From watching live TV to exploring fossilized tar pits, there are plenty of free things to do in Los Angeles to help you have an affordable family vacation. Here’s a sampling:

1. Head for the beach, year round.  Year-round. Maybe only the hardy swim in the winter but Angelenos consider beach life a year-round proposition. Walk or jog the sand along LA’s 81 miles of coastline. Explore the tidepools at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. Marvel at the muscular bodies at Venice Beach. Admire the surfers at Surfrider Beach near Malibu Lagoon.

2. Explore unique museums. The California Science Center in Exposition Park, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro ,and the Getty Center in Brentwood (310/440-7300) are free every day (except for parking). Other museums offer special free admission days: Los Angeles County Natural History Museum (free the first Tuesday of each month), Museum of Contemporary Art (free every Thursday 5-8 p.m.), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (free second Tuesday of each month) and Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum (free the third Saturday of each month).

3. Tour the Los Angeles Central Library. The 1926 structure reflects the Egyptian mania that was sweeping the country, post-King Tut. It was almost destroyed in a 1986 fire but has been restored with a modern wing added. This is the third largest library in the United States and free docent-led walking tours are available Monday-Friday at 12:30 p.m.; Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.


4. La Brea Tar Pits. At La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, the site of the richest discovery of Ice Age fossils in the world, more than 100 tons of fossilized bones representing nearly 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have been unearthed from pools of sticky asphalt dating back to prehistoric time. It’s quite a collection — even Prince Charles asked to visit during an LA trip. The George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries offers free admission on the first Tuesday of every month. You can wander the tar pits themselves, including the big pit still oozing goo near Wilshire Boulevard.

5. Stroll the historic Farmers Market. This market opened at the corner of Third and Fairfax in 1934 and retains much of its original flavor — the freshest produce, made-to-order peanut butter, gourmet meats and cheeses — while adding a few modern touches (Brazilian barbecue, Cajun chicken, sushi) as well as retaining old favorites such as corned beef and hot donuts. The Grove, an outdoor shopping plaza just next door, offers a free trolley ride and dancing water shows every half hour in the central pond.

6. Hollywood Walk of Fame. When the Hollywood honchos realized how limited the footprint space was at the Chinese Theatre, they came up with another way to pay tribute to the stars. Since the 1960s, more than 2,300 terrazzo and brass stars have been unveiled on Hollywood’s major sidewalks. The honorees are identified by a camera, radio microphone, TV set, record or dramatic mask. Fans turn these stars into flower-strewn memorials to commemorate star birthdays and death days. Among the stars sought out are Marilyn Monroe at 1644 Hollywood Blvd., Steven Spielberg at 7046 Hollywood Blvd., Charlize Theron at 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Elvis Presley at 6777 Hollywood Blvd., The Beatles at 7051 Hollywood Blvd., and Johnny Depp at 7018 Hollywood Blvd. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, 323/469-8311.

7. Check out the Venice Boardwalk. Every weekend year-round, crowds flock to the beachside walkway where the mild weather and sea air are only part of the attraction. Street entertainers are everywhere – a chainsaw juggler, a swami on rollerblades and dancers, to name a few. Start at Windward Avenue and walk north, stopping whenever you see a crowd gathered — there’s sure to be someone intriguing in the center. Out of the sand, follow the beat to the drum circle, a Sunday tradition with dozens of drummers playing for hours. All drummers welcome — if you forgot yours, at least you can join in the spirited dancing.

8. Walk through 200 years of history. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park is LA’s birthplace, the site of the original settlement in 1781. At Olvera Street, a bustling Mexican mercado is just to the north. Visitors shop, listen to mariachi music, watch folklore dances and dine at several restaurants. Tour the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing house in LA. Other restored historic buildings include the Old Plaza Church and the Old Plaza Firehouse.

9. Watch TV live. Be a part of a studio audience on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Dr. Phil,” “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune.” Tickets are free but must be obtained in advance. Write for tickets or pick them up in person, since free tickets are available daily at some studio complexes. Tickets and seating for shows are on a first come, first served basis. Most shows have a minimum age requirement of 14. For more information, contact: Paramount Television Audience Shows, Guest Relations, 323/956-1777; Audiences Unlimited at Fox Television Center, 818/506-0043 and Audiences Associates, 323/467-4697. Free tickets are also available outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Universal Studios Hollywood and Glendale Galleria.

10. Relax on LA’s Riviera. Marina del Rey is the largest man-made small craft harbor in the world. Home to 6,000 in-the-water private yachts, the harbor offers spectacular views and many outdoor activities, including jogging, roller-skating, bicycling or just relaxing in the park. For a free, boatless adventure, head for Burton Chace Park at the end of Mindinao Way. There you’ll be surrounded on three sides by water and boats will pass right in front of you. Marina del Rey Visitors Info Center, 310/305-9546.