Free Things to Do with Kids in LA This Month

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Editor’s note: Because events are changing rapidly, make sure to check the websites for the latest information.

December can be pricey with all the holiday gifting and eating out (unless you reference our guide for where kids can eat for free in LA)! Fear not Angelenos, we’ve found a boat load of fun and free things to do in Los Angeles with kids that will keep everyone entertained while keeping some much-needed cash in your pocket.

photo: iStock

Free Activities & Events in Los Angeles

Parks After Dark: Parks After Dark returns for the winter season with free activities at 33 LA County parks where over 40 tons of snow will be available for snow play! Expect a sled hill and snow play area, Santa visit, holiday crafts, filled holiday stocking for every child (while supplies last), hot cocoa station, food giveaway & more! Dec. 3-4 Dec. 10-11, Dec. 17-18. Event details.

Sensory Santa Event: RSVP your spot to chill with Santa Claus at this sensory-sensitive event that provides a calm approach to hanging with the jolly guy. Dec. 5 & 12. Event details.

Holiday Jazz Music on the Lawn: Bring a picnic for the lawn and get festive with live holiday music performed with a jazzy twist! Get into the Christmas spirit with classic holiday tunes from Big Butter Jazz Band and Angel Town Combo. Dec. 11 & Dec.18. Event details.

The Story Pirates Perform at the Wallis: The Story Pirates return to the Wallis for this first in-person family show in nearly two years! The award-winning cast presents some of their Greatest Hits from their podcast and albums, including “All 8 Unicorns” and “The Wizard Who Could Just Go Poof.” The show will feature a song from one of their albums making its live performance debut!" Dec. 12. Event details.

Help Restore Paramount Ranch: The goal of this restoration is to expand important riparian habitat and return native cover to areas that burned in the Woolsey Fire. Work will consist of planting hundreds of live plants grown from locally collected seed to rebuilding creek habitat that has disappeared from the site. This activity is appropriate for ages 5 and up. Pre-registration is highly recommended. Every Fri. & Sat. throughout Dec. Event details.

CicLAvia Is Back!: On Sun., Dec. 5, CicLAvia will open up 5.3-miles of streets in South LA connecting the neighborhoods of South Central, Exposition Park, Leimert Park and Crenshaw. For all ages and abilities, the public is invited to bike, skate, scooter, run, walk, skateboard, hitch a ride on a pedi-cab, spectate and enjoy the route. CicLAvia is a free, open event—show up anywhere along the route at any time, and have fun! Dec. 5. Event details.

PS: For More Biking Fun, Check out the Best LA Bike Rides, Trails and Paths for Biking with Kids

First Free Art Class for kids 5-12 from The Artist Lab LA: The Artist Lab + Education of Los Angeles is an afterschool Program developed from our flagship studio, The Artist Lab in Irvine, to serve the youth of greater Los Angeles communities. Located in the Larchmont area of Los Angeles, check out a free trial class. Various dates in Dec. Event details.

Dreamcatcher Workshop: Michael Williams from the Wichita people will lead two workshops on how to create dreamcatchers using local plants. Michael will also discuss the traditional uses of a dreamcatcher and how to properly use one. Reservations are required for the 15 available spots. The workshop will take place outside on the front porch. Dec. 19. Event details.

December Drop-in Botanical Garden Tour at UCLA La Kretz Garden Pavilion: Join a Garden Educator for a free guided tour of the garden on the first Saturday of the month at 1pm. We’ll hear the stories of a selection of plants in the garden, and their relevance to human society. All ages welcome. Dec. 4. Event details.

Free Holiday Events around LA

Beverly Hills Glowing Reeds Audio & Light Show: Now through Jan. 1, 2022, swing over to the Beverly Hills sign North Santa Monica Blvd. at North Canon Dr. and watch and listen to the public art show. Timed at 6, 7 & 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. is a bonus show at 9 p.m. Throughout Dec. Event details.

L.A. County Holiday Celebration: The Emmy Award-winning “L.A. County Holiday Celebration” returns to celebrate its 62nd anniversary with a free, live in-person holiday spectacular. The annual event will feature over 20 music ensembles, choirs and dance companies from the many neighborhoods and cultures that make up L.A. Internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán and actor Brian White are back to co-host. Returning performers include the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, gospel singers Lorenzo Johnson & Praizum, Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy, klezmer band Mostly Kosher and two-time GRAMMY award-winning Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea. Newcomers include Dembrebrah West African Drum and Dance and cellist and autistic savant Adam Mandela Walden. Tickets to the in-person event are free, although the line usually begins to form around noon. Proof of vaccination for Covid-19 or a negative test within 72 hours will be required for admission. Masks must be worn throughout the performance. Dec. 24. Event details.

Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade: Bundle up and go watch the holiday boat parade in Marina del Rey from 6:00–8:00 p.m. Dec. 11. Event details.

Holiday Light Displays around LA (Some are Free!) & Meet & Greets with Santa in LA (Some are Free!)

Must-See Art Exhibitions in Los Angeles

photo: Kehinde Wiley

Obama Portraits Tour: From the moment of their unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in February 2018, the museum’s official portraits of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama have become iconic. Open daily except Wed. Advanced reservations required. 

5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles
Online: lacma.org/art/exhibition/obama-portraits-tour

Black American Portraits Tour: To complement the presentation of The Obama Portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald on tour from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, this collection spans over two centuries from c. 1800 to the present day, with approximately 150 works draws primarily from LACMA’s permanent collection and highlights emancipation and early studio photography, scenes from the Harlem Renaissance, portraits from the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, and multiculturalism of the 1990s. Open daily except Wed. Advanced reservations required. 

5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles
Online: lacma.org/art/exhibition/black-american-portraits

Fire! Science & Safety: The newest exhibit to open at The California Science Center is all about fire safety and prevention. Set in a “typical” Los Angeles home presented as a training site for young “fire danger detectives.” Guests will find themselves at the Casa del Fuego Apartments, #911, where they can explore an immersive environment and engage in hands-on activities to learn about the science of fire, discover fire hazards and practice fire-safe behaviors. Open daily.

700 Exposition Park Dr.
Los Angeles
Online: californiasciencecenter.org

Richard Avedon Exhibit: Ten photographs on view are from the original exhibition prints created for the 1985 debut of the series, and have not been shown together publicly since. "Avoiding the landscape imagery that had defined the West in earlier photography—and in the popular imagination—he decided to present the region through images of its inhabitants. The result is a key achievement within Avedon’s oeuvre and a defining moment for contemporary portraiture." Now through Dec. 18.

456 North Camden Drive
Beverly Hills
Online: gagosian.com

Women Painters West—A Century of California Women Artists: The exhibition features 100 new, contemporary works by current Women Painters West members inspired by past member artists, as well as showcasing 25 original paintings by past members on loan from Southern California museums and private collections that commemorates the heritage, challenges and accomplishments by members of Women Painters West for the last 100 years. The month of Dec.

1601 West Mountain St.
Glendale
Online: brandlibrary.art

 

Outdoor Activities around LA That Are Always Free

Parks, Splash Pads & Tide Pools

photo: Jenifer Scott

Explore Tide Pools Near Me

From the Malibu tide pools to those down in Laguna Beach, discover starfish, sea urchins, crabs, anemones and more at these awesome, tucked-away tide pools along the coast

RELATED: Water Shoes Perfect for Water Adventures 

Cool Down at a Splash Pad

Nothing beats a hot day like playing in a cool, splashground. Just grab the hats, sunscreen and a towel and your day is made. To find a splash pad nearby, check out our comprehensive list of the best splash pads and spraygrounds near LA—all without spending a dime.

Investigate a New Playground

We've got a running list for the most fun playgrounds around LA—some may even be hiding in your own neighborhood. Check out these gems and never hear "I'm bored" again...almost.

RELATED: Durable Playground Shoes You Can Buy Online

 

Spend the Day at Grand Park

There's always something fun happening here! Home to one of our favorite fountains and splashpads (when it's open for waterplay), playgrounds and outdoor art exhibits makes Grand Park a fun and easy destination for everyone in the family to spend the day.

200 N Grand Ave.
Los Angeles 
Online: grandparkla.org 

Explore a New Neighborhood around LA

LA is about as diverse as you can get and there's no better place to explore all the different museums, street art, playgrounds, (and ice cream shops!) than in a neighborhood near you.

Kid-Friendly Hikes Near LA

Leave Runyon to the tourists. Instead, take your little trekkers to one of these lesser known trails where the views are still Instagrammable, but the crowds won’t overwhelm you. From a hidden 58-acre park in Culver City to a natural preserve in Pasadena, here are our favorite easy-to-moderate hikes the whole family.

