A Guide to the Free, Cheap, and Offbeat Museums of Los Angeles
Los Angeles is more than beaches and endless freeways. It’s home to some of the more interesting and unique museums in California! If you’re on a budget when visiting Los Angeles and looking a museum experience you won’t find anywhere else, definitely check out the below museums - Arranged from west to east!
For a look at more to do in Los Angeles, particularly when you’re using public transit, check out my four day itinerary.
Pacific Palisades: The Getty Villa
Want to feel like you’re hanging out on the Mediterranean coastline? At the Getty Villa, you’re transported away from southern California to an expansive marble building housing an impressive collection of Greek and Roman artwork. The outdoor gardens are absolutely worth wandering around on a nice day. The gardens are also a fantastic spot for photographs. Entry is free but timed - you need to reserve online in advance. Parking is $20 per vehicle, $15 after 3pm (you can also take a bus, ride share, or bike). While you’re out on the Pacific Coast Highway, head up to get lunch at the delicious Malibu Seafood, and potentially hike along the Los Liones Trail.
Westwood: Hammer Museum
The Hammer Museum, owned and run by UCLA, is a free museum that showcases mostly modern art and design collections. The artwork often has a activist, progressive, or diverse bent, brining you a new type of art exhibit you won’t find at the local art museum. They also do a lot of film screenings and have fantastic evening events with authors, activists, filmmakers, and more. Definitely stay to get something to eat in the outdoor restaurant, Audrey, and do your best to try and sit on the swivel chairs. Parking is $7 for 3 hours on weekends, and a flat $6 on the weekends.
Century City: Annenberg Space for Photography
I love this small photography museum! It’s curated to show one themed exhibition at a time, usually something photojournalism-related. Past exhibits have been on sports photography, refugees, endangered species, beauty, wealth, and more. All exhibits have with a tie-in documentary video interviewing many of the photographers represented, and there’s often talks in the evening on the subject of the exhibit. The best part? It’s free to enter. Parking is $4.50 during the week, $1.50 on weekends. During the week there are a couple of great cafes on site, as it sits in the the well-designed park plaza in between Century City’s office buildings.
Culver City: Museum of Jurassic Technology
This oddball combination of art gallery/museum of oddities and miscellanea is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience. Where else can you find sculptures made using a single strand of hair, or a portrait gallery of Soviet space dogs? The museum claims to be “An educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic”, but the exhibits on display are of (purposefully) dubious authenticity. Go, and find yourself questioning what even is a museum? And what makes something museum-worthy? Entry is $8 for adults, $5 for students or if you’re unemployed. It also hosts a fantastic tea room.
Culver City: Wende Museum
Who would have thought that a premiere home for Cold War artifacts would be a small building in Los Angeles? The Wende Museum is a research center along with art museum dedicated to materials gathered from the former Soviet bloc. Take a docent tour. FYI, they’re only open to the public Fridays through Sundays. Admission is free. They also are the owners of the small section of the Berlin Wall that can be seen on Wilshire Blvd across from LACMA.
Exposition Park: California Science Center
Ever wanted to see one of the Apollo space capsules? Experience an earthquake simulator? Or travel through different climate zones, complete with flash floods? Check out the free California Science Center, located near the USC campus, right next to the Natural History Museum and Expo Park with their gorgeous rose garden. It’s also the home of the space shuttle Endeavor. Timed entry to see the (very beat up!) shuttle is $2. Be sure to build in time to see the short film detailing what it took to get the space shuttle through the crowded streets of LA to where it is now.
Griffith Park/Los Feliz: Griffith Observatory
Many people come to this planetarium just for the building exterior and view, and it is impressive - from here you can see the Hollywood sign, downtown, and sometimes all the way out to the coast. They filmed Rebel Without a Cause out front. And once a month they host ‘star parties’ on the front lawn, where amateur astronomers set up their telescopes for one and all to take a look at planets, stars, and more. Beyond that, though, you should really check out the inside. Between a tesla coil, a Foucault’s pendulum, a testing of how much you weigh on different planets, there’s a lot to see and do in this free museum. Parking can be a nightmare, so if you can, park down by the Greek Theater and hike up the half mile, or take the DASH bus for a quarter, which stops at the Vermont/Sunset metro station and then several stops on its way up.
Downtown: The Broad
This downtown museum has gained social media attention for housing two of Kusama’s Infinity Rooms, photos of which are all over instagram. The rest of the museum has a wide collection of modern art, equally instagram-friendly installations, and traveling exhibits focusing on recent American artists. While free, you’ll still need to book a timed entry ticket online in advance to go to the Broad. Special exhibits will be an added fee (check the website for cost). If tickets aren’t available, there is a standby line that can get fairly lengthy. There’s even a twitter account letting people know how long the line is. Be aware that once you’re inside, there’s a separate sign-in/line to view the Infinity Rooms. Luckily there’s plenty else to see and do downtown to make a day out of visiting the area!!
Glendale: Museum of Neon Art
It seems fitting that a city where strip malls, cruising, and commercialism proliferate, it would also house an ode to neon signs. A little further afield in the residential area of Glendale, this museum houses both historic neon signs (from iconic restaurants and from films), as well as showcasing artwork done in neon. It also hosts classes in how to create your own neon art! Cost is $10
This is a small selection of the museums you can find in the Los Angeles area. Others, including the Western-themed Autry museum in Griffith Park, the lush Huntington Gardens and Library in Pasadena, and the architecturally beautiful Getty Center in Brentwood, all have free days or free areas/aspects for visiting. If you’re up in the Valley, a one-of-a-kind experience would be visiting the Reagan library - more about that can be found in this post.
And besides museums, there are a plethora of lesser-known historical sites around the city. I’d recommend checking out this cemetery that is steeped in Hollywood history:
Westwood: Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park
Tucked behind several office buildings and a movie theater, this small cemetery is the final resting place of Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Billy Wilder, Burt Lancaster, Walter Matthau, Donna Reed, and many, many more. Next to Marilyn’s tomb you’ll find Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who specifically bought the crypt site next to hers. Both tombs are easy to find as they have a slight pinkish tone that sets them apart from the other white marble stone. Fans will kiss the tombstone with lipstick. Daily cleaning has the dye from that lipstick seep into the porous stone and cause discoloration. I would recommend keeping your lips to yourself when visiting! You can find maps online will give you the layout of where you find the more well-known residents of the cemetery. You can’t park directly at the cemetery, and will need to find nearby street parking along Wilshire or Westwood.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the offbeat museums of LA! For a look at more to do in Los Angeles, particularly when you’re using public transit, check out my four day itinerary.
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