Exploring Los Angeles’ great outdoors doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact, a day on the trails or at the beach is much less expensive than a day at an amusement park. And yet I’m willing to guess that more SoCal residents have season passes to Disneyland than to the California State Parks.
Why not become an annual pass holder to the outdoors instead? These annual passes every Los Angeles family with kids should have will not only save you money, they’ll encourage you to spend more time outside exploring all the natural beauty that LA has to offer.
Keep in mind that the benefits of annual passes are often updated. Before you purchase anything listed here, head to the appropriate website for the latest details.
PARKS & BEACHES
National Parks Pass
The America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges, as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. You get a lot for your money!
To purchase: Online or at the entrance to many parks
California State Parks Pass
Southern California is home to more than 20 California State Parks, including Will Rogers SHP, Leo Carrillo SP and El Matador SB in Los Angeles. Most charge day-use fees that range from $10 to $15/day. The California State Parks Pass program offers a variety of admissions to parks statewide with price points designed to meet your family’s unique needs.
Cost: Options range from $25 to $195/year
To purchase: Find out how to buy a California State Parks Annual Pass from Michele at FunOrangeCountyParks.com
Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority parking permit
Many Los Angeles hiking trails fall within the boundaries of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, including Temescal Gateway Park, Red Rock Canyon Park, Corral Canyon Park and more – each with its own day-use fee. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority parking permit covers those fees.
Cost: An annual weekday (5-day) permit is $300/year; a 7-day permit is $450/year
To purchase: Online or by mail
National Forest Annual Adventure Pass
The Southern California National Forests are comprised of the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests, offering a LOT of wild land within easy reach for Angelenos. Many of the facilities and services in these areas are free; some do require the Adventure Pass to help maintain, manage and improve the amenities.
Cost: The annual pass is $30; day-use passes are $5/day
To purchase: Online
Santa Monica Day Beach Parking Permit
City of Santa Monica beach lots can get pricey if you’re a repeat customer. Fees range from $6 to $15 per day depending on the season and the location of the lot. Frequent beachgoers may prefer to choose a monthly, semi-annual or annual permit instead. There are a limited number of permits available and they DO sell out – the annual pass option is already sold out for 2015.
Cost: $27/monthly, $105 semi-annual (Jan. 1 – June 30 or July 1 – Dec. 31), $155/annual
To purchase: Read about your options online; purchases must be made in person at the City of Santa Monica Planning & Community Development office
In addition to its natural spaces, Los Angeles is also home to lots of gardens, museums, aquariums and zoos that make for fun days trips for families who enjoy nature. Some of these can be expensive to visit just once, but become more affordable with an annual membership.
Membership definitely has its privileges, like the chance to visit as often as you like. This comes in handy with younger kids who might not be up for an entire day out exploring. Most annual memberships also provide extra perks beyond just admission, including access to special events, extra passes and other discounts.
What follows are the membership options for a family of four (two adults, two kids over the age of 5). Keep in mind that your own family’s costs might differ slightly.
American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Admissions Program (RAP)
If you enjoy visiting gardens, you can make your money go even farther by taking advantage of the reciprocal admissions program (RAP) available through many LA-area gardens. Buy a membership at one site and it grants you access to more than 250 botanical gardens across North America. (Call the garden you wish to visit ahead of time to check on any limitations.) Los Angeles-area gardens include:
- Conejo Valley Botanical Garden (Thousand Oaks)
- Descanso Gardens (La Canada Flintridge)
- Earl Burns Japanese Garden (Long Beach)
- Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden (Arcadia)
- Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (Claremont)
- South Coast Botanic Garden (Palos Verdes Peninsula)
- The Japanese Garden (Van Nuys)
Cost: Family memberships range in cost from $50 to $80/year depending on the garden where they are purchased
Aquarium of the Pacific
Entrance to the Aquarium of the Pacific is pricey – it’ll cost a family of four a whopping $87.50! A Family membership is $125/year, which pays for itself in just two visits.
For more information: Aquarium of the Pacific membership
The Huntington has a lot to offer, but visiting doesn’t come cheap. It’ll cost a family of four visiting on the weekend $62. But become a “sustaining” member for $120 and your costs are covered in just two visits!
For more information: The Huntington membership
The Los Angeles Zoo
Family membership to the Los Angeles Zoo is $126 per year and includes lots of perks, like free or discounted admission to more than 170 zoos and aquariums, including the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. For a family of four, membership pays for itself in just two visits!
For more information: Los Angeles Zoo membership
The Natural History Museum
Family membership to the Natural History Museum is $89 per year for two adults and up to four children. For a family of four, membership pays for itself in three visits – and also includes free entrance to the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits and the William S. Hart Park and Museum.
For more information: NHM membership
Disclosure: My family takes advantage of several of the annual passes described here, but I am not affiliated with the organizations in any other way. All my views are my own and you should check the linked websites for official information.