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The best cheap things to do in Los Angeles

You don’t have to go broke exploring Los Angeles: Stick to these cheap things to do in L.A. to save some cash.

Hollywood Bowl
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ian D. Keating

Don’t let the hilltop mansions and ritzy Rodeo Drive stores fool you: Los Angeles doesn’t have to be an expensive destination. Indeed, there are plenty of cheap things to do in L.A. if you know where to look. We’ve combed through some of the best museums, botanical gardensparks and more to find some of the best bang-for-your-buck destinations and specials. (And if cheap isn’t inexpensive enough, consider these free attractions in L.A.)

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Los Angeles

Best cheap things to do in L.A.

Descanso Gardens
Photograph: Courtesy Descanso Gardens
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Stop and smell the flowers at Descanso Gardens

icon-location-pin La Cañada Flintridge

This delightful tribute to the horticultural magic of Southern California includes more than 600 varieties of camellia (best seen between the middle of February and early May) and some five acres of roses. Swing by in the spring and you can see the cherry blossoms in the Japanese garden—all with just a $9 admission ticket.

UCB Theatre
Photo courtesy UCB Theatre
Comedy, Stand-up

See the city’s best improv performers at Asssscat

icon-location-pin Multiple venues

The Upright Citizen Brigade Theater’s longest-running, most beloved showcase includes a (sometimes celebrity) guest storyteller plus a base cast of the theater’s current top-brass—including founding UCB members Matt Walsh, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts. The Saturday shows at UCB Franklin only cost $12 but regularly sell out; the Sunday shows at UCB Sunset are free, but seating is first-come, first-served, so be sure to arrive early.

Hollywood Bowl
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ian D. Keating
Things to do, Event spaces

See the LA Phil for a buck at the Hollywood Bowl

icon-location-pin Hollywood

The summer home of the LA Phil (and boozy picnics) fetches upwards of $100 for box seats. But the most coveted spot at the Bowl only costs a buck: A limited number of bench seats are available for select LA Phil performances for only $1. If you can’t score those tickets before they sell out, you might be able to catch the orchestra for free during a summertime morning rehearsal (call 323-850-2000 for the latest info).

Photograph: Michael Juliano
Museums, Science and technology

Stand underneath a space shuttle at the California Science Center

icon-location-pin USC/Exposition Park

The undisputed standout at this kid-friendly museum is the Endeavour. The final ship to be built in NASA’s space shuttle program, Endeavour inspires a reach-for-the-stars ambition unlike any other exhibit in the city. To visit the shuttle at the otherwise free museum, you’ll need to secure a timed ticket (with a $3 reservation fee) on weekends and holidays; it’s free during the week.

Griffith Observatory
Photograph: Courtesy Nathan Dumlao
Museums, Science and technology

Take the bus to Griffith Observatory

icon-location-pin Griffith Park

Driving to the hilltop astronomical landmark often means parking nearly back on Los Feliz Boulevard or paying $8 per hour. And due to the spotty reception, you can forget about grabbing an Uber. Thankfully, a DASH bus route travels up the hill every day—even on Mondays, when the observatory’s interior is closed—from the Vermont-Sunset Metro station. One-way fares cost only 50 cents with cash, or 35 cents with a TAP card.

The Japanese Garden.
Photograph: Courtesy the Japanese Garden
Things to do

Stroll around the Japanese Garden

icon-location-pin Van Nuys

The stony bridges and footpaths at this Van Nuys garden wind along a central pond, flanked by rockwork, manicured trees and tea houses. Of course, this wouldn’t be the Valley without a bit of an industrial edge—the garden is irrigated by the adjacent Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant. Just a heads up: The $5 admission fee is cash only.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Art Park
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Things to do, Walks and tours

Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House

icon-location-pin Hollywood

This 1921, Mayan-inflected Frank Lloyd Wright house was originally built as a “progressive theatrical community” space by activist and oil heiress Aline Barnsdall—today it’s the centerpiece of Barnsdall Park and is open for tours ($7, Thu-Sun, 11am-4pm).

Getty Center
Museums, Art and design

Take a late afternoon trip to the Getty Center

icon-location-pin Brentwood

The Brentwood museum is a remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions that houses ornate French furniture, recognizable Impressionist pieces and rotating exhibitions. Its relative inaccessibility is more than compensated for by free admission and panoramic views, from the hills and the ocean in the west all the way around to Downtown in the east. That location comes at a cost: $20 parking for most of the day. Arrive after 3pm, though, and that price is knocked down to $15, with $10 garage entry after 6pm on late evenings. (The same applies to the Getty Villa.)

Movie theaters, Independent

Catch a matinee at the Vista Theater

icon-location-pin Silver Lake

Not only does this classic Egyptian-themed space have an insane amount of legroom, the single-screen theater has a $6.50 matinee that includes current blockbusters.

Regency Academy Cinemas
Photograph: Courtesy Aura M./Yelp
Movie theaters, Multiplex

Have a cheap date night at the movies at the Regency Academy Cinemas

icon-location-pin Pasadena

This second-run cinema in Pasadena screens movies for only $3.50, with $2.50 matinees before 6pm. Swing by on Wednesdays after 6pm for an irresistible date-night deal: two tickets, two bags of popcorn and two fountain drinks for only $10.

Michael's Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy Michael's Santa Monica
Restaurants, Californian

Sip on a $1.79 cocktail at Michael’s

icon-location-pin Santa Monica

Not picky about what you drink? The Santa Monica standby serves a dangerously priced cocktail-of-the-day for less than $2 during a narrow half-hour window (Mon–Sat 5:30–6pm).

Sheila Klein ­ Underground Girl; Architect: Dworsky Associates (now CannonDworsky) - Hollywood/Highland Station
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Things to do

Get wherever you’re headed using the Metro

You can navigate large parts of Los Angeles without ever stepping foot in a car or having to foot the bill for parking thanks to Metro. Consider it a smart option for destinations in Downtown L.A., Hollywood, Koreatown, Pasadena, Santa Monica and Long Beach. A single ride, regardless of the destination, costs $1.75 and includes free transfers for up to two hours. Day passes start at $7 but are only worthwhile if you’ll be taking four trips more than two hours apart.