There is no limit to what a family can do outdoors in Los Angeles, and our clichéd weather makes enjoying these activities possible most days of the year. But on the occasional day when the mercury drops below 50 degrees—or when water falls perplexingly from the sky—we need a back-up plan. Indoor activities are sprinkled throughout our bucket list of 100 Things To Do with LA Kids Before They Grow Up, but wouldn't it be handy to have one list of totally free things to do with kids indoors? We thought so, too!
In case you haven't yet heard, kids and their parents get free admission to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art any old time they want to go. Art for NexGen is the nation's only free youth membership program, offering free admission to anyone 17 and under along with one accompanying adult. To join, print an enrollment form and bring it to the museum with you - and then hit the Boone Children's Gallery anytime you want.
2. California Science Center
There is so much to do at the Science Center it's just crazy—allow us to start you off with our 10 favorite picks for preschoolers and for tweens and teens. Naturally, the Science Center greatly appreciates contributions at the door when you can afford to make them, but when you can't you're just as welcome, with no questions asked; the "admission" price is a suggestion only.
You can never go wrong with bunnies! Photo courtesy of Annenberg PetSpace
3. Annenberg PetSpace
Culver City has a new place for animal lovers to hang out and get furry cuddles while learning about animal care and maybe getting sorely tempted to bring home a rescue kitten or puppy (you've been warned). Adoption is not necessary, however, to enjoy the wonderful facility; reading to the bunnies and exercising the pooches is also much appreciated by all involved.
4. Paley Center for Media
This is so LA; formerly known as the Museum of Television & Radio, the Paley Center has recordings of old TV and radio shows running during opening hours, plus a library where you can request a private screening of any show in history. Like the Science Center, the Paley has a suggested donation posted, but admission is free every day.
5. Griffith Observatory
Although there is a cost to attend the films offered at the Observatory (and they are worth every penny), there is plenty to do at Griffith Observatory without spending a cent. The many interesting interactive exhibits, the epic views, and even the remarkable building itself make the trip a Los Angeles must-do.
Star gazing can be done indoors, too. Griffith Observatory. Photo by Passion Leica/CC BY 2.0
6. Wells Fargo History Museum
The free Wells Fargo History Museum connects the bank's history to the Gold Rush and early southern California, with displays that include an 1868 Wells Fargo stagecoach and rare gold coins and nuggets. A telegraph machine in the corner on the first floor allows kids to send messages between two tables using a Morse code chart.
7. SAMO The Whale
Santa Monica Place has a free play area called SAMO's Clubhouse, designed by the same team that brought us the Skirball's Noah's Ark. The enormous play-on, play-in, play-around whale is built to scale, created using recycled materials, and keeps kids up to age 8 or so entertained for a surprisingly long time. The whale is on the top floor, in the food court, with plenty of natural light and plenty of seating for parents.
8. Watch a hockey game or figure skating at the Toyota Sports Center
The Toyota Sports Center has three different ice rinks with constant action, and two of them are observable from a heated cafe area above the rinks. Check the schedule; if you time it right, one rink could have an action-packed hockey game going on while the other has top-level figure skaters in a freestyle practice session. You can watch both for free, or spend a few coins on hot chocolate and arcade games while you watch. There is even a full cafe and bar, in case anyone gets peckish or thirsty.
Indulge red carpet fantasies, or get inspired for a Halloween costume. Photo courtesy of FIDM
9. The Fashion Institute of Design Museum
Admission is always free for families to check out the historical garments and costumes at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum. Expect to see literally thousands of threads worn in movies through the ages.
10. Getty Center or Villa
The key to either Getty museum is that the seemingly hefty price is only for parking. This means that if you can get a ride, carpool, or take the bus, a day at the Getty can be free - and there is plenty going on at both locations to fill a lot more than a day.
11. Hollywood Bowl Museum
A small museum covering the history of the bowl and other music artifacts, the two-story museum is just steps from the Bowl itself. This can be a quick daytime stop to take when Highland traffic seems insurmountable.
The Fowler Museum's permanent exhibition Intersections: World Arts/Local Lives, photo by Rajat Ghosh/Fowler Museum
12. Fowler Museum
Located on the UCLA campus, this museum emphasizes cultures from Africa, Asia, and the Americas -- making it a great spot to open pint-sized minds.
13. Torrance Art Museum
Want to introduce your kids to contemporary and modern artwork for free? A rainy day seems like the perfect opportunity.
14. The Hammer Museum
Located in the heart of Westwood, the Hammer Museum has a remarkable collection of modern art for free -- but be prepared to pay $6 for the first three hours of parking under the building. Still, you'll never get wet!
15. Annenberg Space for Photography
Have a junior shutterbug? This small museum hosts a variety of exhibits (a recent one was the National Geographic Photo Ark with squee-worthy pictures of animals) and, while parking in the area can be pricey, entry to this museum is always free.
16. Central Library
While the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library can become a dry and safe haven for the community's homeless population when it rains, consider coming using our tips on how best to enjoy a visit with kids.
17. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
This cozy aquarium is worth a visit rain or shine (and especially when the grunion are running), but consider stopping in for a rainy day activity. After checking out the simulated tide pool touch tank, enjoy the aquatic babies exhibit and the giant whale skeleton hung from above. While entry is free, a contribution is always appreciated.