As a Southern Californian, you’re probably already savvy to the region’s plentiful hiking trails, sandy beaches, cycling routes, and picturesque parks—where access to many of them is free. But did you know that, with a little planning, you can watch movies, enjoy concerts, and attend galleries and workshops without spending a dime? From gardening lessons to stargazing with astronomers, check out these 101 free things to do in the Southland.
Celebrate the City
1. Surf City Nights in Huntington Beach is a local favorite, with music and a farmers market. Every Tuesday, 5–9 p.m. 1-714-536-8300.
2. Downtown Culver City comes alive during this neighborhood event featuring music, art, and more. Third Wednesdays, 5–9 p.m. 1-310-202-6060.
3. Palm Springs Villagefest has more than 200 booths offering local art, handcrafted items, and artisanal foods. Every Thursday, 6–10 p.m., Oct.–May and 7–10 p.m., June–Sept. 1-760-320-3781.
4. Shop at an open-air market, play board games, create art, and enjoy live music at the Poncitlán Square in Palmdale. Every Thursday, 5:30–8:30 p.m., June 27–Aug. 22 1-except July 4). 1-661-267-5611.
5. Visit San Diego’s vibrant North Park during Ray at Night, an art walk featuring art, live performances, and food vendors. Second Saturdays, 6–10 p.m. 1-619-299-4278.
6. Immerse yourself culturally with art openings, lectures, wine tastings, and interactive exhibits during downtown Santa Barbara’s monthly First Thursday; plus preview upcoming plays, symphony performances, concerts, and dance productions. First Thursdays, 5–8 p.m. 1-805-962-2098.
Take a Trip To…
7. Rancho San Pedro, site of California’s first Spanish land grant 1-1784). Visit the adobe home of the Dominguez family and see furnishings dating to the 1780s. Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays; and first Thursdays and Fridays. Tours at 1, 2, and 3 p.m. 1-310-603-0088.
8. California’s Rancho era, and meet historical characters from the 1840s, 1870s, and 1930s at the Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site in Long Beach. Wednesday–Sunday, 1–5 p.m. 1-562-570-1755.
9. Mid-1800s Los Angeles and view medical documentation of the 1863 smallpox epidemic, along with artifacts and historical photos at the on-site conservancy of the 157-year-old St. Vincent Medical Center. Monday–Friday by appointment. 1-213-484-7940.
10. 19th-century Buena Park and visit the 1887 Whitaker-Jaynes House, the Tice House, and the 1884 Bacon House. Monday–Friday, with docent-led tours available by appointment. 1-800-541-3953.
11. November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell and changed the course of German—and world—history. Ten sections of the wall are now an art display at 5900 Wilshire Boulevard in L.A., across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
12. 18th-century San Diego and discover the rich history of California’s birthplace via a guided tour that departs from the Old Town State Historic Park visitors center. Don’t miss demos of 19th-century activities, including quilting on Wednesdays and blacksmithing on Saturdays. Daily tours at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 1-619-220-5422.
Stay in Tune
Bring your picnic basket and blanket and enjoy live music at these summer concert events:
13. Hot Summer Nights. Rock out to blues, reggae, ska, country, and tribute bands in Old Town Temecula. Fridays, 6–10 p.m., July 12–Sept. 6.
14. Summer Concert Series. Each year, the Buena Park Cultural/Fine Arts Division presents live music and kid-friendly activities at Boisseranc Park. Wednesdays, 7–9 p.m., June–July. 1-800-541-3953.
15. TGIF Jazz in the Parks. In addition to concerts at Carlsbad’s Stagecoach, Poinsettia, and Calavera Hills community parks, this event includes art activities for kids. Fridays, 6–8 p.m., June–Aug. 1-760-434-2920.
16. Heritage Square Summer Concerts. Show up early for the free lawn seating at Oxnard’s Heritage Square to watch musical offerings ranging from reggae to swing to country. Fridays, 6–8 p.m., June 21–Aug. 30 (except July 26). 1-805-483-7960.
17. Concerts by the Sea. These concerts feature blues, jazz, Cajun, R&B music, and more at Peninsula Park in Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor. Saturdays, 4–6 p.m., July–Aug. 1-805-382-3007.
18. Music at Noon. Spend your lunch hour at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church sanctuary and enjoy 30-minute piano, organ, guitar, or string recitals. Wednesdays, 12:10–12:40 p.m. 1-626-793-2191.
19. Coronado Ferry Landing Concert Series. Savor bayside views and big band music at Coronado’s Ferry Landing. Sundays, 1–4 p.m., May–Sept. 1-619-435-8895.
20. Music at the Ranch. Goleta Valley Historical Society hosts a concert series at the Rancho La Patera & Stow House in Goleta. Tuesdays, 5:30–7:30 p.m., July 16–Aug. 20. 1-805-681-7216.