Easy Bike Trails for Families

So your two-wheelings tots have maxed out on riding around the block? Fortunately, LA’s beach bike paths—along with a few other car-free paths and trails—are open. Finally, kids can feel the wind in their hair, practice their pedaling and enjoy a change of scenery. If you’re looking to avoid crowds (um, yes please), we recommend visiting these routes during the week or early in the a.m. on weekends. Check out all of LA's best kid-friendly bike paths.

RELATED: The Best Kids Bikes & Tricycles for Every Kid & Stage

Dine at Hidden Picnic Spots

There’s no better time than now to dine outdoors with your family—and any other members of your quarantine pod. Spread out a blanket and enjoy a meal al fresco at these hidden LA picnic spots

Free Museums & Indoor Spaces in LA

photo: Hammer Museum

The Hammer Museum

In addition to offering free admission, this UCLA art museum regularly hosts pop-up art studios for little ones, family-friendly movie screenings and guided tours-plus-games for kids ages 7 and up. A visit to the relatively small yet impressive (and manageable!) museum will expose kids to a range of artwork, from 17th century Rembrandts to the more contemporary work of Kara Walker. Make advance reservations here

10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles
Online: hammer.ucla.edu

The Broad

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. The museum "For Families" guide offers a "scavenger hunt" and fun art-themed activities. For older kids, they can also download and listen to a free audio tour which includes family-friendly information about the art. Reopening as of May 26, all visitors must reserve timed tickets in advance

221 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles
Online: thebroad.org

photo: Courtesy of The Getty Center

The Getty Center

While there are a lot of lovely views in and around Los Angeles, luscious gardens to walk around and loads of places to absorb culture, history, art, architecture, and more, The Getty Center is one of the only spots in the city where you get to experience all of that and then some. (Yes, you'll have to pay for parking, but admission is free.) The fun starts with a tram ride that takes you from the parking lot up to the museum itself. Once you're there, be sure to check out the Family Room for hands-on kids activities. Keep on an eye on their calendar as events open up—throughout the year, The Getty also hosts free family events and festivals that are not to be missed!

Sepulveda Blvd. & Getty Center Dr.
Los Angeles
Online: getty.edu

LACMA

Right in our home town is a world class museum that wants you to bring your kids so much that they created a fabulous program: LACMA NexGen membership where kids get in free along with one adult. It's a pretty amazing deal, especially when you realize that at LACMA, there are art exhibits that appeal to kids like rad modern art sculptures, a giant suspended rock and of course, every kid (and grown-up kids’) favorite, Metropolis II. There is also a painting studio in the Boone Gallery where your inspired little artists can create watercolor masterpieces and listen to story time. Tickets are released in blocks of two weeks and must be reserved in advance. 

5900 Wilshire Blvd.
Miracle Mile
Online: lacma.org

The California Science Center

Where else can you see a space shuttle and a shark tank, not to mention play in one of three kids-only Discovery Rooms, explore rotating science exhibits and watch as baby chicks hatch? And all for free? Rainy days, hot days, vacation days, or just “I’m bored” days, the California Science Center is here for you. And for just a few extra bucks ($6.75 for kids; $8.95 for adults) you can round the day off with a spectacular 3D IMAX show. 

700 Exposition Park Dr.
Los Angeles
Online: californiasciencecenter.org

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Start your Aquarium visit with the sea stars in the simulated “tide pool touch tank” then spend your time winding through the thirty-eight aquaria. Don’t miss out on the favorite aquatic babies exhibit and let the little ones learn a little something at the research station. Be sure to look up and meet the giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

The museum is free for all but they do suggest a donation to help keep this wonderful community resource going. Parking is free and easy on the street or you can pay $1 per hour to park it right out front. The aquarium hosts loads of kid friendly activities and events, including the fabulous spring time grunion runs—a So Cal tradition.

Hours: Wed.—Sun. from noon to 5 p.m.

Check out these other noteworthy Los Angeles aquariums, many of which are also free! 

