What if I asked you to list a few of your top places for travelling on a budget? I bet L.A. wouldn’t be among them. In fact, the city of dreams has such a reputation for being horrendously expensive that most people rolled their eyes at me when I told them about my spontaneous trip to the West Coast, on a budget. While last-minute flights can really be super cheap, cities don’t roll that way – no matter when you come, there are no special deals to make the whole thing less hurtful for the wallet.
It doesn’t help that I am the kind of person who throws the carefully planned budget out the window quicker than my boyfriend can even say “Honey, I think we need that” – but at least I tried. That has to count for something, right? In the hopes that you will be more successful in saving a few bucks when visiting the West Coast – here are my top ten things to do in L.A. that won’t cost you a dime.
1 – Lake Hollywood Park
So it’s your first time in L.A. and you are looking for that perfect shot of the Hollywood sign? Here it is. Lake Hollywood Park sits right underneath the famous nine letters, so snap away. If you cross the street and look the other way, you even get some nice views of sprawling Los Angeles, giving you a first taste of how big this city really is.
2 – La Brea Tar Pits/LACMA
Is it even possible to make this sound more dramatic than it is? There are real, bubbling, hot tar pits in the middle of a pretty little park in L.A. In fact, they are located right next to the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), meaning that you can conveniently combine the two. If you want to keep your budget low, check out the outdoor art installations at LACMA (like Chris Burden’s Urban Light, a forest of street lamps), then head over to the La Brea Tar Pits. The pits are open to the public – if you want to find out a little bit more, treat yourself to a visit to the adjacent La Brea museum.
3 – California Center of Science
Don’t be put off by the fact that 80% of the people you will see here are barely half your size – this museum is not only incredibly cool for kids, but adults will enjoy it just as much. There are a thousand buttons to push, levers to pull, and objects to be touched, and if you’re still not impressed, then let me just say that there are space ships. Real life space ships that have actually been to outer space. The entry to the museum is free except for one small part – it costs two dollars to look at the shuttle Endeavor. Even if you are not a space buff (trust me, I’m not), consider going there – the immense shuttle, plus the fact that it has been to outer space (and back!) 25 times, will most definitely amaze you.
One word of advice, though: if you go by car, you’ll have to pay a hefty parking fee, so if you want to keep your day low-budget, take a bus instead.
4 – Made in L.A. Wall
“Did we really just drive here so I can take a picture of you in front of a WALL?” – Yes, dear boyfriend, yes, we did. And so can you – the Made in L.A. wall is totally free and probably the most popular Instagram spot in the entire city. You might run the risk of annoying the hell out of your travel buddies, but the picture is totally worth it. Right? RIGHT?
Jokes aside, if you’re looking for that perfect picture for your L.A. travel experience, this might be the place for you. And if you’re the unlucky one who is caught taking the picture for your Instagram-crazy friend? You might just get a lot of joy out of watching the other tourists jump around a grey wall for that one perfect snap.
5 – Farmer’s Market
Alright, I’ll admit it – if you come here hungry, a few dollars will come in handy. Actually, with all the different smells and temptations of the little food stalls at the market, maybe you’ll end up splurging a bit anyways. The farmer’s market at 3rd street and Fairfax is filled to the brim with culinary enthusiasts and passionate chefs, so much so that even walking around and watching the buzz is exciting. The market also frequently hosts free events for everyone – just check their website to know what’s going on.
6 – Venice Beach
Eccentric, eclectic, a little freakish – that’s basically Venice Beach in a nut shell. Walk along the boardwalk to get a glimpse of the many performance artists, workout addicts, and happy bon-vivants who make Venice Beach the paradise for outcasts that it is. Besides the boardwalk, there’s a beautiful beach which is often quieter than the one in Santa Monica, perfect to start working on that L.A. tan (if that’s your thing).
7 – Santa Monica
An easy walk away from Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier boasts a busy beach and probably the best known pier in the world. If you’re running low on money, take a relaxed stroll around the attractions, chill on the beach and indulge in people-watching (no shame, we all do it). Santa Monica Pier is not only home to an amusement park, but it’s also the very end of the famous Route 66 – the historic route which used to connect Chicago with the West Coast.
8 – Griffith Observatory
Lift your head from the city of dreams that is glittering down below and let yourself be amazed by the stars and our cosmos – dreamy, isn’t it? Especially if you can use one of the telescopes of Griffith Observatory, a little building sitting on top of Mount Hollywood, hosting various space and science exhibits as well as tours and events. Admission is free, and so are the views: come here at sunset to see L.A. turn from daylight metropolis to a shining sea of lights by night.
9 – Walk of Fame
You’re probably going to go here anyways (L.A. is known for its huge entertainment industry, after all), but just in case you’re having doubts: grab a cup of coffee or a smoothie to go and walk down the Walk of Fame. You will most definitely recognise some of the names on the ground, but if you’re lucky, you’ll run into a real-life celebrity as well. Who knows, maybe there’s a movie premier happening just when you get there? Be sure to check out the TCL Chinese Theater, whose court is filled with celebrities’ handprints, and the impressive Dolby Theater, which hosts the annual Academy Awards.
10 – Little Tokyo
Tired of L.A. already? Don’t worry, Little Tokyo will take you from North America to Japan in under five seconds. The moment you step through the Japanese gate into the district, you feel like you are standing on another continent entirely: the streets are decorated with Japanese lampions, restaurants offer sushi, tempura, and soba noodles, and it feels like everything you can buy in the little shops has a cute face on it – kawaii! If you’ve never been to Japan before, stroll through the streets to feed your wanderlust – and if you have been, let Little Tokyo take you back again, even if it’s just for an afternoon.
Los Angeles really doesn’t have to be the crazy expensive city that everyone warns you about. I only had about 48 hours there, though, so now it’s your turn: What did I miss? What are your favourite free things to do in L.A.?