Each year, I make a trip to visit my family in LA. For several years I lived throughout the region, but when I moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest for college, I knew it would be for good. Though it’s a wasteland, it’s one crowned with jewels that make a trip worthwhile (beyond family, of course).
Here are some of its best offerings for the cash-strapped (or simply expense-conscious) visitor.
Start with a Rental Car
A car is a necessity in LA given how sprawling it is. When I lived in East LA as a teenager and took public transit to Venice Beach to escape the heat, it was four hours round trip each time. Once I also had an opportunity to be on the Dr. Phil show while living in Santa Monica, but it would have required a total of eight buses and over four hours of sitting on the bus. (Sadly, I never made it on.)
To find the best price on a rental car, use a search engine like Kayak or Priceline, both of which yielded the same lowest prices (with Enterprise). I tried Skyscanner and had higher-priced results, which didn’t include Enterprise. I also tried Autoslash, which makes you sign up and wait about half an hour for results—their “deals” were more than double the lowest prices from Priceline and Kayak.
Also you can check prices from Enterprise’s website. You’ll need to check prices for each Enterprise location individually. You’ll probably be able to reserve the vehicle in advance, paying upon pickup.
When you pay on the day of pickup, consider saving on the extra expense of car insurance offered by the rental car company by paying with your credit card; most consumer credit cards offer some form of car insurance, typically “auto rental collision damage waiver” covering damage from a collision, vehicle theft, administrative fees imposed by your rental company as a result of such theft or collision, and towing fees. The insurance they offer is also usually secondary to your primary car insurance, meaning you’d have to file a claim with both your primary insurer and the credit card issuer. If you don’t have primary auto insurance, then the credit card’s secondary insurance might be considered as primary insurance, which is the case with my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card. In the minority are credit cards offering primary car rental insurance by default, as is the case with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. You’ll also generally need to decline the insurance offered by the rental car company in order to be eligible.
The benefits pamphlet mailed to you along with your credit card details its associated information. If you no longer have it, a few options are requesting another copy via snail mail from a phone rep, having them read you the benefits aloud, or requesting one in a branch. Oddly, the phone rep I spoke with about my Visa card could not send me a copy via email, nor was it available online.
If your card offers adequate coverage, use it to check out (simply carrying the card won’t make you eligible) and skip the insurance offered by the rental car agency.
The four major credit card networks (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express) have their own provisions for car insurance, although not all cards within a network have the same benefits.
If you choose Enterprise, which seems to be the cheapest rental car option in LA based on my searches, their Enterprise Plus benefits program (free to join) also offers points that you can use toward free rental car days. Other rental car providers likely have similar rewards programs.
Th / Fri / Sat / Sun: 8–midnight
*Hours are listed for each calendar day, and these are hours listed for the upcoming week (May 2017). Check their current park hours to find out whether they are the same during the dates you’ll be visiting.
If you’d like to visit for just one day, ticket prices for those ages 10 and up start at $97, $110, or $124, depending on the day (there is no regular schedule; you’ll have to check their calendar). Often, the weekends are more expensive. In June and July (based on the current calendar), tickets are priced at a minimum of $110. Ticket prices for children three through nine are slightly less (by around $5), and children two and under get in free. See their Tickets page for other options.
The fee for parking a car for a full day is $20.
• Food is overpriced at Disneyland. At one joint, for instance, a slice of pizza was $9 and a Vitamin Water was priced at $4, and churros were sold at stands throughout the park for $4.50 (during my June 2017 trip). But do not worry. First, eat a full breakfast before going. Second, pack a lunch and all those tasty snacks you may wish to accompany your magical experience; you can bring food and drink into the park—just no glass or alcohol. Your bag will be searched just beyond the parking lot, before you get to the tram, but won’t be searched at the gate. Though this isn’t on the website, a Disneyland staff member who searched my bag informed me of these rules, confirming food and drink are permitted in the park. There is also a picnic area just outside the main entrance of the park.
• Bring your own stroller and/or wheelchair; renting a single stroller costs $15 per day, renting two strollers is $25 (they don’t offer double strollers), a manual wheelchair is $12 per day, and an electronic conveyance vehicle is $50 per day.
