You’d think summer, with the lack of clothes and the “too hot to eat” factors, would make it a season that’s easy on the wallet. But activities, camps, ice cream treats, beach parking, movies and indoor playgrounds all give the bank a beating. Here are 25 super fun, totally free things to do with kids in Los Angeles this summer. So save those pennies for back to school shopping!
1. See a free play by the Culver City Players. The title of the show may just describe mornings at your house…
2. Splash and play at the fountain at the Grand Avenue Park. It’s not called the People’s Park for nothing. People, you’ll love this park.
3. Every Thursday one of the greatest spots for kids to play and discover (and the only place we’ve ever seen with a bathtub polar bear) is totally and completely free. Just get there early; the secret’s out and entrance is first come, first served.
4. If you work in the film business, life in LA can feel a bit like swimming with sharks. Here’s where you can see the real sharks swim. For free. And if your lucky, you might see one of the volunteer divers swimming with them.
4. Picture the things you love about the Hollywood Bowl – music, picnic, wine, pretty setting. Now picture it free. And with a park and gorgeous hill to roll down, right in the grounds. Friday and Saturday night concerts at LACMA are a parent’s summer haven.
5. If you’re not fond of paying upwards of $15 a person for your family to see a movie in the theatre, why not try an outdoor screening? Almost all the ones on our roundup are free, free, free. Find one near you, and don’t forget the sweaters because it gets chilly when the sun goes down.
6. Rather than pay for a whale watch just to find out that one of your wee ones get mal de mer, take a hike! Visit Westward Beach and take the short walk to the cliff on Point Dume. From there you can scout for dolphins and whales offshore (or look down to see rock climbers rappelling down the cliff).
7. Since Disneyland raised prices, you’re looking for a cheaper way to meet favorite characters. Head to Hollywood Boulevard. Sure, it’s touristy, but where else do you see Chaplin and Elvis having coffee, while Elmo, Captain Jack and Darth Vader all shake hands and pose nearby? You can also splash in the fountain at Hollywood and Highland while you’re here. (And if you want to spend a few cents, there’s almost-penny candy jars filled to the brim at Sweet! Hollywood.)
8. We live in the city, not the backwoods.So how do you get your marshmallow toasting/campfire storytelling fix? Parks around the city have campfire nights almost every night of the week. Find one near you.
9. Sure, you can see movie stars at the grocery store. But they’re nothing compared to the celestial stars you can check out at the Griffith Observatory. Everything here is free except the planetarium show (and that’s pretty inexpensive, too).
10. It’s a two-fer. See art and discover the heart of our city. Downtown has become a whole new place in the last few years, and you can see it all, along with some pretty amazing art at the monthly Downtown LA Artwalk.
11. It’s Chinatown, Jake. Chinatown Summer Nights, to be exact, where there’s music, dance, cultural & cooking demonstrations and more, right in the heart of Chinatown.
12. What is it with Culver City and free theater for kids? We don’t know, but we love it. Every weekend morning in August you can head to Media Park for the Actors Gang kid-friendly production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
13. Hit the beach! Yes, it’s obvious (summer + Los Angeles = beach), but how often do we really go? If you’re hesitating because you don’t know which beaches are easiest with wee ones, we’ve compiled a list of the best of the best. Now you have no excuses.
14. Though you love your local library, the massive and beautiful Los Angeles Public Library’s Central branch is well worth a special visit. It has a huge Children’s Literature Department and hosts a slew of activities for kiddos, including story times, puppet shows, and music. (All in air conditioned comfort.)
15. Pop quiz: what do kids like almost as much as sweet treats? Getting dirty! So put on the playclothes and take them to the Tar Pits. The summer heat makes the pits of tar that bubble up through the grass extra oozy.
17. If you’ve had your fill of sand getting dragged home from the beach and of rashes from the chlorinated pools, we’ve got another (free) option. Take a swim in nature. These watering holes will only cost you a short hike.
18. ESMoA is a tucked away little gem of a museum that’s always free and has family Sundays once a month and Toddler Saturdays all through July. The current exhibit is also beyond cool.
19. Ok, most of us can’t watch the Dodgers on TV this summer. (Boo!) But there are loads of ways to see some different sports in action. Kids love to watch skate boarders (we like the skate park in South Pasadena for youngsters to watch in safety). Or volley ballers at the beach (Manhattan Beach is tops for this). You can see pick up basketball, paddle ball or weightlifters in Venice along the boardwalk, and Pan Pacific Park in mid-city is a wonderful place to watch some exciting amateur soccer games take place.
20. There are two Levitt Pavilions in town – one in LA’s MacArthur Park and one in Pasadena. Both have concerts, for free, several nights a week. Both have a dedicated kids night. Both are loads of fun.
21. Travel Town is always free, and it’s a great way for little train lovers to spend the day. Pack a lunch to enjoy under a shady tree and pack your trains to play with on the indoor train table and you’ll manage to keep cool, to boot.
22. Maybe your little driver prefers motorcycles to trains. Forest Lawn (yes, the cemetery) is a tranquil and beautiful spot that hosts unique (free) exhibits in their Glendale museum. This summer the exhibit is called “Vroom: The Art of the Motorcycle.”
23. Did you know that this year Batman turns 75? Celebrate his birthday with a trip to the Batcave (Bronson Caves), where they filmed the Adam West TV show.
24. Did you know you can hear a show at the Hollywood Bowl for free? On mornings when there is a new evening performance (usually Tuesday and Thursdays – call to check at 323. 850.2000), the LA Phil has a rehearsal that is free and open to the public from about 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes, and a chance to hear the whole concert – without tickets, late nights or stacked parking. While you’re here, stroll through the (free) Hollywood Bowl Museum.
25. Visit the Music Center downtown and be part of the show. With drum circles, dance lessons and sing-alongs all summer long, it’s easy to get interactive and musical.
What are your favorite free spots for summer fun with the kids?