Last Updated on March 31, 2021
Los Angeles evokes images of star-studded Hollywood, the hidden mansions of Bel Air and the palm-tree lined boulevards of Beverly Hills. No doubt about it, the City of Angels can be a place of excess and luxury like no where else in the world, and if you’ve got the budget, you can go eating, partying and dancing with the stars. But is it possible to see the glitter of Hollywood on a small budget – can you experience LA on a shoestring?
For travelers like us who are trying to stretch our budget as far across the globe as we can, the key is to minimize spending but having a top time wherever we are. With some careful research/planning, you can have a ‘So L.A.’ time without breaking the bank. Read on for ten ways to see the best of Los Angeles on a shoestring.
LA on a shoestring
1. Rent a car
Los Angeles is car territory, and there is no way to see the sights without one. The drivers in L.A. are reckless and lord, look out for the LAPD on a Saturday night around Sunset and Hollywood. However, sticking with public transportation in L.A. limits any chance to fulfill any of those Hollywood moments you had in mind before your trip, and if you want to get around via Uber, you will definitely not be able to do LA on the cheap, because distances are far and fares add up quickly.
Most of the rest of this post requires a car, but luckily, car rentals in LA are inexpensive and it’s possible to find a good deal for a car in Los Angeles on a shoestring budget. Compare prices on Expedia, Priceline or Bookingbuddy.com for the best rates.
*$17-$50 per day depending on model*
2. Mulholland Drive
This winding road through the Hollywood Hills is the way from the TV or music studio to the countless celebrity home nestled throughout the Hills and beyond, so odds aren’t bad you might see a few. Couldn’t care less about celeb spotting? This road climbs up, up and further up to offer some of the most spectacular and well-known views of Los Angeles.
3. Runyon Canyon
Located just a 15 minute drive up Mulholland Drive from Highway 101, Runyon Canyon is a key vista of L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. Park the car, slap on your sneakers and jog up and down the well-paved path which leads from the Hollywood Hills above to Sunset Blvd in Hollywood below. These two locations being havens for celebrities and their hangers-on, you’re bound to see more muscles, plastic, collagen and recipients of Botox than on any run at home, but the workout is intense and there is no need for any ‘South Beach Diet’ after a run through Runyon Canyon. If you like being active, this is a must-do in LA on a shoestring.
4. Griffith Observatory
Like Runyon Canyon, Griffith Observatory offers spectacular views of Los Angeles and the chance to see the stars – and the moon, and mars. Brush up on your knowledge of Astronomy atop the hill in Griffith Park and see the chaos of the city from one of the most peaceful spots in Los Angeles, plus unrivaled chances for pictures of the Hollywood sign.
5. Santa Monica Pier
This 101year-old pier off the coast of Santa Monica beach is as traditional as they come. Ferris wheels, easy roller coasters, pier games, margaritas, funnel cakes and fishing off the end of the Pier. Trying to win a giant stuffed Spongebob for your girlfriend/boyfriend/son/daughter? Sure, that will cost you a pretty penny, but for a walk up and down the pier, an ice cream and a dollar bill in the hat of a Spanish guitar playing busker, a visit to Santa Monica pier is pure California for next-to-nothing.
*Parking is $10 for the day on the pier, or $1 / hr in one of the nearby lots. Get there early to get a spot.*
6. La Brea Tar Pits – Hancock Park
Not what might normally be associated with Los Angeles, the bubbling pits of tar in Hancock Park house the remains of mammoths and other mammals from hundreds of thousands, even millions of years ago. The La Brea Tar Pits, right in the middle of the city, are an amazing site off the side of a beautiful park, art museum, and research facility which is more closely examining the findings of one of the more recent digs at the tar pits.
7. Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame
Yes, it’s a tourist trap, and it stretches for much further in either direction than you would expect. But the Walk of Fame is fun. You walk along, pointing out celebrities you love (or love to hate – does David Hasselhof have to have a star?!). Walking up and down Hollywood Blvd also gives you the chance to check out the shops, tattoo parlors, restaurants and bars of one of L.A.’s most visited and famous areas.
8. The Original Farmers Market
This ain’t your average Farmer’s Market, so it’s best not to expect stalls spilling over with fresh fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices. This is an L.A. farmer’s market, so while it might be the ‘original’ dating back to 1934, times have changed since that July when “a contingent of farmers pulled their trucks onto an expanse of empty land at the property known as Gilmore Island at the corner of Third and Fairfax in Los Angeles”.
Today the Farmers Market is home to dozens of restaurants and food stalls with French breads and cheeses, fish tacos, Italian and Greek restaurants, and stalls filled with hot sauce or sweets or baked goods (even for your pets). While I wouldn’t likely purchase the $15 bottle of Italian olives from the French bakery, the Farmer’s market is the perfect place to grab a table and a snack and people-watch in this clash of the uber-cultured, the tourists and the regular Angelinos as they all convene in this space on Third and Fairfax.
*$15 lunch for 2 on the cheap.*
9. Hollywood Bus Tour
It’s fine to cruise Mulholland Drive and crane your neck in every direction hoping to spot a celebrity in every Maserati or luxury SUV that drives by, but odds are, while you may soak up the Hollywood/Beverly Hills feeling, you’d never actually know it when you passed [insert your fav movie star here]’s house.
Whether you like it or not, jumping on one of these Hollywood Movie Stars tour buses is a necessary evil if you have any interest in film at all. See the location which served as Julia Roberts’ hotel in Pretty Woman, check out Hef’s Playboy Mansion, see Michael Jackson’s final home (Elvis Presley’s was strangely right across the street) and squeal with delight when you see the house which serves as his kingdom, he was finally there, to sit on his throne as the Prince of Bel Air – the Fresh Prince of Bel Air house. (Maybe that last one was just me, but I did, in fact, squeal as soon as we rounded the corner. The house needed no introduction from our tre-geek tour guide)...
*$25 plus $5-10 tip. Choose any of the ones on Hollywood Boulevard*
10. See a live TV Show taping
Catching a live taping is one of the best things you can do in LA on a shoestring. See The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Maher, Craig Ferguson, the Price is Right. Register on the wish lists on each individual site. If you’re lucky, you can get tickets for Jimmy Kimmel for the taping on that same day on Hollywood Boulevard, or other tickets for shows like Catch 21 – just look out for the guys with the lists around the Chinese Theater.
Further reading: Unusual things to do in L.A.
Have you been to LA? What are your Los Angeles on a shoestring tips? Share them in the comments below!