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.
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Get ready to check off a bunch of boxes in one outing: outdoor time, local history, exercise, easy drive, and totally FREE—right down to the parking. This little known canyon in the Santa Clarita Valley offers hiking through a special piece of California's past, pulling together Native American history, Hollywood movie locations, and the site of the very first discovery of gold in California. All of this is set amidst a variety of native flora and fauna, with guided ranger activities and a nature center, making Placerita Canyon a great choice for a day's excursion.
Looking for something different to do with the kids? Something bucket list worthy? How about the drive-in? Remember the double features, staying up late watching movies in your jammies under the stars, tubs of popcorn from the snack bar, and, as the night wore on, crawling into the pile of blankets mom brought? Today's kids don't need to miss out on this American institution; though not as popular as they once were, several area drive-ins are still operating, plus LA has a pop-up drive-in, too. Drive-ins are generally cheaper than movie theaters, often show double features, and let you bring your own food. We're fortunate in the Southland to have oodles of free outdoor movies in summer, but there is something uniquely magical about the drive-in.
(Be sure to check out our movie reviews before you go.)
Vroom Vroom! Does the sound of the garbage truck coming down the street send your kids running to watch? Would they love to sit in the trucks and maybe even take a ride? Do they know all the different types of trucks and haulers? Earth Day inaugurates the season of city yard open houses and recycling fairs, and—if you haven't heard—these events register high on the LA insider scale. More than 6,000 residents attend an open house in an average year.
Who doesn't love receiving gifts on birthdays? Rhetorical question: obviously kids love gifts, and parents love free gifts. That's why it's worth knowing about the many SoCal businesses that offer birthday clubs, treats, and freebies for kids on their big day. As the parent, you will need to register the birthday kids—and oftentimes yourself, too, before adding your children as family members. Check the age ranges on the offers below, as they vary. Go ahead and sign up now, and the coupons and emails will start rolling in while you are busy planning a birthday party.
Kids, teens, and adults all love laser tag. A little bit tag, a little bit hide and seek, laser tag is great fun for a mixed-age group. Video games fans can get up off the sofa and jump right inside the game, with an adrenaline rush practically guaranteed. Players wear special vests and use laser guns; the vests light up when hit (so no arguments!), and no protective gear is required—you cannot feel the laser, and it is eye-safe as well.
Some SoCal multi-activity family fun centers (of the type, for example, that might have glow-in-the-dark mini-golf) offer small versions of a laser tag game; if you've played at one of these, it's time to ramp up your game at one of the major laser tag arenas below! A dedicated laser tag center is two to four times larger than the games at family fun centers, and usually offers multiple levels. There are also fewer extra activities to pull at your wallet. Arenas are dark (the better to see the lasers) and may have other effects such as fog and sounds or music—not to mention blacklights. If you are feeling competitive, don’t wear white.
Laser tag is a great activity for a birthday party, too. In case none of the arenas are convenient to you, we've also found some mobile laser tag companies who bring the guns and vests, barricades, and inflatables to you. Indoor or outdoor, daytime or nighttime, going to battle with your kids is just good, wholesome fun.
There's plenty to love about mini golf; it's a timeless crowd pleaser that can rescue a dull afternoon or set the stage for a great birthday party. But just when you thought you knew all you needed to know about this classic pastime, along comes glow-in-the-dark mini golf! That would be indoor miniature golf, lit with black lights. It's a whole new twist on an old-fashioned game, and it works day or night, rain or shine, little kid or teen. We found five cool spots around the Southland that crank up the day glow effects to set the stage for mini golfers. Be sure to wear white or clothes with glow-in-the-dark designs and take the family to one of these luminous, eye-popping destinations.
Spring is in the air, and spring means wildflowers! This season is turning out to be a particularly good one, in case you haven't heard. Words like "superbloom" are being bandied about, and in some cases with good cause. Some of the hillsides that we've been sad to see engulfed in fire or parched by drought in recent years finally got the rain they needed this winter to awaken seeds that lie waiting for years for this perfect combination of events. There are several locations that are known for spectacular annual displays of spring wildflowers in Southern California (not to mention the famous fields of Carlsbad), but this season brings some special guest stars as well. Large displays typically last two to six weeks, so you need to make plans quickly when word comes of a good display. (Don't have time to drive outside the city limits? We know plenty of local hikes worth checking, too!)
If we hear of more great displays, we'll share in our newsletter! (Have you subscribed?)