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Los Angeles Day Trip Itineraries On A Budget

Updated: Feb 3, 2023



California is expensive. LA, more specifically, is expensive. And I'm not sure if it's a top destination for most people looking to travel anymore.


But what happens when you don’t want to dish out a lot of money and have a long layover in LA and want to explore it? Or perhaps you’re road-tripping to or through California and want to enjoy at least one day in the City of Angels. As another example, I met a woman who works on a cruise ship and had 24 hours to see LA before getting on the next boat.


The question is: Can you do a day in LA on a budget?


Yes. Yes, you can.


The reason I say this is because many of the most well-known sights in LA are free. Granted, you’ll still have to pay for food, gas, sometimes parking or a ride service if you don’t have transportation. But all in all, outside of those areas, you can make it through a day without paying a single penny.



What you’ll find in this article:



 

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Before we get to some itineraries for you to consider, let’s start with what popular places and activities in LA are actually free.



Hollywood Boulevard

Of course, it’s free to walk down a street — even this famous one! And in addition to imagining what the boulevard might have been like during the Golden Age of Hollywood, you must “do” the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Basically, gaze down at all of the names on the stars as you walk. You can even make it a priority to find your favorite celebrity’s star and get a picture of it.


This is also the perfect place to snap some photos of those iconic buildings you’ve heard about: Capitol Records Building, The Hollywood Roosevelt, Dolby Theatre, TCL Chinese Theatre and Forecourt to the Stars (the handprints, footprints and messages from some of the biggest names of all time), El Capitan Theatre, etc.


If you do want to spend some money at Hollywood Boulevard, consider these options:


$: You can go on a TCL Chinese Theatre tour for $10. The Hollywood Museum is also just $15 for adults ($5 for children 5 and under, $12 for students and seniors).


$$: Madame Tussauds’ Hollywood Wax Museum, the oldest wax museum in the U.S., is $30 (the price gets higher as you add more activities). A Dolby Theatre tour is $25 per person, though there are discounts for groups, seniors and youths.



Griffith Park

Griffith Park is the perfect destination for physical activity in nature, family attractions plus tourist traps. It includes 4,210 acres with hiking trails, picnic areas, parks, sports fields, the zoo, a historic carousel, a Greek Theatre, a free railroad museum (Travel Town Museum Foundation) and much more. Of course, we also can’t forget the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory.


Obviously, the trails are all free, and you’ll find that many of them lead to exciting locations, including the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory and Amir’s Garden. But it might interest you to also know that the Griffith Observatory is free! Just keep in mind that although you can visit the grounds throughout the week, the actual observatory is only open Friday-Sunday. That said, even if you aren’t there during the weekend, the Griffith Observatory is still a great place to go! You can see the LA cityscape and the Hollywood sign from the balconies.


If you do want to spend some money at Griffith Park, consider these options:


$: The Autry Museum of the American West is near the zoo and costs $14 for adults, $10 for students and seniors and $6 for children ages 3-12.


$$: If you’re interested in going to the LA Zoo, tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for seniors, and $17 for children ages 2-12.



Beverly Hills

It might be the most expensive place in LA, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go to it! If you’re interested in seeing some of the fancy houses, definitely take a drive through the area, though the biggest, billion-dollar ones are gated and not visible from the road. You can also shop around at Rodeo Drive, but it's not the place to save money. (Some of you may even need to steer clear of this shopping center simply because it will be too great of a temptation!)


Something free in Beverly Hills that you likely haven't heard about or haven’t been to is Greystone Mansion (or Doheny Mansion). This great estate is owned by the city and has a fascinating history (that you should read up on beforehand). Walk the beautiful grounds and take some photos. And if the mansion itself is open, walk inside and see if you can picture the scenes from some of your favorite movies, TV shows or music videos, including: General Hospital, Gilmore Girls, The Bodyguard, The Big Lebowski, There Will Be Blood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Holiday, X-Men, etc. It's a popular filming location!



The LA Coast

Playa del Rey: I was actually impressed by this small beach town, despite it being so close to the chaos of Venice Beach. My aunt and I started one of our days here, and it was so peaceful and beautiful. The beach has a sidewalk/biking trail that's perfect for taking a morning stroll with a coffee or smoothie in hand and chatting with your travel buddy.


Venice Beach: This tourist spot is a stimulus for all of your senses. First, you have the boardwalk, which includes vendors selling all types of colorful items and aromatic foods, odd statues and murals, in addition to artists playing instruments or DJs blasting records. Next, there's Muscle Beach, or Venice Beach's outdoor gym. There is workout equipment, sports courts and, my favorite place, a skate park. (I could have watched the roller-skating dancers and skateboarders for hours.) Lastly, it can be easy to forget that you are on a beach, but if you don't mind the noise and activities, you can hang out by the water.


Santa Monica Pier: Another hopping spot, the Santa Monica Pier is a fun place to walk around and enjoy the ocean view, live music and other street performances. You can also take a look at the shops or eat some lunch on the pier or at a restaurant on the streets near it. Don't forget to take your picture taken by the Route 66 "End of the Trail" sign and snap a photo of the historic carousel. And if you're interested in spending some money, consider Pacific Park. Admission is free, but you have to pay for each ride and attraction individually ($5-12).


Getty Villa Museum: Located on the coast between Santa Monica and Malibu, the Getty Villa (a re-creation of a Roman country house) is the sister museum to the Getty Center. Here you'll find ancient Greek and Roman art and antiques and four beautiful gardens. Admission is free, but you do have to pay $20 to park. If you go to the Getty Villa and the Getty Center on the same day, you only have to pay for parking once though. That said, the Getty Villa takes hours to get through if you look at everything, so doing both will basically take up a full day.


