You came to Los Angeles, no doubt, to make money. As a nascent movie star you pinned your dream salary at eight figures; as some future fine arts sensation you aimed your income at seven; as an inspired young screenwriter you hoped to pull in some six figures, at least until your script got an Oscar nod. Whatever your dream it came with a paycheck–and maybe you got it. Maybe, more likely, you didn’t. At least not yet.
Whatever the status of your dream, you have learned one thing: that the old adage “you’ve gotta spend money to make money” is true, or at least that first part is. Los Angeles is a city that will sap your pockets and suck your wallet dry–no wonder Hollywood has been churning out so many vampire pics. From rent to gas to food and drink, LA makes all but a few places in America look like some kind of sale-price sanctuary. So how does one on a budget get by in this big-budget city?
(Thrifty) Ladies and (Frugal) Gentleman, allow me to show you.
So you came to LA to follow that dream, but you ran into the rock-solid barriers of your budget pretty quickly. As an aspiring actor or musician you couldn’t afford to get into any shows. As an endeavoring artist one trip to the LA County Museum of Art wiped out the month’s spending money–that drink you had afterwards took care of next month’s. Or as a hopeful writer you found that inspiration came with an admission ticket you simply can’t afford. Is there anything to do in Los Angeles that won’t cost your soul?
Sure. We’ll start with the J Paul Getty Museum. Funded by the world’s wealthiest art trusts and founded by one of history’s wealthiest men, the J Paul Getty Museum also happens to be one of the best art museums in the United States–and its free. All day every day. Parking isn’t–you’ll pay $15 a spot, but we’ll get to getting around later. The Getty Villa in Malibu is also always free, but an advanced booking is required. Parking is $15 here as well.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art holds one of the largest collections on the west coast, and is open to the public at no charge on the second Tuesday of every month. If that sounds limiting, don’t worry: the museum is also free every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday after 5pm, but only to LA county residents. Sorry, out-of-towners.
And that’s not nearly all. The Paley Center for the Media is unlike any museum you’ve ever visited. An unmissable attraction in the world’s media capital, it also happens to be free, though a $10 donation is ‘suggested.’ The California African-American Museum and the California Science Center are always free to the public, though be warned that the latter does charge $10 for parking. Your kids (if you’ve got any) will go bananas for the Travel Town Museum, which documents America’s westward expansion in the age of the train and is geared towards the youngsters. Admission is free, and train rides cost only $2.50 (but after Junior demands ten rides, of course, that begins to stack up). Explore the cultures of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Their excellent collection is always open for free.
Art walks are all the rage in LA these days, with new monthly festivals popping up all across the county. Wealthy patrons might be there to bring a canvas home with them; you, on the other hand, are privy to a free gallery and an excellent opportunity to enjoy street performances, cheap food, and people-watching. The Downtown LA Art Walk is perhaps the largest and most happening of them all, taking place on Spring and Main Streets between 2nd and 9th Streets in Downtown LA on the second Thursday every month. The festivities begin at noon and ramp up later in the night, generally finishing around 10pm. The Chinatown Art Walk allows you to experience one of LA’s most famous neighborhoods on its liveliest night. Edgy and offbeat, the San Pedro Art Walk is the funkiest of them all. Catch it on the first Thursday of every month, and check its calendar to catch some of the monthly live performances hosted in the area.
But what about you struggling actors? Has LA nothing for you?
Don’t worry; you haven’t been snubbed. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery hosts free outdoor movies in the summer. It’s a great place to catch a classic flick, and the atmosphere is absolutely unbeatable.
Didn’t get a callback from that Soap you auditioned for? Never fear: you can still get on shows like Jeopardy, the Price is Right, or Wheel of Fortune—as an audience member (and maybe a contestant on the Price is Right), of course. Admission is free to each, if you’re lucky enough to be chosen. You can also witness a live recording of one of your favorite sitcoms or reality shows, though these film less regularly. They’re still almost always free. Here’s how to get in.
Looking to make a few extra bucks on the weekend–and, uh, ‘flesh out’ your resume? Consider becoming an extra on a film or TV show. You can make $50 for a few hours of work, and they’ll typically feed you a hot meal as well–you might even make it within twenty yards of a celebrity or famous director, and that’s what it’s really worth, right? Casting agencies often charge a small fee to find you a role, or you can skip and head to Craig’s List or Entertainment Careers, where studios will post open casting calls viewable for free, but beware of scams.
Inspiring screenwriters are always looking for a new source of inspiration. The Griffith Observatory will simultaneously take you back through history to Los Angeles’s fabled past and into the future of the universe. The classical Greek-revivalist architecture and the impeccable views available from its perch–of Downtown LA, Hollywood, and the Pacific Ocean–make this an unmissable (and free) place to visit. Be warned that parking is limited and that should the lot fill you might have to find a commercial space further away. Tickets to shows at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium range between $3-7.
Break a sweat and attempt to catch your breath with breathtaking views at Runyon Canyon Park, a free, green oasis in Downtown Los Angeles that features a great series of hiking trails over 130 acres. Climb to the top to see the City of Angels spread out before you.
