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Get out! Free Local Attractions Open to Caltech Community Members

Read on for a sampling of free destinations that can be reached without driving. They are close to campus or accessible via Pasadena Transit, Micro Metro rideshare, and Metro rail and bus systems, all of which students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty, and campus staff can ride for free with free Metro passes.

Experience world-renowned art

From Caltech, you can ride directly to the Norton Simon Museum (free on the first Friday of each month from 4–7 p.m.; always free for students with ID) using Pasadena Transit route 10 or Micro Metro. Both transit options are covered by free Metro passes. The Norton Simon entrance features sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Barbara Hepworth; inside are stunning collections of European, American, and Asian art. The USC Pacific Asia Museum (free on the second Sunday of each month) is also along Pasadena Transit's route 10.

The Broad (free with reservation) in downtown LA features works by titans of contemporary art: Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and others. You can reach the museum in about half an hour from Pasadena's Del Mar A-line train station with no transfers. Train fares are covered by free Metro passes. A pedestrian bridge at the Grand Avenue/Bunker Hill station goes directly to the Broad. Visitors can walk a block to Walt Disney Concert Hall, climb its outdoor stairs, and relax in its elevated public garden. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Grand Avenue (free with reservation) is also a block from the Grand Avenue/Bunker Hill Metro station and operates a free shuttle to its Geffen Contemporary location (Little Tokyo/Arts District Metro station).

Walk through history

Learn more about the community around campus and its role in history: explore architecture with Historic Pasadena tours and the free app. Join a group walk listed by the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition on its events page. Or walk 1.5 miles south from campus to El Molino Viejo (free, limited hours), where flour was milled for the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel (museum is not free). The mission, a consequential location in California history, stands another 2 miles south. Loop back from the mill via Lacy Park (free weekdays), which once contained the lake that Lake Avenue is named for.

For those up for mixing history and a strenuous full-day hike in all kinds of weather, take Micro Metro (with free Metro passes) to the Eaton Canyon Natural Area (free) and hike up Mount Wilson, 18 miles round trip, with more than 4,400 feet of elevation gain. Historic Mount Wilson Observatory (free, limited hours, tours are not free), developed by Caltech co-founder George Ellery Hale, is situated at the summit.

Get tranquil fast

A 1.5-mile walk from campus, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens (free first Thursdays of each month with reservations; full-time undergraduates can buy a College Card that works like a membership for $36) offers art, historical artifacts, and extensive themed gardens.

Learn about the cultures of Los Angeles

Visit Little Tokyo and the Japanese American National Museum (free third Thursdays of each month and every Thursday from 5–8 p.m.) via the Metro A line's Little Tokyo/Arts District Station. Wander Chinatown from the A line's Chinatown station and hop back on the train to Union Station. Walk a block from Union Station to El Pueblo Historical Monument, settled in 1781 by Mexican farmers of Spanish, African, and Native American descent during the Spanish empire's expansion. There, shop the Olvera Street marketplace and visit free attractions including the Chinese American Museum and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. Farther afield, transfer to the Metro E line to reach Exposition Park at the Expo Park/USC station. The California African American Museum in Exposition Park is free but closed for repairs through at least November 2023. (Use the same stop for the free California Science Center and the Natural History Museum, which offers student and Metro discounts). Remember to bring that free Metro pass.

Students: Attend performances and games with a group that's already going

Caltech students can join outings sponsored by Caltech's Office of Student Experience or by the Caltech Y. These events provide transportation and hard-to-get tickets as well as good company.

Written by Ann Motrunich