The West Coast's limelight, Los Angeles is the land of the rich, the famous and the notable. The greater Los Angeles area is also home to 18.68 million people and hosts 43.3 million visitors annually.
If you want star treatment beneath the 45-foot-tall Hollywood sign, you'll have to flash some financial capital. For most of us, however, our only flash is on our smartphones. Most of us will be looking to make our dollars count and will be counting them again and again.
Here are 6 great value tips from GET.com for good times and savings in Los Angeles:
Getting Cheap Flights
LAX is one of the busiest airports in the world, handling nearly 75 million passengers in 2015. It also serves as either a hub or focus point for more airlines than any other airport in the country. However, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Long Beach and LA/Ontario International Airports are also options. We took a look at some nonstop round-trip fares from various origination points about 6 weeks in advance using date flexibility options that would give us a week in the City of Angels.
Working along the same latitude as Los Angeles, we started with Phoenix and its Sky Harbor International. We could fly Mondays through Thursday on United into LAX for just $79. Sunday departures raised baseline fares to $133, but choosing returns on Friday, Saturday or Sunday added another $44 to $54. If you missed the $79 deal, an economy seat on a similar United flight cost around $185; flexible economy averaged $500 while first class started around $425. Checking Southwest quickly offered better deals starting at $98. American was next, with flights for $117.
Moving east, from Dallas/Fort Worth International, our cheapest flight combination was on American. We departed on Thursday and returned on Friday a week later using evening flights for just $152. A morning departure raised the American fare by $32. On American's site, our $152 deal was already disappearing, with our next-best option $207; however, most Choice coach seats were running closer to $300. Choice Essential averaged $550, Choice Plus $735 and first class $1,100. By the way, the highest fares involved departures on Monday, Tuesday or Saturday while return flights were cheapest on Tuesdays and Fridays.
In contrast, from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, Fridays were the day to avoid for not only departure but especially return trips; the worst combinations were Monday-Friday itineraries starting at $432. Schedules using Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays were least expensive, starting around $330 to $360. We liked a Tuesday-Tuesday fare through Frontier with an 8:30 a.m. departure and 9:30 a.m. return takeoff for $357. American was close, with a Wednesday morning-Wednesday afternoon combination for $358. On American's site, Choice seats averaged $350 to $450, Choice Essential $450 to $600, Choice Plus $550 to $700 and first class $750 to $970 or so.
Aside from the more obvious savers like collecting miles using an airline credit card (and redeeming them smartly), there are many more ways you can get to where you want to go for less. You can find many bright ideas in the GET.com guide to getting cheap flights.
Getting Cheap Hotel Stays
LA sprawls, taking in Hollywood, Universal City, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and Inglewood and Ladera Heights toward LAX. Northwest of the airport, Santa Monica and Marina del Ray are on the coast. Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank are to LA's north and northeast. The sheer volume of hotels is overwhelming, but checking for service quality, free breakfast, free Wi-Fi and additional amenities narrowed choices.
Downtown, the Sheraton Grand and the Residence Inn by Marriott started at $350 a night for a king bed plus $40 daily valet parking fees. The Best Western Plus Dragon Gate Inn started around $200 a night for 1 king or 2 doubles plus a daily $15 self-parking fee. If you were up for a "boutique hostel," Stay on Main had single dormitory rooms for about $55 total a night and queen rooms for $85; they also gave you breakfast.
In the Hollywood area, a number of independent hotels with ratings of good and okay were charging about $100 or so a night, and several hostels ran around $50. The Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills had 2-queen bed rooms starting at $230 a night – $1,624 for the week – and excellent ratings. For comparison, the Days Inn near Universal Studios had a single king room for $160 a night plus $10 a day for self-parking, and deals at the Comfort Inn and Quality Inn ran $30 to $50 more.
By Inglewood and the airport, all the hotel chains were lined up, from the "good"-rated Super 8 and Value Inn at $89 a night for a king bed and free parking to "excellent"-rated Hyatt Place El Segundo's king room for $209 a night, $1,582 for the week. Rooms at the Travelodge started at $142 a night, Holiday Inn Express at $149, Four Points by Sheraton at $189, Hilton for $225 and Embassy Suites at $249. By the way, if you were hoping for Beverly Hills, those hotels begin at $300 a night, with prices increasing rapidly.
We were curious about staying near the beach, toward Marina del Rey, so we checked rentals on Airbnb. We found several clean, comfortable apartments averaging $150 a night as well as whole beachfront homes and apartments that varied in price by beach proximity. For example, a guest house in Venice for $176 a night – $1,338 for the week – was fully stocked with goodies and treats, was close to everything, had free parking and came with a backyard in an upscale neighborhood. A little less expensive, a 2-bedroom home between Venice and Culver City was $133 a night – $1,026 for the week – and came with a full kitchen, laundry, Wi-Fi and parking.
If you love meeting people and saving money, you could tray couchsurfing. Just exercise a normal amount of caution when choosing whose couch you're going to crash on.
Of course, spending your vacation sleeping on a rental bed or free couch isn't everyone's idea of relaxation, and if you prefer the room service and no hassle experience you get at hotels, check out our GET.com guide to getting cheap hotel stays.
Especially if everyone in your party wants something different, Grand Central Market may be your place. You can choose among all sorts of produce and fresh treats as well as prepared food vendors like Tacos Tumbras a Tomas or Valerie. However, outside the market are some other inexpensive places well worth a visit:
- Guisados has locations downtown, in Boyle Heights, at Echo Park and in West Hollywood. It's a simple menu of "homestyle braises on handmade tortillas" made to order for $3 or less each.
- Bronzed Aussie on South Los Angeles Street specializes in "gourmet Australian meat pies and other Aussie tucker." Try a 5-inch chunky beef or vegan ratatouille pie, spinach and feta "brekkie" roll, fish and chips, or salad with an avocado.
