Your phone buzzes and it’s a message from your long-distance [best friend/cousin/sister/college roommate]. They’re coming to visit for the weekend. The flight is booked. Cue the memory reel of good times. Order another round.
Of course, the main reason they are visiting is to see you. But since you live in Los Angeles, they also want to explore some of your city while you hang. Which is great, because their L.A. vacation is your excuse to staycation.
Unfortunately, reality doesn’t pause for staycations with your bestie. Rent is still due and you are still paying off the body shop bills from that time you misjudged the curb and ripped off the front bumper of your car.
Don’t stress it. Your budget doesn’t have to be a buzzkill. L.A. is easy to explore on the cheap if you know the tricks. Here’s your thrifty host’s guide to planning the perfect L.A. vacation without breaking the bank:
1. See art for free.
L.A.’s museums are not to be missed. But paying for parking and admission to see all the great art our city has to offer can add up. You can hack the system by skipping the paid-entry museums like LACMA and MOCA and heading to the Getty, the Broad or the Hammer instead. Galleries are another great way to go. Try Hauser Wirth & Schimmel near Little Tokyo downtown. It has a massive open-air design that feels more like a museum than a gallery, and its current exhibit, “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women,” is a showstopper.
Bonus tip: If your friend doesn’t want to miss LACMA’s iconic Urban Light, hit the museum quick; the exhibit will be closed from May 1 to June 30 for restoration.
2. Explore cuisines from around the world.
Eating out at hot new farm-to-table restaurants is expensive and overrated. Your friends probably can eat like that in their own cities anyway. What makes L.A.’s food scene stand out is its endless diversity. The good stuff is also cheap. Dumplings in the SGV. Tacos in East L.A. Spicy Thai in Hollywood. Ethiopian. Oaxacan. Vietnamese. Pick your poison. BYOB. Bring cash. You can search by cuisine on L.A. Weekly's Food & Drink page and then show your guests how real Angelenos eat.
3. Take them out to an empty ballpark.
Dodger Stadium is beautiful. Those palm trees. The midcentury modern design. That perfect weather. It’s how Don Draper would’ve prefered to enjoy America’s pastime. There’s also not a bad seat in the house, so if the Dodgers are in town, grab cheap seats and take the free shuttle from Union Station to avoid paying for parking.
When the boys of summer aren’t playing a day game in town, you can drive right up to the stadium to “visit the team store,” which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pack a lunch and you can grab a seat in the stands. It’s the perfect picnic spot and entirely free. You’ll almost hear the crack of a bat.
4. Choose your own foodie adventure.
Parking at Grand Central Market is relatively cheap by downtown standards, and just wandering through the large, neon sign–dotted open-air market is exceedingly pleasant. Let your guests drop their vacation dimes on Champagne and oysters, fancy coffee and $13 Wexler’s sandwiches. You can choose cheaper options like tacos or Belcampo’s $5 Fast Burger. Splurgers and scrimpers can choose their own adventures here and still eat together at a communal table.
5. Eavesdrop on the L.A. Philharmonic.
Check the L.A. Phil’s website and see if there’s a concert. While you’re downtown at Grand Central Market or the Broad, you can walk right into the lobby of Walt Disney Concert Hall during any concert and hear the music as it is piped in live throughout the building. There’s even a small video feed, so grab a chair and catch one of the world’s best orchestras performing live for free. If there isn’t a concert while you’re downtown, you can take a self-guided hourlong tour of the iconic Frank Gehry–designed building for free on most days.
6. Sniff out free booze.
On any given Saturday night in Los Angeles, there's an abundance of gallery openings. And where galleries are opening, free booze is being served. Check L.A. Weekly’s website to see what’s happening in your neighborhood. Wear something weird. Hobnob with artists and gallerists. See and be seen. And it’s all completely free.
7. Nurse a hangover at a matinee.
While going to the movies might sound like a boring thing to do on vacation, don’t underestimate the charm of L.A.’s historic theaters for out-of-towners. For most Americans, going to the movies means heading to a soulless megaplex. In L.A., we have the Nuart, the Egyptian and the Vista. Your guest will swoon at the expanse of the legroom alone. Matinees are cheap, and pounding an ice cold drink and popcorn at the movies is the perfect hangover cure after a night out.
8. Stroll around a hip 'hood.
L.A. is full of micro-hoods that are great for shopping, bookstore browsing, eating and drinking, and just generally bumming around. Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz. Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. Downtown Highland Park. You can spend a day in one of these neighborhoods without spending a dime while your friends from more affordable cities drop their vacation dollars at the coolest local shops.
9. See the shows that are happening on the streets.
Go to Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Pier or the Hollywood strip. You don’t have to buy a ticket to people-watch. Last time I was in Venice I ended up spending nearly an hour watching 10-year-old skateboarders perform mind-bending tricks and footwork as they soared across the beachside skatepark. Street performances are free, and frequently more memorable and entertaining than shows with an admission price.
10. Take a hike.
Griffith Park is free. Beaches are free. L.A.’s natural beauty is accessible and, let’s admit, half the reason we all live here. Pack sandwiches and have a picnic along the way. This is the stuff L.A. vacation dreams (and the best Instagram photos) are made of.