The Best (Free) Things to Do in Los Angeles

As a college student at University of Southern California, finding ways to explore the city of Los Angeles while sticking to my ramen-and-cheap-beer budget was a bit of a challenge. However, I somehow managed to discover a few hidden gems that made the city feel like home, and it didn't cost me a dime (if you disregard the constant surge pricing on Lyft).

  The view of La La Land from the Observatory - smog and all.

The view of La La Land from the Observatory - smog and all.

1. GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY

I know, you've heard about this one time and time again, but it's seriously worth checking out. The views of the city from the top of the hill are spectacular, and the exhibit inside is entertaining for kids and grown-up nerds alike. The building's architecture is gorgeous as well, so bring a friend (or more than a friend) to channel your inner Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling à la La La Land.

2. SWITZER FALLS

A waterfall in the middle of Los Angeles?! Yes, you read that correctly. Switzer's Trail through the San Gabriel mountains features 50-foot falls and stunning vista points. As an avid hiker, I was thrilled to find an escape from the noisy and smoggy city. The trail is dog-friendly, and experienced hikers can even climb up the creek to the base of the falls! However, it can get a bit crowded at times, so take the Gabrielino Trail instead if you'd like to avoid traffic.

3. DTLA ART WALK

On the second Thursday of each month, head over to Downtown LA for art openings at one of the hippest events in the city. Come for the galleries, stay for the live music, spoken word and - most importantly - free drinks.

  Artifact hunting at the Melrose Trading Post.

Artifact hunting at the Melrose Trading Post.

4. MELROSE FLEA MARKET

I thought I knew what a good flea market was before I went to this one. Every Sunday, hit up Melrose for blocks of vintage shopping, food vendors, and live music. Though the items themselves are not free, they are pretty close -- my friend bought a vintage Levi's denim jacket for just $3. Regardless, it's worth browsing around as you never know what crazy items you might find!

5. THE LAST BOOKSTORE

This is a bookstore truly unlike any other. The labyrinth-like setup of the store makes for an easy place to get lost, however, so keep an eye on the clock! I recommend curling up in one of the store's many overstuffed armchairs for a few hours with a book of your choice.

6. VENICE CANALS

No, you're not in Venice, Italy. These canals designed by millionaire Abbott Kinney were a tribute to the Italian city, but have since become an integral part of the quirky Southern California neighborhood. It's worth a stroll to look at the quaint houses and paddleboats along the way!

7. GREYSTONE MANSION

For my architecture and movie buffs, go to Greystone Mansion to see this a truly impressive home. Its expansive English gardens are open to the public every day as it was declared a As one of LA's many hidden film sets, the mansion has been featured in movies such as The Big Lebowski and Spiderman. 

  USC - my second home.

USC - my second home.

8. USC THORNTON SCHOOL OF MUSIC

I may be a bit biased here, but USC offers excellent free recitals every month for the public. All it takes is an RSVP on their website for performances ranging from classical to jazz. Fight on!

9. GREAT WALL OF LOS ANGELES

This mural, the longest in the world, depicts the full history of California and stretches half a mile long. Created over five summers, it took over 400 civilians and artists to complete and is still a work in progress.

10. CHANNEL 101

Experience what it's like to "sit in the worn-out chair of the fat network exec" and go to the free monthly screenings at the Downtown Regency Theater. Each month, aspiring filmmakers submit an episode of an original TV show, and it's up to the audience members to decide which shows live or die. One standout show was IKEA Heights, a soap opera shot in an IKEA store unbeknownst to its workers.