Free and Cheap Summer Camps for Los Angeles Kids
Summer camp can be a great way to keep Los Angeles-area kids busy and even intellectually and creatively stimulated through those long summer months—but rarely is it cheap. Amazingly, we came up with a list of LA summer camps that won't destroy your budget, and some of them are even (gasp) free. Check out these summer camps with your kids, tweens, and teens now as spots will fill up before you know it.
Decisions about where and when to hold several of the free and inexpensive camps this year are being made extremely late, as funding and resources are more scarce than ever. We continue to update this post as new information becomes available, but be sure to call a camp's office for the latest information.
Free Summer Camps for LA Kids
Parks in Long Beach
The city of Long Beach hosts Free Summer Fun Days at most of its public parks, with six hours of structured fun offered on a drop-in basis. Taking advantage of this resource means calling each local park for its specific schedule, but a family could piece together a whole lot of camp (and a nice tour of Long Beach) for free. However, the city offers an almost free camp, as well. This traditionally structured day camp for kids ages 5-12 runs from 9am-4pm at several locations, for the low cost of $30 a week. Parents can register online or in person at any of the 5 park locations where camp is offered.
2021 update: LA Kids has still not been given clearance to run camps this summer (as of May 30, 2021). A final decision will be made by the end of June; call the main office at 323.226.1404 to request an update when a decision is reached.
Want a free camp for your kid aged 5 to 17 this summer? Look no further than the LA Parks system. The Department of Recreation and Parks, through the LA Kids program, has offered free programs and activities to youth ages 5-17 since 1996. It's not just giving the kids a few balls and telling them to get some fresh air, either. In addition to an emphasis on health and fitness, the camps focus on the arts, drama, martial arts, dance, music, gymnastics, self-defense, skateboarding, sewing, science, and creative play. How's that for comprehensive? Each year approximately 125,000 youths participate in classes and activities led by quality instructors in their fields.
2021 update: Last year Apple Camp moved online to become Apple Camp at home (materials are still available for this year). For the summer of 2021, the camp will be back in the stores. Sign up to be notified when Apple Camp is open for registration since spots fill quickly.
If your kid can't let go of his screen for outdoor excitement, why fight it? This camp is just three, 90-minute sessions at your local Apple store, but your kid might pick up some useful tech tips (and bonus, you can hit the mall food court on the way home). This isn't a drop-off opportunity, however: Apple makes it very clear that all campers must have a parent or legal guardian on-site for the duration of Apple Camp. With free wifi and often a Starbucks within eyeshot, of course, that's not much of a sacrifice. Campers must be between the ages of 8 and 12.
2021 update: Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program will be running virtually in 2021.
Granted this free camp opportunity caters to a very select few, but it is nonetheless an amazing free opportunity: rising sophomore, junior, and senior girls—trans and cis—and non-binary students can qualify for this free 7-week STEM camp that takes place in various cities around the country, Los Angeles among them. Final application deadlines are in late March, so it takes planning, but for the right camper this program is a game-changer. No prior computer science experience is required.
Local Community and Rec Centers
Los Angeles is not the only city in this town, and several other local rec centers have free programs for the immediate community. These programs may not always be framed as summer camp—often, in fact, they run year-round—but they are essential for local working families. Virginia Park, for example, serves local families in Santa Monica with free after-school and summer enrichment for kids. Throughout the LA area, there are also recreation centers run by the county that offer free summer programs; check the county camp website to find one near you. And while not all of the camps run by a local recreation center will be free, those that charge are still significantly cheaper than commercial camps.
Photo courtesy of Camp Hollywoodland
Cheap Summer Camps around LA
The Department of Recreation and Parks offers day camps at 120 Parks and Recreation Centers across the city of LA. It's a fabulous program, and camp runs about $200 a week (or less) for a full day of camp 5 days a week, complete with lunch and snacks. The staff at all the camps that we've come across are amazing; combining indoor and outdoor activities with plenty of sports, arts and crafts, games, and outings for kids ages 5-12. Older kids can even return as CITs (counselors in training). These programs fill up fast, and kids can be registered online or in person.
