Sunny, glitzy Los Angeles isn’t known as the most budget-friendly travel destination.
Yet with some careful planning, you can find a more economical side to this glamorous town, and get a taste for the magic that defines this world-famous place – for less. With endless options all over LA, there truly is something for everyone and every budget – as long as you know where to look.
From skipping the guided studio tours for a seat in a live studio audience to heading to West Hollywood for happy hour and experiencing the city’s diverse culinary scene through its many food trucks, LA on a budget is not only possible, it’s lots of fun, too.
Here’s our inside tips and tricks to help you save money on your next trip to LA.
- Hostel room: $20–60 per night
- Basic room for two: $80–290 per night
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): $70–250+ per night
- Public transport ticket: $1.75 (capped at $5 per day and $18 per week)
- Coffee: $3–6
- Sandwich: $8–18
- Dinner for two: $50–80+
- Beer/pint at a bar: $6–12
- Average Daily Cost (three meals, accommodation and a small budget for activities): $260–300+ per day
LAX isn’t the only airport in LA, but it’s likely to be the cheapest
In 2023, Airports Council International ranked Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) as the sixth-busiest airport in the world. And while the crowds may tempt you to avoid LAX at all costs (I don’t blame you), this heavy traffic is great news for those on a budget. With approximately 700 flights per day, you can find great deals to and from the hub at any time of the year, especially on low-cost carriers.
If you’re staying outside of the city, however, it’s worth seeing if other airports like Burbank and Long Beach are better suited to your destination. The transport costs between LAX and outlying areas could outweigh any money you'd save.
Take free hotel shuttles to get out of LAX
There’s no sugar-coating it: getting out of LAX is painful. After a flight, the last thing you want to do is lug your bags onto a packed communal rideshare zone bus before waiting – sometimes for up to an hour – for a driver that charges triple the standard price.
If you’re staying relatively close to the airport, check to see if your hotel offers a shuttle service. Not only will the free transport save you a few dollars, it’s the most efficient way to get out, aside from a family member or friend picking you up.
Note that LA’s Metro is planning to open its long-planned expansion to LAX in late 2024. As you plan your trip, consider if mass transit could suit your travel needs.
Capitalize on LA’s love of happy hours
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t try some of the best and highly raved-about eateries and bars in LA. This all-hours town is known for its love of happy hours, and spots all around the city offer great daily deals.
Some must-try local favorites include Mother Tongue in Hollywood, Gracias Madre in West Hollywood (a great all-vegan spot), The Waterfront in Venice and Everson Royce Bar in DTLA’s Arts District (get the ERB burger and the $6 mystery shot).
Visit during shoulder seasons
Summer and winter holidays are considered peak seasons in LA, with prices to match. But things tend to settle down in the weeks following Labor Day, making this shoulder season an optimal time to visit. The weather is still pleasant and warm (this is LA, after all), only with fewer crowds and lower prices.
September to early November isn’t a popular travel time, since kids are back in school and it’s just before the peak holiday season. Do note the window for great deals is small, with prices again spiking mid-November ahead of Thanksgiving and staying consistent until after the New Year.
LA is a haven for nature lovers, so go explore
LA County is home to approximately 100 beaches, which are all free. With great weather most of the year, a day at the beach is a wonderful way to avoid unnecessary spending when visiting LA. Bring your own food and drinks and make a day of it.
Beyond sitting on the sand and wading in the water, seaside areas like Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu and Manhattan Beach all have great places to explore just steps from the promenade.
You might be surprised that famously populous LA is home to over 60 hiking trails. Step off the beaten path to check out some of the city’s best sights like the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory on foot.
If you’re from California, bring your library card
If you’re a California resident visiting LA, you’re eligible to get an LA County Library card – and the perks are much more than just checking out books. Thanks to the Discover & Go program, cardholders can get free and low-cost passes to museums, science centers, zoos, theaters, instrument and hiking gear rentals – even free beach parking. This is an easy and great way for Californians to save some money during their LA visit.
Dine at food trucks and farmers markets
Sure, LA has some of the best celebrity-loved eateries in the country, like Rihanna’s favorite, Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica. But if you’re trying to keep your spending in line, food trucks and farmers markets offer a great choice. These no-fuss, budget-friendly options allow you to experience the city’s diverse culinary scene and famous Californian produce while soaking in the vibrant street-food atmosphere.
If you’re looking for some of the best al pastor tacos in the city, pay a visit to Leo’s Taco Truck in Mid City. For a taste of the south, you can’t pass up Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen in Inglewood (get the Nashville hot fried chicken). And sweet-treat enthusiasts will love artisan donut tuck Hustle N Dough.
Choose public transport over car rentals
Transit users from, say, Chicago and New York City might find LA’s public-transport lacking. Yet with a bit of planning, it’s a great option for those on a budget. While cars are still king here, once you add in fuel prices and parking costs, they’re far from the most economical transport option.
The LA Metro consists of buses, which cover a wide range of routes, and the Metro Rail, which connects key areas of the city like downtown, Hollywood and Santa Monica. A loadable TAP card is used on both buses and the subway at a very affordable $1.75 per ride. And if you’re taking multiple trips, the city recently introduced caps of $5 per day and $18 for every seven days: once you hit those numbers, the rest of the rides are free. But do plan ahead, as some attractions and popular areas have little to no public-transport options.
Skip the guided tours
Guided tours are great for expert knowledge and in-depth information, yet if you’re on a budget, consider skipping them. Exploring on your own offers added freedom, flexibility and a personalized experience. If you’re a traveler who loves uncovering hidden gems and being able to make spontaneous detours, individual exploration is for you. Even if you prefer something more structured, going online and researching the area before visiting will still allow you to feel like you’re exploring with a plan.
Don’t stay in pricey areas like Beverly Hills and Malibu
Accommodation will take up a big chunk of any travel budget. In LA, you can save money by avoiding fabled areas like Beverly Hills and Malibu, favoring instead districts like Koreatown (located between Hollywood and Downtown), which offer a mix of budget-friendly hotels, hostels and guesthouses within a vibrant neighborhood. Hollywood, Silver Lake, Culver City and the outskirts of West Hollywood are other great options that will still leave you within reach of iconic areas and attractions.
Discount passes can help you save big
Discount passes are a smart and cost-effective way to explore multiple attractions, activities and experiences, allowing you to save money on the sum of individual admission fees. Los Angeles offers a range of passes that cater to different interests, including the Go Los Angeles Card and the Southern California CityPASS.
Passes also help with planning and deciding which attractions are most suitable for you and your family. Between flexibility, convenience and value, they’re a great way to maximize your budget while seeing the city’s most famous sights.
Attend a TV-show taping
In the global capital of entertainment, attending a TV-show taping is a unique experience that’s completely free. Many popular shows are filmed in studios throughout the city, and being part of the audience will give you a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into how the magic gets made. If the production is taping just one episode, you can expect to spend a half-day in the studio. But many shows – especially game shows like Jeopardy – will film several episodes back to back, keeping audiences around for a full day (and sometimes even providing a mid-taping meal). Planning is key as dates and spots book out well in advance; count on securing your tickets well before your trip.
Plan your itinerary beforehand
If there’s one thing you should take away from our tips, it’s to plan your itinerary efficiently, for LA’s sprawl and transit headaches often give first-time visitors a shock. Between the vast area and heavy traffic – particularly during peak hours – planning out your trip is a must. Start by determining the non-negotiable sites you’d like to visit and group them into areas. From there, sprinkle in other activities and explore by neighborhood.