Top tips for LA on a budget

We’ve written a lot recently about Los Angeles, which isn’t really my favourite place in the world for many reasons which you can read about if you feel so inclined here: Waiting to Cross a Street in Los Angeles. I know that there are plenty of people who would disagree with me though and are in love with this city by the sea.

Whatever else you may or may not like or loathe about the City of Angeles, I’d challenge anyone to describe it as a cheap place to stay or live. So bearing that in mind I put together a few thoughts on how to do LA on a budget. Whether your budget is low or high don’t forget that, unlike in Europe, the price you see is normally not the price you pay, because sales tax will be added and that in restaurants and bars you are expected, but not compelled, to leave a tip.

Getting around

Walking in LA is a trauma, and taxis are expensive (especially from the airport). The cheapest option is public transport (metro train and bus), but if you are planning on heading out of the city at all and there are a few of you then it might actually be cheaper to hire a car than anything else. There are a lot of little independent car hire places along Century Boulevard in Inglewood near the airport. They all claim to be cheaper than the big agencies, and seemingly have amazing rates with ‘no hidden extras’.

If you are relying on public transport then do get and use a TAP card, it saves you a lot on journeys with more than one bus or train, and that will be most journeys. You can also use it to take the ‘Angel’s Flight’ for 50 cents with a TAP card, this is not as exciting or dramatic as it sounds, it’s a super short funicular railway up one block in downtown, but it is a little bit of history and probably worth the 50 cents.

Stuffing your face

You might have noticed by now, since one of the categories at the top of the page is ‘Food & Drink’, that eating is pretty important to me. Whether you do it for joy, pleasure and the excitement of a million and one different impulses surging through your tastebuds or whether it is just for sustenance, we all need to eat and big cities usually offer plenty of good opportunities to do it, but choices can get pretty limited when you are on a tight budget.

The first things to note are that, sadly, ingredients are a lot more expensive than processed foods and that not eating meat is a lot more expensive than eating meat. Since we like to cook and we don’t really eat meat this makes everything a bit trickier, but here are a few thoughts…

If you are coming from outside of the US then maybe you are looking forward to finding the authentic American diner experience that you have seen in so many movies. Someone coming along to refill your coffee every few minutes, pancakes, burgers and the mystery ‘specials’. You can find such places but they aren’t as ubiquitous as Hollywood would have you believe, perhaps they are on highways or in small towns but certainly not in LA. What you should do is avoid Denny’s and IHOP, they are not the authentic experience that you are looking for and are actually pretty expensive.

Pizza seems to be a big thing, takeaway, delivered or eat in, but most pizza places feel pretty expensive to me, they seem to be pricier than in Europe BUT you can cut the price down if you hunt for coupons and offers. Actually sometimes it feels like the whole economy runs on coupons and offers not just pizza places. As an example, we paid less than half of the menu price for a large pizza from Pizza Hut using a certain offer and picking it up instead of getting it delivered. Pizza Hut by the way is a chain that I would avoid in Europe, as being massively overpriced and really pretty crappy, but it seems to be a lot better here somehow.

Oh, and if you are a vegetarian or vegan stuck in a fast food wasteland then Taco Bell is your friend, every item on their menu can be made meat-free and still taste pretty good by swapping out beef or chicken for potatoes, black beans or refried beans. It’s also tastier than you might imagine and cheaper than a lot of the alternatives.

On the subject of tacos, there are taco trucks all over the city and they are one of the most cost effective places to get something great tasting without dipping your hand too deeply into your pocket.

One cheap place to buy drinks, snacks, and some ingredients are the huge amount of 98 cents, 99 cents, etc. shops, but look out for the “& more” part of the sign. Maybe there are others that I didn’t discover but Dollar Tree actually does have everything for a dollar (plus tax of course).

A place to rest your weary head

If you are just in town for a night or two on a stopover then you might be tempted to stay near the airport, your ‘cheap’ options in this case are limited. Most of the ‘airport’ hotels are on Century Boulevard, some of them are fairly decent and some are pretty awful, they are all likely to sell out or almost sell out most nights and so they can pretty much charge you what they want. Friday and Saturday night prices are always higher than weekdays. If you are determined to be near the airport then El Segundo is a slightly better bet, still close by, fast and easy enough to get to by public transport and many of them also have shuttle buses.

As everywhere, shared houses are cheaper than hotels. Just pay attention to the extra ‘cleaning’ and other fees on sites like and especially airbnb.

If you are feeling social, then you could always try couchsurfing, it might be an amazing wonderful experience or it might be something much less exciting. We couchsurfed once in LA, my first time doing it anywhere actually, and the family that we stayed with were amazing warm people who were really great to get to know and to spend time with.

Things to see and do

There are beaches, 27th floor viewing points, ecumenical architecture, galleries and other things that don’t need to cost you much or maybe nothing at all.

You can find out more about some of them in the article that Rima wrote last week about 10 Free Things to See in Los Angeles.

There are a number of places that you might think should be free that are actually quite expensive, and conversely some places that you might think would be expensive that actually cost absolutely nothing, which is always a nice surprise!

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