Los Angeles is a sprawling city with countless things to do. That said, a visit to the City of Angels can be both daunting and expensive — if you don’t have a proper plan.
If you’re headed to the Southern Californian hub on a tight budget, here are a few ideas to help you stretch those dollars.
STAY IN A HOSTEL
Although Couchsurfing or Airbnbing a private UCLA bunkbed for $25 a night is always an option, staying in a shared room at a local hostel is a much more popular and affordable accommodation choice. Some of America’s most talked-about hostels are located in LA, including USA Hostels Hollywood off Hollywood Boulevard, Hostelling International in the Westside, and Samesun Venice Beach on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. When in doubt, peruse Hostelworld, and note that rates for shared dormitories typically range between $35 and $50 a night.
BRAVE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
We won’t lie to you — public transportation in LA is far from popular. But it does exist. MTA offers buses and subway trains, with $1.75 base fares and $7 day passes. Keep in mind, however, that even with a pass, you may be required to pay more if you travel between zones. To help navigate the city, utilize Metro Trip Planner. Also note that although public transit is the cheapest way to get around, it’s not the most efficient and can often add to your travel time. So, if you’re not into waiting, plan to spend a chunk of your budget on a rental car.
GET A GO CARD
If you’re rip-roaring to go and have a particular list of sites and activities you’d like to check off your LA bucket list, consider purchasing a GO card. You can choose from one- to seven-day cards that are activated on first use and good for free admission to dozens of attractions across the city. If you’re not sure if a GO card is worth the up-front cost, plan your ideal itinerary beforehand to determine if the investment will actually save you money.
EAT FOR CHEAP
Food in Los Angeles is significantly more expensive than the national average, so make sure you read those menu prices with care. To find cheap eats in the city, you have three main options: food trucks, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and fast-food icons. The gourmet food truck explosion in the city has led to some really exceptional food at lower price points (we’re talking $5 short rib sliders from the Kogi BBQ truck). LA’s rich ethnic diversity has resulted in some of the best hole-in-the-wall restaurant choices anywhere — so whether you have a hankering for a stir fry with rice or an enchilada combo, most dishes will only cost you about $6 to $8. And lastly, be sure to check out the area’s fast-food icons, including In-N-Out Burger, Pink’s Hot Dogs, and Tito’s Tacos — there’s a reason Californians are obsessed with them.
HEAD TO THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME
Meander along this 15-block stretch of sidewalk and spot the stars honoring your favorite celebrities. The Walk of Fame runs east to west on Hollywood Boulevard from Gower Street to La Brea Avenue and north to south on Vine Street from Yucca Street to Sunset Boulevard. Of the 2,600-plus stars, one of the most popular is Marilyn Monroe’s, while the most vandalized currently belongs to Donald Trump. Make of that what you will.
BE PART OF A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE
Attend a taping of your favorite sitcom, game show, talk show, or reality show. It’s a fun (and free) way to cross off a few celebrity sightings. Certain shows may ask you to write-in or call for tickets, but most are represented by an audience company (like 1iota.com) that makes tickets available online in advance. You can often find audience hunters in front of Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre distributing same-day tickets as well. So, if you’ve always dreamt of being on “the Price is Right,” “Conan,” or “the Ellen DeGeneres Show,” this might just be your chance.
WANDER THE VENICE BEACH BOARDWALK
Take a stroll down this famed beachside promenade and check out the street vendors, performers, bodybuilders, skaters, shops, eateries, and ocean views that the area is known for. Stretching about a mile and a half along the sandy shores of the Pacific, the boardwalk is free and open to the public — so no need to fret on the money front. If you do end up with a rental car, keep in mind that parking in the area ranges from $3 to $30 depending on the lot and time of year.
HIT THE BEACH
Going to the beach is one of the most popular free activities in LA, and with over 70 miles of sandy stretches to choose from, you can easily find a beach that suits your personality. If you’re not sure where to go, try the Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach. This former private escape for the rich and famous is now open year-round and free to all who enter. Additionally, the house features easy beach access, showers, a swimming pool, changing rooms, and plenty of parking, among other perks.
GO FOR A HIKE
Located in the heart of the city, Runyon Canyon offers a popular, centrally located hiking spot that attracts locals and visitors alike. Hiking in the area is free, as is street parking, and on a clear day, the views of the LA Basin are second to none. There are several trails to choose from, but for an added bonus, check out Runyon’s free outdoor yoga classes that take place three to four times a day.
VISIT A MUSEUM
Los Angeles has a handful of free museums and many others that have at least one day a month, or one day a week, when they offer free admission. But, be aware that museums that usually charge for admission are significantly more crowded on free days. A few museums that are always free of cost are the Broad in Downtown Los Angeles, the Getty Museum in Brentwood, and Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. Additionally, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown Los Angeles is free every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.
CONSIDER LEAVING THE CITY
Although there’s plenty of things to do in the city, think about what’s nearby. You could drive up the California coast, explore Catalina Island, or escape to Joshua Tree National Park. If you have a few days to spare, try to spend at least one of them taking in the varied beauty that Southern California is known for.