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How to do Los Angeles on a near-zero budget

How to do Los Angeles on a near-zero budget

An aerial view of Venice Beach

Think of Los Angeles and you’re likely to conjure up images of Hollywood, red carpets, glitz and glamor.

Surely any holiday is going to cost a small fortune, right?

Actually, although one can opt for a luxurious vacation in the city of Angels, it’s also possible to do Los Angeles on the cheap. You might be surprised with how many archetypal LA experiences you can enjoy without spending a penny.

Here are some tips to help stretch your spending money.

The Griffith Observatory
The Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park
The Griffith Observatory is one of LA’s most iconic destination spots, sitting near the top of the Hollywood Hills and offering an unbeatable view of the whole of Los Angeles. Even better, admission is free.

The Observatory sits within Griffith Park, which offers dozens of hiking trails into the hills. Just remember to dress sensibly and to carry water. Runyon Canyon is also popular for those fond of hiking and jogging, while you can also get great shots of the Hollywood sign from Beachwood Canyon.

LA Farmers Market
LA Farmers Market

LA Farmers Market
There are several farmers markets in the city, but the most well-established and popular is the one at 3rd and Fairfax. You’ll find fresh produce, several cafes and a wide range of food stalls – selling everything from Mexican street food and Korean BBQ to pizza and traditional ice cream. Do check out Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts and the colorful displays at Dylan’s Candy Store.

Venice Beach
Venice Beach is an iconic part of Los Angeles and is free to wander. Rent a bike of skateboard from just $7 per hour up to $20 for a day, and ride up and down the boardwalk. There’s a laid-back and chilled vibe but it’s scruffy at the edges.

Wander north to enjoy Santa Monica beach, or hunt out Will Rogers Beach, which is popular with the gay crowd. Head north further for Malibu, which is more upmarket and generally much quieter.

Hanging out at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Hanging out at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The idea of viewing a movie in a cemetery may sound a little morbid, but the regular screenings on the Fairbanks Lawn of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery are hugely popular. Take your own picnic and drinks. Tickets cost $15 when purchased online in advance. The cemetery also plays host to music gigs.

Rodeo Drive
OK, so Rodeo Drive doesn’t belong on any guide to cheap LA, but it remains on of the most iconic streets in the whole of the US, so is worth wandering down, even if your wallet stays firmly in your pocket. If you have a sweet tooth, treat yourself to one of the designer cupcakes from Sprinkles Cupcakes at 9635 S Santa Monica Boulevard.

The Getty Center
The Getty Center

The Getty
Unusual for a major US art institute, the Getty Center in West Los Angeles, offers free entry. Beside a resident collection of artwork and artifacts, there’s always touring exhibitions, plus the sculptured gardens, stunning architecture and amazing views. Even if you’re not a big art lover, it’s worth a trip.

Fans of the visual arts might also want to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art in West Hollywood; a small institute offering free admission at all times. There’s also the Tom of Finland Foundation, which includes a selection of the late, great artist’s work, occasional events and drawing workshops.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame
The TCl Chinese Theatre in Hollywood must be the most famous movie theater in the world. The surrounding area is something of a tourist trap, with movie star lookalikes enticing you to pose for photos (for a fee), but it’s one of those Los Angeles experiences that needs to be ticked off the list. Wander up and down Hollywood Boulevard to peruse the Walk of Fame.

Starbucks, WeHo
Starbucks, WeHo

The ‘Gay Starbucks’ on Santa Monica Boulevard
When people refer to Los Angeles, they’re usually talking about Los Angeles county, which includes the downtown Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the separate cities of Hollywood, Beverley Hills and West Hollywood (WeHo).

Want a gay old time? WeHo offers the greatest concentration of gay haunts. In fact, it’s estimated that some 46% of the population of this 2-square-mile city is LGBTI. You’ll find Starbucks everywhere in Los Angeles. The large branch at 8595 Santa Monica Boulevard in WeHo has been dubbed the ‘gay Starbucks’; it’s in the heart of the gay district and is a great place for people watching.

The Abbey
The Abbey is Los Angeles’ most famous gay bar and restaurant – it’s definitely a must-visit location for any LA visitor, although its drinks prices are not amongst the cheapest. However, there are happy hours from Monday to Friday between 4-7pm. Don’t be surprised to spot the odd celebrity.