3720 Stephen M. White Dr.
San Pedro
Online: cabrillomarineaquarium.org

photo: Courtesy of CAAM

California African American Museum

Located in the heart of Exposition Park, California African American Museum (CAAM) is a hub for exploring and learning about the art, history and culture of the African-American diaspora in Los Angeles and beyond. Current exhibitions include Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century and LA Blacksmith, showcasing African American artists who work with metal. Once things return to pre-pandemic life, the museum also offers kid-friendly art workshops inspired by the exhibits.

600 State Dr.
Los Angeles
Online: caamuseum.org

La Brea Tar Pits

Next door to LACMA are the famous La Brea Tar Pits. While the Page Museum at the center will cost you an entrance fee (unless you visit on the first Tues. of the month when admission is free), there is plenty to explore around the tar pits and gardens that surround the museum.

Check out Ice Age plant life in the Pleistocene Garden, roll down the grassy hills and learn all about being a paleontologist with a peek inside Pit 91 and Project 23, which are still actively being excavated. No visit would be complete without snapping a selfie with those perpetually stuck elephants in the bubbling tar pit. Advance timed tickets are required.

5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Miracle Mile
Online: tarpits.org

The Griffith Observatory

Spend a day at the Griffith Observatory, poking through the exhibits, figuring out your weight on Jupiter, looking through the telescopes, having lunch in the cafeteria and gazing out from the terrace, where you can see the whole city below. Free public star parties are held monthly, where kids can meet professional and amateur astronomers. And don’t forget about the Planetarium! There are currently two live shows scheduled every 60-90 minutes daily, for just $3-$7 (it’s the only thing at the Observatory with a fee, and kids under 5 can only attend the first show of the day).

If the kiddos need a break, there are beautiful hiking trails behind the Observatory with breathtaking views of the Hollywood sign.

If you want to avoid the parking lot, which fills up fast on weekends, hike one of our favorite trails, Ferndell. Then when you hike back, reward yourself with coffee and pie.

Hours: Fri., noon-10 p.m.; Sat.—Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

2800 E. Observatory Rd.
Griffith Park
Online: griffithobservatory.org

photo: NHM

A Way to Explore Even More LA Museums for Free

With your LA County Library card, you can reserve family passes to local museums and cultural institutions for free through Discover & Go.

How to Reserve a Pass:

  1. Visit the Discover & Go portal and log in using your library card number and PIN.
  2. Browse by museum or date.
  3. Make a reservation by selecting a date and venue.
  4. Shortly before your visit, print out your pass. Note: You cannot cancel your passes once they have been printed.
  5. Enjoy your visit!

photo: Shahrzad Warkentin

Travel Town

Every mini engineer and trainspotter will have a blast exploring this outdoor transportation museum dedicated to all things trains. You can climb around on real steam locomotives, check out wagons and other antique vehicles in the barn and even go for a ride on a mini train that circles the park for just $3.

Pack some snacks and grab a seat on the lawn where you can wave at the train as it drives past. 

Don't miss their docent-led tours are available by reservation. Check their events calendar for more great activities.

Insider Tip: You can throw birthday parties at Travel Town or hit the gift shop for an awesome gift for a train-themed birthday party or just because. 

5200 Zoo Dr.
Griffith Park
Online: traveltown.org

LA's Central Library

If you have a budding bookworm at home then a visit to your local library is always treat and LA is full of some really special kids collections. Come for the books and stay for the free story time at dozens of Los Angeles Public Library branches, but the coolest by far is the Central Library downtown which houses a massive children’s literature department and hosts story times, puppet shows, and music.

Our other favorite spots are the Santa Monica Main Library and Beverly Hills Library, both of which have awesome collections and kids activities.

Visit their reopening page for a list of libraries and resources now open.

Good to Know: Once things return to pre-pandemic socializing levels, your LA County Library card is also your ticket to more exciting freebies through the Discover & Go program. Login online here and you can reserve free family passes to dozens of museums and attractions across the city, like The Autry Museum and the Natural History Museum.

LAPL
630 W 5th St.
Downtown LA
Online: lapl.org

Santa Monica Library
Online: smpl.org

Beverly Hills Library
Online:  beverlyhills.org/exploring/beverlyhillspubliclibrary

Read & Shop at Children's Book World

Kids can get lost in the stacks at the beloved book store, which regularly hosts readings with top children's authors and performances by popular kiddie musicians. Make an appointment for in-person shopping and make sure to check the upcoming schedule here

10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles
Online: childrensbookworld.com

 

 

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