Los Angeles on a budget: 10 ways to save money when you visit

Los Angeles on a budget: 10 ways to save money when you visit

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Trying to save money in Tinseltown? It is possible! Discover money-saving tips, hidden gems, local knowledge and great deals on food, drink, sightseeing and more

We’re experts in budget travel here at Kiwi.com, so in this series, we’re looking at the 10 most expensive destinations in the world and providing you with handy guides on how to see those places on the cheap. Next stop, California, and how to see Los Angeles on the cheap.

Best beaches and boardwalks

LA has always been a place for the (so-called) beautiful people, and nowhere does this manifest itself more than at the beaches.

Santa Monica Beach is three and a half miles of sand and surf where you can swim, sunbathe, or simply people-watch. There are cafes and restaurants if you’re looking for a bite to eat, and street performers dotted around, especially at the Santa Monica Pier.

Los Angeles on a budget: 10 ways to save money when you visitLA has always been a place for the (so-called) beautiful people.

For even more of humanity’s carnival, check out Venice Beach and its boardwalk. Quirky kiosks and souvenir shops abound, the famous open-air gym is where oiled up bods come to pump iron, and there’s a skate park, more street performers, colorful murals, and all manner of other sights to keep you entertained.

Unusual walking tours

Most people probably wouldn’t put Los Angeles down as a particularly walkable city, but if you have a plan — or have a website to make one for you — you can see more than you’d think. Scroll down for a wander around Hollywood, or take a peek at these slightly more left-field options.

Palm Tree-Lined Street Overlooking Los Angeles at SunsetThe sunsets are a wonder to behold.

GPSmycity has 13 walking tours to choose from that you can simply pop into your phone. They’re generally divided by area of the city — Chinatown, Angelino Heights, Little Tokyo and the like — and include articles giving a bit of history and context, while Free Tours by Foot offers pay-what-you-like tours of the obvious (Hollywood, famous filming locations) and the not-so-obvious (Haunted LA, Hollywood Crimes and Scandals).

Finally, not a tour of an area but of a building, Frank Gehry’s superb Walt Disney Concert Hall offers a free self-guided tour narrated by the dulcet tones of John Lithgow and features contributions from Gehry himself and others to explain the planning, thought and design of what is a truly fabulous venue.

Griffith Park, observatory and the old zoo

Los Angeles on a budget: 10 ways to save money when you visitGriffith Observatory commands a view of the Los Angeles Basin including Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, Hollywood to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. 

The 4,210 acres of Griffith Park make it the largest urban wilderness in the whole of the US, and the mix of trees, scrub, rocks and chaparral mixed with winding trails and great views make it a top place for walkers, sightseers and picnickers.

The Griffith Observatory (which appeared in the film La La Land) is completely free to have a look around, as well as tour their 60 exhibits and even use all their many telescopes to look at the stars. There’s a planetarium as well that puts on shows between 30 and 90 minutes in length on various aspects of space and exploration, but these are decent value at $10 a pop.

From the observatory, you can then visit ‘The Zoo That Never Was’, the Old Los Angeles Zoo. Opened in 1912 and eventually abandoned in 1966 when the LA Zoo opened, you can explore the enclosures and abandoned cages (they’ve even added picnic benches to some) and generally feel what life is like from the other side of the bars. A real oddity.

See every side of Hollywood

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a touch of Hollywood glamor. Sure, there are the bus trips and those weirdly creepy tours that pass and point out famous peoples’ houses, but you can do better than that.

Start with an hour or so’s hike from the old zoo in Griffith Park (mentioned above) to the Hollywood sign, then head to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, slightly further west, the TCL Chinese Theater (the venue for most big Hollywood movie premieres and the place with the celebrity handprints outside). These sights are all within walking distance of each other (depending on how much you like walking), and you can also add a stop off for something a bit more unusual.

Twenty minutes’ wander south from the Walk of Fame you’ll find the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Interred here are some of the leading lights of the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Cecil B. DeMille, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Mickey Rooney and, oddly, two of the Ramones. Forest Lawn Memorial Park is a similar deal, with the gravesites of Carrie Fisher, Richard Pryor, Bette Davis, Michael Hutchence, Paul Walker and more. An unusual but interesting way to finish off a day of movie worship.

Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard

Looking for conspicuous mass consumerism? Who isn’t?! Rodeo drive is two miles of some of the most exclusive brands in the world, so window-shopping and celeb-spotting is the order of the day here.

