The Free Art Galleries in California That Could Change Your Life

The Free Art Galleries in California That Could Change Your Life

By California.com
September 10, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Art is humanity's escape from the mundane. So, leave your worries behind and meander through the Golden State's numerous art galleries, contemplating your favorite masterpieces and finding inspiration.

Featuring over 1,000 fascinating museums and galleries, California has a cultural attraction to suit every mood. The cherry on top: Many of the state's museums are cost-free or offer free admission days regularly. Though January 25 is officially SoCal’s free museum day, most of the spots on our list are free year-round, why wait to explore California's top art museums and galleries?

California's Best Free Art Museums

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) 

As you explore Los Angeles, make it a priority to stop by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Location: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

Hours: Monday–Friday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays) | Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m–5 p.m.

Free admission days: Free general admission for L.A. County residents Monday through Friday after 3 p.m. and on SoCal Museums Annual Free-For-All Day

You’ll find the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) at the top of every list of must-visit L.A. museums. Located in the heart of the city, it’s the largest art museum in the western U.S.—its exceptional exhibits allow art history to be accessible for all. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more unique and exceptional interpretation of cultural heritage, so take advantage of LACMA's free admission days.

On LACMA free days—every second Tuesday of each month—study more than 142,000 objects shedding light on over 6,000 years of humanity's artistic expression. Visit the most photographed L.A. installation, Urban Lights, and take a closer look at the hypnotic art of the enigmatic Qiu Ying. All five museum buildings are filled with awe-inspiring modern pieces of art you'll love to explore.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

The acclaimed SFMOMA was the first museum on the West Coast devoted solely to 20th-century art.

Location: 151 Third Street, San Francisco

Hours: Friday through Tuesday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. | Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays)

Free admission days: The SFMOMA offers periodic “Culture for Community” Free Days as well as “Free Family Days” where up to two adults can claim free tickets when accompanied by a child. Visit the SFMOMA website for more information. 

Recognized as one of the top galleries in San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of the state's most prominent museums of modern and contemporary art. Featuring an outstanding collection of painting, sculpture, pictorial art, architecture, design, and media arts, the SFMOMA provides more than enough to see in one day. In addition to exploring the seven-floor indoor gallery, you can stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden and experience the mysticism of the 30-foot living wall. 

Admire the works of Frida Kahlo, Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, and Julie Mehretu while viewing top exhibitions such as Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art; German Art After 1960; and Approaching American Abstraction. The best part about the SFMOMA? The museum offers three energizing eateries, so you can refuel without leaving and enjoy spectacular views of the city as you dine. Make it a family affair and bring your loved ones on an SFMOMA free day.

Asian Art Museum

Head to San Francisco to view one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world. Photo Courtesy of the Asian Art Museum.

Location: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Hours: Friday–Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (closed Tuesday–Wednesday) | Thursday, 1–8 p.m.

Free admission days: Museum members always have free admission, while the general public can enjoy free entrance on the first Sunday of the month.

Featuring over 18,000 pieces of art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is home to one of the largest Asian art collections worldwide. Several of the works are even 6,000 years old. The Asian Art Museum free day invites you to take a cost-free trip through exemplary examples of Asian art and experience the nuanced feelings they evoke.

When you visit, roam through Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey toward Enlightenment and see the art of Tibetan Buddhism from the perspective of a practitioner. Admire Painting from Heart to Hand, which showcases groundbreaking ink paintings by the 20th-century Chinese artist Chang Dai-chien. 

de Young Museum

When at the de Young Museum, admire awe-inspiring pieces of fine art collected from around the world.

Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco

Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.

Free admission days: All residents of the nine Bay Area counties gain free admission every Saturday, while the general public enjoys free admission on the first Tuesday of every month.

The de Young Museum is located in the heart of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and is one of only two fine arts museums in the city (the other being the Legion of Honor). With a rich collection of art pieces created within the past three centuries, the de Young showcases American art, international contemporary art, textiles, and costumes of different eras.

On the de Young Museum’s free day, discover pieces by outstanding artists like Frida Kahlo and view modern expositions addressing the rapid technological advancement of recent years. Trust us, you want to add this top S.F. attraction to your bucket list.

Norton Simon Museum

Stop by the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena to study a spectacular collection of European masterpieces.

Location: 411 West Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena

Hours: Friday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m. | Monday–Thursday, 12–5 p.m. (closed on Tuesday)

Free admission days: Admission is free for all visitors from 5–8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month.

The Norton Simon Museum is known for its remarkable private art exhibits. Industrialist Norton Simon collected European masterpieces, including artworks from the Renaissance period to the 20th century, as well as spectacular South and Southeast Asian art. The museum is also home to modern works from Europe and the U.S.

On Norton Simon Museum’s free day, discover the profundity of the human body's physical and emotional responses through painting. The 1400–1750s collection features the noteworthy exhibition Expressive Body: Memory, Devotion, Desire. 

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Contemporary art lovers: The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is calling your name, so carve out time to explore this attraction.

Location: 250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

Hours: Hours may vary, so check the website for more information.

Free admission days: Free admission daily, and special exhibitions are free every Thursday from 5-8 p.m.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) offers one of the best free things to do in Los Angeles year-round. The only L.A. museum that was founded by an artist features a vast array of contemporary art pieces reflecting various walks of life. Current exhibits include the life-changing Untitled (Questions) by Barbara Kruger and Seven Stations: Selections from MOCA’s Collection. Check out Larry Bell’s outdoor installation Bill and Coo at MOCA’s Nest, too. 

Before leaving the museum, study the building's architecture—the signature structure designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki reinterprets geometric forms and the interplay of light. 

The Broad

Unique inside and out, The Broad is an absolute must-see attraction in the L.A. area.

Location: 221 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

Hours: Hours may vary each week, so check the website for more information.

Free admission days: Free admission daily

The Broad is another outstanding cost-free cultural attraction in Los Angeles. The museum celebrated its fifth anniversary with a 2,000-piece collection showcasing works that have influenced and inspired generations since the middle of the 20th century. Best of all traveling through postmodernity and deconstructing reality won’t cost you a dime here.

The exhibits also feature revolutionary art installations that will diversify your cultural journey. Works include Untitled: (Men in the Cities: Ellen) by Robert Longo, Tulips by Jeff Koons, and Infinity Mirrored Rooms by Yayoi Kusama. 

The Getty Center 

The Getty Center is a free museum offering a rich collection of European and American artwork as well as city views.

Location: 1200 Getty Center District, Los Angeles

Hours: Hours may vary each week, so check the website for more information.

Free admission days: Free admission daily

L.A. is kind to its art lovers, offering a plethora of remarkable museums entirely free of charge. The Getty Center has a rich collection of European and American art; it even boasts art pieces from medieval times. 

The Getty Center, with its sleek geometric shapes enveloped in incredible views of Los Angeles, is the perfect marriage of art and architecture. When you’re done exploring the exhibitions, don't forget to take the time to admire the museum's six buildings, which display spectacular abstract architecture and panoramic views. You'll immediately see why it's among California's coolest architecture.  

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