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Things To Do

75 Fun & Free Things to Do in L.A. Every Angeleno Should Try in 2016

January 20, 2016 by Brian Champlin

Readers of this blog are probably quite familiar with the annual “fun and free things to do in L.A.” lists I’ve put together over the last couple years.

Well, I’m back at it again for the start of 2016 with what I postulate would be one heck of a bucket list of free to-dos for the year ahead (assuming you choose to accept the mission!).

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Along with a sampling of some of our perennial favorites, we tried to focus the 2016 list on some of the best and most engaging free annual events we wrote about last year, hopefully giving you enough advance notice to build some of them into your 2016 calendar.

As always, this rundown is a testament to the fact that while we are aware not everyone has an unlimited budget to explore Los Angeles, that should never stop you from experiencing the best of what our city has to offer.

Just remember, always be sure to research events/locations for yourself before trekking out so you can be aware of parking costs, best times to go, public transit, or any other visitor considerations.

That said, hope you enjoy!

Looking at Los Angeles

Looking at Los Angeles from Griffith Observatory. Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

1. L.A.’s Free Museum Day(s)

One of the biggest free days of the year is the last Saturday in January, when over two dozen southland museums will offering free admission as part of the SoCal Museum Free-For-All Day.

In addition to the free-for-all day, there are literally dozens of free museums and free museum days for you to explore when you’re in Los Angeles (check the link for the master list). From the Getty Center to LACMA to the Huntington Gardens to MOCA or the Norton Simon. If you can’t find at least one that suits your tastes, you aren’t even trying!

2. Head to DTLA for a Night on Broadway

On a very special evening this January 30 the streets of downtown Los Angeles will come alive as artists, acrobats, musicians, comedians, and other special performers will be on hand to fill the historic Broadway corridor with art, entertainment, and music for Night on Broadwayan event that is 100% free and open to the public!

3. Cruise the Downtown Art Walk

Miss Night on Broadway? No worries. Every second Thursday of the month see downtown Los Angeles come alive in a vibrant blend of art, community, culture and food known as the DTLA Art Walk.

4. Admire The Chandelier Tree

A neighborhood gem in the heart of Silver Lake. Drive by during evening hours to see this incredible tree light up the night.

via Colin Kennedy / Vimeo

5. Hike to the Hollywood Sign

You can get there via Bronson Canyon like we did, or take one of several other routes. However you arrive, trekking up to above the sign is something every Angeleno should do at least once. If the sign doesn’t interest you, we’ve also documented 9 other great hikes around L.A. with NO trail fees and NO parking costs. Enjoy!

6. Taking a Free Trip to Catalina on Your Birthday

Did you know by registering online you can get a free trip on the Catalina Express on your birthday? And that’s just one of many cool birthday freebies you can enjoy in Los Angeles. :)

7. Spend a Sleepless Night at the Music Center

On Friday, February 5, 2016 come to the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as the after-hours party series Sleepless returns for its third installment promising an extravaganza of sonic wonders that’ll delight guests until the wee hours of the morning (well, 3:00am at least).

8. View DTLA from the Observation Deck at City Hall

Get an incredible free view of downtown Los Angeles by going up to the observation deck  on the 27th floor of City Hall. If you love the view from the observation deck, you should also check out 10 other FREE spots with breathtaking views in Los Angeles.

9. Walk The Streets of L.A. at a CicLAvia

CicLAvia represents an open-streets initiative to connect angelenos with the neighborhoods they work, live and play in. A couple times a year the organizers of CicLAvia work with these neighborhoods to coordinate a day when a stretch of roadway normally dominated by cars is closed off from auto traffic, thereby opening it up cyclists and pedestrians. The result is tens of thousands of local citizens experiencing Los Angeles like never before. The next CicLAvia event is scheduled to come to The Valley on March 6.