21. Saturdays Off the 405 at the Getty Center. Listen to live band and DJ sets and behold the best city views in town. Saturdays, 6–9 p.m., May–Sept. 1-310-440-7300.
22. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Latin Sounds presents music from Cuba, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Mexico. Saturdays, 5 p.m., May 25–Aug. 31. 1-323-857-6000.
23. Concerts in the Park. Move to Latin rhythms or golden oldies at Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara. Thursdays, 6–8:30 p.m., June 27– Aug. 22 1-except July 4 and Aug. 1). 1-805-897-1946.
24. OC Parks Free Summer Concert Series. Choose from 12 concerts under the stars—from country to soul to swing—at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, Mason Regional Park in Irvine, Irvine Regional Park in Orange, and Craig Regional Park in Fullerton. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 6:30–8 p.m., June–Sept. 1-714-973-6865.
25. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. Rock Yard is an Indio outdoor concert featuring cover bands 1-7–9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.–midnight-and tribute bands 1-9–10:30 p.m.). Saturdays, April 20–July 27. 1-760-342-5000.
Get Your Culture
The following SoCal museums offer free admission on certain days of the month:
26. Irvine Museum. Second Wednesdays, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; 1-949-476-2565.
27. Laguna Art Museum. First Thursdays, 5–9 p.m.; 1-949-494-8971.
28. Agriculture Museum. First Sundays, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; 1-805-525-3100.
29. Museum of Ventura County. First Sundays, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; 1-805-653-0323.
Inland Empire & Desert
30. Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art. Closed Fridays and Sundays; times vary. 1-909-537-7373.
31. Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday, noon–5 p.m.; 1-805-966-1601.
32. Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Third Thursdays, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; 1-805-962-8404.
33. Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Every Thursday, 5–8 p.m. 1-805-963-4364.
Los Angeles & Environs
34. American Museum of Ceramic Art. Second Saturdays, noon–9 p.m.; 1-909-865-3146.
35. California Science Center. Daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; 1-323-724-3623.
36. Martial Arts History Museum. First Thursdays, 3–6 p.m.; 1-818-478-1722.
37. Long Beach Museum of Art. Every Thursday, 5–8 p.m.; and Friday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; 1-562-439-2119.
38. Norton Simon Museum of Art. First Fridays, 6–9 p.m. 1-626-449-6840.
39. Getty Villa. Daily. Reservations required. 1-310-440-7300.
San Diego & Environs
40. California Surf Museum. Every Tuesday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; 1-760-721-6876.
41. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Third Thursdays, 5–7 p.m.; 1-858-454-3541.
Take the Stage
42. Fairy Tales in the Park. Gypsies in a Trunk, a volunteer group of actors, bring fairy tales like Hansel & Gretel to life. First and second Saturdays; first Sundays, times vary, May 4–Sept. 14. Various sites in Ventura County. 1-661-718-3968.
43. A Noise Within. Resident artists read classic novels, which have included Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A Q&A with directors and actors follows. Days vary, 7 p.m. Pasadena. 1-626-356-3100.
44. South Coast Repertory. A member of SCR’s literary department leads discussions with playwrights, directors, and artists. Dates are based on production schedule, 7–8 p.m. Costa Mesa. 1-714-708-5500.
See It On Film
45. Watch timeless favorites and family-friendly movies at the Beverly Canon Gardens in Beverly Hills. Select Sundays, 8 p.m., June 23–Aug. 25. 1-310-248-1015.
46. Classic films are the ticket at Swim Beach Outdoor Amphitheater at Meadow Park in Big Bear. Saturdays, gates open at 7 p.m., July–Aug. 1-909-866-9700.
47. Outdoor movie screenings take place at the Arts Plaza at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Mondays, 7:30 p.m., July 8–Aug. 5. 1-714-556-2787.
48. Helms Bakery’s Sunset Cinema series includes music-themed movies shown in a landmark venue in Culver City. Saturdays, 7:15 p.m., Sept.
49. Catch blockbuster hits on the big screen at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. Fridays and Saturdays, sunset, May 31–June 29. 1-866-829-3829.
50. Need a break from the heat? Head indoors to watch foreign films and comedies from the 1930s to the present at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Springs. Thursdays, 6 p.m., May 30–Sept. 5 (except July 4). 1-760-322-4800.
51. Alfred Hitchcock thrillers are shown at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden in Santa Barbara. Past themes have included kitschy ’50s sci-fi and monster movies. Fridays, 8:30 p.m., July 5–Aug. 23. 1-805-893-3535.
52. La Mesa Car Show. Admire vintage ’50s cars along La Mesa Boulevard in La Mesa Village. Thursdays, 5–8 p.m., June–Aug.
