I lived in Los Angeles for four years, after a well-placed bribe got me into the University of Southern California.
Los Angeles remains my favorite place to visit, and not just because I can stay with my brother for free; there is so much to do around L.A..
But some of the attractions are pricey.
So, following my late-April L.A. weekend and ahead of an early-June L.A. trip with my girlfriend (I’m serious: I go there a lot!), here are my tips on the best value propositions for a fun trip.
1. Marvel at the Space Shuttle Endeavour
When NASA decided where its retired space shuttles would be displayed, there was controversy over the final decision.
Kennedy Space Center? That’s a given.
The National Air and Space Museum? Totally.
But the other two went to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York, and the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
Let’s say the people of Houston, uh, had a problem with that decision.
Regardless, the California Science Center has been a wonderful home for Endeavour.
The museum is planning a big expansion for Endeavour’s permanent home. https://californiasciencecenter.org/about/our-future But for now, it’s a thrill to be able to walk *underneath* a space shuttle orbiter.
Transit: Metro Expo Line (Expo Park/USC station)
2. Take in a Dodgers game
Yes, I’ve heard the jokes (and I’ve even made a few myself). Dodgers fans show up late, they leave early, and they’re not exactly intimidating in the meantime.
The Dodgers have led Major League Baseball in attendance each of the last six seasons. Their fans are a devoted bunch.
It helps that Dodger Stadium is a marvelous place to watch a ballgame, with Chavez Ravine providing a top-5 view. And some recent renovations have the place looking a lot younger than 57 years old.
Buy a $12 ticket in the top deck, get a meal to go from a place Downtown, then take the free Dodger Stadium Express bus from Union Station. There’s no better value in baseball.
Cost: Depends on the ticket. But for a lot of regular season games, you can score a seat on StubHub for under $15.
3. Eat at In-N-Out
I no longer wonder what food heaven has, for I have already been to In-N-Out.
Some people say the burgers are overrated. Those people are not to be trusted, and ought to be excluded from polite society.
Cost: $8.21 for a double-double, fries and a drink (last time I checked)
4. See a TV show taping
A lot of sitcoms and competition shows tape in the Los Angeles area. But my favorites to see are talk shows. Tapings of Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, and Conan O’Brien are all good opportunities to see celebrities in-person.
Here’s a good guide: https://www.timeout.com/los-angeles/things-to-do/tv-show-tickets-in-la
Fair warning: Be prepared to carve out a few hours, because that’s how long it takes for the audience to get in place before the taping begins. Make sure you bring a friend for the long waits.
5. Go inside Hollyhock House
If you love Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, you have to see what he pulled off in California. The home, built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, is an enchanting mix of indoor and outdoor space (this is L.A. after all, who wants to be cooped up inside?)
The house re-opened to the public in 2015 after a six-year renovation, and the results are fantastic.
Metro Red Line (Vermont/Sunset)
6. Take a bikeshare around Santa Monica
The City of Santa Monica has plenty of protected bike lanes. But the million-dollar view is biking on the trails that line the beach.
You can head south to Venice Beach or north to the Pacific Palisades. Either way, it’s one of the best rides I’ve ever taken.
Cost: $7 per hour for pay-as-you-go
Metro Expo Line (Downtown Santa Monica)
7. The Last Bookstore
Is there anything more L.A. than a bookstore that has become an Instagram hotspot?
Whether you’re doing it for the ‘Gram or not, it’s still a fun shop to explore.
Tip: You have to check any large bags before you go in. That was actually perfect for me on my last trip. I took public transit from the airport to The Last Bookstore, and going into the store allowed be to take off my heavy backpack for a spell.
Cost: Free! (Unless you plan to buy some books. They, uh, do charge for that.)
Metro Red/Purple Lines (Pershing Square)
8. The Broad
You know that feeling you get at a museum after you’ve gone through a few galleries. Yes, everything you’re seeing is spectacular, but after a while you start to feel drained.
I recently learned there’s a term for this: ‘Museum fatigue.’ And the fatigue can seep into you in as little as 30 minutes.
My solution? The Broad.
It’s packed with ‘wow’ moments, but only about 250 pieces are on display at any given time. All the cool contemporary pieces, with none of that weird fatigue.
Metro Red/Purple Lines (Civic Center/Grand Park)
9. Get caloric at Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles
There’s no better hangover food. And it seems the fast-food world has taken notice; I have seen several chains launch their own chicken & waffles special.
But those places will never top the original.
They’ve got seven locations as I write this, and like almost everything else, they’re on all the delivery apps now.
Cost: Specials hover around $12
10. See a movie
It probably seems weird to see a movie when you’re on vacation, but this is Hollywood! You’re watching the film right where it was made (or, more often now, where it was financed).
My choices would be the ArcLight and the El Capitan. But there are great theaters all around.
Cost: Depends on the theater, brother. A bit more expensive than in other cities, though.
11. Have a drink and sing a song at Tramp Stamp Granny’s
I won’t claim to be an expert on celebrity hotspots. But you’ve got a good shot at this piano bar in Hollywood. It just opened up in April 2018 and is co-owned by ‘Glee’ alum Darren Criss.
I was there fairly early on a Saturday night and happened to see two stars from one of my favorite shows, You’re The Worst. Give it a go.
Cost: Most of the drinks are $14 or less, which is fairly reasonable for a trendy L.A. place
Metro Red Line (Hollywood/Vine)
12. Enjoy a comedy show at The Groundlings or the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB).
The sketch and improv shows always feature some incredibly talented performers, and both are more affordable options compared to standup shows (which I recommend, but beware the two-item minimum).
Cost: Most UCB shows are $7 to $12. Many shows at the Groundlings are $10 to $15 a ticket, but some do go up to $25
13. Take A Hike
Look, I’ll level with you. I’m not going to be your foremost expert on hiking in Los Angeles. I’ll only go on a hike if there’s a craft brewery nearby and there are no other transportation options.
But I’m sure you’ll have a good time.
Cost: Probably free, I don’t know.
14. Griffith Observatory
Make this L.A. landmark part of your hike. Blogger Tom Bricker calls the Observatory “the crown jewel of Los Angeles,” and I have to agree.
Lovers of art deco architecture will drool over this place. And it offers views of some of the grandest urban vistas in America.
Tip: If you’re looking for more than just 14 attractions, download Bricker’s free e-book 101 Things to Do in Southern California. He offers some great insight into L.A. activities that are worthwhile.
Cost: Free! (But parking near the Observatory is $8-10 per hour. Use the information here for other ways to get there.)