By Krista Carlson

At almost 500 square miles, there’s lots of ground to cover in L.A. and plenty of low cost – or just plain free – activities to enjoy. From cheap eats to free parks and museums, and even some good live entertainment, rest assured boredom will be held at bay on this route around the city for the girl on a budget. Twenty dollars can go a long way if you know where to go. To really keep your spending under control, start your day at one of the Metro subway stations and pick up a day pass for $5.

Family Pastry

715 N Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 622-5255
Website & Reviews

Take a trip to Family Pastry in Chinatown for a Dim Sum smorgasbord, where a wide array of pastries and Dim Sum staples like BBQ pork buns for 65 cents and har gow for 35 cents, along with egg tarts, pineapple buns and more, all for under a dollar a piece. This authentic Chinese bakery will have you feeling like you’ve taken a trip to the Far East, but unfortunately it’s takeout-only, so the impression won’t last long.

Chinatown Central Plaza

943 N. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Website & Reviews

Grab your Dim Sum to go and head over to Chinatown’s Central Plaza, where there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy your breakfast beside the five-tiered pagoda, bright red lanterns and dragon images. Toss a penny in the 70-year-old wishing well and make a wish; you’ve certainly got one to spare after that steal of a meal. When you’ve filled up on the sweet and sticky delights from Family Pastry, embark on a self-guided walking tour of the Chinatown district, or just wander through the area’s plazas and bazaars.

Olvera Street

845 N Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Head South, pass through the arching gateway that marks Chinatown’s entrance and across Cesar Chavez to meander through Olvera Street, the Mexican marketplace and historic monument that bears honor as the oldest part of Downtown L.A. Essentially a living monument brimming with vendors, patrons and tourists at all hours, this colorful passageway is lined with aged brick buildings and animated by an array of maracas, marionettes, sombreros and piñatas.

Photo Credit: Getty Center

The Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 440-7300 ‎
Hours: Tues to Fri, Sun 10am-5:30pm Sat 10am-9pm
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Go west, and indulge in one of the many museums that are free daily, like the Getty in Brentwood, which is accessible via the 761 Metro bus, which stops at the entrance of the museum. If you drive here the parking is $15 until 5p.m.; free after then. The Getty itself is an architectural attraction, and houses numerous permanent and rotating art exhibits, displaying current and historical art in a variety of mediums, including photography, sculpture, and painting. While you are here, don’t pass up the labyrinth and gardens, and be sure to look out from the Southern end to see Los Angeles sprawling out before you (on a clear day).

California Science Center

700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037
(323) 724-3623
Hours: Daily 10am-5pm
Website & Reviews

For a more hands-on experience, head to the California Science Center, one of the top science museums in the U.S., which offers a variety of interactive exhibits that inspire and enlighten visitors both young and old. All permanent exhibits are free, and focus on inventions, aerospace, living things, ecosystems and scientific phenomena, while special exhibits have varying admission fees.

La Nueva Flor Blanca

4271 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 662-9493

Once you’ve had your fill of sensory stimulation, get your taste buds in on the action with a trip to one of the city’s numerous pupuserias. Pupusas, an El Salvadorian specialty, are uniformly inexpensive–generally in the $1-$2.50 range–and even though the stuffed tortillas, which can be filled with cheese, beans, meat or veggies, are small; they are also filling and two typically makes for a complete meal. For an authentic experience, opt for queso con loroco, a popular vegetable in Central American cuisine, and don’t be wary of piling on the curtido (lightly pickled cabbage). The Mid-City pupuseria La Nueva Flor Blanca is known to have some of the best.

Photo Credit: Amoeba Music

Amoeba Music

6400 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 245-6400
Hours: Mon to Sat 10:30am-11pm; Sun 11am-9pm
Website & Reviews

Ready to Rock? If so, then hit Amoeba Music in Hollywood for near-nightly free shows featuring up-and-coming and lesser known bands, hand-picked by the store’s in-the-know staff. Shows are all ages and typically begin at 7.


712 N Heliotrope Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 906-2649
Hours: Mon-Sat 12 pm – 10 pm; Sun 2 pm – 6 pm

Satisfy your sweet tooth at Scoops ice scream shop down the road, where an adventurous alchemist concocts new flavors daily. The brown bread is a popular favorite, as is the Guinness chocolate, though these flavors aren’t always available. Other on the menu range from reasonable flavor pairings like Strawberry Jasmine to more out-out-the-blue derivations such as Ricotta Oreo. The shop attendants will gladly offer you samples of any flavor you’re curious about, and at under $3 a scoop, or two for $5, it’s impossible to leave here without being pleased.

Note: Closes early on Sundays.

Griffith Observatory

2800 East Observatory Road
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(213) 473-0800
Hours: Tues to Fri 12pm-10pm; Sat to Sun 10am-10pm. Telescope viewing ends at 9:45pm.
Website & Reviews

Having had a full day of taking in the sights, sounds and flavors of the city, why not end your day gazing up at the stars at the Griffith Observatory. Free public telescopes are available for use on the observatory lawn as well as on the observation decks on the wings of the building. Admission is free and during the weekend shuttles run pickup and delivery from the Santa Monica and Vermont Red Line station. Knowledgeable telescope operators are available to guide visitors in the use of the equipment as well as provide information about the stars and planets in view.

Krista Carlson is a native Angeleno whose passion for adventure continues to lead her to destinations both urban and wild. She writes about her experiences at Kryxtanicole’s Blog.