23 free or ridiculously cheap things to do on your trip to Los Angeles
1. Go fly a kite (festival).
Cost: Free…or the cost of a kite
I love the sight of a colorful kite soaring high in a strong ocean breeze. How awesome would it be to get a new kite at Evett’s Model Shop in Santa Monica or Sunshine Kite Company in Redondo Beach and take to the sky? Or show up and play during one of these L.A. kite festivals:
- Kite Flying Festival @ Ascot Hills Park
- Festival of the Kite @ Redondo Beach Pier
- Otis Kite Festival @ Santa Monica Pier
2. Take on the Downtown L.A. Art Walk.
Should you have the good fortune to find yourself in Downtown Los Angeles on the second Thursday of the month, the stars have aligned to lead you to the Downtown L.A. Art Walk. Grab a map at the Art Walk Lounge (634 S. Spring St., open 6pm-10pm) and start visiting the 30+ galleries that participate monthly.
3. Bike the beaches.
Cost: $10/hour or $30 all day to rent a bike
The best way to explore the beaches of Los Angeles is via the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Path. You can ride from Will Rogers State Beach near the Pacific Palisades in the north to Torrance Beach at the foot of Rancho Palos Verdes in the south with Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach in between. Bring sunblock and a swimsuit, and if you lack your own wheels rent a bike at one of the 12 Perry’s Cafes that line Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
4. Head to Thai Town.
Cost: Pad Thai $12 / traditional Thai massage $40
The best Thai food outside of Chiang Mai is cooked in this small East Hollywood neighborhood. Get some. I do, on the weekly. Thai Town, which happens to overlap with Little Armenia (only in L.A.), has a humble but fully stocked Thai grocery store and some incredible restaurants within a six-block cluster centered on Hollywood Blvd.
5. Check out all the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.
There are few American architects as prolific and well known as Frank Lloyd Wright. L.A. is blessed with a handful of FLW structures, most privately owned. The most impressive is probably the Hollyhock House, which sits atop the hill at Barnsdall Art Park (also home to the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery).
Other FLW creations (be considerate of the neighbors and don’t bother the residents):
- Anderton Court Shops
- Ennis House
- Freeman House
- Millard House
- Storer House
- Sturgis House
- Arch Oboler Gatehouse & Studio
332 Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
2607 Glendower Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027
1962 Glencoe Way, Los Angeles, CA 90068
645 Prospect Crescent, Pasadena, CA 91103
8161 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90069
449 Skeywiay Road, Brentwood, CA 90049
32436 Mulholland Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265
6. Find (awesome) food trucks.
Cost: Generally $7-20 per person per meal
The L.A. food truck scene is next level. At any given second, a small fleet of independent grub slingers are feeding a line of hungry folks some of the best food in the city. Find The Grilled Cheese Truck, Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, and Lobsta Truck (three of L.A.’s favorites) and dozens more at RoamingHunger.com on a real-time map. There are also innumerable taco trucks and stands that are on no map, real time or otherwise.
7. Explore the (epic) beaches of the PCH.
Cost: Gas money + food + parking = ?
Pull onto the Pacific Coast Highway, point your wheels north towards Malibu, and cruise. Leaving the city behind and hugging the coast with the windows down, it feels like another world out here. Pull over anywhere that looks like it needs exploring. The Malibu Pier has a cafe at the end and is a perfect place to watch surfers if the waves are good. Further north, Point Dume, Zuma, and El Matador State Beach are favorite parks for beach lovers, surfers, and photographers. You could take all day to make this drive and it would be a day well spent.
8. Watch movies at the TCL Chinese Theater and El Capitan
Cost: ~$20 for a movie ticket
For cinephiles, the TCL Chinese Theatre (opened in May 18, 1927) and El Capitan (opened May 3, 1926) are probably two of the most exciting places in the country to catch the latest blockbusters. After the credits roll, find your favorite star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and take a selfie with “Bumblebee” or “Batman” for the triple whammy tourist experience.
9. Geek out at Griffith Observatory.
Cost: Free admission; shows $3-7
On a south-facing slope in the vast Griffith Park, this domed observatory looks like an Art Deco superhero base. What it actually is — a celebration of astronomy that’s free to the public — is pretty awesome too. See a live view of the sun, watch a Tesla coil crackle with purple lightning, and have your mind blown by the world’s best planetarium star projector. Closed Mondays.
10. Go to a Dodgers game and visit Elysian Park.
Cost: Tickets $10+
Baseball season is so long that you have to consciously try to miss a Dodgers game. For a double play, picnic in Elysian Park, the big old slice of public park the stadium sits smack in the middle of, before a game. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be more focused on destroying a legendary Dodger Dog with a myriad of toppings than the actual baseball game.
11. Walk through the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Cost: Visit the grounds respectfully for free, movies and music $16+
A sprawling necropolis in the heart of Hollywood with a rotating calendar of live music and classic movies, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery has been the final resting place for L.A. luminaries since 1899. Cinespia.org puts on outdoor movie screenings of classic and cult films in the middle of the cemetery. It’s awesome. Come before sunset with blankets and picnic provisions and claim your spot on the grass. FYI, catching an Uber after the movie is next to impossible; you’re better off parking several blocks away and walking.
12. Do all the Santa Monica Pier stuff.
At the western terminus of Route 66, there’s a Ferris wheel that lights up at night like a neon pinwheel. There’s also a trapeze school, a giant arcade, at least one churro cart, and lots and lots of people. The historic Santa Monica Pier is one of L.A.’s most popular attractions, so join your fellow beach goers and embrace the energy! Where else could you feed a sea star, play skee ball, ride a roller coaster, listen to a live Jewel cover, eat shrimp scampi, and watch coolers full of stinky bait disappear at the end of a fishing line into the Pacific? I don’t know either.
