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With guest writer Sofie ~ Los Angeles is chock full of amusement parks, fancy restaurants and trendy night clubs. But these things all cost money. Visiting Los Angeles doesn’t have to be expensive, though. Here are a few hidden gems among the free things to do in Los Angeles. But to keep your day free, make sure to heed our warning below about the extremely aggressive parking ticket people in Los Angeles.
Free things to do in Los Angeles
1) Get taken for a ride at the Automobile Driving Museum
The Automobile Driving Museum in Segundo, five minutes southeast of Los Angeles International Airport, boasts that it is the only car museum in North America where you can actually ride in the vintage cars. Every Sunday they roll 4 or 5 cars off of the museum floor and take visitors for a spin around the block. On any given Sunday you might get taken for a ride in a 1947 Studebaker, a 1909 Model T or even a 1975 AMC Pacer. Check their website where they post the schedule of which cars will be taken for Sunday drives.
2). Walk the Walk of Fame
The Walk of Fame stretches over the public sidewalks on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood. It’ll be more calm checking out the stars on Vine Street, but to get the real Hollywood buzz you have to be at Hollywood Boulevard, where you’ll also find the TCL Chinese Theater where you can see where stars (both human and animal) have placed their footprints, paw prints and autographs in cement for posterity. If you believe your idol deserves a star on the Walk of Fame, you can submit a nomination with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Stars are voted in once a year in June and on average 20 new celebrities get a star on the Walk of Fame each year.
3) Gaze at another type of star at the Griffith Observatory
The Griffith Observatory is named after Griffith J. Griffith, a former wealthy local who donated both the Griffith Park and the Observatory to the City of Los Angeles. The Observatory is free to visit and has different exhibits on display. Located on Mount Hollywood, the terraces around the Observatory offer great views on the city and the famous Hollywood sign.
4) Rock on at the Fender Guitar Factory
The list of legendary musicians who’ve played Fender guitars is almost endless: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dick Dale and Kurt Cobain are just a few. While there is an admission charge to tour the factory in Corona, the museum devoted to the history of Fender instruments is free. There is a Jam Room where all the guitars and amplifiers made here by Fender are on display. Best of all, anyone can stroll right in, take a guitar off the wall, plug it into one of the amps and wail away. How cool is that?
5) Hike through Runyon Canyon Park
Runyon Canyon Park is known as one of the places in Los Angeles to spot celebrities. Because it’s so close to the Hollywood Hills and some of Hollywood’s residential areas, you might just see some famous actor walk his dog. And even if you don’t spot Johnny Depp, Runyon Canyon still offers great views over Los Angeles. The wide paths go up and down, making a treadmill or any other machine you’d use at the gym look like a comfortable couch. Tip: go hiking in the morning, preferably before the sun is up, and bring enough water.
6) Stroll along Venice Beach
Sunbathing at the beach is an obvious free thing to do on vacation, but Venice Beach has much more to offer than just a strip of sand. There’s the famous Muscle Beach, where you can see bodybuilders and others train their muscles in the sun. They have to fight for attention with the many street artists doing tricks or selling their work along the Ocean Front Walk. Of course there are also the typical seaside shops, some with cool clothes, others with cheap souvenirs. More interesting is the beach skate bowl where youngsters on skateboards and inline skates dive in and jump back up against the background of a setting sun. And if you think you’ve seen it all, you can always follow the beach path or the Ocean Front Walk all the way until you reach Santa Monica.
7) Take a cultural trip to the Getty Center
This one is free . . . and it’s not. You see, there’s no entrance fee to visit the Getty Center, but you do have to pay for parking ($15 per car during the day, $10 per car during the evenings in summer). The Getty Center cannot be missed, though. The different exhibition halls offer something for everyone: paintings, photography, decorative art, sculptures, manuscripts . . . It’s all there, presented in the modern buildings of the Center. It wouldn’t surprise me if the architecture of the Center is the main reason some people visit the Getty, built on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, offering great views from the Central Garden.
8) Walk like an Egyptian
The Los Angeles Central Public Library was built in the 1920s, when the Egyptian Revival design craze was sweeping America. That could explain why it’s topped off with a pyramid shaped tower. Stroll around and see how many sphinxes you can find. Travel geeks should make sure to visit the travelogue and vintage map collections on the lower level.
9) Climb the secret stairs
In the 1920s, before cars were everywhere in LA, outdoor staircases were built in neighborhoods with steep hills so people could access the trolley cars. Some houses were built along them as they provided their only access to the outside world. Some of the staircases are in better condition than others. Try the 861 step Beachwood Canyon stair climb for a classic view of the Hollywood sign or the Pacific Palisades, where the houses are perched precariously as they hope to avoide the next mudslide, for spectacular and secluded ocean views. Find out more at: Secret Stairs-LA where you can also download walking maps.
10) Ascend City Hall
The building is recognizable since it is featured prominently on the badges of LAPD officers, but this free gem isn’t even known by most Angelenos. Sign in at security and ride the elevator to the top of City Hall for a 360 degree view of Los Angeles. From there you can gaze upon the Pacific Ocean, the Hollywood sign and more.
11) Take a peek behind the Iron Curtain
The Wende Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of life in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War. They are building up an incredible collection of artifacts that portray what it was like living behind the Iron Curtain. From cast-iron Lenin statues to propagandist artwork to dairies of ordinary citizens, visitors get a sense of life under a totalitarian regime in the not-too-distant past.
12) Attend the Grammy Museum for free
The Grammy Museum offers a free evening lecture series where you can participate in interviews with award-winning artists and journalists. Recent shows included Placido Domingo, Elvis Presley biographer Peter Guralnick and the The Beatles are Coming: The Birth of Beatlemania in America. As an added bonus, the event takes place in a wing of the museum where you can view the latest special exhibition for free. Check out the list of upcoming programs at the Grammy Museum.
Bonus Pick: Take flight at the Flight Path Learning Center
Hidden among the runways at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the Flight Path Learning Center, a museum dedicated to the history of commercial flight. The docents are retired flight attendants and are probably the cutest and most gracious anywhere. Exhibits include ephemera from the first century of commercial flight including racks of vintage stewardess uniforms and silver cutlery from flight’s Golden Age. But the real reason you come here is for the incredible runway level views of one of the most active airports in the world. A radio plays a live feed of the control tower so you can hear the pilot being guided in then watch the plane land. You can even walk out onto the runway, closely supervised of course, to board a DC-3. For airplane geeks the Flight Path Learning Center is a must see.
Do you know something that’s both free and fun to do in Los Angeles?
Travel warning for Los Angeles from editor:
Los Angeles has the most aggressive parking ticket enforcement we have seen anywhere. On several occasions we were ticketed as well as people we were traveling with. What made it particularly galling was that we had put an hour on the meter and only been gone for 55 minutes. The cost of a parking ticket in Los Angeles is a whopping $63. Now we know why the city makes over $134 million in parking fees per year. When parking in Los Angeles beware.
Co-Author Sofie is a Belgian, language lover and travel aficionada who combines a full-time job with a freelance writing career and a never-ending wanderlust. She uses her weekends, vacation days and public holidays to travel the world and share her experiences. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook or connect with her on Google+.