10. Hang out for Game Night at Grand Central Market

Even if you don’t partake in the food at Grand Central Market  (and you should!), just wandering around and admiring the vibrancy and variety will be an enjoyable experience. But if you really need an excuse to head over, check out their game night (every Thursday) where you can not only grab great food at the nearby vendors but also partake in ping-pong, cornhole toss, Jenga, Uno, Cards Against Humanity, Scrabble, and more.

11. Experience Free Events at The Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory is incredible enough to visit on its own merit, but there are a few monthly events on their calendar I think you could experience specifically (and they’re all free!).

Here are links with descriptions for each:

Monthly sunset walks

Monthly star parties

Monthly All Space Considered panel discussions

Griffith Observatory at Night

View from the Observatory at night. Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

12. Listen to a Grand Performance in DTLA

A curated collection of seasonal musical performances in downtown Los Angeles. And totally free!

13. Observe Santa Monica through the Camera Obsculra

A dark room inside a senior center in the heart of Santa Monica offers an artistic projection of the world that surrounds. If you’re in the neighborhood, definitely be sure to stop by the Camera Obscura.

14. Barnsdall Park Free Art Workshop

Every Sunday kids and families can enjoy free 2-hour arts and education workshops courtesy the folks over at Barnsdall Park.

15. Enjoy the Grounds at Greystone Mansion

The park and exterior garden of the Greystone Mansion is one of the most gorgeous and peaceful spots in the entire city (and on a side note, a pretty incredible wedding/event location too).

Luscious scenery at the greystone mansion in #beverlyhills #losangeles

A post shared by We Like L.A. (@welikela) on

16. Catch a Screening at Channel 101 at the Downtown Independent

Free monthly screenings at the Downtown Independent of short “pilots” that live or die based on audience approval. First screening of the year is scheduled for February 27!

17. Meditate for a Day at the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens

When you’re seeking a little peace and serenity in your life, take a walk inside the Peace Awareness Labyrinth, a hidden gem tucked away in the heart of the middle of Los Angeles.

18. Enjoy the Free Levitt Pavilion Concert Series

A family friendly concert series featuring both award (Grammy) winning and emerging artists, mixing a variety of genres from Latin to Jazz to Americana, and more. Both local Levitt Pavilion Concert programs (at McArthur Park and in Old Town Pasadena) will feature 50 separate concert dates starting in June and ending in September.

19. Hike to The Wisdom Tree

One special tree at the summit of Burbank Peak survived a devastating 2007 wildfire up in the hills and today some hikers visit the spot to leave diary-style notes in ammo boxes that reside below the tree while others just meditate for awhile or simply enjoy the amazing view. Just please (please!) don’t climb on the tree or leave any trash behind. Respect the space for others!

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Dog tired after an Easter hike to the the #wisdomtree above #losangeles #mydayinla

A post shared by We Like L.A. (@welikela) on

20. Watch Whales Along the Palos Verdes Peninsula

The Point Vicente Interpretive Center (located adjacent to the Pt. Vicente Lighthouse) is one of the premier whale watching spots in the entire city, with spectacular views of the cliffs and surrounding coves as well.

 21. Spend an Evening at The Silver Lake Picture Show

The Silver Lake Picture Show series closes off Sunset Triangle Square to screen outdoor movies every other Thursday during the summer. Screenings are preceded by performances by live bands and short films produced by local filmmakers. Here’s a link to the 2015 schedule so you can get an idea of what they screen. Keep an eye on the official website for when the 2016 lineup will be released.

22. Enjoy a Free Ranger-Led Hike at Griffith Park

Want the perfect guide to lead you on hikes throughout varying parts of Griffith Park? What better person to follow than a park ranger for the city of Los Angeles? Ranger Ernie Ybarra has been shepherding free guided hikes of various Griffith Park trails for years.

23. Watch the Planes of LAX at Clutter’s Park

The best place to watch plans take off the runway from LAX.

24. Climb the Steepest Street in Los Angeles

With an incredible grade of 33%, Eldred St. in Highland Park is L.A.’s steepest drivable street (so steep it even needs special garbage trucks just to handle picking up the trash). Hike to the top of a unique view of the city!