Malibu: From nice sand to relax on to big waves to surf, Malibu has it all as far as beaches go. You can also shop, fish, have lunch or dinner with an ocean view or even go on a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.



Museums

If museums are your thing, then you'll have plenty to choose from in LA. Many of them are free, and some of them are free on specific days. Additionally, there are special discounts for children, students, seniors, military, etc. at most of the museums. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will give you an idea of what you can visit on a budget.


(Keep in mind that many of these museums require that you reserve tickets in advance and are only open on specific days.)


COMPLETELY FREE

CAN BE FREE


There are other museums if you don't mind paying some money: the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Hollywood Museum, Holocaust Museum LA, Hollywood Wax Museum and more. But whether you go for a free experience or a priced one, be sure to do some research beforehand!



Filming Locations

Practically every spot in LA has been in a movie or TV show at some point, so most of the locations above are well-known from movies. However, there are other filming locations that don’t necessarily have a category and are free to “visit.”

  • The Last Bookstore: In addition to being one of the sets for movies like Gone Girl and TV shows like You, this new and used bookstore is also just a cool place to visit in general. It’s uniquely decorated and includes a book tunnel, a room inside of a “safe,” hanging books, etc. There are a variety of books to look through or read there, vinyls to buy and a coffee above the bookstore to enjoy.

  • Herald Examiner Building: The Usual Suspects, The Prestige, Insidious, etc.

  • Regent Beverly Wilshire: Pretty Woman, Clueless, Sex and the City: The Movie, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, etc.

  • The Bradbury Building: Blade Runner, (500) Days of Summer, Double Indemnity, Chinatown, The Artist, etc.

  • Union Station: The Dark Knight Rises, Blade Runner, Catch Me If You Can, etc.

  • Sherman Oaks Galleria: Back to the Future Part II, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Commando, Terminator 2, etc.

  • Victorian Village: Saving Mr. Banks, Legally Blonde, etc.

  • The Brady Bunch House: Although you can’t go inside the house, as it’s currently owned by HGTV and there are no tours, you can still snap a photo of the outside! Head to this address to view it: 11222 Dilling St, Studio City, CA 91602

  • UCLA Campus: The Godfather, Legally Blonde, Gilmore Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.

  • USC Campus: The Graduate, Ghostbusters, Forrest Gump, Legally Blonde, etc.

This list could go on and on — there are too many for me to name. So if this is something that interests you, do some more of your own research and decide which places are top on your list to see.



Day Trip Itineraries By Category

For the typical tourist:

Hollywood Boulevard, Griffith Observatory, Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier,


You’ve got to hit the highlights! Start with Hollywood Boulevard then make your way to the Griffith Observatory. Once you finished with lunch, drive to the coast and walk Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. Each of these locations is a great place to take photos and will make you feel like you’ve had a well-rounded visit to LA.


For the beach bum:

Playa del Rey, Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Malibu


Spend your entire day driving up or down the coast! I suggest driving UP because you can get to Venice Beach earlier when it’s less crowded but there are still things and people to see. (You can even begin with Playa del Rey.) After walking the Venice boardwalk, head to the Santa Monia Pier, as there are lunch places to choose from on the streets near it. From there, spend your evening on a beach in Malibu and watch the sunset.


For the movie-obsessed:

Hollywood Boulevard, Griffith Observatory, filming locations


Start with Hollywood Boulevard to beat the crowds! Next, go to the Griffith Observatory where you’ll see the famous James Dean spot outside and where part of La La Land was filmed inside. Lastly, make a list by priority of all of the free movie locations you want to visit. Plan out how you can make it to as many as you can (because driving will take some time), and let that fill the rest of your afternoon/evening.



For the Learner:

Museums, The Last Bookstore, Griffith Observatory


Start your day with whatever museum or museums pique your interest and are open early. In between your museum visits, go to The Last Bookstore. Take a look around, settle down with a book or even enjoy a coffee or a meal at the cafe above the bookstore. For your final stop of the day, drive to the Griffith Observatory where you can learn about and observe the sky.


For the sophisticated Wannabe:

The Last Bookstore, Greystone Mansion/Getty Villa, a Malibu beachfront


The Last Bookstore doesn’t open until 11 AM, but once it does, grab a coffee at the cafe above it, find a spot and enjoy a book. Next, decide whether you want to go to the Greystone Mansion or Getty Villa (or both). The grounds of each place are beautiful, but the Getty Villa is also a museum if that interests you and the Greystone Mansion is in Beverly Hills if driving through that area interests you. Finally, enjoy dinner and drinks at one of the restaurants on the water in Malibu.


For the nature-lover:

Griffith Park, Greystone Mansion, the beach


In the morning, take a hike in Griffith Park, whether it’s to a sight (like the Hollywood Sign or Griffith Observatory) or just a walk in nature. You can always drive up to the sights if you don’t want to miss them. Just before or after lunch, head to Greystone Mansion and walk the gorgeous grounds. Then, in the afternoon/evening, drive to one of the coastal beaches, swim or relax and watch the sunrise.


*You could also do this schedule backward and begin your day hiking in Malibu and then walking the beaches. You can still visit the Griffith Observatory in the evening (Friday-Sunday).



If you don't see yourself in any of these categories, create your own cost-friendly day trip itinerary using the insights above, along with your own research of the free attractions in the city. It's up to you to make your 24-hour LA experience the best it can be so that you feel good checking it off your travel bucket list.


 

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