• If you have kids, buy Disney toys for them in advance (at a much lower price than you’ll find in the theme park) but only gift it to them once you’re there.
• Bring a cheap autograph book; getting autographs from live characters is a standard part of the Disney experience, but the autograph books sold in Disney shops will put you back $8–$20.
• Bring a cheap poncho for water rides, so you don’t end up miserably cold, wet, and making an in-park clothing purchase.
• Come fully prepared clothing-wise: wear layers, and bring something warm for nighttime, as the temperature drops considerably. Bring a wide-brim hat with a neck cord to secure it while on rides.
Looking out at the twinkling blanket of buildings from Griffith Observatory during the evening is a magical experience that no visit to LA is complete without.
The Samuel Oschin Planetarium’s performances are spectacular—breathtakingly close to a real sky. There are eight performances each weekday and 10 on Saturday and Sunday, with three show options.
• Mon: Closed
• T–Fri: noon–10
• Sat / Sun: 10–10
• Ages 13–59: $7
• Children (5–12): $3
• Seniors (60+) and students with ID: $5
• Toddlers 4 and under are free but are only admitted to the first show of the day and must sit on an adult’s lap.
Note that you need to be in line for the show 15 minutes before it begins.
Finding parking in the parking lot is a real pain, and there’s no late admittance to planetarium shows, so arrive with plenty of advance time. You may even be better off parking nearby and walking up the hill to it; circling the parking lot for 15 minutes straight is not so thrilling.
The Getty Center has a collection of world-class art on beautiful grounds with spectacular views of the city.
There is no admission fee, although parking costs $15 per car, and $10 after 3:00 p.m.
You can pay a single daily parking fee the Getty Center and Getty Villa. You can pay a single $15 parking fee and visit both the Getty Center and Getty Villa in the same day. To do so, visit the information desk at either location and ask for a same-day parking coupon to use at the other.
If you have cheaper parking elsewhere and not too far, taking the bus there is easy (there’s a stop right in front of the entrance).
You’ll be taking a complimentary tram from the entrance to the grounds. There are free umbrellas you can pick up from the tram area to return when you’re done—these will be useful if it’s sunny or rainy, as there are large open spaces you’ll have to walk through to get from building to building (and if you want to stroll through the gardens).
It could easily take a couple hours to get through it all, so I also suggest bringing a lunch.
The Getty Villa is a small art museum with mostly ancient Greek and Roman art, located just north of Santa Monica along the Pacific Coast Highway.
• Wed–Mon: 10–5
• Tues: Closed
• Adults: $29.95
• Children (3–11): $17.95
• Seniors (62+): $26.95
Like the Getty Center, admission is free but you’ll need to pay for parking, which costs $15, or $10 after 3:00 p.m.
But unlike the Getty Center, you’ll need to reserve a ticket before visiting. However, you don’t need to print it; according to their FAQ page, you may bring the ticketing confirmation number in the email.
You can pay a single $15 parking fee and visit both the Getty Center and Getty Villa in the same day. To do so, visit the information desk at either location and ask for a same-day parking coupon to use at the other.
However, you will not be permitted to the Getty Villa grounds if you park nearby and walk up, unless you’ve taken public transportation, in which case you’ll need your bus driver to hole-punch your Getty Villa ticket. If you take Uber or Lyft in, your driver will have to notify staff at the gate. If you take a taxi, you’ll need to show them a taxi receipt. There is also no parking for oversized vehicles.
See their Parking page for more details.
Walking along the Venice boardwalk to stare at its crew of weirdos and watch skateboarders do their thing is a must. You may also enjoy walking along Abbott Kinney Blvd (several blocks east from the beach) to check out some fancy little boutiques and through the Venice Beach canals.
513 Rose Ave, Venice
Open 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day
1715 Pacific Ave, Venice
Open 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. every day
Pacific Park / Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is about a half-hour walk north from the Venice Beach boardwalk, and a few blocks southwest of the 3rd Street Promenade shopping area.
There is a small amusement park, carousel, and arcade located on the pier.
Unless you are traveling with thrill-seeking toddlers, I think you’ll probably be satisfied just going on the ferris wheel and/or rollercoaster, each of which cost $8.50. But if you want to get an unlimited rides pass, you can purchase it online and save up to $3.30.
