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The Restaurant at The Getty Center|©Thad Zajdowicz / Flickr
The Restaurant at The Getty Center|©Thad Zajdowicz / Flickr
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20 Fantastic Free Museums in Los Angeles

Picture of Juliet Bennett Rylah
Updated: 7 March 2017
Los Angeles has over 100 museums, running the gamut from austere art and cultural institutions to quirky homages to velvet paintings and the macabre. Fortunately for the frugal, a great deal of L.A.’s museums are either very affordable or, in some cases, totally free. Here are 20 ways you can learn about art, culture, history, science, and even TV – all without cracking open your wallet.
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Banning Residence Museum

The Banning Residence is a 23-room Greek Revival home once occupied by Phineas Banning, a businessman who founded the city of Wilmington. The home was built in 1864 and was then acquired by the City of Los Angeles in 1927. After years of neglect, the home was restored and now serves as a living history museum where guests can learn what life was like in the late 1800s. Admission is free, though there is a $5 suggested donation for adults or a $1 suggested donation for children. Events held at the residence include murder mystery dinners, lunches, and teas.

Banning Residence Museum, 401 E M St, Wilmington, CA, USA, +1 310 548 7777

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The Broad

Though visitors do need to reserve a ticket to The Broad in advance, general admission is free. Opened in 2015, this contemporary art museum contains some 2,000 pieces, including Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog and the wildly popular Infinity Mirrored Room by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Food and cocktails are available via the adjacent Otium.

The Broad, 221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 232 6200

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California African American Museum

The California African American Museum launched in the early ’80s and has been in its current building, designed by architects Jack Haywood and Vince Proby, since 1984. The museum seeks to collect and preserve African American culture, with a focus on California and the western United States. Within, guests will find a massive research library, a permanent collection of over 6,000 pieces of art and historical items, and a rotating selection of exhibits among three gallery spaces. Past shows have included a photography exhibit on West Coast hip hop; an exhibit surrounding black motorcycle culture; and a collection of photos and documents from the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin during the Third Reich, in which black Americans won 14 medals.

California African American Museum, 600 State Dr, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 744 7432

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California Science Center

Just a brief walk from the California African American Museum is the California Science Center. This family-friendly museum features a variety of interactive exhibits exploring life sciences and technology. You can even check out the Space Shuttle Endeavor, which has been onsite since 2012. Admission to the museum’s permanent exhibits is free, but tickets are required for their IMAX Theater or special exhibits. Reservations to see Endeavor are free – but first-come, first-served – at the box office, or $2 online, or $3 by phone.

California Science Center, 700 Exposition Park Dr, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 323 724 3623

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Fowler Museum

The Fowler Museum focuses on art and culture predominantly outside of Europe. Exhibitions have included jewelry from India’s Thar Desert, fashion and dance from Johannesburg, modern Cuban posters, and a collection of over 250 silver objects from around the world.

Fowler Museum at UCLA, 308 Charles E Young Dr, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 310 825 4361

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The La Brea Tar Pits

While access to the nearby George C. Page Museum will cost adults $12 and children $5, visiting the La Brea Tar Pits is as simple as arriving and walking around. The pits are thousands of years old and consist of natural asphalt that seeps up from the ground below. Scientists have excavated over one million bones from the pits since 1906 and are still excavating in the area today. In 2013, an LAPD officer dove into the pit in search of evidence in a cold case, describing it as “by far the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”

The La Brea Tar Pits, 5801 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 763 3499

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Hollywood Bowl Museum

This museum, first opened in 1984 and rebuilt in 1996, celebrates its namesake: the amphitheater known as the Hollywood Bowl, opened in 1922. This free museum features exhibits on the Bowl’s history, architecture and past performances. Find past programs and postcards, as well as photographs and clippings from The Beatles’ 1964 and 1965 shows.

Edmund D. Edelman Hollywood Bowl Museum, 2301 Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 323 850 2058

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Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) was founded by Holocaust survivors in 1961. The survivors met in an English as a second language class at Hollywood High School and, through conversation, discovered that each of them had at least one item, be it a photograph or uniform, from that time period. Visitors will encounter information and photographs documenting the rise of Nazi Germany, a recreation of a train car used to move groups to concentration camps, and a model of the Sobibor extermination camp once located in occupied Poland. The latter is presented with a video from survivor Thomas Blatt, who explains the conditions of the camp and how he escaped.

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 Grove Dr, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 323 651 3704

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust|Courtesy of LAMOTH

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust | Courtesy of LAMOTH

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Forest Lawn Museum

This museum can be found within sprawling, 300-acre Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale. Dr. Hubert Eaton, who took over management of the cemetery in 1917, believed that Forest Lawn should be aesthetically pleasing as opposed to grim, like other graveyards. As such, the cemetery itself features fountains and gorgeous landscaping, while the museum offers art, history, and religious exhibits, as well as a permanent collection of stained glass windows and statues.

Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S Glendale Ave, Glendale, CA, USA, +1 888 204 3131

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Hammer Museum

The Hammer Museum at ULCA, designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, opened in 1990. Exhibits include work from artists of all mediums, and programming consists of lectures, film screenings, concerts, readings, and more. Permanent collections include European and American paintings donated by Hammer Museum founder Armand Hammer; the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden; and the Grunwald Center Collection of 45,000 prints, drawings, and photographs dating back as early as the Renaissance.

