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Downtown Los Angeles
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jeff Cleary

14 ways to explore L.A. on a budget

Keep your budget intact on a trip to Los Angeles with these museums and attractions that you can visit for under $50

By Annalise Mantz

Taking a vacation often goes hand in hand with spending money, but believe it or not, it’s absolutely possible to explore L.A. on a budget. To prove it, we’ve rounded up Los Angeles attractions and activities that all cost less than $50. Plenty of the best beaches and essential museums are free to visit, and our list of the best Los Angeles tours even includes a few inexpensive options. So go ahead and plan the Los Angeles trip of your dreams and rest easy knowing you’re staying totally within your budget.

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Ways to explore L.A. on a budget

Santa Monica Pier
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew LeJune

Run around Santa Monica on a scavenger hunt

Ready for an Amazing Race–style adventure? Gather your team and head to the Santa Monica Pier to start this self-guided scavenger hunt. Just launch the hunt on your phone to receive the first of 15 clues. As you walk to each stop along the way, you’ll learn the history of each landmark and hear local anecdotes. If youre looking something with a faster pace than traditional walking tours, this is an ideal way to see the city. $11

Angels Flight
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

Step back in time on a historic walking tour of Downtown

Los Angeles might not have the centuries of history of some of its East Coast counterparts, but there’s still plenty of fascinating bits from the city’s past to check out. Many of L.A.’s historic buildings and landmarks are concentrated in Downtown: Angels Flight, the Bradbury Building, Grand Central Market, the Los Angeles Times Building and the Jewelry District are just a few of the iconic spots you’ll visit on this two-hour tour. Since you’ll learn a bit about architecture, transportation and city planning, it’s the perfect introduction to the neighborhood. $19


Marvel at the architecture, grounds and collection at the Getty Center

Museums Art and design Westside

This sprawling museum complex on a hilltop above Los Angeles is an architectural wonder: The 24-acre job took 13 years and $1 billion to complete. Before you even begin to reckon with the J. Paul Getty Trust’s collection of 17th- and 18th-century decorative arts, European masters, photography and more, take some time to appreciate the structure itself. Stroll through the masterfully designed Central Garden, take in sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Mountains and check out at the unique travertine stone used for the project. Free

Arts District
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Passion Leica

Spot street art and trendy boutiques in the Arts District

Think of the Arts District as Downtown’s cooler little sister. This area on the eastern edge of Downtown is chock full of vibrant murals, trendy boutiques, hot restaurants, craft breweries and everything else a hip neighborhood needs. Join a two-hour walking tour to visit the largest gallery in the country, spot some of the city’s best street art and get the lay of the land. $19

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Passion Leica

Hollywood Sign.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Hike through Griffith Park to find clear views of the Hollywood Sign

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t come across stunning views of the Hollywood Sign around any corner. If your trip just won’t be complete without a clear shot of those iconic white letters, you have to trek up into the hills of Griffith Park. Visitors who aren’t sure how to navigate the network of trails might want to sign up for a guided hike. You’ll start at the legendary Greek Theater, then head up a steep trail toward Griffith Observatory. Once you’ve taken all the photos you like in front of the famed sign, you can walk the rest of the way up the path to explore the observatory on your own or hike back with your trail guide. $35

Visit the city’s first museum, the Natural History Museum

Museums Natural history USC/Exposition Park

With more than 35 million objects and specimens contained within its exhibition halls, the Natural History Museum is second in collection size only to the Smithsonian. Since it opened in 1913, this landmark museum has been educating Angelenos about everything from dinosaurs to gemstones to modern-day environmental threats. You could easily spend a day walking through the recently renovated space. Don’t miss the 14,000 square foot Dinosaur Hall, creepy-crawly Insect Zoo or beautifully restored rotunda. $12

Beach cruisers in Venice
Photograph: Courtesy Viator

Bike around Venice on a beach cruiser

A standard issue six-speed bike just won’t do—you’re going to need a pastel-hued beach cruiser to experience Venice Beach in all its glory. Cycle south along the Strand to check out Marina del Rey, Dockweiler Beach, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach and even Hermosa Beach. Whenever you get tired, just park your bike and spend a few minutes lounging on the sand. When in Los Angeles, do as the Angelenos do, right? $22

La Brea Tar Pits
Photograph: Courtesy Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Check out fossils recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits

Museums Natural history Miracle Mile

If you smell tar in Miracle Mile, it’s not the scent of road work, but of the gurgling, bubbling La Brea Tar Pits. These naturally occurring asphalt pits spring from a petroleum lake underneath Hancock Park and have been there for centuries. Over the years, animals would periodically fall into the sticky tar and perish, creating incredibly well preserved fossils. Amateur paleontologists first dug out fossils in 1875; Now, the remains found in the pits number 3.5 million and counting. Peep the pits that are still active in the outdoor park, then step inside the Page Museum to see the bones of jack rabbits, wolves, skunks and even a Columbian mammoth. No doubt one of the weirder attractions in L.A., the La Brea Tar Pits should definitely be on your must-see list. $12

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Discover the history and architecture of Hollywood on a walking tour

Spoiler alert: You’re not going to catch a glimpse of any famous people on those cheesy star tours. You probably won’t even be able to see any of the celebrity homes you drive by. Instead, get your Hollywood fix on a tour that takes you to all the significant landmarks: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, the Dolby Theatre and more. You’ll even get to step inside Disney's El Capitan Theater, the Blossom Ballroom at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and a few other historic landmarks for a behind-the-scenes look. $24.95

Photograph: Christian Haugen/Flickr

Whale watching.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/

Catch a glimpse of whales in Newport Beach

The drive out to Orange County is worth it for a chance to see some of the Pacific Ocean’s most majestic sea life. After you board the 65-foot boat, you’ll spend two to three hours cruising the coastline hoping to see a splash. In the summer and fall, you might spot blue, finback or grey whales; in the winter and spring, you’re more likely to see humpback and minke whales. Seals, sea lions and dolphins often make appearances, too. $23.99

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/incidencematrix

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