This winter, I went to visit my sister in Los Angeles. It was my third trip to LA and I was really skeptical about whether I would like it or not after visiting before and not really enjoying it. To my surprise, I ended up loving it! I was shocked by everything I was able to do and how much art and culture exists in LA. I’ve put together this list of the things I recommend to do when you have 3 days in LA on a budget. Most of the things to do are free or cheap – LA’s a very affordable destination! We spent 3 days in LA and two days out in Joshua Tree National Park – you can check out my post about Joshua Tree here!
Road tripping through California? I have a post just about that right here!
Note: For this post I am putting together my three separate trips to LA to think about the best three day itinerary. I’ve been to LA a bunch of times and my sister is now living there (my cousins live there too). Each time I’ve come, I’ve spent three days in LA so, this is my ideal, budget friendly itinerary I would recommend to anyone on their first trip to LA!
Everything in Los Angeles is pretty spread out. In order to really see the most you can, you want to have a car and plan an hour in between places. Pubic transit in LA does exist and I have ridden the bus, but overall having a car is the best option to get around.
LA Trip Costs:
- AirBnB average cost is $120 a night (I stayed free with my sister in Pasadena)
- Food costs $15 a day (eat at home for two meals)
- Activities $130 entire trip
- Flight $215 (thanks to my flight saving tactics!)
Total cost: $400
Downtown LA has some really cool and interesting spots you should definitely check out. Here are the things downtown you can’t miss.
Start the day by heading to the Broad Museum $30 2 hours
This museum is a great place to see some awesome art and experience the unique scene in LA. We did not get in because the line was incredibly long, but if you get there early I definitely recommend going. I have so many friends who have raved about it and had a great time. Couldn’t make this list without it!
Head over to UOE Skyspace $30 2 hours
Head over here to try out the sky slide. This was such a cool place to visit and a great start to seeing LA! They have an observation deck and an all glass slide you can ride on the side of the sky scraper. It was a huge adrenaline rush but really short.
Pro-tip: When you buy tickets, you have to buy the sky slide option in order to go down the slide. Select this option when purchasing!
LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) $25 4 hours
This is a huge museum you could easily spend a half day at. They have extended hours on weekends (open until 8 on Friday, open until 7 on Saturday and Sunday). It should definitely be your last stop of the day if you are there on the weekend. We had fun looking through all the different galleries and wish we had more time to explore. There are also tar pits located right outside the museum that are really fun to look at and read about as well as a sculpture garden you can enjoy. The museum is several different buildings and you definitely need a map before you start exploring!
Hollywood in the Morning and Santa Monica and Malibu in the Afternoon
I am not a huge fan of following celebrities or concerned about seeing a ton of celebrity homes. Because of this, I don’t recommend spending a ton of time in Hollywood. I do think that it’s worth seeing Hollywood though and would only spend a half a day there if I was you.
This is a really full day, but bear with me here! You can fit it all in and see some really awesome things if you time it right!
Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory 1 hour
I recommend starting off here because it is the most difficult to get to. Start your day by 9 am if you want to make sure you can make it everywhere you want to during this day! My sister and I started late so we didn’t make it here during our day, but I have done it before and you can easily do it if you are up early enough.
This is definitely a spot you want to go when visiting LA! Griffith Observatory has a great view of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. You can walk around and hike closer to the Hollywood sign from here too. The Griffith Observatory is a really cool building and if it is a clear day without smog, you get a nice view of LA. You can park along the street or in the very limited parking area. I recommend not trying to park too close and just taking a spot when you see it.
Pro-tip: If you want a great view of the Hollywood sign, check out Lake Hollywood Park. You get way closer to the Hollywood sign and there are fewer people there. It is a quick and easy stop to make.
Hollywood Boulevard 1 hour
Holloywood Boulevard is not some where I recommend spending a ton of time at, but it is really cool to see the Chinese Theater, all the hands in cement, and stars along the road. You can walk around and see this area in just 30 minutes. I say 1 hour though because parking and things can take a while! I am not a huge fan of trying to see celebrities or their homes. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, Hollywood Boulevard has tons of tour to choose from ranging from $25 – $45 and they are willing to negotiate with you too. We almost went on one, but decided it was not worth our time and moved on.
West Hollywood 1 hour
West Hollywood, specifically Melrose Ave., has a ton of really cool murals. They are all located right along the street, but are not quite walking distance away from each other but easy to get to. We spent about an hour going from
- Start at the Made in LA mural at 8025 Melrose Avenue.
- Head to Paul Smith and Carrera Cafe (right across the street from each other). Carerra Cafe will put any picture on a latte which is crazy! We just got regular drinks.
