How to visit LA on a budget

It’s an unfortunate fact that Los Angeles isn’t the most budget-friendly travel destination.

However, with some careful planning, you can find a budget side to this glamorous town that embraces affordability without sacrificing the magic that defines the City of Angels. With endless options and activities throughout 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 at its many food trucks, LA on a budget is not only possible but incredibly enjoyable.

Here’s our insider guide to the average daily costs in Los Angeles, with some tips and tricks to help you save money along the way.

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Daily Costs

  • 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 (3 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

LAX was recently ranked as the sixth busiest airport in the world by the Airports Council International. 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 city at any time of the year.

However, if you’re staying outside of the city, it’s worth seeing if other airports like Burbank and Long Beach are better suited to your destination.  Transport to and from the airport could outweigh the money you save using LAX.

Utilize free hotel shuttles to get out of LAX

I’m not going to lie, 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 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 some coin, but besides a family or friend picking you up, it’s the easiest way to get out.

A group of friends smiling and laughing with the bartender in a bar in LAMake the most of happy hour for bargain drinks and food © Getty Images / Tetra images RF

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. LA is known for its love of happy hours with spots all around the city offering 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 the 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, which means prices tend to be much higher. But things tend to settle down in the weeks following Labor Day (shoulder season), making it an optimal time to visit. The weather is still pleasant and warm but with fewer crowds and lower prices.

Beyond kids being back at school, September to early November isn’t a popular travel time as it’s too close to other holiday travel plans already booked. But note this period of great deals only exists for a small window of time, with prices again spiking mid-November ahead of Thanksgiving and staying consistent until after the New Year.

LA is a haven for nature lovers. 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 next to the promenade.

Similarly, LA houses over 60 hiking trails. Step off the beaten path and check out some of the best sites like the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory on foot.

If you’re from California, bring your library card

If you’re a Californian resident visiting LA, be sure to pack your library card. Regardless of where in the state you live, all Californians can get an LA Library card – and the perks are much more than just books. Thanks to the Discover & Go program, cardholders can get free and low-cost passes to museums, science centers, zoos, theatres, instrument and hiking gear rentals, and even free beach parking. An easy and great way to save some money during your travels.

People queueing at a food truck in Los Angeles, CaliforniaFood trucks are a great way to eat well on a budget in LA © LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

Dine at food trucks and farmers’ markets

Sure, LA has some of the best celebrity-loved eateries – 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 are a great choice. These no-fuss budget-friendly options allow you to experience the city’s diverse culinary scene 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 for sweet treat enthusiasts, artisan donut tuck Hustle N Dough is for you.

Choose public transport over car rentals

Full transparency, LA’s public transport system is not as extensive as other big cities like Chicago and New York City. But with a bit of planning, it’s a great option for those on a budget. While cars are a more convenient choice for getting around the city, when you add in fuel prices and parking costs, they’re not the most economical 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 $5 daily caps and $18 weekly caps. 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.

Plan your itinerary beforehand

If there’s one takeaway from this piece, it’s to plan your itinerary efficiently. Many first-time visitors get a shock when they arrive in LA due to its sprawling nature and how difficult it can be to navigate. Between the vast area and heavy traffic – particularly during peak hours – planning your trip is a must.

Start by determining the non-negotiable sites you’d like to visit and group them via areas. From there, sprinkle in other activities and explore by neighborhood.

Skip the guided tours

Guided tours are great for expert knowledge and in-depth information, but if you’re trying to save some coin, 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 a more structured experience, going online and researching the area before visiting will still allow you to feel like you’re exploring with a plan.

A man and woman using a smartphone to get around in Los Angeles, CaliforniaSeek out reasonably priced neighborhoods to avoid blowing your budget on accommodation © Stephen Zeigler / Getty Images

Don’t stay in places like Beverly Hills and Malibu

Accommodation makes up a big chunk of your travel budget when visiting LA, but you can save money by avoiding popular areas like Beverly Hills and Malibu. Districts like Koreatown, located between Hollywood and downtown, offer a mix of budget-friendly hotels, hostels, and guesthouses within its vibrant neighborhood. Hollywood, Silver Lake, Culver City, and the outskirts of West Hollywood are some 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 that save money on 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, it’s a great way to maximize your budget.

Attend a TV show taping

Attending a TV show taping is a free and unique experience for LA locals and visitors. 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 everything’s put together. If it’s just one episode, it will generally take half a day, but if they’re filming some back-to-back e.g. Family Feud, it’s an all-day event and a meal is provided. Planning is key as dates and spots book out well in advance.


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