The Smarter Travel website recently named Los Angeles the #1 Best Value Destination in the world. That’s true, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story about visiting Los Angeles. One of the reasons Los Angeles area offers so much value for your vacation dollars is that the region is so large, and it has so many different attractions. Value Rental Car is happy to be a little part of why it’s so affordable to visit L.A. But cheap SUV rentals will only get you so far. To make your travel budget last, especially for a family, you need more than just “value” for your money. You need inexpensive, or just plain free things to do.
Luckily, there may be more fun, free things to do in Los Angeles than you’ll find anywhere else. Check out our list of the Top 10 Free activities in Los Angeles to find out more!
It’s hard to pick just one thing that defines what Los Angeles is about, but its beaches are certainly in the running. The movie, music, and TV industries have been based in Los Angeles for many decades, and their depictions of sun and surf has made L.A. synonymous with beachgoing. The Los Angeles area has more than 70 miles of beaches of all kinds. That makes it easy to find the perfect spot for your preferred leisure activities. It’s easy to find the perfect beach for surfing, sunbathing, people watching, or just enjoying the seaside scenery.
Perhaps the best part of Los Angeles beaches is that regular admission is always free. Some beaches even offer free parking. Many Los Angeles beaches have seaside strands full of shops, eateries, and nightspots, so it’s still possible to drop some coin during a day at the beach. However, with the money you save on admission, you can relax and enjoy yourself instead of worrying about money.
Walk of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame isn’t really a place. It’s a trail of plaques embedded in a terrazzo sidewalk that’s dedicated to stars from radio, television, theater, recording, and movies. The Walk runs all along Hollywood Boulevard, and then turns and continues along Vine Street all the way to Sunset Boulevard. There are now over 2500 stars featured on the Walk, so you’re bound to find familiar favorites as you roam around. Looking for favorites can also become a kind of scavenger hunt that keeps things interesting.
There are other free attractions along the way. You can visit the forecourt of the famous Chinese Theatre, and have fun comparing your handprints and footprints to the various movies stars who have been honored with sidewalk markers. You can also amuse yourself by looking at the other tourists and locals. Downtown Hollywood is a vibrant, offbeat place with lots to see and do.
Visitors to Los Angeles are usually surprised when they find out that attending the taping of a television show is usually free. If you’re the type of fan that likes to see stars up close and personal, sitting in the audience for a live show is the best way to enjoy an intimate entertainment experience. Unlike like live music concerts and standup comedy tours, TV show tapings have fairly small audiences with great sightlines.
Some shows are more popular than others, so you have to be flexible if you want to sit in an audience. In some cases, the shows send out buses and production assistants to round up audience members to fill up an underbooked studio. If you want to see a particular show, it’s smart to get reserved tickets well in advance. You’ll have to be prepared for a long afternoon, too. Even taping a one-hour show can take up to six hours to complete.
Venice Beach Boardwalk
Many Los Angeles beaches have a boardwalk, pier, or strand. Santa Monica has a famous pier with amusement park rides on it. Many other beaches have seaside bike and walking paths. Venice Beach has perhaps the most enjoyable and offbeat boardwalk of all. The paved Ocean Front Walk is bordered on one side with long stretches of beach. The land side has tons of shops, restaurants, and other attractions.
Ultimately, it’s the people that make Venice Beach so interesting. The area is home to lots of artistic venues, and the public art on the buildings and other surfaces is wild and interesting. Numerous street performers, bodybuilders, skaters, and just plain freaks contribute to the funky vibe. You can pocket the money you saved on cheap SUV rentals if you park a little ways from the beach for free instead of paid lots right at the water’s edge.
Los Angeles City Hall
City Hall isn’t the average person’s idea of fun. In most cities, city hall is a nondescript building where you pay your water bill. Los Angeles, however, has a beautiful City Hall building that’s worth a visit. The interior of the building is beautifully designed and decorated, and the iconic exterior will be familiar from hundreds of TV shows and movies.
The City Hall is 32 stories high, and for a long time was the tallest building in L.A. There’s a free observation deck on the 27th floor, which offers great views of the city. There’s also an art gallery that contains the city’s art collection.
The weather is usually nice in Los Angeles. That allows for more outdoor music performances than other vacation destinations. Of course you can always pay top dollar to enjoy performances from big artists at venues like the Hollywood Bowl. Smart vacationers can take advantage of cheap or free entertainment if they poke around a little.
Many parks, museums, and other venues have free performances, usually in the summer. Discover Los Angeles keeps a running list of available performances.
Los Angeles has a lot of pavement, and is famous for its car culture. However, it also has lots of rural scenery that’s perfect for hiking and sightseeing. There are well-marked, dog-friendly hiking trails at Griffith Park, with over 4,000 acres of hilly terrain to clamber over. The trails also supply great views of the Hollywood Sign. Runyon Canyon is another great spot for a scenic walk, with a 3-mile trail that takes an hour or two.
While you’re in Griffith Park, you can also enjoy a free peep through the big telescope at the Griffith Observatory, although the lines can be long.
Kayak on the LA River
Not many people know that Los Angeles has a river. Even fewer know that you can kayak on it. You can rent a kayak inexpensively at various places along the river, but access to the river is free. It’s an amazing way to see this little-known side of the Los Angeles landscape. It’s also a refreshing way to spend a hot summer afternoon, away from the bustle and noise of the freeways.
California Science Center
If you’re on a budget, and you have kids along, it can be hard to keep them amused without vacuuming out your wallet. The California Science Center in Exposition Park is a great place to spend the afternoon, and general admission is free. The center has many interactive exhibits that children and adults will love. It also has some amazing science artifacts, including the Endeavor Space Shuttle. There’s also an IMAX theater and special attractions you can see for a fee.
The Broad Museum
The Broad Museum is located in the heart of the Los Angeles Arts District. The building itself is an attraction, with an unusual pierced facade and ultra-modern appearance. It’s a museum for contemporary art, so the exhibits are just as funky as the building. That makes it more fun for young adults who might find traditional art galleries too stuffy for their tastes. Many of the exhibits in the Broad are more art installations than objects, so the museum has an interactive feel. There are many whimsical pieces like Jeff Koons big, blue, Balloon Dog that are fun to take a selfie with, too. Admission is free, although you might have trouble finding parking without resorting to a paid lot.
Photos courtesy of the The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division