Los Angeles, California. The home of Hollywood, beautiful beaches, palm trees, perfect weather and cosmetically enhanced flawless bodies. Contrary to popular belief, you can enjoy fun in the sun in this glitzy and glamorous city without a movie star salary. Choose from two itineraries that allow you to see complimentary sides of the city for less than $25 a day:
1) Chasing Stars In Hollywood
Total: $11 + accommodation (free if you use Couchsurfing or house sitting!)
You can start your day in Hollywood by getting all the tourist attractions out of the way. If you have a car, snag affordable parking at the Hollywood and Highland Center mall garage ($4 for 4 hours) then trip over people taking selfies by their favorite stars on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. In addition to navigating snap-happy tourists, watch out for wandering weirdos dressed up as superheros. But hey, if you want a picture with Johnny Depp, it is cheaper pay a couple dollars to do it here, instead of spending hundreds for a Disneyland ticket. Proceed to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and compare your handprints and footprints print against the celebrities’ that cover the grotto outside the theater.
Armed with photos that prove you have seen the typical LA attractions, start your 10-minute walk through more typical neighborhoods to Runyon Canyon Park at the intersection of Franklin and Fuller Avenues. If you want to blend in, dress in designer workout gear — which you should immediately rip off when you join the sweaty attractive people who are hiking, running and walking around one of LA’s hottest places. This is the place to see and be seen by local celebrities and staggeringly beautiful up-and-coming actors. If you can tear your eyes away from the park’s attractive occupants, you will see incredible views of the city from above. If you are really ambitious, take advantage of one of the FREE yoga outdoor classes that happens 3-5 times daily.
After you’ve worked up a sweat, hike back down the hill for a farm fresh meal that will have you looking like a fit, superstar at the Farmer’s Kitchen. The food is sourced directly from local farmers and provides urbanites with convenient, healthy meals throughout the week. Try a peach chutney and cheddar sandwich ($9), made from fresh peaches and plums, spiced with a local chutney on 12-grain bread ($7) or a root vegetable salad with roasted carrots and local goat cheese ($7).
Walk Option 2: Walk And Snack Your Way Through Downtown LA
Total: $15 + accommodation (free if you use Couchsurfing or house sitting!)
Most visitors may be tempted to spend their time in Los Angeles hiding in the hills or lounging on one of the city’s many beaches; however, recently downtown has been undergoing a revival and deserves to be explored. If you’re like me and attracted to shiny things, start your walk at the glimmering stainless steel Walt Disney Amphitheatre. The eccentric Frank Gehry architecture makes the exterior an attraction but you can also go inside for a FREE tour or to explore the acre-sized Blue Ribbon Rooftop garden, where some of the organic greens and herbs are grown for the building’s restaurants. If you’re here during the summer, make sure to stop by for a free Friday night sing-a-long to belt out Broadway Favorites, Mariachi music or classic Rock Anthems.
If you prefer cozier places piled high with dusty novels, old records and eccentric comic books, check out The Last Bookstore, cited as Flavorwire’s top 20 more beautiful bookstores in the world. This reconstructed Citizens National Bank houses an expansive space, with sculptures made of wire and old paperbacks, an art gallery upstairs and room for bands to perform. Whether you want to pursue the $1 bargain books, check out paintings and jewelry made by local artists or attend a book signing, you can easily spend hours meandering the maze-like collection of literary gems.
By now, you’ve probably worked up an appetite so make your way to LA’s largest and oldest public market, Grand Central Market. Around for over a century, you can still pick up fragrant ground spices, freshly made cheese, ethnic ingredients or other kitchen supplies, although as of late the space has been bringing in eateries that cater to a hip crowd. You could fork over $7 for an espresso milkshake at G&B Coffee, which NYTimes claims as America’s best-iced latte or spend the same amount for a hearty portion of steamy wonton soup or chowmein at iconic China Café (less than $10). But make sure to walk around the whole place before you commit because you can chose from Texas barbeque, Thai sticky rice, kombucha (a fermented tea beverage that is become quite the craze amongst California health nuts) or authentic Mexican tacos.