The Hammer Museum’s public programs are all free, though some may require a ticket. They can be acquired on a first-come, first-served basis from the museum’s box office as early as an hour before the program.

Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 310 443 7000

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Center for Land Use and Interpretation

Founded in 1994, the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) is a research organization that aims to explore how humans use and interact with land. CLUI can be elusive in scope and purposefully vague, yet their work can also be a fascinating rabbit hole to explore. Entering their nondescript building will allow guests to peruse their multimedia exhibits which, in the past, have documented things like underground storage facilities and monuments memorializing U.S. presidents. Prefer to do land research from home? CLUI maintains a huge online database of interesting sites across the United States.

The Center for Land Use and Interpretation, 9331 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA, USA, +1 310 839 5722

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Travel Town Museum

Travel Town Museum can be found in the northwest edge of Los Angeles’ massive public park, Griffith Park. Established in 1952, Travel Town is dedicated to the history of transit and boasts a large collection of trains and vehicles. The museum’s very first piece was provided by Southern Pacific Company president D.W. Russell, who donated a 115-ton locomotive at the request of Parks department employee Charles Atkins. While admission to this cab train and the museum is always free, short train rides are available for $2.75.

Travel Town Museum, 5200 Zoo Dr, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 323 662 5874

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FIDM Museum and Galleries

You can find this free museum at the FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising), where students learn the ins and outs of the fashion business. The collections include various pieces of significant clothing and accessories, high-fashion couture, patterns, photos, textiles, swatch books, and embroidery samples. Rotating exhibits have explored California fashion and costume design in film.

FIDM Museum and Galleries, 919 S Grand Ave #250, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 623 5821

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The Annenberg Space for Photography

The Annenberg Space for Photography was the first cultural venue to showcase exclusively photographic works in Los Angeles. Visitors can view both print and digital images from photographers all over the world. The digital gallery alone contains thousands of images, while a reading room allows guests to page through numerous books on photography.

The Annenberg Space for Photography, 2000 Avenue of the Starts #10, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 403 3000

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The Paley Center for Media

The Paley Center for Media documents television and radio programming throughout the past century. Their New York location has been around since the 1970s, while Los Angeles’ opened in 1996. Visitors can browse their massive digital collection of over 160,000 TV and radio programs then watch or listen to them in individual or four-person family consoles. Recent additions to the Paley Center’s library include its African American, Hispanic, and LGBT collections. Guests may check out what’s screening in one of the center’s theaters. The Paley Center also hosts events and exhibits, such as the offsite PaleyFest, where fans can attend panels packed with the stars of popular modern TV shows. Admission is to the Paley Center for Media is free, though those that wish may contribute a suggested donation of $10 per adult and $5 per child.

The Paley Center for Media, 465 Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills, CA, USA, +1 310 786 1000

Browse over 160,000 pieces of radio and TV programming|Courtesy of the Paley Center for Media

Browse over 160,000 pieces of radio and TV programming | Courtesy of the Paley Center for Media

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Wells Fargo History Museum

Wells Fargo has numerous history museums across the United States; their Los Angeles museum contains both an original Concord Stagecoach as well as a replica that guests may enter, in addition to old maps of Los Angeles and an operational telegraph. This museum is typically only open during traditional banking hours on weekdays, yet they do open one Saturday every three months.

Wells Fargo History Museum, 333 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 253 7166

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Getty Center

The Getty Center, designed by architect Richard Meier, opened in 1997. It’s located high on a hill in the Santa Monica Mountains, allowing breathtaking views of the city below. Visitors take a tram up the hill and have the option of traversing the gorgeous gardens, browsing the exhibits, or enjoying a meal in the restaurant and café. In addition to rotating exhibits, the Getty’s collection includes photographs, sculptures, rare books, drawings, manuscripts, and numerous European paintings. Though admission is free, parking is $15.

Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 301 440 7300

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Los Angeles Maritime Museum

From 1941 until 1963, a ferry system transported passengers to the various industries and military bases on the now mostly abandoned Terminal Island. The Municipal Ferry Terminal now serves as the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, where guests can learn about the history of the L.A. Harbor and the fishing and canning industries. The museum houses model ships, artwork made by sailors, and a functioning ham radio station. Admission is free, though there is a suggested donation of $5 per adult.

Los Angeles Maritime Museum, 600 Sampson Way, San Pedro, CA, USA, +1 310 548 7618

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Wende Museum

Founded in 2002 by Justinian Jampol, the Wende Museum focuses on the Cold War and offers a collection of over 100,000 artworks, films, writings, and other artifacts from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe between 1945 to 1991. In German, “wende” means turning point and is used to describe the period of time surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In late 2017, the Wende Museum will move into its new home in the U.S. National Guard Armory Building in Culver City.

Wende Museum, 5741 Buckingham Pkwy, Culver City, CA, USA, +1 310 216 1600

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Oran Z’s Pan African Black Facts and Wax Museum

At Oran Z’s, guests will find wax figures of black historical icons and celebrities including Barack and Michelle Obama, Michael Jackson, Malcolm X, and Frederick Douglass. The figures are complement a large collection of artifacts from African American and African art and culture: postcards, dolls, photographs, and masks. The collection also boldly documents the history of racism in America and features artifacts dating back to slavery and items affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Oran Z’s Pan African Black Facts and Wax Museum, 3742 W Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 323 299 8829