expansion. For the more hands-on buckaroos, they can create their own Western shows with props and costumes, pose for precious photo ops on a pretend horse, take part in themed scavenger hunts and wander through the expansive outdoor garden. Got a hungry pack? Round up your posse for some vittles at the Crossroads West Café where the kids menu will surely satisfy!

Free Museum Days: New Year's Day and keep an eye out for SoCal's Museum Free-for-All Day (hopefully updated soon).

Parking: Parking is always free at 4700 Western Heritage Way, directly in front of the Autry.

Botanical Gardens with Free Admission Days in LA

Huntington Gardens: Free admission on the first Thurs. of each month. Tickets are required and released online, one week in advance. Once you grab your tickets, check out our complete guide to Huntington Gardens

Descanso Gardens: Free admission on the third Tues. of each month and are released, online, the first day of each month (unless it falls on a weekend, then they'll be released that following Mon.). Check out our guide on what to do and see at Descanso Gardens.

LA Aboretum: Free tickets are available for the third Tue. of each month. Limited and timed, tickets must be reserved in advance online and are released on the first of each month unless the first falls on a weekend, in this case, tickets are released on the first Mon. of the month at 9:00 a.m.. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Parking is free. 

South Coast Botanic Garden: The third Tues. of each month is free to all visitors. Tickets are required and can be reserved online.

Exposition Park Rose Garden: Located in Exposition Park, right near the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, anyone can stroll through this garden for free and discover beds of roses and a beautiful central fountain perfect for making wishes. 

Botanical Gardens near LA with Free Admission

Arlington Garden: This drought-tolerant, three-acre garden in Pasadena welcomes visitors (including pets!) daily, at no charge. 

Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden: This pint-sized garden is conveniently located right next to popular Polliwog Park and never charges an admission fee.

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden: This always free-to-enter 33-acres garden in Thousand Oaks has sweeping vistas, fifteen unique, hillside specialty gardens and hiking trails.

—Meghan Rose, Jennifer O’Brien & Andie Huber

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