The Twilight Concerts series on the beach is a summertime tradition that draws thousands of people to the pier for a free show from world-class acts.
13. Wander Echo Park.
I like to go to Echo Park Lake and look for turtles, and I’ve frequently daydreamed of renting one of those cute little paddle boats with my sweetheart, but I probably won’t. The lake is petite, but what it lacks in volume it makes up for in ducks and geese and adorable baby turtles.
Echo Park in general is one of those cool places where you can just wander around without a plan and bump into all manner of music and merriment and tacos. If you need some direction, start at El Prado for a drink and then check out some live music at The Echo or something artistic and likely strange at Machine Project.
14. Laugh till it hurts for $5.
Cost: … $5
Catch a so-cheap-it’s-almost-free improv / comedy show at either of the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters on Sunset Blvd or Franklin Ave. Shows nightly.
15. Head to the Hollywood Sign overlook.
Unless you’re immune to L.A. tourist cliches, you may find yourself wanting to get a little closer to the Hollywood sign. Piloting a vehicle through the single-lane tangle of road that surrounds those nine enormous block letters is a trip — the Lake Hollywood Overlook is probably your best Hollywood photo opp by car. For bonus points drive up Beachwood Dr. to see cottages from the 1920s that were a part of the original Hollywoodland development.
16. Visit Topanga Canyon.
You can approach Highway 27, aka Topanga Canyon Blvd., from either the PCH or the 101. The two-lane road through Topanga Canyon twists like a fat rattlesnake along the dry riverbeds and stands of oak that punctuate this beautiful drive. Pull over and grab something to eat at Abuelitas (a beer on their outdoor patio is sublime on a nice day), and be prepared to spend an hour wandering through the labyrinth of vintage clothing and mishmash of awesomeness that is Hidden Treasures. Take Entrada Rd. to Topanga State Park, where all your dreams will come true…so long as your dreams consists of walking on perfect coastal mountain paths and probably seeing deer.
17. Hit the breweries of South Central / South Bay.
Cost: Free to visit, cheap to drink
To dive into L.A.’s craft beer scene, you could stop into Angel City in Downtown L.A. or Golden Road in Glendale. But to get neck deep into fresh Los Angeles brew, I suggest you drive south.
First stop: Three Weavers Brewing Company in Inglewood. The Three Weavers tasting room is a big indoor/outdoor space that is scientifically proven to alleviate over 20% of your existential anxiety. Bring friends and claim a picnic table. Further south in Torrance, in an otherwise unremarkable stretch of industrial blah, is a collection of breweries that welcomes the thirsty with awesome beer. Monkish, Smog City, The Dudes’ Brewing Co., and Strand Brewing Co. all have popular tasting rooms (standing room only on the weekends) and are all a short walk or Uber ride from each other. Cheers!
18. Surf…or just watch the surfers.
If you’re inclined to catch waves, then the toughest choice you have to make in L.A. is not whether to surf but where to surf. If staying dry and warm on the sand and spectating is more your style, more power to you! Post yourself up at Zuma, Malibu, Venice Beach, El Porto, or Manhattan Beach to either watch surfers ride the rolling Pacific or get in on the action yourself.
19. Shop at the Original Farmers Market.
Cost: Free to wander, $ to park
In 1934, a dozen local farmers parked their trucks at the corner of 3rd and Fairfax to sell their produce. L.A.’s Original Farmers Market still carries on this tradition of farm fresh food with the addition of nearly every kind of comfort food you could possibly crave. If you’re being dragged to The Grove, insist that your captors make a pit stop at the market and then try to lose them in the crowd.
20. Walk among dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.
Cost: Admission $5-12, First Fridays tickets $18
Among the gazillion other fascinating wonders the NHM holds are the complete fossilized skeletons of a T-rex and a triceratops frozen in a moment of dino combat. Your inner child (and/or your outer children) will not believe their eyes. Come to the NHM for scientific discussions and live music during First Fridays.
21. Browse The Last Bookstore.
Cost: Free, but buy a book
This Downtown L.A. bookstore is a 22,000 sq. ft. temple to bibliophilia and is California’s largest bookstore. Get lost among the sea of literature and take home something good to read.
22. Go chasing waterfalls.
Cost: Free + gas + parking
There isn’t a ton of flowing fresh water in L.A., but if you know where to look there are trails that lead the adventurer to some small (hey, we take what we can get around here!) cascades. Wear sturdy shoes, sun protection, and bring plenty of water when doing any hiking.
Waterfalls to visit:
- Monrovia Falls: An easy 1.7-mile hike from Monrovia Canyon Park entrance station (in Monrovia).
- Eaton Canyon Falls: About 1.8 miles from the parking lot at the trailhead in Altadena and a very popular hike. If you have fantasies of having the waterfall to yourself, think again! Expect crowds.
- Santa Ynez Falls: Perhaps easiest accessed from the trail system emanating from Topanga State Park. It’s about a 2.5-mile hike to the falls from the TSP parking lot.
23. Play a round at Los Feliz Municipal Golf Course.
Cost: Greens fees $5.50 Mon-Thurs, $7 on the weekend
This unpretentious little golf course is great for people like me: I don’t want to spend a lot of time or money playing a sport I enjoy but undeniably suck at. Los Feliz GC is a public 9-hole par-3 course that snuggles against the feet of Griffith Park and is ridiculously cheap.
This post is proudly presented in partnership with Discover Los Angeles.