Los Angeles is known for its numerous and diverse museums showcasing world-famous art as well as local history and culture. But a day of cultural enrichment and hands-on learning doesn’t have to cost a bundle, even in the bustling city of L.A. Several major museums don’t charge an entrance fee, and those that do usually have free museum days once a month.
It's almost hard to believe that you can view famous paintings, photos, statues and an array of exhibits from science to music for the cost of a nominal parking fee. But it's true. The Getty is among L.A.'s world-class museums that doesn't charge an admission fee for either of its campuses. A host of other family-friendly museums also open their doors to the public without charging a fee except for parking (usually about $9 – $16 per vehicle). Note that free admission doesn’t usually include special traveling exhibits and IMAX movies.
California Science Center
Explore themed, interactive exhibits that include Earth’s Ecosystems, Creative World, World of Life and more. Kids can learn about astronauts in the Air and Space exhibit, featuring Space Shuttle Endeavor artifacts and images. One of the most impressive exhibits is the actual 122-foot long Endeavor on display in the Science Court. There's also a seven-story IMAX theater. Ticket fees apply.
The J. Paul Getty Museum is an art museum housed on two campuses: the Getty, overlooking L.A.'s skyline, and the Getty Villa, facing the Malibu coastline.
Tip: Planning to visit both Getty campuses? Get same-day parking at both the massive Getty Center and the beach-side Getty Villa for one $15 fee. Visit the Museum Information Desk at the Center or the Villa to obtain a coupon good for same-day complimentary parking at the other site.
Ride a tram to the hilltop museum, which houses a collection of European drawings, paintings, manuscripts, sculptures, decorative arts and photography. First, pick up a Family Fun at the Getty flier at the information desk. Then visit the Family Room, featuring activity coves and treasure-hunt walls. In addition, gallery educators lead tours to works of art in the museum. Exploring on your own? Start in the West Pavilion to see paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Don’t miss the Central Garden, a creative maze of trees, flowers and water. Eat lunch at the Garden Terrace Cafe or bring your own picnic to enjoy on the lawn or any public seating area.
The villa contains art from the ancient Greek and Roman world dating from 6,500 B.C. to A.D. 400. Start your visit in the Family Forum, designed with hands-on activities that focus on the world of ancient Greek vases. The villa’s themed gardens feature bronze sculptures, fountains and trees, herbs, and flowers used by the Romans. Note that although admission is free, an advance timed-entry ticket is required.
Tip: The villa is in beautiful Malibu. Tour the museum in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoon.
La Brea Tar Pits
Thousands of years ago, saber-toothed cats, mammoths, giant sloths and other prehistoric animals roamed the area that is now L.A. Today, the tar pits are one of the world’s most important sources of Ice Age fossils. While there’s an entrance fee to the Page Museum, it’s free to tour the tar pits. Start at the lake, featuring the world-famous model of a Columbian mammoth trapped in a gooey lake.
Follow the walkway to the Pit 91 excavation site (digging began in 1915) and the Project 23 compound, located behind the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). From the public viewing station at Pit 91, you can watch excavators at work in summer. More than 700 measured specimens including a large pre-historic American Lion skull, lion bones, dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, a juvenile horse, bison and more and have been uncovered over the years.
The Project 23 site was created in 2006 when 16 new fossil deposits were discovered, including the skeleton of an adult mammoth, during construction for LACMA’s new parking structure.
Travel Town Museum
Dedicated to the preservation and celebration of railroading in the western United States, displays feature historic steam locomotives, passenger cars and trolleys. A must-see attraction for train buffs. Admission is free; minimal fee to ride a train.
Hollywood Bowl Museum
Interactive, kid-friendly exhibits feature music-making, computers, earphones to listen to music, slideshows, movies, TV shows, and cartoons featuring the Hollywood Bowl. On most summer mornings, you can bring kids into the Bowl to listen to a rehearsal.
Museum Free Days
Several museums offer free admission on designated days.Still, it’s always best to call before you go.
Natural History Museum, free on the first Tuesday of the month (except July and August).
Kid Space, free on the first Tuesday of the month between 4 and 8 p.m.
Page Museum, free on the first Tuesday of the month (except July and August).
LA County Museum of Art, free on the second Tuesday of the month; general admission is free to LA County residents (with proof of residency) after 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Autry Museum, free on the second Tuesday of each month.