Los Angeles on a budget: 10 ways to save money when you visitA notable section of Sunset Boulevard is the Sunset Strip, known for its array of billboards, vibrant nightlife, historic music venues, and celebrity hotspots.

Sunset Boulevard has a similar vibe, but especially at night when the lights, the cars and the neon really give you a feel of the Hollywood lifestyle. Again, it’s all about luxury, but as somewhere to simply bask in absolute fantasy for a few hours it’s just so Los Angeles.

Go green

If you’re feeling bad about the pure wealth and slightly sickening consumerism mentioned  above, there’s a way to make yourself feel better and meet some new people. Tree People has, for fifty years, been planting trees, working on conservation programs and educating people on how to build a greener, more eco-conscious world.

Volunteer at one of their tree planting events, either individually or as a group, and meet the friendly locals. Visit one of the parks that they look after such as Coldwater Canyon Park, or learn about the relationship that the First Nations people like the Tongva, Chumash and Tataviam have with their land. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll be — as the organization acknowledges — transforming the region, one tree, one street, one community at a time.

Parks and gardens

Indeed, one of the images of Los Angeles as a car-heavy, asphalt jungle is something those volunteers are trying to change, but there are already dabs of green amongst the urban sprawl.

Head to the Gloria Molina Grand Park (‘the Park for Everyone’) for downtown energy. Free concerts and art events abound, as do green spaces, fountains, wellness events, dance classes and tai chi sessions.

Los Angeles on a budget: 10 ways to save money when you visitColorful sunset at the beach with the Santa Monica California pier silhouette

Otherwise you could visit the Rose Garden at Exposition Park for seven acres of beautifully manicured, sweet smelling peace and quiet, or the fabulous Greystone Estate Park, a Tudor-revival mansion whose gardens are open to the public for free (and the story of the murder-suicide of the owner and his secretary a mere four months after the house’s completion is worth digging into if you like that sort of thing). There are even little curiosities dotted around the city like the Beverly Hills Historic Cactus Garden, pretty much hidden in plain sight on the bustle of Santa Monica Boulevard. See? There are peaceful places in LA, you just have to know where to look.

Instagrammable places

As you might imagine, LA is home to a number of fantastically Instagrammable places. Not just the glitz and glamor of downtown, but quirky, unexpected things as well.

Los Angeles even got on our Travel Content Creator's Sabina's list once!

We can start with the Venice canals, a slightly surreal homage to the Italian city from which this part of LA gets its name. Pretty bridges, trees, flowers and pastel-colored houses for the ultra-rich line the waterways, so during the day it’s colorful while at night it’s lit up beautifully.

The stunning interior of The Last Bookstore draws people in in their thousands each year and most of them leave with books (obviously), but also vinyl records, art prints, comics or simply branded merch from this vast treasure trove of art and creativity. Grand Central Market is not just a foodie’s paradise, but also home to art and craft markets and architecture and signage dating back to its opening in 1917, while simply wandering around downtown LA you’ll see murals and street art everywhere you look.

Free music events

You can get your fill of music for free all through summer as from June to September. Since 1987, Grand Performances has been showcasing top musical talent in downtown LA, while West Hollywood’s Summer Sounds offers all types of music in a family-friendly environment. In fact there are at least eleven free concert series dotted around the city across summer, some running events every week for up to four months. You can see 2023’s list here.

Get tickets to be in a TV show audience

Finally, why not try and get yourself on TV? There are so many shows taped in LA, and a good number of them need an audience, so why not try and get into (the background, at least, of) your favorite show?

The main ticket distributors are On Camera Audiences and 1iota, and these handle huge, arena-filling shows such as America’s Got Talent, The Masked Singer and Dancing With the Stars; classic US game shows like Jeopardy!, Family Feud and The Price is Right; and talk shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live!

If you manage to secure a ticket, you’ll have to turn up pretty well in advance to get a good seat (and some shows actually over-distribute tickets to make absolutely sure every seat is filled), but hey, it’s free, and you get to actually see a TV show being made. Here’s a guide on how to apply for — and get! — seats on a bunch of different shows, so good luck!

That’s how to see Los Angeles on a budget

For one of the most expensive cities in the world, LA has a surprising number of free things to do and see; however, we’re sure you’ll be able to stretch your budget further if you search and book great value flights to Los Angeles on Kiwi.com!

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