Free (or Nearly Free) Fun Things to Do in Los Angeles

Free (or Nearly Free) Fun Things to Do in Los Angeles

  1. Just visiting Los Angeles can make a huge dent in your wallet, which explains why so many rich people live here. But you don’t need a wad of cash to have a good time if you know where to go. For instance, even most locals haven’t figured out that Downtown is now a place worth visiting, filled with museums, art galleries and several fun and interesting attractions, particularly around Pershing Square, where within a couple blocks you will find the famous funicular Angel’s Flight and the mouthwatering aromas wafting from Grand Central Market.


    More obvious suggestions are the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park, the California Science Center/Air and Space Museum in Exposition Park, the Getty Center in the Sepulveda Pass and the J. Paul Getty Museum/Getty Villa in Malibu. All are excellent places to spend the better part of a day, all are easy to find, all are educational and all are free, although you will have to pay for parking at each venue with the exception of the Observatory (where you may have to commit a felony to get a parking spot). But what if you don’t care about the edification of learning something new, or gazing at famous works of art?  Where do you go for a non-educational or non-artistically-gratifying good time that won’t leave you scraping for rent money?


    Olvera Street                                                                                                                                   Olvera Street is a good place for people-watching, if you like watching tourists and local suckers waste money on useless crap. Still, it’s a little taste of LA’s culture and history, presented in a Disneyesque fashion. If you’re lucky, freshly made Mexican food (and it isn’t bad) will lure you; if you’re unlucky, the mariachis will be loose to annoy the tourists.


    Farmer’s Market                                                                                                                             Located about equidistant from all the myriad freeways in Los Angeles, Farmer’s Market isn’t easy to get to, but is worth the drive. You don’t have to spend money here, but you’ll want to, especially if you’re hungry. In addition to the produce stands and markets selling anywhere from cheap touristy crap to elegant dining supplies, there are several restaurant booths here, most of which serve up very tasty and fattening food for reasonable prices. But making the drive into the heart of the city can pay off, because Farmer’s Market is a twofer.


    The Grove                                                                                                                                        Next door to Farmer’s Market is The Grove, a recent addition that adds glamor and overpriced merchandise to Farmer’s Market’s cheap tackiness. If you’re on a budget, you won’t want to eat here at one of the very pricey bistros, but The Grove is a great place for a nice walk and people-watching. There’s a small, grassy park, plenty of benches, a high tech fountain that puts on a good show and occasionally a free trolley ferrying the lazy visitors from one end of The Grove to the other; but the trolley doesn’t always run. They have to shut it down periodically when a passenger sues The Grove for giving them motion sickness or running down a pigeon that couldn’t manage to get out of the way of a vehicle traveling about two miles per hour.


    Wacko                                               My new favorite offbeat place to visit is Wacko (, a novelty store on Hollywood Blvd in East Hollywood. You can pass many hours enraptured by the strange, wonderful, sometimes tacky and disgusting but always amusing toys, gadgets, wingdings and thingamajiggers in the store, and Wacko has an excellent selection of odd and eclectic books that you won’t find in any bookstore or library. In back, you’ll find the La Luz de Jesus Art Gallery ( featuring a rotating selection of mostly bizarre works by local artists.


    Redondo Beach Pier in King Harbor                                                                                      On warm or hot days, you can head down to the beach along with a million or two other Angelinos. All of the beaches are free, and if you want an uncluttered ocean view you can go out onto one of the many piers. The only extensively developed piers in the LA area are Santa Monica and Redondo Beach piers. The Redondo Beach Pier has more shops, an odd, horseshoe-shaped layout, fish markets, several restaurants and an arcade for the kids.


    Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park                                                                                          The Santa Monica Pier, on the other hand, has Pacific Park—the only amusement park suspended over the ocean in the region—and Venice Beach next door where you can wander amidst some of the Southland’s more colorful and eccentric people. When it comes to people-watching, this is about as good as it gets, especially on the Venice Beach Boardwalk (which, ironically, is made of cement and concrete with nary a board in sight). At night, Pacific Park lights up in a spectacular display. Friday and Saturday evenings are the best time to come here if you like crowds. To save yourself from wasting money needlessly, you can always down a bottle of NyQuil and and spend your time staring at the multi-colored and constantly changing Ferris wheel… but don’t tell anyone I suggested that.


    Dockweiler State Beach                                                                                                              This is one of the last California beaches that not only permits bonfires on the beach, but encourages them by providing several large fire rings. This is an excellent place for groups to come and relax and unwind for very little money, provided you have enough people to carry the firewood, chairs, blankets, guitars and bagpipes, food and ice chest. Remember that alcohol in public is prohibited throughout the state, so leave the beer at home, because cops do check.

    One last bit of advice: bring earplugs. It also helps if you have a loud voice that carries, because this beach is located directly under the end of LAX’s South Runway, and cargo planes will take off right above your head every few minutes, all night long.

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