25. Relax at the Blue Ribbon Garden at The Disney Concert Hall

Did you know there is a hidden rooftop garden at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles? The garden is surrounded by the curves and and exterior of the hall and decked out with lush landscape centered around an intricate mosaic blue rose fountain dedicated to the late Lillian Disney (Walt Disney’s wife).

26. Hang Out at a (Free) First Friday

Whether it’s going to an art walk, sampling delicious food trucks or checking out a free night at a museum, first Friday events (including in Venice Beach and Bixby Knolls in Long Beach) are a great way to connect to your local community and get out to do a little exploring.

27. Explore the Old L.A. Zoo

Check out the ruins of the zoo before the zoo right in the middle of Griffith Park. For more info, Tom Explores Los Angeles does a great piece on this place (we embedded below).

via Tom Explores Los Angeles / YouTube

28. Enjoy the Art at the Regen Projects

A massive gallery on Santa Monica Blvd. that features an amazing stable of artists on exhibit. Get more info about Regen via their Yelp page.

29. See an Old Western Set at Paramount Ranch

This national park tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains near Agoura Hills offers a variety of scenic hiking trails and an old Western set you may have spotted in various Western flicks and television shows. Plenty of parking, and it’s free!

30. Enjoy Free Shakespeare in the Park (or By The Sea)

If theater is your thing, every summer there are free performances of Shakespeare by the Sea and Shakespeare at the Park that make for a perfect evening of picnicking and culture. Schedules for summer 2016 have not been released yet, but keep an eye on the official websites for announcement dates.

31. Learn Something New at the Jet Propulsion Labratory

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (or JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in La Cañada Flintridge, just northwest of Pasadena.

JPL does an open house once a year in October with free admission to the public. The open house includes an insider’s view in their machine shop, the microdevices lab, lifesize 3-D models, and more! JPL also hosts a lecture series that takes place twice a month on consecutive days with industry experts discussing relevant topics to the space and technology field. The lecture series is also free!

FYI: 2016’s open house dates are TBD, but expect it to be one of the first weekends of October.

32. Roam with Rover at Rosie’s Dog Beach

There is only one legal, off-leash dog beach in all of L.A. County and this is it! Even if you don’t have a fido of your own, it’s still kind of fun to check out Rosies to see all the pups at play. Parking along Ocean Blvd. is free, but competitive, so make sure to bring some quarters for a metered lot as a backup.

Rosie's Dog Beach

Rosie’s Dog Beach. Credit: Justin Rudd

33. Bathe in the Moonlight While Watching Classic Films

Watch some of the best films of all-time right on the beach while bathing in the sweet summer moonlight at the Moonlight Movies on The Beach film series. Event runs from June-August down in Belmont Shores. Here’s the complete 2015 schedule (so you can see more info on the types of movies they play) and here’s the official Alfredo’s Beach Club website, where they’ll announce the 2016 lineup once it becomes available.

34. Receive a Free Docent-Led Tour of the L.A. Public Library

Explore the architecture of the Bertram Goodhue Building and learn about the history of Los Angeles through the lens of the Central Library in downtown.

Docent tours are free and meet in front of the Library Store in the main lobby. Tours run about 1 hour long. Walk-ins are welcome (no reservation required) for groups of 6 of less.

Tour times are as follows:

Monday – Friday:  12:30 pm
Saturday:  11:00 am & 2:00 pm PLUS a 12:30 pm – Art-in-the-Garden Tour
Sunday: 2:00 pm

35. Appreciate the Works at the Gagosian Gallery

Rubins, Warhol, DuChamp, Twombly… these are just a few of the names whose art has been exhibited at the Gagosian. It’s a top shelf gallery, located in the heart of Beverly Hills. And FYI, somebody on Yelp even mentioned something about free wine from time to time…

36. Hangout at the Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore is the largest (so they say) independent used bookstore in the state of California, and most definitely one of our 12 best bookstores in Los Angeles. Located in downtown’s historic core, it’s worth the trip just to see the amazing labyrinth of used books!

