Los Angeles isn’t the cheapest place to vacation, but if you know where to look, you can have a great time without emptying your wallet. Food trucks provide abundant and delicious sustenance, small venues offer free or low-cost shows, and plenty of museums are totally free all of the time. Plus, southern California’s weather is unbeatable for enjoying free nature. Here’s our guide for enjoying Los Angeles on the cheap.
Where to stay
Avoid the luxury lodgings of Beverly Hills and look for solid hotels and motels that offer amenities like free WiFi, complimentary breakfast, a mini-fridge for leftovers, and free parking. Neighborhoods like East Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Koreatown are close to Metro stations and will have plenty of options. The Hollywood Downtowner Inn, for instance, offers rates around $125 per night and is near the Metro Red Line as well as a grocery store. For those looking to stay close to the beach, the cute Sea Shore Motel in Santa Monica offers rates starting at $125–$175 for two.
Banana Bungalow hostels has a location in Hollywood and in West Hollywood; backpackers can get beds for around $20–$30 or private rooms for around $85, plus the common spaces often provide free activities. If hotels aren’t your thing, check out AirBNB to find single rooms or apartments within walking distance to public transit and neighborhood eats.
Where to eat
Los Angeles’ budget culinary scene is often just as flavorful as the restaurants with four dollar signs on Yelp. Taco trucks are abundant, and a $6 burrito can often serve as both lunch and dinner or a meal for two. Other street vendors sling cups of fresh-cut fruit or hot dogs for only a few dollars each. There are also plenty of affordable, independent sit-down restaurants. Check Thai Town for hearty portions of noodles and rice dishes. Or pop by Little Tokyo, where Kula, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in the Japanese Village Plaza, offers plates for as cheap as $2 each. In the mood for fast food? Angelenos adore In-N-Out Burger, where cheeseburgers cost $2.40.
Where to drink
If $14 craft cocktails aren’t in your budget, you can still enjoy a cold one at one of Los Angeles’ dive bars or by finding a solid happy hour. Since L.A. isn’t a town where bars stay open until 4 a.m., many bars offer afternoon and late-night happy hours. In Koreatown, happy hours often span early evening until 9 p.m. as the restaurants get busier after 10 p.m. Deals often include cheap beers, soju, and discounted food. Every neighborhood offers more than a few options.
How to get around
Tourists can skip the car rental fee and taxi fare by using public transit. Those flying into LAX can use the Flyaway Bus to get to various points around Los Angeles and back to the airport for $10 or less.
Los Angeles’ Metro system consists of both trains and buses. Rooming within walking distance from one of the Metro’s train stations will allow visitors access to downtown L.A., Hollywood, Universal Studios, Santa Monica, and several other neighborhoods with ease. Metro fare is $1.75 each way, with free transfers for up to two hours, and a day pass costs $7—all of which can be purchased from a vending machine at any Metro station.
For quick rides, Lyft Line is an affordable option, and there are always plenty of cars around to pick up passengers. The app will estimate your fare for you before you request a ride.
What to do
The beauty of nature is free, and Los Angeles has it in spades. Take the Metro to Santa Monica for a walk along the famous pier where Route 66 ends, a scenic oceanside stroll to Venice Beach, or head up to Griffith Park. It’s over 4,000 acres of public land, and it’s totally free to go for a hike or visit the observatory. There is a parking fee in select lots, but it’s avoidable by taking the DASH Observatory Shuttle from Hollywood for only 50 cents. For a free lesson in science and history, go for a walk around the La Brea Tar Pits. Or walk over to LACMA and enjoy the public outside art, free of charge.
Art and culture
In addition to free nature, L.A. has a lot of free museums and activities: The Broad (which only requires an RSVP to access over 2,000 pieces of modern art), the California African American Museum and the California Science Center (within walking distance of one another), as well as the beautiful Getty Center, The Annenberg Space for Photography, and The Hammer Museum. Free art events include monthly First Fridays in Venice and the Downtown Art Walk.
For a concentrated area of budget goodness, check out the Arts District. Peruse the numerous murals, shops, and galleries, and take a short walk to Little Tokyo and its delicious lunch specials. Find some no-charge relaxation in a hidden garden at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. Plus, the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and the Japanese American Museum are both free on Thursdays, 5–8 p.m.
Catch a first-run movie on Tuesday or Wednesday at Highland Theatres for only $5, or check out a UCB Comedy show, with locations in both Franklin Village and Hollywood, also for $5 or even for free! In the mood for live music? Villains Tavern in the Arts District has nightly shows on the patio with no cover charge. Or be a tourist and head to Hollywood, where people-watching and finding your favorite celebrity’s star on the Walk of Fame should keep you busy for a while.