East Los Angeles
From June 10 to August 2, 2021, the Boys & Girls Club of LA offers an activity-filled summer camp option that's priced on a sliding scale—depending on your family income, prices can range from $45 to $200 per week. Kids get access to games, computers, field trips, dance instruction, ceramics, STEM classes, and even field trips. The camp is held from 7:30am to 6pm, but the day is full; there's also baseball and swimming if you give the okay. You will also need to release your kids' school records.
While the Y has overnight camps, its day camps can offer almost all of the benefits of traditional camp—new experiences, skill-building, a sense of community, and lasting friendships—while allowing campers to return home each afternoon. YMCAs offer day camps for elementary school children, but some have offerings for preschoolers and teens, too. Chances are good there's a Y day camp near you, as there are more than 1,850 across the country. This summer there are more than 20 camps in the LA area alone! Prices vary but are usually discounted for members.
With day camp locations in Long Beach and Altadena, and an overnight program in Frazier Park, the Girl Scouts camps offer classic camp activities, including crafts, games, and campfires that provide opportunities for girls to discover, connect, and take action in ways that build their courage, confidence, and character. Depending on location, girls can swim, try their hands at archery, challenge themselves on a ropes course, climbing towers, learn marine science, and more. Financial aid “Camperships” are available for campers whose family financial circumstances might otherwise prevent them from attending camp.
Find out if there's a PAL near you. Started as a way to give neighborhood kids something to do that didn't involve breaking windows, this is a non-profit camp that gives kids a chance to hang out with the real cops patrolling their neighborhoods.
2021 update: Camp Invention will host the 2021 program online. This summer enjoy Camp Invention Connect: Recharge from the comfort of home.
The next generation of engineers, inventors, and scientists will love this camp, which features robot building, a superhero-themed challenge to build a device to retrieve stolen ideas and island survival tools. The camp is for five days for kids from kindergarten to 6th grade and is from 9am to 3:30pm.
Photo courtesy of Griffith Park Boys' Camp
2021 update: Griffith Park Boys' Camp has not yet made final decisions about the summer of 2021. There is currently (as of May 30, 2021) construction taking place at camp. There may still be a late summer day camp available. Check the website or call for updates.
Operating since 1924, this boys' sleep-away camp is a 10-acre facility you probably didn't know existed. The grounds (which are close enough for a last-minute rescue, but know that will cost you part or all of your fee) have 16 bungalow-style cabins that sleep 10 and (to your son's great relief) are air-conditioned and heated. The four bathroom/shower bungalows have hot and cold running water year-round, and the main lodge/dining hall has a wood-burning fireplace and a full-service kitchen. But your kid will be more excited by the 30 ft. rock climbing wall, high ropes challenge course, archery range, and miles of hiking trails. Boys ages 7-14 can sign up, and spots are available for low-income applicants, too.
2021 update: Camp Hollywoodland has not yet made final decisions about the summer of 2021. There is the possibility that this will be run as a day camp later in the summer. Check the website or call for updates.
Called the best-kept secret in Los Angeles, this girls' sleep-away camp just under the Hollywood sign has swimming, a climbing wall, outdoor living skills, nature awareness, field trips, and themed programs that include meals, lodging, snacks, equipment, and supervision. The program schedule is from 7:30am (rise & shine) until 8:30 or 9:30pm (lights out). During the course of the day, campers choose activities by cabin groups, age groups, and individually. All activities are taught by trained and experienced staff. Weekly sessions begin Monday (check-in is 8am - 9:30am) and end Friday (pick-up is 5:30 - 6:30pm). Girls 6 -14 years old are divided into cabin groups with a 3 year age span (ages 6-8, 9-11, 12-14). Each cabin has between 2 and 3 counselors who sleep in the cabins with their campers. A separate Camper Leadership Development (CLD) Program is available for girls 15-17 years of age.
Vacation Bible School
If your family is comfortable with a little religious curriculum in your summer camp experience, VBS is a very affordable solution. Many local churches across the county offer Vacation Bible School programs, which vary in religious content and price, of course. Any given church may only do a week or two of VBS, but that week may cost as little as $20. Check with your local church to see if they offer a summer camp.
Originally published February 2019, updated annually.