10 Almost Free Things to Do in L.A.

Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory | Photo: Shawn S. Park, Flickr

If the name of the game is “budget travel” right now, you’re not alone. We racked our brains to dish out the best free things to do in L.A., then we thought we’d splurge…and put together 10 budget-conscious ways to see Los Angeles. But you know how it is. Once you indulge, it’s hard to stop. So here’s another top 10 list of “almost free things to do.” After all, this city is all about variety.

1. See the stars (literally)

Explore the Griffith Park Observatory for free and don’t forget to buy a ticket to the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Tickets are $7 for adults and less for kids, students and seniors. The planetarium offers four amazing shows guided live by people who really know their stuff when it comes to the skies. In an interactive show, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and see particular constellations or a particular moment in time in the sky.

2. Set Sail!

Echo Park Lake normally offers paddleboat rentals all summer long, as well as on weekends the rest of the year (the attraction is presently in search of a new vendor). You can glide around the lake under your own power from a half-hour to an hour for about $10 and enjoy some scenic beauty in the middle of the city.

3. Eat well and prosper

Cheap eats can be found all over the city in ethnic enclaves and beyond. Some famous local favorites include Pink's Famous Chili Dogs in Hollywood; Yuca’s, a Mexican food stand in Los Feliz; India Sweets and Spices in Los Feliz and Culver City; and Zankou Chicken in Hollywood, West Los Angeles and other locations. Also, taco trucks, tamales and bacon-wrapped hot dogs straight from the cart are great ways to get a quick cheap meal. If you see a line, you know it’s good.

4. Save room for dessert

Even if you’re not eating out, a trip to one of L.A.’s sweet treat specialists can be an inexpensive activity everyone can enjoy. Try Pazzo Gelato near Sunset Junction; Scoops Hollywood; Al Gelato on Robertson; Mashti Malone's in Hollywood; and N'Ice Cream Nielsen's Homemade Gelato & Sorbet in Venice. With more custom flavors between them than you can shake a spoon at, you just might have to try them all.

5. Engage with the world around you

The California Science Center is a great place to visit for people of all ages. General admission is free. They have motion-based simulators to explore air, space and other science topics and an Ecology Cliff Climb that allows the brave to scale a sheer rock wall. The Space Shuttle Endeavour requires a special timed ticket, but only incurs a $2 to $3 service fee.

6. Explore the past

You can visit the exterior grounds of the La Brea Tar Pits free of charge, and then for $9 or less for children, students and seniors you can step inside and learn more about the Los Angeles Basin, where saber-toothed cats and mammoths roamed the land 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. You can even watch through windows as real fossils artifacts are cleaned and catalogued.

7. Take me out to a ball game

For a mere $10 you can purchase single tickets to Dodger’s Games at Dodger Stadium. Watch under Dodger blue skies as the boys strive for win after win. For $10 you can also pick up a ticket to a WNBA Sparks game at STAPLES Center and take in the prowess of the team’s stellar athletes in their world-class home stadium.

8. Picnic with pals

Check out a film screening in the outdoors at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetary, final resting place for such greats as Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield and Rudolph Valentino. Playing a wide range of films throughout the summer from cult classics to horror to comedy, it’s a great place to go with a group or on a date. Be sure and pack a picnic and some blankets. To save on parking, ditch your car in the neighborhood and walk in.  Just be sure to arrive early to get a prime spot on the grass. Donation tickets are $15 at the gate.

9. Listen carefully

You might be hearing the chords of the next music sensation. Check out some of the local music venues where great bands got their start. Many shows are $10 or less. Check weekly or monthly listings for Sunset Strip legends The Viper Room and the Roxy; Hollywood’s The Hotel Café; West Hollywood's The Troubadour; and the Eastside’s The Echo and The Satellite, along with many more.

10. Get creative

A few area museums offer tickets under $12, and that’s a steal when you consider that you can spend as many hours as you like enjoying the work of master’s of their crafts. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Norton Simon Museum of Art, and Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) can all brag about astonishing collections that illuminate some of the most important creative movements in human history.