Love museums, but the prices make you think twice? If you have a large family, those tickets add up fast—which is particularly frustrating if you then need to beat a hasty retreat to avoid a meltdown. SoCal has some great museums that have free general admission every day of the year, including The Getty, California Science Center and The Broad. Also, active-duty military personnel can take advantage of the Blue Star Program at many LA and OC museums in summertime. As for the rest of them (once kids are old enough to have to pay), many LA and OC museums have monthly or even weekly free days or evenings, and we have collected a list below for easy reference. These times offer a great chance to bring the extended family, meet friends, or check out a place you have never been before—all for just the price of parking or Metro tickets. And if there's a meltdown? At least it's free.
We recommend confirming free days/evenings with the museums, especially if the date is near a national or religious holiday. Be aware that free days can sometimes be quite crowded.
Los Angeles County
The Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles 90027
Located in Griffith Park, directly across the street from the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry is free to the general public on the second Tuesday (10 a.m.-4.p.m.) of every month. The collections focus on Native American and Western U.S. history.
Craft and Folk Art Museum
5814 Wilshire Blvd. (at Curson Avenue)
Los Angeles 90036
You never know what you might find at this smaller museum that hosts a wide variety of exhibitions. Admission is "pay what you want" on Sundays, from 11am to 6pm.
Discovery Cube LA
11800 Foothill Blvd.
Los Angeles 91342
Los Angeles residents are eligible to receive up to four free admissions per household to Discovery Cube LA when they show their Department of Water and Power statement and matching photo ID on a select Tuesday of most months (most often the first Tuesday of the month).
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90024
Admission to all exhibitions and public programs at the Hammer is free and open to the public.
Everyone loves wandering the Huntington Gardens. Photo by Ian D. Keating/CC BY 2.0
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino 91108
Admission to the Huntington is free to the general public on the first Thursday of every month; unlike many museums, however, the Huntington requires that you reserve a free ticket. Yes, you have to plan in advance, but the limited number of tickets prevents overcrowding. Tickets, which go fast, become available at 9am on the first of the month preceding each free day, so Sept. 1 for the October free day.
Japanese American National Museum
100 N. Central Ave.
Los Angeles 90012
JANM is the largest museum in the US focusing on the experiences of Japanese Americans. It is free to the public on the third Thursday of every month (noon-8pm), and every Thursday from 5pm-8pm In addition, the museum holds a number of free family festivals throughout the year. On those days, admission to the museum is free.
Kidspace Children's Museum
480 N. Arroyo Blvd.
Kidspace hosts a free family night on the first Tuesday of every month (except September) from 4pm-8pm.
Long Beach Art Museum
2300 E. Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach 90803
This small museum has a lovely location on a coastal bluff. The collections and exhibits focus on ceramics, early 20th century European art, and California art. Every Friday is a free admission day, as are Thursdays from 3pm-8pm.
LACMA's Urban Light installation is a must-do LA photo op. Photo by Mommy Poppins
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90036
LACMA has several systems in place for free days. The second Tuesday of each month is free for the general public. LA County residents can visit for free after 3pm Mondays through Fridays. Federal holidays are also free (the museum is closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas and every Wednesday). If you sign your children up (for free!) with the NexGen program, each child gets free admission anytime for themselves and one accompanying adult. LACMA free days do not include admission to special ticketed exhibits.
Museum of Contemporary Art
250 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles 90012
152 N Central Ave
Los Angeles 90012
MOCA's Grand Avenue and Geffen Contemporary locations offer free admission to the public on Thursdays from 5pm-8pm. (The West Hollywood location, 8687 Melrose Ave, is always free.)
Museum of Latin American Art
628 Alamitos Ave.
Long Beach 90802
MOLAA has free family days every Sunday, 11am-5pm. Some family days also feature music, art workshops, storytelling, dance classes, or other activities. (In addition, admission is free from 5pm-9pm on the fourth Friday of every month.)
Giddy-up over to the Natural History Museum. Photo by Tomás Del Coro/CC BY 2.0
Natural History Museum
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles 90007
The NHM now offers 13 free Tuesdays (9:30am-5pm) each year; most are the first Tuesday. There are none in July and August, but all Tuesdays in September are free. See here for the upcoming schedule.
Norton Simon Museum
411 W. Colorado Blvd.
The Norton Simon is free to the public on the first Friday evening of every month, from 5pm-8pm. This is one of the few museums that is always free to those 18 and under and students with ID.
Pacific Asia Museum
46 N. Los Robles Ave.
The Pacific Asia Museum's collections focus on Asia and the Pacific Islands. It has been closed to the public since June 2016 while it undergoes seismic retrofitting. It is expected to reopen sometime in late 2017. When it was operating, it opened its doors to all for free on the second Sunday of every month. (During the closure, the museum presents a slate of programs throughout the community, as well as a satellite exhibition at USC.)
Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90036
The Page Museum offers free general admission on the first Tuesday of every month, with the exceptions of July and August. Reservations are recommended for free days because it does get crowded. Remember, the grounds are always open, free of charge, and if your kids like the actual tar, they will love the grounds!
Skirball's Noah's Ark exhibit is a great family destination. Photo by Timothy Norris courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center
Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 E. Union St.
The Pasadena Museum of California Art offers free admission on the first Fridays (noon-5pm) and the third Thursdays (5pm-8pm) of the month.
Skirball Cultural Center
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles 90049
All of the Skirball's exhibitions are free to the public on Thursdays (noon-5 p.m.). The campus grounds and Ruby Gallery are always free, as is parking, and no tickets are required to access the shops or dining areas. Note that the Noah's Ark portion of the museum, while also free on Thursdays, requires a timed ticket to enter, and tickets usually book up in advance on Thursdays. Reserving in advance is strongly recommended.
Bowers' Family Days have demonstrations where kids can get crafty. Photo courtesy of the Bowers Museum
2002 N. Main St.
Santa Ana 92706
On Sundays, the Bowers offers free tickets to the museum to Santa Ana residents only with proof of residency. In addition, on the first Sunday of each month, a Family Festival is held in the Key Courtyard. the festival is free to all visitors.
The Children's Museum at La Habra
301 S. Euclid St.
La Habra 90631
Admission is free on a designated Sunday each month. To prevent overcrowding, a total of 500 hand stamps are distributed at 1pm for the two afternoon sessions (1pm-2:45pm and 3:15pm-5pm). There is no admittance once all 500 slots are filled.
Discovery Cube OC
2500 N. Main St.
Santa Ana 92705
Bank of America cardholders receive free admission on the Sunday of the first full weekend of each month, one free general admission limited to cardholder only. Also, Santa Ana residents with proof of residency receive up to four free admissions per address on the first Tuesday of every month.
Laguna Art Museum
307 Cliff Drive
Laguna Beach 92651
The Laguna Art Museum focuses on California art, and is free to the public the first Thursday evening of every month, from 5pm-9pm.
Orange County Museum of Art
850 San Clemente Drive
Newport Beach 92660
OCMA offers free admission every Friday. The OCMA lot offers free parking — but neighboring overflow lots charge.
Top photo of LACMA's Levitated Mass by Eric Chan/CC BY 2.0
Originally published January 13, 2014