Los Angeles: The Top Ten Free Attractions

Exciting and Fun Things to Do for Free in Los Angeles

A musician in Venice Beach, California. Bill Karz photos.
A musician in Venice Beach, California. Bill Karz photos.

By Bill Karz

Los Angeles is rife with tourists from all corners of the world. Yet, we Angelinos don’t really notice them as we pass by enveloped in our own daily adventures.

Having hit the open road as a backpacker two years ago in South America and the Middle East, I know what it’s like to try to see a place on a shoestring. There is nothing quite like the experience of always being a dime away from homeless and a buck short of ordinary.

There are several types of tourists here, from a family of four on their way to Disneyland to a high-power female executive roaming Rodeo. My aim with the following list is to provide information that everyone can use.

Day 1: Welcome to Venice Beach!

Tourists, locals and artists flock to this classic LA destination. Street vendors and performers line the boardwalk and everyone seems to be in awe of each other. The faces may change daily, but most of the time you will run into a few regulars.

No matter what day or time you visit, chances are you will most likely see the Venice Beach staple and SoCal icon, Hendrix on Blades. This character glides up and down the beach strumming an electric guitar with a hip amp. He may be the most notable performer, but Muscle Beach has been known to display some real talent from time to time. After all, this is where our governor got his break.

Griffith Park, LA.
Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Day 2: Griffith Park

The largest municipal park in the country – 4,107 acres – possesses several attractions. From a well-kept budget golf course to LA’s acclaimed observatory, a day adventure in Griffith Park can easily turn into an evening spectacular.

Personally, I am a huge fan of heading out to a spot that overlooks LA’s outdoor Greek Theater. There are few venues in the world that host such a range of artists as The Gipsy Kings and Snoop Dogg in the course of a week.

Nothing beats a free concert, no matter who is playing, and the path that leads to the ultimate bargain seating can be found by pulling all the way in the theater’s parking lot and walking up the road that leads to the observatory.

You might have to dodge a few event security vehicles that pass by on your way up, but they rarely look beyond the scope of the windshield. Head off to the bushes near the top where the music is crisp and the view is cosmic.

Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Note: You might want to take a set of binoculars, a picnic blanket and all the enriching condiments (soda, booze, etc.). Just make sure to not leave a trace so that others may enjoy the environment at a later date and to keep security from becoming suspicious.

Rumor: There is a guy who lives in the park without a wardrobe. A few friends of mine have been startled by the naked nature man, but I find it hard to believe he is armed.

Day 3: Hollywood Walk of Fame

You might not know where to find all the famous celebrities in LA, but you are guaranteed to see a few legendary actors below your feet in Hollywood.

More than 2,300 terrazzo and brass stars line Hollywood Boulevard and boast such names as Al Pacino and Alfred Hitchcock. If you are in LA, you have to visit this spot. If not for the name game, the street performers are very amusing to say the least.

Mulholland Drive.
Mulholland Drive, Hollywood Hills

The other day I saw a look-a-like, Johnny Depp, in Captain Jack Sparrow costume. A few hours later I was in the subway with him as well. Apparently, I live a few streets away from the guy. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

Day 4: Mulholland Drive

Whether you have a convertible, motorcycle or VW Bug, Mulholland Drive is a cruiser’s glory road.

Forget about drinking and driving on this winding thoroughfare…many incredulous celebrities have fallen to the mercy of LA’s cliffs while admiring cityscape views from the ocean to the valleys.

La Brea Tar Pits.
La Brea Tar Pits.

The 55-mile long S-pin and hairpin road were immortalized by such race car enthusiasts as James Dean, Gary Cooper, and Steve McQueen.

Day 5: La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park

The richest discovery of Ice Age fossils in the world was unearthed in Los Angeles?

Apparently so…more than 100 tons of fossilized bones representing nearly 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have been found from pools of sticky asphalt dating back to prehistoric time. Prince Charles even asked to visit the regularly excavated pits during an LA trip.

LA Farmers Market.
LA Farmers Market.

So you might be thinking they are located on the outskirts of the city. Actually, they are smack dab in the middle. As part of the Page Museum (a branch of the National History Museum of Los Angeles County), the pits are a stone’s throw from Miracle Mile and within plain view from the Wilshire Boulevard sidewalk.

Day 6: Los Angeles Farmers Market

When traveling, there is no better way to immerse into the culture of the destination than by experiencing its rich flavors. Fortunately, LA is home to 4 million people who represent more than 140 countries. So there is no shortage of variety. However, the city is just as large as many nations and you might end up spending most of your time in one ethnic enclave.

The best way to experience a melting pot of varied dishes is by heading to the historic and original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax.

From Brazilian barbecue and Cajun chicken to sushi and corned beef sandwiches, Farmers Market is an earnest representative of global gastronomy.

If you feel like shopping, next door to Farmers Market is The Grove; an outdoor shopping plaza that is a haven for celebrities.

Day 7: The Getty Museum

The pinnacle of free finds in LA lies perched above the city peering down towards Westwood and Santa Monica. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Brentwood boasts a range of exhibits you would expect to discover at the Louvre or El Prado. And did I mention it is free!!!!!!!

Day 8: The Griffith Observatory

Closed to the public in January of 2002, the Griffith Park Observatory has just reopened.

Getty Museum.
Getty Museum.

With $93 million in renovations, the observatory has received a well-deserved facelift. One of the major individual contributions was made by Leonard Nimoy, known as Mr. Spock amongst Trekkies.

The locale made famous in such movies as Rebel Without A Cause, Bowfinger, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, GoldenEye, The Rocketeer and The Terminator, features new exhibits and a modernized planetarium.

Although there is an $8 parking fee, a shuttle ride to the top of Mount Hollywood is included.

Day 9: Topanga Canyon

What may seem to be miles from civilization is merely knocking on your doorstep in Los Angeles.

Topanga Canyon.
Topanga Canyon.

Topanga Canyon is home to 36 miles of trails, more than 11,000 acres of land and pristine beaches that lead to encompassing views of Southern California.

In order to get here, simply take the famous Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), travel north on Topanga Canyon Boulevard and create your own entrance to a state park that was named by the Tongva – the Native American people that inhabited Los Angeles before the arrival of Mexican and European settlers.

Many of the specified park trails can be accessed via Trippet Ranch – head north on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, pass the post office and turn right on Entrada Road. The park’s main parking lot is about a mile ahead on the left.

Third St. Promenade.
Third St. Promenade.

Watch out for rattlers, mountain lions and nudist colonies.

Day 10: Third Street Promenade

Shopping and dining are at your fingertips everywhere in Santa Monica. However,

the car-less promenade draws the most traffic in LA’s Westside.

Within walking distance of the famed Santa Monica pier, Third Street Promenade is the ideal locale for people-watching and strolling.

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Bill Karz is an editor with the LA Convention and Visitor’s bureau.

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