Santa Monica Pier is iconic, free, and a great place to take a date–though of course you’ll have to shell out for rides and games. From July to September head there for free concerts at the Twilight Dance Series, which pulls together an eclectic set of genres from the exotic portions of the planet. Lose yourself to the beat for free. Parking costs between $6-12.
For more free shows, head to the Farmers Market on Thursdays and Fridays in September for its free annual concert series, with genres including jazz, swing, funk, and more. The LA County Arts commission sponsors free concerts and shows at the Ford Amphitheater from June to mid-October. And finally, if your summer wasn’t already stuffed with free music, the Pershing Square Downtown Stage hosts free shows, music, movies and dancing from June through September.
If you’re looking for trendy, healthy, macrobiotic, pricey fare, then Los Angeles will not let you down. If you’re looking for dirt-cheap eats you won’t be dissapointed either.
Guisados sells super-cheap tacos, nine different varieties for $2.50, or get the taco sampler, which includes six, for just $6.50. For breakfast seek out Dino’s Chicken and Burgers for their pancake combo, which includes two pancakes, three eggs, and two pieces of either sausage or bacon, all for just $4. Or go for lunch and pick up a $2.15 burger or a half chicken with French fries, cole slaw, and tortillas for just $5.50
Phillipe’s invented the French dip sandwich way back in 1918, and inflation has just barely touched its prices– $6.50 for a sandwich w/ jus. It’s always packed, which proves that it’s good. Pink’s claims to serve the World’s Best Chili Dog, and while we’ll leave that judgment for your own taste buds, we can confirm that at $3.45 for a larger-than-your-face dog, it is definitely one of the hottest hot dog deals in the world.
Finally, the cheapest place to eat in LA will always be your own kitchen. But with gas prices like these, particularly in traffic-clogged Los Angeles, running to and fro between kitchen and grocery store is not cheap. Pink Dot Delivery will do all the shopping and deliver the goods to your front door for the ridiculously-low price of $3.50 a trip–less than you’d probably spend on gas.
Los Angeles is home to the most legendary nightlife in the world. The only legends you might tell will have to do with prices–$15 is considered a bargain for a cocktail at many locations around LA. To find a brew you’ll be able to afford you’re going to have to dive down to the bottom of the barrel and seek out one of LA’s many dive bars. Dives around Los Angeles are notoriously dirty, seedy, and even dangerous, so we’ve created a list of the top of the crop where you can enjoy a cheap, cold beer without worrying about getting stabbed. Still, don’t expect state-of-the-art sound systems or a beautiful waitstaff or glimpses of A- or B-listers (or hell, not C-, D-, or G- listers either, for that matter) at any of these joints.
The Gold Room is an old dive that’s recently received a fresh breath of life—thanks in part to their legendary $4 special, which includes a PBR, a shot of tequila, and two tacos. Head two blocks north of the Wilshire & Western Metro Purple Line station to Koreatown where you’ll find Frank N Hank’s, a dive that gets high marks for $3 beers, $5 shots, and $4.50 cocktails that are notoriously strong. Cash only.
The Roost has made its way onto the hipster hit-list by being a dim and dirty dive where drinks are cheap (and strong) but service is still great. Since its recent remodel City Lights in Hacienda Heights is one of the cleanest, shiniest dive bars in town. Make it in at happy hour every day from 4-7pm for $3 well drinks, $3 16oz domestic drafts, and $2 specialty shots.
To put it simply, there’s no easy or cheap way to get around the massive sprawl that is Los Angeles. At $1.50 a ride, $5 a day, or $75 a month ($84 to be able to transfer to buses as well) the LA Metro is an excellent alternative to driving, saving you on gas, tolls, and parking and keeping you out of the city’s notorious traffic. With eight lines and connections to an extensive network of buses, LA’s public transportation system is one of the most extensive in the country. But still, this is LA, a city that is so mind-boggling spread out that there’s a good chance you’ll be a considerable walk or drive away from the nearest station.
LADOT offers another bus system with two services known as DASH and Commuter Express. DASH buses provide local, community-based transportation with six routes Downtown and twenty-seven serving the greater city. At 35 cents a trip DASH buses may be the cheapest means of getting around Los Angeles, but avoid them at all costs if you’re in a hurry. There are nine Commuter Express lines, with rides costing between $1.25 and $3.90 a trip. Commuter Express buses travel along the freeway system and thus cover a larger area in a shorter span of time, but keep in mind that they too are vulnerable to LA’s nasty traffic.
Should you live close enough to a rail line or an ideal bus route you might be tempted to just go ahead and abandon your car along with its insurance payments, its maintenance costs, the need to ever pay a road toll or for overpriced parking or for every heartbreaking time you swipe your card at the pump. But it’s not just as easy as that–you’re sure to need a car to go somewhere some of the time in Los Angeles. Fortunately, LAXCarShare has the solution. For just $7 an hour or $60 a day you can borrow one of their Nissan Versa Hatchbacks (which get great mileage and have roomy trunks). It’s $50 to get started ($25 for paperwork at the DMV, then $25 a year for the service), which is very likely $100 a month less than you pay for insurance.
Brian Shreckengast is a writer at Self Storage Deals.