It’s kind of amazing the amount of things you can do for free in Los Angeles — a lot more than you’d expect. In fact, most of the most famous things to see and do in the area are actually free! So put away those wallets and follow me in on a little journey into the budget traveler’s wonderland that exists in this warm, sunny southern California hotspot.
Join a Live Audience
I had never seen a live show before, so seeing a taping was one of the only things I really wanted to do when I was in LA. Summer time is not the best time to see shows, many of them are on break at that time. Luckily, the one show I most wanted to see was filming: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Craigy has long been my favorite late night host (though I rarely am able to stay awake long enough to see him!), so I eagerly reserved my ticket way ahead of time. (In this case, I could have probably gotten it the day of, but better safe than sorry!)
Other live shows that were taping when I visited at the end of June were Jimmy Kimmel, Price is Right (be prepared to set aside most of your day for this, I’ve heard), and a number of other game shows. At other times of year, there’s talk shows like Ellen and a number of sitcoms also being filmed in LA. If you wanted to, and planned ahead, you could probably spend almost all of your time in Los Angeles seeing free tapings of shows.
Explore the Hollywood Walk of Fame
There are plenty of people trying to get you to pay money for tours along Hollywood Boulevard, but all the big touristy sites you think of you can see for free.
The Chinese Theater (no longer called Graumann’s but rather TCL Chinese Theater) is free to explore the famous names, feet, and hands in the cement out front.
The Hollywood & Highland Center has great views of the Hollywood sign from the back. The Dolby Theater (what you might remember as the Kodak Theater – nothing seems to go by its old name anymore!) is in there as well. You have to pay for a tour inside, but you can see the “Red Carpet” walk (sans carpet – but they are glittery red stairs), with each year’s Oscar Film of the Year winners lining the sides.
There’s also plenty of “famous” faces you’ll see — tons of Minnies and Mickeys, Elmos and Jack Sparrows. Lots of great people watching. Think of it as a mini Times Square.
Hike to the Hollywood Sign
Personally, this was one of my favorite things. The views during their entire climb are spectacular. I arrived around 8:30am on a Friday morning and had no trouble parking in the small lot below, but it can fill up. The climb is not that difficult, but it can get HOT.
When you reach the point where it splits, you can go to the left to go below the sign. It is slightly interesting to see (mostly because there are houses right there at the end of the trail… people who are surely tired of tourists), but the view is nothing special at all. To the right, you will be up behind the sign. You can’t get right up to it because of a big fence, but up on the hill behind it you can get some pretty amazing views.
Hit the Beach
There are tons of interesting beaches to check out in the area. Santa Monica and Venice Beach are two of the most famous.
Santa Monica is the more family-friendly option, with Santa Monica Pier, a nice beach, and the lovely town of Santa Monica to explore. Walk up from the pier toward town and wander along the coastal park along Ocean Avenue to take in the views.
Venice Beach is known more for its… unique demographic. Wandering the boardwalk in the afternoon you’ll see all kinds of people performing and hawking their wares. There are some talented artists with awesome things on offer… and there are some things that are a little stranger. There’s also Muscle Beach, though on my visit it was far from living up to its name… Also, Venice Beach was where I had my one and only “celebrity” encounter. (And I may be stretching it.) I saw YouTube star Kassem G filming an episode.
Playa del Rey is a good beach for actual “beaching” away from the hordes of tourists. This was also the only beach I visited that had sunshine! (Not that it’ll necessarily be the case on your visit :))
Window Shop at Rodeo Drive
I’m not really one to drool over labels, but it is still interesting to walk along Rodeo Drive and people watch. I did the requisite stop into Beverly Wilshire Hotel (Pretty Woman), but admit I wasn’t in awe. There was a very fancy car parked outside. Still wasn’t my thing. But I will say I had an absolutely amazing ice cream cone (red velvet cone = delishhhh) at Sprinkles. (They are famous for their cupcakes… and their cupcake ATM out front, which was out of order during my visit.)
Check Out a Museum or Two
The Griffith Observatory is also a cool place you can visit for free, and can likely pair with your Hollywood sign visit, as they’re not far from each other.
Mulholland Drive has fantastic views and is a fun drive. Driving around Beverly Hills is also fun… something about driving down those roads lined with towering palm trees that just feels epic. There are plenty of other great drives in the area as well. Just hop in the car and see where the wind takes you!
Now tap your pockets… hear that jingle jangle? You just saved yourself a ton of money, saw pretty much all the best there is to see in Los Angeles, and hopefully had a lot of fun while you did it! Good for you! Enjoy that extra money and treat yourself to something awesome. Splurge on a great meal or a unique activity you can only do in southern California. You deserve it!