- Casa La Doña on South Main Street excels in "just good Mexican food," serving tacos in every form on thin, thin tortillas and maintaining an extensive salsa bar. Binge on Taco Tuesdays for $1 apiece.
- Ricky's Fish Tacos food stand in East Hollywood on North Virgil Avenue is a go-to for "authentic Ensenada style fish and shrimp tacos." Ricky Tweets his hours and specials daily.
- Boo's Philly Cheesesteaks and Hoagies in Silver Lake and Koreatown is like a sliver of Philly on "an authentic Amoroso roll." They use Dietz and Watson meats for their hoagies, and the cheese-steaks come with all your favorite fixings.
- Eastside Market Italian Deli in Chinatown on Alpine Street offers authentic Italian, from hot roast beef, pastrami and cheese sandwiches or cold cappicolo and cheese plates to lasagna and antipasto salads.
- At Dino's Chicken and Burgers, you can order a char-broiled burger or chili cheese dog as easily as a breakfast burrito, fried chicken combo or carne asada steak plate. The Los Angeles location is on West Pico Boulevard; Pico Rivera, Azusa, Pomona and Huntington Park also each have a Dino's.
- Slurpin' Ramen Bar in Koreatown on West 8th Street lets you pick your ramen, meat, vegetable toppings and sauces to suit your tastes for sweet or spicy. Try a spicy tonkotsu or baby fried octopus and gyozas.
- For the truly adventurous looking for traditional Korean kimchi, ox bone soup or brisket, Han Bat Sul Lung Tang in Koreatown on West 5th Street specializes in flavorful meat and soup combinations.
It's worth noting that a number of the oldest surviving restaurants in the US are located in LA, and if your after an interesting experience, a tour of LA's gastronomic history might be just your thing.
Look out for Cole's and Philipe the Original, both of which were founded in 1908 and both of which claim to have invented French dip, The Saugus Cafe (first build in 1905, though rebuilt in 1952), Watson Drugs & Soda Fountain and Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain (both established 1915), Golden Spur founded in 1918, and Musso & Frank Grill founded in 1919.
If you'll be sticking around a while, you can add Pacific Dining Car (est. 1921), Tam O'Shanter (est. 1922) and Original Pantry Cafe (since 1924). Many of these are regularly renovated while preserving the original look and fee - and parts of the original menus. Sitting at a table that may have served the likes of Greta Garbo and Rudolph Valentino will definitely do something for vintage fans.
Don't forget to bring a restaurant credit card, or pack proper cash or checks for the full retro experience.
If you were planning on visiting Knott's Berry Farm and many of the otherwise pricey LA amusements, you might want to consider an attractions pass:
- The Go Los Angeles Card offers an All-Inclusive Pass, a Build Your Own Pass and a Top Four Pass. You can purchase up to 7 days of unlimited attractions; pick and choose; or opt for Universal Studios Hollywood, Madame Tussauds Hollywood, the Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour and the Hollywood Movie Star Homes Tour.
- The Southern California CityPASS may be more appropriate if you're splitting time with San Diego; while it covers admission to Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, it also includes SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland California as well as optional add-ons for the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park.
Free Things To Do
Getting a great time out of LA doesn't have to involve spending lots of money. The City and surrounding towns are pockmarked with interesting places to see and experience.
Some landmarks you just don't want to miss, and many of them are free:
- At the top of the list is the Hollywood Walk of Fame along Hollywood and Vine and its TCL Chinese Theatre, home of the red carpet.
- The Griffith Observatory is always free, with public telescopes and once-a-month public star parties. The observatory is part of Griffith Park, so don't forget the hiking trails, one of which leads to the observatory itself.
- Exposition Park has the California Science Center, California African American Museum and Rose Garden, all of which are free.
- Home to the LA Philharmonic, the Walt Disney Concert Hall offers free 60-minute guided or self-guided tours of the interior space and gardens; note that rehearsals and performances preclude tours of the auditorium spaces.
- Chinatown offers a change of pace, strolling and browsing, fresh dim sum, photo ops galore and a chance at the wishing pond.- Admission is always free to the Getty Center museum, villa and gardens, but parking costs $15 – $10 after 4 p.m.; reserve free villa tickets online in advance.
- El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument is a living museum of 27 historic buildings. A major draw is Olivera Street, also known as the Mexican Marketplace, with festivals, restaurants and artisans.
- For museum frequenters, FreeMuseumDay.org has a comprehensive list of LA museums that are free or that offer free days; direct website links let you double-check for directions, hours and details.
- Of course, we can't forget the Hollywood sign or Runyon Canyon Park. Hike up, and enjoy the views across LA.
Further afield, beaches lace the coastline from Malibu to South Bay. Leo Carrillo State Beach, El Matador Beach, the Malibu Surfrider Beach, Santa Monica and Venice are just a few.
Bicycling is also an option. The LA County Department of Public Works website provides an extensive Bikeways Map for the county. For routes extending to the beaches or beyond, you can check out LABikePaths.com. If you need a rental, shops are plentiful, but Spinlister also lists certified bicycles, surf boards, and even skis and snowboards you can rent online from individuals.
The worst thing you can possibly do is feel limited to just downtown LA. Although many venues are "free," they're actually nickel-and-dime pickpockets that can narrow your choices or leave you with either a suitcase full of tchotchkes or designer-label-maxed-out credit cards.
Do you really want to spend $40 to see wax people and get a wax hand souvenir? Do you really want to spend hours on a crowded double-decker bus when tickets start around $50 apiece?
Beaches, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and Channel Islands National Park lie to the west while Joshua Tree National Park is but 2 hours east. California has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and thankfully, some experiences you just simply cannot buy.