Even though the holidays are coming, there are still a ton of free things to do in Los Angeles with kids this month
Before the next holiday shows up, we’re sharing our favorite events and hidden gems in LA that are absolutely free—so you can save some cash for those pending holiday gifting sprees. From Day of the Dead celebrations and free jazz concerts at LACMA to the start of the holiday season with light fests kicking off around town, our free things to do list in LA list is by far the most fun one yet.
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What Museums in LA Are Free?
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 Matthew Thomas: Enlightenment and For Race and Country: Buffalo Soldiers in California. Once things return to pre-pandemic life, the museum also offers kid-friendly art workshops inspired by the exhibits.
600 State Dr.
This always-free-to-enter aquarium, located on the Manhattan Beach Pier, is home to over 100 different species of marine life (most of whom call Santa Monica Bay home), has four galleries where kids can explore and learn about sea life as well as animal encounters with moray eels, rays, and octopi—not to mention get hands-on experience with starfish in the touch pools. The Roundhouse also offers summer beach camps and on-site classes for budding marine biologists (or any kid that just loves the water and all the animals that live in the sea).
2 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
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. Tickets are released on the last Wed. of each month at 10 a.m. PT for admission the following month.
221 S. Grand Ave.
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.
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
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 must be reserved in advance.
5900 Wilshire Blvd.
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, if you have a few extra bucks, you can round the day off with a spectacular 3D IMAX show.
700 Exposition Park Dr.
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 SoCal tradition.
Check out these other noteworthy Los Angeles aquariums, many of which are also free!
3720 Stephen M. White Dr.
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.
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.
2800 E. Observatory Rd.
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.
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.
630 W 5th St.
Santa Monica Library
Beverly Hills Library
How to Explore 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:
- Visit the Discover & Go portal and log in using your library card number and PIN.
- Browse by museum or date.
- Make a reservation by selecting a date and venue.
- Shortly before your visit, print out your pass. Note: You cannot cancel your passes once they have been printed.
- Enjoy your visit!
And another way to explore LA Museums for free? Check out these LA Museums & Botanical Gardens with Free Admission Dates!
Outdoor Activities around LA That Are Always Free
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.
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.
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 will enjoy.
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.
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.