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How to Enjoy a Budget Holiday in One of the USA’s Most Expensive Cities

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With its sunny streets sprinkled with stardust and famed hillsides adorned with million-dollar mansions, Los Angeles might not seem like an obvious choice for a budget holiday destination. It’s famously expensive, but with careful planning, research, and some savvy choices, you can experience the magic of Tinseltown without breaking the bank.

From low-cost film screenings to free museum days, street food options, and abundant happy hours, here are some tips for enjoying an economical trip to California’s City of Angels.

Where to Stay

Room rates in Los Angeles vary by season and location. The best deals are typically available during the shoulder seasons—January to March and September to October—when you can avoid US bank holidays.

Mama Shelter Los Angeles offers stylish, budget-friendly accommodations in the heart of Hollywood, just a block from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The eclectic decor, youthful vibe, spacious bathrooms, and high-tech features like iMacs with Apple TV make it a great choice. The rooftop bar-restaurant boasts epic views of Los Angeles.

For those drawn to Venice Beach, Hotel Erwin is a funky option right on the boardwalk. The hotel’s colorful murals reflect the local street art culture, while the interior features chic, beach-inspired decor. Its rooftop is a popular spot at sunset, featuring DJs and cocktails.

Downtown LA (DTLA) offers some of the best-value accommodations, with options like the newly renovated The Delphi, the funky Moxy, and the sophisticated AC Hotel.

How to Get Around

Many major hotels provide free shuttle services from LAX airport. Alternatively, the FlyAway bus shuttle service runs between LAX and DTLA for $9.75 (£7.64) one way.

Using the LA Metro is much cheaper than hiring a car. The Metro Rail connects key areas like DTLA, Hollywood, and Santa Monica, and there are numerous bus routes. A loadable Tap card costs $1.75 per ride, capped at $5 a day and $18 every seven days. For areas less accessible by public transport, Uber or Lyft are good alternatives.

In the coastal neighborhoods of Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and Marina Del Rey, Circuit offers a free electric ride-sharing shuttle. Download the Ride Circuit app to use this service.

Where to Eat

Los Angeles is home to numerous farmers’ markets and food trucks, which are great for budget-friendly dining. Smorgasburg in ROW DTLA is a must-visit Sunday outdoor food market. Try Cambodian barbecue at The Golden Skewer or fresh ceviche at Correas Mariscos and Cocina for just $8 each.

For some of the best and cheapest tacos, head to Taqueria Vista Hermosa in the Mercado La Paloma market, where they are just $2.99 each.

Old-school American diners like Nate ’n Al’s in Beverly Hills and The Original Pantry Cafe in DTLA offer hearty breakfasts that can keep you full until late afternoon.

For elevated dining at moderate prices, consider Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated restaurants like Pizzeria Mozza in West Hollywood, Father’s Office in Culver City or Santa Monica, and Tsubaki in Echo Park.

Where to Drink

Happy hours are a fantastic way to drink on a budget. Palihouse on West Third Street offers happy hour every night, and Tesse in West Hollywood has a late-night happy hour with $5 rosé.

Old-school dive bars also offer cheap drinks. At Tiny’s Hi-Dive on Pico Boulevard, cocktails cost $10-$12, and hotdogs are $5. Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica serves large glasses of house cabernet for $9 and bottled beers for $7.

Free Things to Do

Enjoy LA’s entertainment industry history for free by visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park and the Bronson Cave, which served as the Bat Cave, offer great views of the Hollywood sign.

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and Griffith Park are beautiful spots to watch the sunset, and the observation deck on the 27th floor of the City Hall building offers a free view of DTLA.

For a nature fix, explore hiking trails like the one-mile Discovery Trail in Franklin Canyon Park or the three-mile Runyon Canyon loop.

In DTLA, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and The Broad for free. Many museums, such as the Hammer Museum and the California Science Center, offer free entry on certain days of the month.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures hosts affordable film screenings with top-notch audio and visuals.

How to Get to LA

Flights are generally cheapest between October and February. Virgin Atlantic offers direct flights between London Heathrow and Los Angeles, with return fares starting at £498.69 on selected departures. The flight time is around 10 hours and 30 minutes.

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