37. Check Out The Bradbury Building

One of the most unique architectural interiors in the entire city. As a visitor you can only go up to the second floor, but even that is a pretty impressive display.

Bradbury Building Interior

Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

38. Explore Our Transit System through Metro Art Tours

Did you know that Metro offers free, regularly scheduled docent led group tours of the artwork in the Metro Rail system?

39. Receive Free Archery Training

Woodley Park Archers offers free introductory archery instruction to the community, designed specifically for the beginner / novice who has no previous experience handling a bow. Classes are held every Saturday from 9am to 11am and on Wednesdays from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. There is absolutely no cost to join, and all equipment is provided.

Oh, and if you’re closer to the Pasadena area I suggest checking out the Pasadena Roving Archers, as they offer a similar program.

40. Tour the Great Wall of L.A.

This incredible mural runs over 2,700 feet long (one of the longest in the world) and illustrates California history from 20,000 B.C. to 1984. It was recently restored and is more vibrant than ever.

41. Stroll With Your Sweetie on the Love Lock Bridge

Sure, Paris has the Ponts de Arts Bridge, but did you know L.A. has its own version of a ‘Love Lock Bridge’ right here in Atwater Village. Here’s how to find it.

Love Lock Los Angeles

The Love Lock Bridge up close. Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

42. Stargaze at the Glendale Planetarium Shows

When school is in session they offer a free, open to the public astronomy presentation called “Afternoon with the Stars.” You can check out the schedule here.

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43. Take a Photo at the Korean Friendship Bell

The Korean Friendship Bell is the perfect place to hang out, enjoy the view, and take some gorgeous photos on a sunny afternoon at a park by the sea. Bring a picnic, fly a kite, or play some hoops at the nearby basketball court.

44. Spend an Afternoon in Grand Park

Grand Park bills itself as “the park for everyone” and with good reason. It’s not just the open green space and gorgeous setting surrounded by the DTLA skyline, but also a commitment by the park to provide Angelenos with a host of awesome free activities, including a massive 4th of July block party.

Lunch time Grand Park

Lunch time in Grand Park. Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

45. Catch a Free Live Show at Amoeba Music

Amoeba Music is a Sunset Blvd music store that hosts boatloads for free concerts, DJ performances, and artist signings. It’s a unique space that’s worth checking out at least once. Check here for upcoming shows.

46. Meet-up to Exercise!

Meet people? Get your weekly exercise? Don’t like gyms? Might we suggest joining a running group. Specifically, the DTLA Running Group is one we’d heartily recommend. The Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings to run along different routes in and around Downtown, using different routes to accommodates different runnings levels. To join in, check out their page on MeetUp.com

Another favorite is the Runyon Canyon Yoga series, which has a huge slate of weekly, free / donation based classes you can check out via their Facebook page.

And if you want even more ideas, check out this handy rundown of ways to get fit in L.A. without a gym.

47. Explore the Stairways of Los Angeles

You can check out 10 of our favorite secret (and not-so secret) staircases in a roundup we’ve written about, but there are dozens more small stairwells an locations to explore in Los Angeles for the truly intrepid. Here are a few helpful resources:

Stairwalksla.com

Secret Stairs of Los Angeles Website

Stairclimbers of L.A. Meet-up Group

48. Attend Free Events at the Hammer Museum

Every month the Hammer Museum offers tons of great free events including talks, tours, and discussions lead by artists by and educators from local universities.

49. Listen to USC Thornton School of Music Free Performances

Did you know every month USC puts on free recitals that are open for public attendance (all you need to do is make a reservation online). If classical is your thing, these might be right up your alley. Event listings on their official website.

50. Receive a Dose of Culture at Blum and Poe

Some call it the ‘original’ big name gallery in Culver City. This is the first place to feature Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara (and if you know who those artists are, this will no doubt seriously excite you).