- Crochet rainbow at 661 N Laurel Ave.
- Marilyn Monroe at 8150 Melrose Ave.
- Retna Wall at 8822 Melrose Ave.
Pinches Tacos 45 minutes
We made a stop at Pinches Tacos where we had some really good food and I definitely recommend a stop here because it’s so good! I was able to get 3 tacos, beans, and rice for $11 which was more than enough food and worth the price. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it…
Santa Monica 3 hours
The drive from Hollywood to Santa Monica will take about an hour. You can park on the beach for just $8 and I recommend doing this instead of trying to look for parking. It may be found, but you will have to walk and it will eat up a lot of your time if you look for parking. I love Santa Monica and definitely think you could spend a whole day just hanging out there. However, with only three days, you should spend an afternoon hanging out here and checking out the pier!
If you are a thrill seeker and want something unique on the Santa Monica Pier try a trapeze class at the New York Trapeze School! It was completely amazing, fun, and unique to go up high on a trapeze overlooking the ocean and beach. They had a Groupon when we went and it was just $40 for the class. Highly recommend it. They taught us some cool tricks and the class took about two hours. There are also rides you can ride on the pier and the beach itself is really nice.
If you like shopping, Santa Monica has some of my favorite shopping in the area. It probably has some of your favorite stores along with boutiques, high end spots, and gift shops. I think it’s the perfect combo for someone who’s visiting LA because you get a little bit of everything you could shop for!
Sunset in Malibu 1 hour
Malibu has some really awesome beaches. I’m someone who is always chasing a sunset so an hour drive from Santa Monica to Malibu for sunset is no big deal for me. If you are not a sunset chaser, you could skip this and stay in Santa Monica for sunset.
If you’re like me though, you definitely want to make sure you choose the perfect spot for sunset – there are tons in Malibu! I’ve watched sunset from two different beaches in Malibu and loved them both. Recommend either one for a unique sunset view.
Leo Carrillo State Beach
El Matador State Beach
Dinner in Santa Monica
There is a row of tons of awesome Asian restaurants in Santa Monica along Sawetelle Boulevard. Kura Rotating Sushi is cheap and always has a long line. It was so much fun to pick out different sushi rolls as they came past, they also let you order off an electronic menu if you want specific items. They count up the number of plates you eat and then you pay at the end. We ate 4 plates each and paid just $12 a piece for dinner (plus tip), it was awesome!
Another awesome dinner option is Seoul Tofu where you can get awesome Korean food! We ate here once awe well and had a great time. They give you all the yummy Korean side dishes along with whatever you order. They had delicious stone bowls and yummy soups to choose from too. Dishes cost $12 – $15.
Pro-tip: Lines for both of these restaurants can be quite long. Going on a week day makes it way easier as far as lines go. We still waited over 30 minutes for both.
You can’t go to LA and not spend time at the beaches! I know Santa Monica the day before, but there’s so much to see and do there, it gets time for itself.
Venice Canals 30 minutes
I had heard about the iconic Venice Canals and they are definitely picturesque to walk! I parked near them and walked from there to Venice Beach in about 20 minutes. It’s a fun and free way to park in the area and see a little more of LA.
Amaze Bowls – Acai Bowls for Breakfast, Venice Beach, and Muscle Beach 2 hours
I had to try an Acai Bowl while I was in LA because they are known for their awesome ones here. I wanted to make sure I tried one of the best so I waited for the famous Amaze Bowls where you can get an Acai bowl in a coconut. It was the perfect thing to eat while I watched the skateboarders and sat on the beach.
From here, walk to the graffiti that lines the palm trees and walls in Venice Beach. Watch the skateboarders and walk the Venice Boardwalk to Muscle Beach. It was pretty fun to walk past all the different shops and see muscle beach!
Laguna Beach 4 hours
Laguna Beach is a bit of a drive from LA. But hear me out on this one! I feel like those pictures speak for themselves… Plus, it only took an hour to get there, but I timed it poorly and ended up in two hours worth of traffic to get back. With how long it takes to get places, you definitely want to spend some time here… Plus with traffic, timing is key! Stay around Laguna Beach until after dinner, don’t make the same mistake as me.
Here is a list of beaches I recommend when visiting Laguna Beach.
- 1000 Steps Beach
- Victoria Beach
- Pearl Street Beach
For more about my favorite beaches in and around LA, check out my post here!
I hope this post has helped you think about the best way to spend 3 days in LA on a budget! With so much to do, it can be hard to fit it all in. No matter what you do, you can have a great time. What are your favorite things to do in LA? Leave your thoughts below!