Blame it on the rain, or rather, the lack of it. The year-round beautiful weather is largely responsible for LA’s impressively long list of things to do without spending a dime. Though there are free indoor activities to be found as well, many of the freebies take advantage of Southern California’s scenic flora and fauna, warm weather and a summer lull that puts even its most chronically overworked residents at ease. As summer approaches, the list grows exponentially, so be sure to check Hopper often for updates on upcoming free Los Angeles events.
Fresh off its revitalization a few years ago, Santa Monica is ready to show off its pedestrian and tourist friendly new side. Spanning along Third Street between Broadway and Wilshire, the Third Street Promenade is a sleek outdoor mall with dining, shopping, entertainment and a farmers market every Wednesday. It’s an excellent area for window shopping and the street performers, clowns and musicians give a festive feel. As you cross Broadway at the southernmost end of the promenade and head west, you’ll see the Santa Monica Pier just off Colorado Street. The pier is a 100 year-old local landmark that has offered amusement park rides since 1922. Today, it’s the brightly lit Ferris Wheel overlooking the Pacific Ocean that serves as the centerpiece to the pier. While you enjoy Santa Monica’s perfect daytime walks through the pier and the promenade, take advantage of two hours of free parking in any of the public lots surrounding the promenade.
As the summer heats up, the California Plaza at Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles warms up over 800 seats for its free concert series. The 2014 summer season brings performances by Les Triplettes De Belleville, Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate, DJ Nu-Mark and Double G’s Dakah Hip Hop Orchestra. These outdoor concerts are all-ages and don’t require reservations or tickets. They do require a little bit of planning, however, so make sure you’ve brought blankets, snacks, drinks (yes, patrons are allowed to responsibly enjoy an adult beverage or two during the show) and possibly your own chair, as seating is limited. To cut the cost of parking (it’s $7.50 cash at the Plaza parking garage) and the headache of downtown driving, think about taking the LA Metro’s Purple Line. For $2, you can ride to Pershing Square and take the north stairs to 4th and Hill.
Despite the self-help book tone of its name, the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is a well-loved non-denominational space founded in 1950. With 10 acres of rolling pathways winding along ponds, waterfalls and lush gardens, the Shrine has a long tradition of celebrity fans. Elvis Presley, Linda Evans and Dennis Weaver rank among its members and its the site of George Harrison’s funeral. The site, formerly a shooting space for silent films, has a full replica of a Dutch windmill, a Mississippi houseboat and a sarcophagus containing some of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi. The shrine is closed on Mondays but is free to the public from 9am to 4:30pm Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4:30pm on Sundays.
Way back in 1905 when Venice was being developed by conservationist Abbot Kinney, Kinney proposed an ambitious project: a recreation of the canals of Venice, Italy. Between Washington and Venice Boulevards, a series of winding canals with arched bridges and gondolas were built and gorgeously lit. But by 1940, the canals had fallen out of interest and many of the smaller canals were paved in for car traffic. The canals were refurbished in the 1990s and now boast a beautifully unique and tranquil walking path lined with colorful multi-million dollar bungalow homes, gondolas, flowers, pelicans and cranes. While the canals are lit at night, it’s strongly recommended to walk the canals during the day to take in all the canal path has to offer.
Since opening as a city project in 1935, the Griffith Observatory has been a favorite for Los Angelenos. The observatory, located in the sprawling Griffith Park, is free to the public and even offers free parking (unheard of in LA!). although the most memorable way to get there is by taking a short, easy hike from the Fern Dell or Greek Theater. It’s open from noon to 10pm Tuesday through Friday and from 10am to 10pm Saturday and Sunday, but the best time to visit the Observatory is the first Friday of each month when the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon space staff hosts a free program to guide visitors through their observations and discuss current aerospace news. On each evening when the sky is clear, visitors are encouraged to look through the historic Zeiss telescope, the telescope that’s proud to have more viewers than any other telescope on Earth.