In bright orange font centered on the screen, Occidental College’s website boasts the tagline, “Liberal Arts in Los Angeles.” LA is an undeniable part of Occidental’s identity as an institution. But as a student, it can seem impossible to enjoy the city’s offerings without spending money. Concerts, pressed juiceries and curated vintage stores are inviting but often exorbitantly priced. Getting out of the neighborhood comes at the cost of a Lyft. LA can feel large, difficult to navigate and, above all, expensive.
The goal of this list is to eliminate those three primary obstacles and prove that it is possible to enjoy LA without spending money. Free activities are divided into five categories: museums, art, music, events and outdoor experiences. In each category, one activity is spotlighted and several more options listed. All are accessible by public transportation and absolutely free.
Spotlight: La Luz de Jesus Gallery
Located on Hollywood Boulevard, La Luz de Jesus Gallery opened in 1986, according to gallery director Matthew Gardocki. It shares a space with Soap Plant/Wacko, a book and curio store opened by Barbara and Hank Shire in 1971 and curated by owner Billy Shire. Both the gallery and the store feature a collection of offbeat works and products. The gallery shows primarily pop surrealism and lowbrow art, Gardocki said. They also host author events as well as free gallery openings the first Friday of every month. The gallery is currently exhibiting paintings of microscopic worlds by Robert S. Connect and a show by Amy Crehore.
“It’s just different, it’s all kind of weird,” Gardocki said. “Everything we stock is different from what a regular retail store would have, just because that’s the way we’ve always been. It’s been wacky.”
On the way in, don’t miss Wacko’s bookstore, with its contents organized into categories such as “groupie memoirs,” “Soviet architecture” and “secret societies.” Souvenirs for sale include taxidermied deer feet, tarot cards and Victorian mini-portraits. Get there for free by catching the 181 bus at Yosemite and Eagle Rock Boulevard, getting off at Hollywood Boulevard and New Hampshire, and walking down Hollywood Boulevard to the gallery.
Murals: Murals are everywhere in LA. Check out the database of the Mural Conservancy of LA and the Great Wall of LA, a half-mile wall dedicated to visually representing the city’s diverse artistic history.
Watts Towers: Constructed by Italian immigrant Sam Rodia, the Watts Towers are massive constructions of repurposed materials. Rodia originally named the Towers “Nuestro Pueblo,” according to the Towers’ website, which translates to “Our Town.”
Other options: Downtown LA Art Walk
Spotlight: The Hi Hat
Located a short walk from Occidental College on York Boulevard and Avenue 50, the Hi Hat is an all-genre music venue that offers paid and free concerts, according to director of programming Britt Witt.
“I try to do as much free programming as possible,” Witt said. “Especially for local bands that no one’s ever heard of — that’s really where it comes in. If you’ve never heard of a band, you’re not gonna pay to see them, but if you’re just walking by and you hear something you like, maybe you’re making a fan out of somebody.”
The venue is spacious and comfortably furnished with carpets and ample seating. Britt says this is what makes the Hi Hat unique.
“I want it to be hospitable. I want it to be warm,” Britt said. “I want it to feel like you’re walking into your own living room, and it just so happens that there’s bands that you like playing.”
According to Witt, the Hi Hat will sometimes have a different genre of music for every night of the week, hosting bands that play everything from goth folk to jazz. Their calendar, which specifies which shows are free, is available on their website.
Other options: Occidental College music department concerts, Levitt Pavilion Summer Music Festival, Ford Theater Jam Sessions, Grand Performances at California Plaza, twilight concerts at the Santa Monica Pier.
Spotlight: The Skylight Bookstore
The Skylight Bookstore hosts 15–20 free author events every month, according to manager Steven Salardino. It opened in 1996 and has been committed to connecting authors and readers in Los Feliz ever since.
“We try to find [events] that are right for our clientele and for our neighborhood — ones that we’re interested in,” Salardino said.
Salardino said past events have included everything from icons like Patty Smith to burgeoning local writers. To get there for free, catch the 181 bus at Eagle Rock Boulevard and Yosemite and get off at the Vermont and Melbourne stop. A calendar of upcoming events is available on Skylight’s website.
Yoga at Namaste: Namaste Yoga on York Boulevard and Avenue 51 offers a free class every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. led by a teacher-in-training.
Spotlight: The Broad
The Broad (rhymes with road), named for its philanthropist founders Eli and Edythe Broad, displays rotating exhibitions from the couple’s massive collection of contemporary art. Works range from 1950 to the present day. The Broad houses pieces by big names like Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Cy Twombly and Anselm Keifer as well as a variety of younger, lesser-known artists. Free tickets are available online via The Broad’s website, and walk-in admissions are allowed on a first-come, first-served basis. The Broad is located on Grand Avenue in Downtown LA. To get there, catch the 28 bus on Eagle Rock Boulevard and Avenue 45, get off at Spring and 1st, and walk up 2nd toward Grand.
The Getty Center
Located in Brentwood, the Getty boasts beautiful views of Los Angeles and a massive collection of ancient, conserved art as well more modern works.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
Sure to please more eclectic, alternative visitors, this strange museum in Venice is a parody of museums. It features a variety of often unidentifiable objects labeled with scientific language of questionable credibility. There is a suggested donation for this museum.
Other options: The Norton Simon Museum, the California Science Center, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), the Annenberg Space for Photography, the California African-American Museum, the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Banning Residence.
Spotlight: Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory’s beautiful white art-deco architecture is overshadowed only by its sweeping views of LA. Everything from the Hollywood sign to the Pacific Ocean is visible from the observatory’s many terraces. Use of the observatory’s massive telescope is free to the public from 7–9:30 p.m. every night. Griffith Park, which surrounds the observatory, spans 4,010 acres. Hiking maps and event calendars are available on their website. To get there, take the 181 bus at Eagle Rock Boulevard and Yosemite, get off at Los Feliz and Hillhurst, and hop on the DASH bus at Los Feliz Boulevard and Vermont Avenue to go up to the observatory.
Secret Staircase Hikes: Before the popularization of cars, LA city planners built a massive infrastructure of staircases so locals could get up and down hills on their way to school or work. Maps and guided walks are available online.
The Audubon Center: The Audubon Center is a free center for environmental education and conservation in Northeast LA’s Debs Park.