Los Angeles may be known for its star power and glamour, but with a population of more than 3.5 million, this coastal California city is bursting with history and eclectic culture. There is no shortage of things to do here, from surfing in Venice Beach to long drives through the Santa Monica mountains to taking in art and culture in one of L.A.'s ethnic neighborhoods.
Luckily for the budget-minded, there are excursions that are free or very inexpensive. Here's how to explore the City of Angels while going easy on the wallet.
Take a Drive: Sunset Strip
In town, take a jaunt down Sunset Strip. This two-mile stretch is where to go to see and be seen, with an interesting mix of trendy hotels, saloons and tattoo parlors. Almost all of the rock clubs along the way have a free-entry or cheap-entry night. Don't miss the drive along Pacific Coast Highway for spectacular ocean views and multi-million dollar homes. You'll want a convertible for this one.
Hollywood & Highland
Skip the 100-block fashion district, and head to Hollywood & Highland. The window-shopping is free plus there's the experience of strolling through the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Compare fingers and footprints with Hollywood legends' imprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theater before or after scoring free tickets to a Jimmy Kimmel show.
Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign
If you do want to hike, take one with a one-of-a-kind reward—hike to the iconic Hollywood sign. Erected in 1923, the sign can be seen from just about anywhere in the city. It is heavily protected by security gates and park rangers, but several trails—ranging in difficulty to suit any fitness level—lead up close to its perch on Mount Lee for the perfect Instagram shot. Tour the Griffith Observatory for more spectacular views of the sign and the city—it's also free.
Explore Around Olvera Street and Union Station
Los Angeles is a diverse city, and many ethnic groups have gathered into enclaves throughout the city.
The scent of taquitos and sounds of mariachi music fill the air along Olvera Street, in the historic El Pueblo area, where shops offer an array of handmade Mexican goods. Savor the sultry jazz clubs in the African-American Leimert Park Village, or enjoy authentic pad thai in Thai Town.
Leave Olvera Street and cross Alameda Street to take in the historic Union Station. Entrance is free and this photogenic destination offers up hidden nooks and crannies perfect for an afternoon photo shoot. Take the Metro Gold Line one stop down from Union Station for Little Tokyo: Besides the endless Japanese cuisine—sushi, ramen, tea and pastries that seem straight from the island—there are a wealth of Manga stores and art shops to explore.
Learn History at L.A. Museums
The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum display fossils of mammals that lived during the Ice Age and were trapped in these natural tar pits. The George C. Page Museum displays the fossils after they are excavated and studied. You can see the tar pits for free, but admission to the museum ranges from $5-$29—inexpensive enough for an intriguing afternoon.
Outdoor exhibits like "Urban Light" are open to the public at the Los Angeles County Museum: While these free, public art pieces can pique curiosity the museum itself has discounted ticket fees with a valid student ID.
Don't stop there, though. There are more than two dozen museums to choose from and many are free or charge a nominal fee. The Hammer Museum is home to works by Monet, Van Gogh and Rembrandt; The Getty Center offers stunning views of the ocean and the L.A. skyline as well as priceless works of art; and the Travel Town Museum displays historic steam locomotives and passenger cars.
Outdoor Attractions Around Los Angeles
Los Angeles offers a ton of outdoor activities beyond hiking and bike trails. With nearly two dozen skate parks, there are plenty of opportunities to try some new tricks. Climb stairs with other urban hikers along the brightly painted stairways of the Silver Lake neighborhood. And of course, the surfing here can't be beat. Various beaches are ideal for various skill levels—for example, Venice Beach is perfect for beginners while Malibu Beach is ideal for the more experienced surfer.
Live Music, Comedy and More Shows in Los Angeles
Amoeba Music is a two-story mecca for music and film under one roof. The expansive, independent store—check out the dedicated jazz room among the thousands of music albums and movies—is a solid city block of music shopping and live events. The venue hosts live music events for free several nights each week in addition to artist signing events.
For a luck of the draw comedy experience, grab a cup of coffee at the Bourgeois Pig before of after a cheap show at the UCB Theater in Los Felix. This is where entertainers like Aziz Ansari and Tina Fey first got their feet in show biz. Even if the talent is new to you, keep an eye on the audience that can boast just as much star power as the entertainers on stage.
Summer visitors can take advantage of KCRW Summer Nights: The local radio station holds events showcasing big-name performers in addition to up-and-coming artists and DJs.