When it comes to the marvellous big city of Los Angeles, family travellers usually conjure up exciting images of Disneyland Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, Madame Tussauds Hollywood and Legoland California Resort, just to name a few popular attractions on every kid's list.
While these are all incredible places to add to your LA bucket list (and your kids may just kill you if you don’t get them to at least one of those theme parks), the cost of visiting all these exciting attractions can definitely add up. If you are travelling with kids in tow and your budget is tight, you may not realise there is so much more to the City of Angels. And you don’t even need a penny in your pocket to see them all! As a regular visitor to Los Angeles, here are my top five free outings for families in LA:
1. The Getty Center and Getty Villa, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades
Drawing nearly two million visitors between them, this $1.3 billion institution – home to the J. Paul Getty Museum – is a showcase of the city’s vibrant and historical art scene set among pristine gardens and offering some of the best architecture in town.
The Getty Center, in Brentwood, features pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs from the 1830s to now. Offering breathtaking views of the cityscape, kids will love the cable-pulled hovertrain that shuttles visitors from the lower carpark to the museum.
The Getty Villa, in Pacific Palisades, is of equal extravagance and is definitely one not to miss. Featuring an educational centre, the museum houses a collection of 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD. While it’s still free, be sure to make viewing reservations for the Villa via the website.
Don’t miss: Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting, Irises, at the Getty Center.
2. Santa Monica Beach and Pier, Santa Monica
One of my favourite places in LA, this classic piece of Californian history offers the all-American family experience from beach culture to traditional diners and, of course, the old-fashioned rides that light up the night. Relax on the beach, take a dip in the water and sit back for some serious people watching with some of the best buskers to entertain you as you soak it all in. There’s often a sea lion or two up for some photo fun at the end of the pier where you will also find local fisherman whiling away the hours.
The rides are very affordable, but if you’re not up for spending any money, the pier itself is a sight to be seen after dark – an incredible light spectacular stretching off the Los Angeles shoreline. Keep an eye out for free events such as movies under the stars and music festivals.
3. The Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park
If you want to catch a glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign close up, this is the place to go. But don’t forget your hiking shoes as Griffith Park offers some of the best walks in town with panoramic views to boot.
Located at the park, The Griffith Observatory sits on the south-facing slope of Mt Hollywood and commands a view of the Los Angeles Basin, Downtown, Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean. Offering an extensive array of space- and science-related displays, admission has been free since it opened its doors in 1935 – thanks LA!
The observatory has free live shows, exhibits, public telescopes, daily talks, sunset walks and a cafe and gift shop.
4. The Broad and Bunker Hill, Downtown LA
The Broad is a new-ish contemporary art museum showcasing 2,000 works of art, most prominently holdings of post-war and contemporary art. Founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, the museum offers free general admission (don’t forget your reservation!) and an engaging, rotating program of temporary exhibitions.
Located at Bunker Hill, this area is home to some of the tallest buildings that denote the iconic Downtown LA skyline. Venues such as the eye-catching Walt Disney Concert Hall, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Dorothy Chandler Pavillion and the Museum of Contemporary Art are not to be missed. Kids will especially enjoy a quick trip on the 'The World’s Shortest Railway', the Angel’s Flight.
Don’t miss: Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. This mind-blowing installation features a mirror-lined chamber filled with LED lights making visitors feel as though they’ve been transported to the Milky Way and beyond.
5. Olvera Street, Downtown LA
Olvera Street is known as the 'birthplace of Los Angeles' and is home to a thriving Mexican marketplace, which was created in 1930 to preserve the customs and trades of early California. The narrow, brick-lined market features the city’s most historic buildings, street vendors, cafes, restaurants and gift shops. There are several historic museums to visit, too.
Many of the merchants are descendants from the original vendors and are an excellent source of local and historical knowledge. Stroll along the vibrant stalls and through the strong smells of taquitos and tacos, while watching the walking mariachi bands and the Aztec and Mexican folk dancers. Stallholders offer handcrafted items such as pottery, belts, wallets, purses, Mexican folk art and souvenirs.
Don’t miss: The Avila Adobe, LA’s oldest surviving residence, which was built in 1818. Union Station and Chinatown are also located here and definitely worth a visit.
All images: Flight Centre and Getty Images