If you do so, the prices are:
• Ages 8+: $29.65
• Ages 7 and under: $17.95
Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine
Want an oasis from the city? The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is a serene little fenced-in park located in Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica and south of the Getty Villa. It is operated by the Self-Realization Fellowship, an international nonprofit society dedicated to following the teachings of the Hindu yogi and swami Paramahansa Yogananda.
It is a place for meditation and prayer, and as such, I would advise against taking small children there. Be advised that their website asks that visitors not wear beach attire, bring food and beverages into the park, and keep noise to a minimum. Comport yourself with restraint and dress appropriately.
A final tidbit: Yogananda was a friend of Gandhi and received a portion of his ashes; within the park is a memorial at which they are currently held within a marble sarcophagus.
Garden Visiting Hours
Agape International Spiritual Center
How about raising your emotional vibration during your trip? Agape is a transdenominational gathering place and the definition of woo woo. Attending a Sunday service at Agape makes for an interesting and memorable experience that’s completely free. Comedic value aside, they have an amazing choir and musicians.
Its founder, Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, is a very captivating speaker. By the end of a service you may very well be wondering how you can use crystals to realign your chakras or what powers different colors of candles possess.
Services start at 9:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Sundays and at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesdays, and a half-hour meditation precedes each.
Be prepared to wait in line; though services are held in a giant warehouse, they tend to be packed.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific is a nonprofit public aquarium located Long Beach that has over 11,000 animals and is the fourth most visited aquarium in the U.S. according to its website.
9–6 every day
• Adults: $29.95
• Children (ages 3–11): $17.95
• Seniors (62 and up): $26.95
• See this page for potential discounts
• If you buy two or more eligible attractions with the Los Angeles GO Card, which includes this location, you’ll get 20% off.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest museum on the west coast, showcasing over 130,000 works from ancient times to present.
• M / T / Th: 11–5
• Wed: Closed
• Fri: 11–8
• Sat / Sun: 10–7
• Adults: $15
• Children (ages 0–17): $5
• Students with ID: $10
• Seniors (65 and up): $10
Free Days and Discounts
• Free on the second Tuesday of every month
• See this page for potential discounts and free days
175 S Fairfax Ave, Ste B
Open 11–9, Mon–Sun
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
If paleontology is up your alley, you’re in for a treat at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, which is adjacent to the LACMA. The museum contains over a million ice age fossils from 650 species, according to its website. Activate excavation continually takes place at the museum; there is a live excavation site.
Tickets (Museum Admission Only)
• Adults: $12
• Children (3–12): $5
• Babies (2 and under): free
• Students (13–17 or with ID): $9
• Seniors: $9
9–5 every day
Free Days and Discounts
• Get $2 off adult admission with the coupon on their Yelp page
• Free on the first Tuesday of every month (except in July and August) and every Tuesday in September
• See this page for other info, including discounts you are likely ineligible to receive
Buy admission to two or more attractions (including this one) with Los Angeles GO Card to get 20% off.
Madame Tussauds Hollywood
Madame Tussauds is a wax museum on the Hollywood strip (along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and next to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). Madame Tussauds, founded by French wax sculptor Marie Tussaud in the 1800s, is based out of London but has branches in a number of major cities. It’s the place to go if you want to trick others into believing you took a selfie with a celebrity! I’m not personally very interested in the lives of celebrities on account of their fame, but I was certainly entertained by the likenesses.
Ticket prices vary according to the season; refer to the museum’s Tickets page for up-to-date information. However, your best ticket price option by far is to go with their “Late Night Saver” ticket option, requiring online ticket purchase and going later in the day (in May it was 4:00 p.m., in June, 6:00 p.m.).
Per current Late Night Saver (June 2017) ticket prices, you’ll pay:
• Adults (13+): $19.99
• Child (3–12): $14.99
Check the hours listed on their Opening Hours page; they change on a weekly basis. The ones currently posted (June 2017) are:
• Mon–Sat: 10–10
• Sun: 10–8
6801 Hollywood Blvd Ste 418
Open 11:30–9 every day
What are your favorite places to visit and ways to save in LA?