51. Stay in Touch with Current Events at Zocalo Public Square

The Zocalo Public Square is a non-profit ideas exchange foundation that offers a free lecture series where you can go to get informed about the issues of the day and discuss them in an open forum (just mind the parking costs).

52. Experience KCRW Summer Nights

KCRW’s free signature outdoor event series that’s awesome for all-ages. Here’s the complete 2015 schedule of concerts (for reference), and here’s a to the Summer Nights official website.

Chinatown Summer Nights 2013

Chinatown Summer Nights 2013. Credit: Eric Chan via flickr

53. Check Out Free Polliwog Park Concerts in Manhattan Beach

An annual, summer-long free concert series held in Polliwog Park held from the first weekend in July through the first weekend in September.

54. Take an Art Walk at the Brewery

Twice a year, more than 100 artists open up their studios for this free art walk in the former PBR brewery. There’s a beer garden, and though it’s not free, they do serve more than PBR. The next event is scheduled for April 2-3.

55. Get a Pop-Culture Infusion at Gallery 1988

Are you a fan of video games, pop-culture and art? Then you definitely need to attend one of the exhibitions/openings at Gallery 1988. Keep in mind there are two locations, both on Melrose, one east of La Brea and then other west of La Brea.

56. Sit Back and Relax at Sunday’s Live at LACMA

Did you know every Sunday you can sit and back and enjoy a chamber music concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater? All concerts are free and open to the public.

57. Laugh for Less at at a Free Comedy Show

From UCB’s ASSSCAT to Sleepaway Camp to Power Violence to Mi’s Westside Comedy Theater, there are always tons of free comedy shows going on in Los Angeles. Here’s a list of 10 of the best we put together from 2014.

58. Visit the Original In N Out Replica

On October 22, 1948 at 4:15pm the very first In-N-Out location opened its doors to the public at the intersection of Francisquito and Garvey in Baldwin Park, CA. Although that location is no longer serving customers, you can still visit a replica of the first restaurant complete with the original potato peeler, cash box and even a cigarette vending machine.

The In N Out replica at a glance. Credit: Brian Champlin

The In N Out replica at a glance. Credit: Brian Champlin

59. Enjoy Inglewood Open Studios

Founded in 2006 by a pair of local artists (Renee Fox and Kenneth Ober), Inglewood Open Studios has evolved into a yearly art affair encompassing the second weekend of November that includes dozens of artists exhibiting work at locations over a string of galleries along La Brea Blvd, La Tijera, Hyde Park, and Manchester Blvd. Here’s a look at the 2015 event specifics (will update one they announce 2016 event).

60. Play for Free on Saturdays at Royce’s Arcade Warehouse

The business of Royce’s Arcade Warehouse in Chatsworth is buying, selling, renting out, and repairing classic arcade consoles, but on one special day every week they open their showroom to the public to play games all-day long.

61. Attend a Free Drawing Class at The Getty and Getty Villa

Did you know every month you can work on your sketching skills in a group setting through free classes offered at both the Getty Center and The Getty Villa. All skills levels are welcome, and sign-up usually takes place a short while before the classes start.

62. Join in the Big Parade

A two-day, massive group, totally free community walking event that in 2015 included about 80 public stairways over 35 miles, from downtown to the Griffith Observatory. Usually takes place around start of May.

Big Parade LA 2015

The Start of the Big Parade, 2015. Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

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63. Go to a Show at The UCLA Planetarium

UCLA Public planetarium shows are offered by current astronomy and astrophysics graduate students, with featured content that includes presentations about the current night sky, constellations, and other unique astronomical phenomena. Shows are free to the public, and currently take place on Wednesday evenings at 8:00pm. Be sure to check the planetarium website for updated schedules and presentation times.

