LA has no shortage of museums that are free year-round. Below are some of LA’s best free museums, all worth your time if not your money.
California African American Museum
The California African American Museum (CAAM) was commissioned by the state in September 1977 and has been operational since the early 1980s. The museum’s primary goal is to research, collect, preserve and interpret the complex and proud history of African Americans. CAAM has become nationally recognized as a definitive source of historical and culture artifacts, with more than 3,500 objects of art, history and other culture memorabilia—on top of a research library with more than 20,000 books and reference materials available for public use. Los Angeles is a city rich with contemporary progress and struggle within the African American community, and much of the city’s modern history is also included within the museum walls.
California Science Center
The California Science Center is more than just Los Angeles’s premiere science museum—it’s been rated by Forbes magazine as Southern California’s most popular museum destination, and has received more than 18 million visitors since opening in February of 1998. Just to clarify, that is 18 million people—in only a little more than a decade. The center’s mission statement is to “stimulate curiosity and inspire science learning in everyone by creating fun, memorable experiences,” all of which has made the CSC a favorite among visitors of all ages. The museum maintains its “free education ethos” even with its steady rise of attendees. Since opening its Ecosystems exhibition space in March of 2010, CSC has cemented itself as one of Los Angeles’s leading nonprofit educational institutions. And if the in-house IMAX theatre isn’t enough of an incentive, the Italian favorite Bottega Louie (a hotspot for LA foodies, located close by) should prove reason enough.
Parking is $15, so in a larger sense, the museum isn’t completely cost-free, but it’s true what they say about good views: they’re worth a million bucks. The Getty Center has cemented its legend as an absolute must for both locals and visitors looking for sweeping views of Los Angeles that one, quite literally, cannot get anywhere else. Aside from the incredible views, the Getty houses some gorgeous sites on the museum grounds, including immaculate landscaping in the garden area. Yet because of the Getty’s legend as sightseeing spot, its eclectic exhibition calendar always takes museum-goers by surprise. The museum houses a great mix of fine and modern art, based in painting and sculpture, and always with a social calendar of special events throughout every season. The famous Saturday Nights at the Getty feature some of the best up-and-coming and established musical artists, playing free shows and providing a perfect refuge from a hot summer night or a rainy winter day. The Getty is the perfect spot for museum lovers in LA, or for visitors longing to see a view of downtown LA at its best from a distance.
Paley Center for Media
The Paley Center, located in the heart of Beverly Hills, is a museum with the sole purpose of recognizing entertainment culture as historically significant. This is basically a fancy way of saying that the center hosts amazing panels with the stars and creators of some of current TV hits as well as reunion retrospectives of long-gone classics. Just this past year, the cast and crew of Arrested Development reunited on stage to discuss the iconic status the show has taken on since cancellation, and used the stage to announce the show’s new season and upcoming theatrical feature. Before that, cult classic Freaks and Geeks reunited on stage, too. Aside from their much-beloved program of panels and events, the Paley is also the foremost public archive of television and radio programing, with an international collection of nearly 150,000 programs spanning almost 100 years. Examining the creative process behind classic entertainment is, to the Paley, of paramount importance—equal to any other museum’s emphasis on the historical timeline. A must for fans of all media.
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust
This museum requires a certain amount of composure to attend, and while it may seem like a random inclusion on a list that is otherwise light on weight, the LAMOTH has prided itself on being a museum with accessibility as its paramount virtue, and commemoration and education is its mission. The museum has remained free to the public since it opened in 1961, and its own history is equally worthy of mention: a group of Holocaust survivors attending Hollywood High School in order to learn English (then their second language) all found each other, and discovered that each carried with them a story or object unique to the personal experience behind a historical event. Together, they opened Los Angeles’s first museum dedicated to the historical preservation of Holocaust artifacts, and maintained that same level of intimacy and importance on individual story that allowed them to unite in the first place. And in 2010, the LAMOTH debuted one of the largest intensive green roofs in California, taking the energy initiative and contextualizing it within the museum’s mission: rooms decrease in light as visitors progress through the darkest parts of the history. Such an eye for symbolic detail, as well as a care for modern day ethical issues, has made LAMOTH one of the city’s most beloved museums—a must for locals and visitors alike.