Los Angeles has long had a reputation as a land of glamour and wealth, a place filled with movie stars, Hollywood mansions, and sun kissed beaches. And sure, we’ve got our fair share of all those things, but L.A. has so much more to offer. The city is a melting pot of art, culture, and natural beauty and there’s plenty to see and do no matter how small your budget is. We’ve rounded-up some ideas on how to make the most of your Los Angeles experience and your travel budget.
You can really get to know a city and its people by experiencing the local flavor, and if you can think of a cuisine, L.A.’s got it. There are so many options to choose from it can be hard to know where to begin so here’s a few budget-friendly ideas to get you started:
These mobile restaurants are almost everywhere these days but they really got their start in L.A. You’ll see them all over the place in almost ever neighborhood in L.A. and they run the gamut from tacos to sushi to bar-b-que.
Many trucks post their daily location to Twitter, including the popular Koji Truck and Border Grill.
L.A. boasts some of the best tacos this side of the border and are often just a couple of bucks each. You’ll find plenty of street taco options at food trucks (see above) but there are plenty of restaurants with permanent locations serving them up, too. Check out the best fish tacos in town at Tacos Baja (for just 99 cents on Wednesdays), Tito’s famous crispy tacos in Culver City, or Mariscos Jalisco on Olympic Blvd.
Pink’s has been serving their famous dogs Hollywood since 1939. There’s usually a line but that’s part of the experience. Most dogs are around $5 each and there’s a wide variety to choose from, many named after Hollywood stars.
Some of the finer dining establishments offer great happy hour deals during their off-peak hours between lunch and dinner. It’s a great way to experience the surroundings and flavors without blowing your whole budget on one meal. And of course the cocktails, beer and wine offerings are usually a great deal. You can’t go wrong with Otoño in Highland Park, Connie and Ted’s in West Hollywood, and Chaya in Venice and DTLA (that’s Angeleno-speak for ‘Downtown Los Angeles’).
Twice a year restaurants all over town offer special menus with prices starting as low as $15 for a 2-course meal. Check their site for dates, and menus of participating restaurants.
Some of the best things in life are free, including a day at the beach in Venice. Bring your beach towel and enjoy the sun, surf and sand, or walk around the Venice Boardwalk and the enjoy free entertainment of people-watching at Muscle Beach, and the nearby skate park and graffiti walls.
Santa Monica Pier
You could easily drop a lot of bills here, but you don’t have to. There’s no admission charge to walk around the pier, and the people watching and street performers offer plenty of free entertainment.
A ride on the Pacific Wheel costs $7 per person and you’ll get to take in a view of the whole Santa Monica Bay. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Hollywood sign.
The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is FREE for kids 12 and under, and just $5 per person for everyone 13 and up. You can learn about the local marine life and immerse yourself in viewing over 100 local species as well as fun activities and educational programs thanks to nonprofit Heal the Bay.
The Getty Museum
Take in world-class art exhibits inside the museum, or peruse the grounds to enjoy botanic gardens and 360-degree views of the city. The best part? Admission is FREE. (If you drive there’s a parking fee of $15 per car.)
This iconic building is a favorite for photo ops and offers panoramic views of Los Angeles. Check out the giant telescope inside or take a nature walk on one of Griffith Park’s hiking trails. Admission to the building grounds and telescopes is always FREE.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Located on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame, the theatre and area around it are some of the most recognizable destinations. They are also the most popular. Prepare for crowds of tourists, street performers in superhero costumes, and lots of cheap tchotchkes. You won’t want to stay here all day but it’s fun to find your favorite actor’s star on the walk of fame, or put your hands in the cement impressions of stars on the sidewalk.
Rent a room in a host’s home, or rent an entire apartment or house for yourself. Prices are often well below the cost of hotels and you get to “live like a local”. Most Air BNBs have a kitchen so you can save even more by getting a few groceries at the corner store and making your own breakfast in the morning before you head out sightseeing.
If you’re willing to share a bathroom and/or sleeping quarters with strangers, you can find lodging at one of several local hostels for a fraction of the cost of most hotels. Many include free breakfast and Wi-Fi, too. Samesun in Venice and USA Hostels in Hollywood both have reputations for being safe and clean places to stay.
One of the most challenging things about visiting Los Angeles is that the city is spread out across a large area, and parking can be expensive and hard to find. A tour company like A Day in LA can take the hassle and guess work out of getting around and allow you to enjoy the scenery on your way from one destination to the next. It’s a great value and one of the best ways to maximize your vacation time and your budget, if we do say so ourselves.