February 26, 2018
7 Best Free Museums in Los Angeles
By: Karina Anastasia Roche
Los Angeles is a cultural Mecca—but also devastating for traveler’s budgets. But you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy L.A.’s art and culture. Many of our best museums don’t even charge admission. Take advantage of some of the world’s best museums while staying with us at the Topanga Canyon Inn, and peacefully contemplate a Rembrandt or Monet without wondering whether your card got overdrawn this time.
Two of L.A.'s most renowned museums don't charge for admission (although they do for parking). The closest of these to Topanga Canyon, the Getty Villa, was inspired by a 1st-century Roman villa buried in Pompeii. The Villa feels both out of time and yet perfectly at home, perched on a hill overlooking the ocean, and houses Classical art, antiquities, and various exhibits--but the true attraction is its authentic architecture, sculptures, and gardens.* (Check their schedule for Greek plays in the outdoor auditorium). Or visit the larger Getty Center, a modern locus for art and research that boasts not only stunning white-stone architecture, collections spanning every time period, and serene gardens, with vast views of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Mountains.
*Note that some galleries will be closed from January 2017 to spring 2018 due to renovations, but the Villa will remain open.
The Griffith Observatory is one of the most popular museums and tourist destinations in Los Angeles--as the enormous crowds testify. You might recognize it as the location of the romantic sky dance from the film La La Land--a kind of advertising that certainly doesn't make finding parking any easier on a date night. This historic observatory is situated on a mountaintop, its great domed structure as elegant as the sweeping views of Los Angeles that surround it. Enter through the great wrought-iron doors and you are greeted with the enormous and impressive Foucault pendulum--a clock that measures the rotation of the Earth. Look up, and you will notice that the pendulum is suspended from a painted dome ceiling depicting astronomers and scientists from every continent and time period. Various exhibits educate on everything from a periodic table made from actual elements to a display of the Tesla coil. And, of course, be sure not to miss one of the museum's stunning planetarium shows.
Once the sun goes down, go take a peek at our neighboring planets through one of the museum's telescopes. To get the most out of your visit, refer to the museum's sky report for a list of upcoming astronomical events, and plan your visit accordingly. The Griffith Observatory is a comprehensive and truly awe-inspiring attraction, whether for seasoned science-lovers or the casual tourist seeking out L.A.'s most beautiful sites.
Located in the University of Southern California's historic Exposition Park, the Natural History Museum is a perfect complement to a visit to the university campus, downtown Los Angeles, and is an all-day visit in its own right. From taxidermy exhibits of animals and ecosystems around the world, fossils of prehistoric creatures, looming dinosaur skeletons, collections of stones and precious gems, a dino lab, and a seasonal greenhouse pavilion filled with gorgeous spiders and butterflies, the museum is a truly fascinating place for curious minds of all ages. Complete your exploration of nature by taking a walk through the enormous Exposition Park Rose Garden, a colorful sprawl of grass and blooms situated between USC's museums.
Another science museum in Exposition Park is the California Science Museum, a vast, hands-on museum that covers nearly every field of science. Visit the parked Endeavour space shuttle (for weekends and holidays, make sure to reserve your tickets), enter an earthquake simulation room, several ecosystem rooms, see microscopic cells, bacteria, and fungi, a chick hatchery, ride a suspended bicycle, and view a 3D IMAX science documentary. This is only a snapshot of the museum's features: it really has too much to see in one day, so plan your viewing wisely and choose the exhibits you would like to see most.
The University of California, Los Angeles's on-campus Fowler Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but open--and free--the rest of the week, starting at noon. This global arts and culture museum, dedicated to displaying works from Africa, Asia, and the Pacific has a unique archaeological and contemporary collection that marries history with the present. From photography illustrating the lives of today's Africans to scrolls and robes once used by Chinese priests, the Fowler's collection delivers a fascinating tour of the world's lesser-known, but nevertheless beautiful, art.
Broad is a new, contemporary art museum that opened only in 2015. It houses art, photography, sculptures, and installations from living artists, including contemporary artist superstar Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room--The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, a version of the traveling display that received so much press earlier this year. To access the room, you will need to make a same-day reservation. Because of its popularity, not all visitors can be accommodated. The museum recommends arriving early for a better chance of scoring a ticket. For general admission, we recommend you also make a reservation here, although there is a standby line for tickets, distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Just a couple of blocks south of UCLA and the Fowler, the Hammer is a center not only for art, but films, performances, and events. View contemporary art and older works alike--the museum's collection features Van Gogh, Monet, and Rembrandt, just to name a few--and then see one of their documentary screenings (such as the award-winning White Helmets) or talks by famous names in culture such as author Roxanne Gay.
Who knew there were so many ways to enjoy some of the world's best art, culture, and science without opening your wallet? We are so fortunate to have these museums so close by, within driving distance of the Topanga Canyon Inn. After a day out in the city and on your feet, return to the serenity of Topanga Canyon, and feel like you're in a painting yourself. If you still want more art but don't feel like going out, remember that the Inn also doubles as a gallery of your hosts' fine art and nature photography.