For dessert, walk 10 minutes to Little Tokyo, a serene plaza set back from busy streets where paper lanterns hang from the trees and Japanese grandmas smile at your from park benches. There’s a half-dozen bakeries and coffee shops to choose from but I recommend mochi at the authentic Fugetsu-Do Confectioners. They pound a sweet gelatin into a small round rice cake confection, which a yelp reviewer claims is “so tender and delicious, it feels like you’re eating a baby’s ear lobe.” Here, you can get ice cream filled mochi for $1 or gelato-filled mochi for $2, which is cheap enough to try several of their flavors, which range from green tea to mango to red bean and more. While you’re in the neighborhood, poke your head in some of the quirky gift shops, selling anime, waving cats, paper fans and beyond.
Conclude your walk by wandering through the Downtown Arts District, which is working on reviving itself from warehouse wasteland into burgeoning hub. Massive, techicolor murals cover the streets, and even auto repair shops get in the mood by covering their fronts with artistic facades. Exploring the area is like going on a treasure hunt since its hidden gems are scattered throughout. In addition to your self-guided graffiti tour, I would recommend the sweet, creamy Spanish Latte at Urth Café ($4) and a sweet (Maple Custard) or savory (Mac and Cheese) pot pie at the Pie Hole ($4.50-6). Both of these establishments are atmospheric, relaxed local joints with perfect perches to people watch.
Unfortunately, Los Angeles does not yet have a city bike share program (and most of its main streets prioritize drivers over bikers); however, the city does have an extensive public transportation system with a subway, light rail, buses and shuttles that allow you to access almost every corner of the city. Base single-ride fares start at $1.50 or you can chose a day pass ($5) and a 7-day pass ($20). The Metro trip planner helps you navigate these attractions with public transportation. If you do not have access to your own vehicle, I would also highly recommend you check out free, downloadable itineraries put together by Car Free LA, which allow you to explore the city without a car.
If you get creative, you can still find a place to spend the night in Los Angeles that can keep you at, or near, your daily budget. Couchsurfing is a world-wide, non-profit organization which connects you to locals for potentially free places to stay (and often, you will get a free tour guide too!). Airbnb also offers creative housing options so you could stay at a private UCLA bunk bed for $25 a night or someone’s living room couch for $19. If you feel more comfortable with a traditional hostel, rates start at about $50 for a shared dormitory.
- Runyon Canyon Park Franklin Ave. & Fuller Ave., Los Angeles, CA; 213-485-5572 lamountains.com
- Walt Disney Concert Hall 111 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA; (323) 850-2000 laphil.com
- Last Bookstore 453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 213.488.0599 http://lastbookstorela.com
- Grand Central Market 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA, (213) 624-2378
- Fugetsu-Do Confectioners 315 East First St., Los Angeles, (213) 625-8595
- Urth Caffé 451 South Hewitt Street, (213) 797-4534
- Pie Hole 714 Traction Ave, Los Angeles, CA (or visit their Pasadena location 59 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA, 888-692-7429)
- Hollywood and Highland Center Mall Garage 6801 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028; (323) 817-0200
- Grauman’s Chinese Theatre 6925 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028; (323) 461-3331
About The Author
Katie Foote is a doctoral student who travels the world any chance she can get. Physics trips to India, Taiwan, Brazil and Singapore funded her first international travels and since then, she’s been hooked and found ways to travel the world on a graduate student budget (cheap!). She seeks out off-the-beaten-path destinations and tries to authentically experience new places through a local lens. When she’s not doing physics or globe-trotting, she likes to swim, do yoga, experiment with multicultural cuisine and activities, where she currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. Check out Katie’s blog to follow her adventures around the world.