DJs Chris Bowen and Victor Rodriguez at Precinct DTLA
DJs Chris Bowen and Victor Rodriguez at Precinct DTLA

Precinct DTLA
Opened earlier this year. Precinct DTLA is one of LA’s hottest new gay venues – helping to spread the gay nightlife out of West Hollywood and into the downtown area. It’s open 3-4 nights a week with a variety of club promotions – veering towards the hipster, electronic, rock and roll and bearded.

We visited for Friday night’s Queen Kong, hosted by the Boulet Brothers. Entry was just $5. The DJs spun an electroclash and Britpop heavy selection, while some particularly fierce looking drag provided the entertainment. The bar boys are also amongst the woofiest in town.

Head to Silverlake to enjoy the Sunday afternoon beer bust at the Faultline; you’re promised hot, hairy men and ice-cold beer. There’s an outdoor area where a DJ spins throbbing dance tunes and go-go’s shake their butts in the sunshine, plus a darker and more atmospheric indoor room. After Faultline, head a couple of blocks over to Eagle LA to continue the fun.

Heaven Lounge @ Avalon
A more upmarket outing than the grittier Faultline is Heaven Lounge @ Avalon Theater in Hollywood – presented in conjunction with Tigerheat. It features special guest drag hostesses, DJ Ray Rhodes spinning the sounds and ex-pat Brit Manny Patel taking care of the VIPS. Gay Star News readers can email Manny at [email protected] to get on the guestlist.

Hamburger Mary's in WeHo
Hamburger Mary’s in WeHo

Hamburger Mary’s
There are several Hamburger Mary’s but the West Hollywood branch remains the most popular for gay diners. Where else hosts a ‘Drag Queen Brunch’ and serves you your check in a glittery high-heeled shoe? The twice weekly bingo sessions also have a hardcore following.

If you’re in West Hollywood, do also drop by Kitchen 24 – which is very gay-friendly and open 24 hours.

Out of the Closet
If you’re on a budget, forget Rodeo Drive and instead pick up some cheap vintage Americana at the Out of the Closet thrift store on Santa Monica Boulevard (there are other branches in Lincoln Boulevard and Pico Boulevard). Donations help support the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and stores also offer free HIV testing.


Fly Norwegian
Want to travel to or from the UK? Norwegian launched a low-cost flight last year from London Gatwick to Los Angeles International. We flew on a 787 Dreamliner, one of the most modern and green planes in the air.

It features windows with dimmer controls, hours of entertainment via its Android Inflight Entertainment System, plus plug-in points for phone and laptop chargers. The cabin pressure is stimulated to be the same as if you were at 1800m above sea level, as opposed to standard airlines which simulate 2400m above sea level. Fares start from £199 ($307/€273) one way.

Dowload Uber
Not hiring a car? Uber is widely used across Los Angeles, and offers lower prices that regular cabs. However, unlike many other cities (such as London), there is also Uber Pool, which means cabs can pool calls and collect more than one person at once, lowering the far even further for each passenger. For example, and Uber Pool cab fare from West Hollywood to LAX cost me $11, compared to a minimum of $45 for a regular taxi.

SuperShuttle is another alternative, low-cost service from LAX many local hotels.


Ramada Plaza West Hollywood
Ramada Plaza West Hollywood

David Hudson stayed at the Ramada Plaza West Hollywood Hotel and Suites. This large hotel is ideally located in the center of West Hollywood, very near the area’s gay bars.

It offers hundreds of suites to suit all tastes – from the basic double bed room (starting at around $169 plus tax a night), to the luxurious loft suites (starting at $399 plus tax a night). It works out even cheaper if you travel in a group, as some rooms can hold up to four occupants.

There’s no breakfast included, but you’re next door to a 24-hour diner and many other eating options. There’s also a pool and fitness room.


Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame

Getting there
David Hudson flew to Los Angeles with Norwegian, which operates four flights a week rom London Gatwick to Los Angeles. Fares start from £199 one way at

All of Norwegian long haul flights are onboard brand new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners. All flights offer inflight entertainment systems which can also be used to order food and drinks. Passengers travelling in the Premium cabin enjoy a larger seat (46 inch legroom), complimentary drinks, meals, inclusive luggage, and access to airport lounges.



Images: Main image courtesy of; Griffith observatory by Matthew Field, licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons; Hollywood Forever courtesy of Hollywood Forever Cemetery; Getty courtesy of Getty Center; Precinct DTLA courtesy of Rolling Blackouts; Norwegian plane courtesy David Charles Peacock/Norwegian; Ramada Plaza West Hollywood courtesy Ramada; all other images David Hudson