What there is to know
- Several local museums offer free days, free time slots on certain days, or free admission for Southern California residents
- Many museums require advance reservations for free timed tickets
- Parking fees may be required, even on free days; check before you go
“Time”, as a concept, weaves its way through and around every work of art, historical artifact and scientific discovery.
We reflect on how long it took to create a work of art, when something was invented, and how past events inspired a certain outcome.
These objects and ideas can be found in our local museums and cultural institutions, where the concept of time is also important.
For several Southern California destinations, free days are listed on their monthly calendars, generous giveaways to the community.
Check details of a museum’s free day or hours before you go, for example if there are parking fees?
Always a smart plan, especially because advance reservations may be necessary.
We’ll say it again, with friendly emphasis: advance reservations may be required at the museums below, so see if a timed, pre-booked ticket is a must before you go. (Even free tickets, at many places, are timed these days.)
And if you’re looking for a bunch of free museums in one day, you’re in luck: Smithsonian Magazine Museum Daywhich offers free admission to several locations, takes place every September.
For free days once a month, or free days all month, scroll to…
California Science Center: Ecosystems, stars, the natural world and everything in between (including what we can’t really see)? This fairground science museum covers it all, or most of it, at least. Admission is free, everyday, even to see space shuttle Endeavour, but special exhibits may be chargeable, and IMAX theater on site? It also requires admission.
California African American Museum: Another jewel of the Parc des Expositions, the CAAM offers free admission every day except Monday (the museum is closed on the first day of the week). There is a fee to park in the fairgrounds, be aware that a metro station is a short walk away. Several exhibits, including “For Race and Country: Buffalo Soldiers in California” are currently on view.
The wide: Contemporary works have found a vibrant home on Grand Avenue, behind the now iconic “veil” of this DTLA favourite. Admission is always free, but advance tickets are essential. And the ever-popular and ever-uplifting “Infinity Mirrored Room – Souls of Millions of Light Years” is also free and requires a separate reservation. Your next move: Consult the monthly ticket release schedule.
USC Pacific Asia Museum: Visit this Crown City staple on the second Sunday of the month, which is always free, and enjoy the beauty of several century-old pieces. A permanent gallery dedicated to the arts of China, plus limited-time exhibits (like Elizabeth Gill Lui’s lantern photographs) are on view, but book your timed ticket before you go. Also? Every Thursday is dedicated to “pay what you want” at the Los Robles Avenue Museum.
Griffith Observatory: Savoring the majesty of space is free, as is visiting this perched icon, which turns 90 in a few years. But while the cosmos is open every day, the cosmos-loving monument is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Special Solstice and Equinox programs are also free.
Getty Center: So much wonder is on display in this famous repository of treasures, including intricate tapestries, ornate furniture, delicately rendered pastels and modern photographs. And something sweet? It celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2022. Admission is free, it is closed on Mondays, timed tickets are required and parking? It’s $20 per car, or $15 if you arrive after 3 hours.
Villa Getty: A short drive from the Getty Center in Brentwood is a wonderful world of Greek and Roman antiquities and art. The museum’s location in Malibu is spectacular, fully complementing the statuary and outdoor gardens. Admission is free, skip Tuesdays (it’s closed), and like the Getty Center, parking is $20 per car. After 3 p.m. the cost is $15.
Hammer Museum: Admission is always free to this Westwood arts institution, but the museum is closed every Monday, as well as some holidays. Book your reservation in advance? It’s “not necessary,” says the Hammer site. Finding lots of paintings, sculptures and pop-up events that appeal to the heart and mind? It always happens at the Hammer.
The Autry at Griffith Park: The museum has become known for its open-air dance events, pop-up markets, and film screenings in recent years, but its permanent and temporary exhibits, which take inspiration from the American West, remain central to its fascination. Free day at this location, which is near the LA Zoo? It’s the second Tuesday of the month.
Skirball Cultural Center: There are so many popular exhibits at Skirball, like “Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America,” and seeing them on a Thursday? You can, without paying for admission. Be sure to check out the special exhibits, such as those dedicated to Jewish charcuterie and Noah’s Ark, during your visit.
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden: This sizable plot, an Arcadian wonderland of flowers, plants, peacocks, turtles, and whimsical buildings, is known for its seasonal courses and events (like “Lightscape” during the holidays). But just pass by to take advantage of the free entry? This can happen on the third Tuesday of the month. Tickets are timed, so buy yours in advance.
Descanso Gardens: Like LA Arboretum, La Cañada Flintridge Garden also opens, free of charge, on the third Tuesday of the month. Also? Parking is free. As for making your reservation in advance? This is so important if you want to admire the property’s famous camellia forest, the water features and the Japanese garden. Places open on the first day of the month, or the first Monday, if the first day of the month falls on a weekend.
The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Garden: One of the most majestic gardens around honors a free day on the first Thursday of the month, inviting visitors to admire stunning works of art (“The Blue Boy” is a famous favorite), the famous roses and the exquisite Chinese garden. Get your ticket? You will have to do this on the last Thursday of the month, for the free day which will take place a week later.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art: One of the most venerable “when-is-the-museum-free” offers on the local calendar is the one created by LACMA, which offers Los Angeles County residents free admission to the museum after 3 p.m. week. Keep in mind that a few exhibits are scheduled to close in fall 2022, including “Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse.”
Natural History Museum: Dinosaur bones, glittering minerals, and a whole host of amazing artifacts, both from the wild world and from human history, fill this fantasy realm. It’s a kingdom that offers LA County residents free admission, from 3-5 p.m. each day, though other exhibits and events, like Butterfly Pavilion, may be sold separately.