There aren’t many museums that you can visit for free, but the California Science Center in Los Angeles offers free admission to its regular exhibits every day. You do have to pay for parking ($12, cash only), but even for just my daughter and I, it was a great deal for a day full of learning fun. If you want to avoid driving in downtown Los Angeles and the parking fee, the museum is a short walk from the Expo Park/USC Metro Station.

While they typically host an extra paid exhibit, when we visited they were packing up the King Tut collection, so our admission was truly free that day.

We started our day in one of the Discovery Rooms, a play-based learning area that allows kids to dress up and learn about various occupations (construction workers, astronauts, news broadcasters, etc.). My six-year-old could have spent the entire day there, therefore I recommend making this the final stop of your visit, if possible, so that you don’t have to pull kids away from their play to see the rest of the museum.

After about an hour, we went to explore the rest of the museum. We started in the Transportation Exhibit, learning about different vehicles, how they move, and how they are powered. We then headed over to the Ecosystems exhibits and spent most of our time there since we have been learning about different animals and how they are uniquely created to live in their intended environments.

Exhibits feature animals and interactive learning stations for each of the ecosystems, including polar regions, deserts, islands, deep seas, rocky shores, kelp forests, and rivers. One highlight for us was the flash flood feature in the desert zone. It’s an amazing visual of how quickly it can go from dry ground to a rushing river in a matter of seconds. We also enjoyed touching the wall of ice in the polar regions and the animals in the tide pool touch tanks.

Perhaps the biggest draw for us during our visit was the Space Shuttle Endeavor. On certain days when they are expecting larger crowds (weekends and school breaks), timed tickets are required. While you can obtain free timed tickets once you arrive, it’s recommended to reserve them in advance online for a small convenience fee. The day we went, we didn’t need to have one.

The space shuttle exhibit was incredible. Of course, the star is Endeavor itself, but a timeline of the space shuttle program that wraps around the walls of the building was intriguing to look at, along with several other smaller displays. Outside of the building that houses Endeavor, there is one of the bright orange external fuel tanks, which is even more impressive in size than the shuttle.

We chose to tour the space shuttle first, but there is an introductory exhibit inside the main building if you want more information about the Endeavor before you see it (or if you’re waiting for your timed entry). There are tires from the shuttle to give you an idea of how big they are compared to our car tires. A time-lapse video also shows the journey of both the Endeavor and external tank took to get to the Science Center (the external tank had to go through the Panama Canal!).

In total, we spent about four hours at the California Science Center and didn’t even get to the World of Life, Creative World, and most of the Air & Space Exhibits. But with the unbeatable price of admission (free!) and low-cost parking, we plan to visit again soon.

For information about the California Science Center including current and upcoming special exhibits, visit their website.