64. Get Christmasy at the Studio City Winter Festival

One of the biggest free winter events in the entire county is the Studio City Winter Festival, which in 2015 welcomed tens of thousands of Angelenos to the Studio City Recreation for sledding, snowman making, gingerbread house decorating, craft-making, holiday card making for the troops, photos with Santa, live music, dancing and so much more. Some 70 pounds of snow was imported for the event!

65. Explore L.A. History at the Los Angeles Archives Bazaar

Want to dive deep in to the history of our fair city? Check out the annual L.A. Archives bazaar, a free event on the campus of USC that in 2015 featured more than 80 archives from public institutions and private collectors, all presented through an assortment of workshops, installations, screenings, panel discussions, and more, all in one a day-long event.

66. See the Getty Holiday Lights

Each Christmas season, from the end of November to beginning of January, the Getty Center adds some special lights displays all over their campus which you can visit on Saturday evenings for free (just mind the parking costs).

via The Getty / YouTube

67. Hike Echo Mountain After Dark at the Festival of Lights Hike

The 2015 Festival of Lights Hike was a first-ever event, but after speaking the the organizers at Friends of Echo Mountain, they said they’re fully intending on bringing back the public hike for the holiday season this year. Basically, imagine hundreds of individuals decked out in LEDs carving their way up a mountain trail and lighting up the night.

68. Lunar New Year’s Celebrations

If you’re going to celebrate Lunar New Year’s in Los Angeles, make sure you attend the 117th annual Golden Dragon Parade in Chinatown on February 13, with festivities free and open to the public. Keep in mind there is also a Lantern Festival (signifying the closing of the New Year’s celebrations) scheduled for Saturday, March 5 featuring community booths, museum tours, live entertainment, music, arts & crafts, and food trucks.

69. Walk a Few Miles at the Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Originally built as a flood control zone for the LA River, the Dominguez Gap Wetlands offers a easily accessible 2.3 mile loop around a small wildlife habitat that gives visitors a great option for getting a touch of nature in the heart of an otherwise urban landscape.

70.  See the Venice Canals Holiday Lights

Even if you miss the annual Christmas boat parade held in the canals, there’s a good month-long period when the bridges and many of the homes in the surrounding canal walkways are decked out in full holiday spirit. Truly a sight to behold!

Kiss Bridge at Venice Canals

Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

71. Check Out the Annual Sherman Oaks Street Fair

What’s the biggest public event in the entire San Fernando Valley? The folks at the Sherman Oaks will tell you it’s their annual street fair, which in October of 2015 stretched over 9 blocks of Ventura Blvd. and attracted some 100,000 attendees to the spectacle.

72. Get Dowm at Echo Park Rising

Every August the EPR music festival brings a madhouse of free music to the east side, with multiple stages and activities all weekend long spread over Sunset Blvd, Glendale Blvd, Alvarado Avenue and Echo Park Avenue. Here’s a link to the 2015 lineup so you can get an idea of what you might expect (will update with 2016 lineup when it becomes available).

73. Boogie in Old Town at Make Music Pasadena

Every summer Make Music Pasadena creates a FREE, all-day, all-ages music celebration in the heart of Old Town Pasadena. 2015 was the 8th annual event, and I’d expect 2016 to be bigger than ever.

74. Take Advantage of the Freebies on the Museum of the Arroyo Day

Each May a selection of museums along the 110 and 134 freeways offer a special free admission day including, in 2015, The Gamble House, Heritage Square, the Los Angeles Police Museum, the Lummis Home and Garden, the Pasadena Museum of History, and The Autry’s Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus. Visit the MOTA website for additional information on this year’s schedule (when it becomes available). 

75. Ring in the New Year at Grand Park

If you’re going to end 2016 on the right note, why not do it at the biggest free gathering in the entire city?

Here’s a link to a preview we did of the December 31, 2015 event for a bit more perspective on what you can expect.

Did we screw up anywhere in our list? Miss something free and fun in L.A. you think deserves mention? We know we can’t get them all, but we always love suggestions. Let us know in the comments below!

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