53. LAX Flight Path Learning Center and Museum. Visit L.A.’s new display—the Curtiss P-6E Hawk, a 1930s U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft—and other exhibits that focus on SoCal aviation. Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. 1-424-646-7284.
54. Justice Brothers Racing Museum In Duarte, you can check out the motorsport pioneers’ private collection of vintage circle-track racecars and other classic vehicles. Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. 1-626-359-9174.
55. Historic Trains Exhibit. At the Pomona Fairplex, you can see the largest steam engine and the largest diesel locomotive in the country. Second Sundays, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. 1-909-623-0190.
56. NHRA Motorsports Museum. Show off your street rods, muscle cars, and more at the Prolong Twilight Cruises in Pomona. First Wednesdays, 4–8 p.m., April–Dec. 1-except Sept.-1-909-622-2133.
Keep on Learning
Many Southland colleges offer campus activities that are free to the public. Here are a few of our top picks:
57. Cal State Fullerton. The university’s music department has nurtured the likes of opera star Deborah Voigt. See if you can spot new talents in the University Band, Brass and Percussion Chamber Ensembles, and other student performance groups. 1-657-278-3371.
58. Fowler Museum at UCLA. This campus museum specializes in global arts and the cultures of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas, and also offers dance demos, student concerts, and interactive music jam sessions for kids. 1-310-825-4361.
59. CSUN Art Galleries. The university’s art galleries feature sculptures, photography, and fine art pieces by established and student artists. 1-818-677-2226.
60. Mount St. Mary’s College. The José Drudis-Biada Art Gallery houses more than 90 oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings by the artist. The L.A. college also offers free lectures, screenings, tours, and other events to the public. 1-310-954-4360.
61. California Lutheran University. Watch professors in action at faculty recitals and attend performances by university choir groups, jazz ensembles, the symphony, and more. 1-805-493-3958.
62. California Institute of the Arts. The Wild Beast Concert Series features classical music, jazz, opera, and rock shows at the CalArts outdoor amphitheater in Valencia. Reservations suggested.
63. Caltech. Take a two-hour architectural tour of the Pasadena campus, which was designed by noted Spanish Revival architect Bertram Goodhue. Fourth Thursdays, 10:30 a.m., Jan.–June and Sept.–Oct.; and third Thursdays, 10:30 a.m., Nov. 1-626-395-4652.
Rock the Balboa
64. – 69. San Diego’s Balboa Park houses an array of museums, theaters, gardens, restaurants, and shops. Every Sunday at 2 p.m., from March through October the House of Pacific Relations (1-619-234-0739) celebrates cultural diversity with the International Cottages’ Lawn Programs, in which countries (Ukraine, Spain, and more) showcase their music, dance, traditional costumes, and ethnic foods. At the free Timken Museum of Art (1-619-239-5548), you can see the only Rembrandt on public display in San Diego County.
The 1915 Botanical Building (1-619-235-1122 or 619-239-0512) houses more than 2,100 plants. On Tuesdays and Sundays at 11 a.m., rangers lead tours of the botanical treasures of Balboa Park. On the first Wednesday, you can stargaze for free through huge telescopes set up on El Prado and identify nearby planets and constellations following the “Sky Tonight Planetarium Show” 1-$12-at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (1-619-238-1233). The Spreckels Organ Society (1-619-702-8138) has weekly organ concerts 1-Sundays, 2 p.m.-and the Annual International Summer Organ Festival 1-Mondays, 7:30 p.m., June 25–Aug. 27-at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The Monday-night Old Globe’s Insights Seminars (1-619-234-5623) are lively panel discussions featuring playwrights, actors, directors, and designers. Seminar dates vary, depending on each production.
Work the Land
70. Centennial Farm at the OC Fair & Event Center, Costa Mesa. Attend monthly classes. Past lessons include how to raise chickens in your backyard, grow organic vegetables, and maintain your lawn. Days vary, 9:30 a.m.–noon. 1-714-708-1500.
71. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont. Get answers from the experts about gardening with native plants. First Saturdays, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. 1-909-625-8767.
72. Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge. Learn easy gardening solutions and how-to projects alongside seasoned and novice gardeners via “Get Dirty: A Garden Series by Descanso.” Third Tuesdays, 2 p.m. 1-818-949-4200.
Break a Sweat
73. Laughing Yoga encourages participants to stretch, chant, clap—and laugh. Release anxiety while enjoying the ocean breeze in sunny Laguna Beach. Sunday–Friday, 8 a.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. 1-949-376-1939.
74. Put on your sneakers and join a Walkabout International walking group throughout the week to explore San Diego’s neighborhoods, beaches, and parks on foot. Days and times vary. 1-619-231-7463.
75. Go on a 3- to 5-mile run with the Nike Run Club, departing from the Nike store at The Grove in Los Angeles. Wednesdays, 6:30 p.m.; and Sundays, 10:30 a.m. 1-323-954-0450.
