Pasadena and its surrounding communities are home to a wealth of museums, and even for those on a budget, it’s hard to beat the selection. The following all offer free admission to certain groups or on certain days—and for that, we’re grateful.
Norton Simon Museum
411 W. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena
For fans of retro architecture, the building itself—a 1969 design by Pasadena-based architectural firm Ladd & Kelsey, is worth checking out. Step inside, and you’ll find works by Degas, Warhol, Gaugin, Picasso, and many other world-renowned artists. Cheaper (and closer) than LACMA, with an amazing collection, it’s a must-visit for art enthusiasts. Free parking in the museum’s lot.
Free admission for students and children. $10 for adults. Closed Tuesdays.
Pacific Asia Museum
46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena
Built in 1924 as a residence and gallery for pioneering art collector and entrepreneur Grace Nicholson, the Pacific Asia Museum has one of the premier collections of Asian art in Southern California. The building, designed by Pasadena architects Marston, Van Pelt & Maybury, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and houses more than 15,000 objects from Persia to the Pacific Islands spanning over four thousand years. Lectures, performances, workshops, classes, and festivals are frequently offered.
Free admission the fourth Friday of the month. Daily admission: $7 for students and seniors; $9 for adults.
Pasadena Museum of History
470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena
A museum that provides fascinating insights into the history of Pasadena, from the Native American period to the present. It was voted “Best Museum” in the Pasadena Weekly 2011 Reader’s Choice awards. Ongoing events and rotating exhibits are featured. Their archives, located in the basement, and open Thursday-Sunday, are an exceptional resource for historians. (It’s where “History Buff”gets most of its photos.) Gardens are free daily.
Free admission every Wednesday to anyone who lives Pasadena or surrounding cities. General admission: $5-$8. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino
The former estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington, this combination library, art gallery and botanic garden houses a staggering collection of rare literature, including first drafts of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, a Gutenberg bible, and even the collected papers of poet Charles Bukowski. The botanic gardens are some of the most unique in Southern California, with themed areas, such as the Australian garden, desert garden, herb garden, Japanese garden, and rose garden. Ongoing exhibits are offered. For art fans, don’t miss “Dreams, Disasters, and Reality: Goya’s Prints from the Huntington’s Collections,” running through January 9, 2012.
Free the first Thursday of every month, but you must reserve tickets ahead of time (at least two weeks in advance). No more tickets are available for Nov. 3 Free Day. Tickets for Dec. 1 Free Day will be available on Nov. 1 at 9 a.m. Admission for non-members is $15 on weekdays, $20 on weekends. $6 for children. Closed Tuesdays.
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
A sprawling 127-acre botanical garden and historical site, the Arboretum is known for its diverse plant collection, which includes many rare and endangered species. Colorful peacocks, brought to the area by Arcadia’s founder, “Lucky” Baldwin, roam the grounds. Films buffs take note—many movies have been shot here over the years, including The African Queen, and various Tarzan films.
Free on the third Thursday of every month. Daily admission: Adults $7, children $2.50.
Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 E. Union St., Pasadena
A relatively new kid on the block, this museum opened in 2002 and showcases California art, design, and architecture, from 1850 to the present. Current exhibitions include “Roland Reiss Personal Politics: Sculpture from the 1970s and 1980s” and “Beneath the Surface: NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter.”
Free the first Friday of every month. Admission: $5 for seniors and students; $7 for adults. Closed Monday and Tuesday.