76. Tour the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, the 150-acre lakefront facility where future Olympians strive for excellence. Saturdays, 11 a.m. 1-619-656-1500.
77. Ride through Big Bear, around the lake, or all the way to Running Springs with members of the Big Bear Cycling Association. Saturdays, 9 a.m., May–Oct.
78. Big Bear Discovery Center, Big Bear. Join a naturalist on a guided walk around the national forest in Big Bear. Saturdays, 1–2 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. and noon, May–Oct. 1-909-866-3437.
79. Hortense Miller Garden, Laguna Beach. Volunteer docents lead two-hour tours of the 2.5-acre coastal garden. Tuesday–Saturday, 9:45 a.m.–noon. Reservations required. 1-949-497-0716, ext. 3.
80. Willow Canyon, Laguna Beach. Learn about the region’s flora and fauna from a Laguna Canyon Foundation naturalist. Saturdays, 9 a.m. 1-949-923-2235.
81. Environmental Nature Center, Newport Beach. Spot native butterfly species at the Butterfly House. Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m., May–Oct. 1-949-645-8489.
82. Sunnylands Center & Gardens, Rancho Mirage. Take a one-hour guided garden walk that covers design, sustainability, and desert plants. Thursdays, 11 a.m., through June. 1-760-328-2829.
83. Channel Islands National Park Visitors Center, Ventura. Discover the unique plant and animal species that reside in this national park, and then choose from several ranger-led programs. Weekends and holidays, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. 1-805-658-5730.
84. San Bernardino County Museum, Redlands. Scientists discuss research projects ranging from whale evolution to earthquake prediction. Fourth Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. 1-909-307-2669.
85. Monarch Butterfly Grove, Pismo Beach. Hike Pismo State Beach with docents who can answer questions about the thousands of monarch butterflies that flock to the area’s eucalyptus trees each year. Daily, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Oct. 26–Feb. 28, 2014. 1-800-443-7778.
Bond with the Animals
86. Stop by the new exhibit at Bakersfield’s California Living Museum, which features majestic desert bighorn sheep and other native California animals. Free entry for kids 12 and younger on the last Saturday of the month. 1-661-872-2256.
87. At the Somis Farm Animal Center, you can feed donkeys, alpacas, and pygmy goats; ride the tractor-drawn wagon; and feast on just-picked berries 1-seasonal; priced by the pound). Saturdays, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., through mid-July. 1-805-386-4660.
88-90. During October this year, children 11 and younger get into the San Diego Zoo (1-619-231-1515), San Diego Zoo Safari Park (1-760-747-8702), and SeaWorld (1-800-257-4268) for free. Times vary.
Bring the Kids
91. During the Catalina Island Museum’s 60th anniversary this year, children 15 and younger get in for free. Daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. 1-310-510-2414.
92. Several SoCal Westfield malls (including Culver City and West Covina) offer Family Fun Day, a monthly, kid-focused program that includes story time, snacks, and crafts for children ages 2–5. Dates and times vary.
93. Kids 17 and younger can attend art workshops on painting, drawing, and collage making at Lancaster Museum of Art in Lancaster. Last Thursdays, 2 p.m. (free entry Tuesday–Sunday). 1-661-723-6250.
94. Children can learn about gravity, kinetic energy, wind power, and more at the interactive outdoor Robert & Mary Galvin Physics Forest at Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena. First Tuesdays, 4–8 p.m., year-round (except Sept.). 1-626-449-9144.
95. San Diego’s New Children’s Museum has engaging art experiences designed to stimulate imagination and creativity in children. Second Sundays, noon–4 p.m. 1-619-233-8792.
96. Climb boulders, build a fort, spot bugs and critters, and make mud pies in the Museum Backyard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Third Sundays, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Jan.–May and Sept.–Dec. 1-805-682-4711.
97. At the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, kids can listen to stories from along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route from China to Europe. Guests also can join hands-on craft workshops and snack on Asian treats. First Saturdays, programming starts at 10:30 a.m. 1-626-449-2742.
See Sea Creatures
98. Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach. The center rescues and rehabilitates stranded marine animals. Time your visit to coincide with a feeding or a release. Daily, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. 1-949-494-3050.
99. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, San Pedro. Attend monthly marine lectures led by scientists and authors or explore the Point Fermin tidepools with a naturalist on the weekends. Reservations required. 1-310-548-7562.
100. ExplorOcean, Newport Beach. Understand the principles of ocean literacy and learn to think like a marine biologist on Science Saturdays. Noon–3 p.m. 1-949-675-8915.
101. Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. Touch bamboo sharks and get up close to a sand tiger shark during Shark Lagoon Nights. Fridays, 6–9 p.m., May 3–31 and Sept. 6–Dec. 27, 2013. 1-562-590-3100.
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