Living in or just visiting Southern California can get quite expensive, especially if you don’t know your way around. Not only that, but there are opportunities for fun everywhere! It’s hard to know where to start. If you’re in the LA area and are trying to have some fun on the cheap, you need to cross some of these items off your bucket list! Disclaimer: some of these destinations may require a parking fee. If you get creative about your parking and find a good, free spot, please let us know in the comments!
This list could very well apply to all of SoCal. I can only imagine that some of the best things to do in San Diego would include beautiful beaches, breath-taking mountains to hike, and pleasant shopping and social areas. However, I decided to stick to Los Angeles, at least for this post.
Check out these places and you’ll see why we rarely spend money on entertainment.
The beaches (here are some favorites):
Redondo Beach. Such a beautiful beach area! The vacation homes are so fun to look at and dream about. We actually saw Troy Aikman (famous, former Dallas Cowboys player!) on vacation with his family there! We had fun just looking at the homes and talking about what we liked about each of them. (Sorry, my pictures don’t do it justice!) Cost: gasoline and parking money
Santa Monica Pier. With their recent enhancements, this is a big tourist attraction now and rightfully so. Come here to experience a care-free fun time, seeing different performers along the pier, just hanging out at the beach, or fishing from the pier. Cost: gasoline and parking money
Photo credit: Pacheco
El Matador Beach. If you’re looking for some scenic beach pictures, this is the place to go! There’s not a lot of room between the cliffs behind you and the water when the tide starts coming in deeper, but the rocks makes for some great pictures! Cost: gasoline and parking money
- Griffith Observatory. This is a fun place to go to see LA from a higher perspective! Parking is free, and there’s some educational displays and potential hiking (particularly if you don’t get the parking at just the right time). Cost: gasoline
Photo credit: Frank Steele
- UCLA performing arts. We went to a free symphony and enjoyed their fabulous music, twisted with a little drama. On a separate day, we went and explored their beautiful campus. Cost: gasoline
- Hiking trails. If you enjoy the great outdoors at all, the possibilities are endless!!! Here are some of the places we’ve hiked:
The bridge to nowhere. The waterfalls at the end of the trail make it all worth it. Warning: it’s a 10 mile round trip hike. Please don’t go if you’ve never hiked before or if it’s been a while for you. And take lots of water. There’s a river along the way to help you stay cool and welcoming waterfalls at the end (did I mention I love those?). My husband and I got engaged on the bridge, so it’s somewhat sentimental to me :).
Malibu Beach area. It’s so nice to hike right along the beach!
Vasquez Rocks. A season of 24 was filmed here, as well as several other popular movies and shows. This place will suit all your exploring desires with trails, vast hills, little coves, and rocks that beckon you to climb them.
Seriously, endless possibilities in SoCal. Cost: gasoline (just be sure to plan your drinking water and meals properly)
- Shakespear plays at the park. This was a neat little experience for us! Take a blanket to sit on and maybe a pillow or two for comfort. The actors did a great job, and the sound quality and staging was pretty good as well! Cost: free
- Snow! I absolutely love the snow in Tehachapi in the winter months. Just wow. There’s also Wrightwood, but I find it quite overwhelmed with tourists, as is Big Bear. My husband found this amazing area of Tehachapi where we saw next to zero snow-deprived Californians, and if there had been many people, there would have been plenty of snow to go around. It started snowing while we were there… I was in heaven!!! We didn’t have to pay for parking, and there were even bathrooms with toilet paper along the snow-covered trails (always a plus, right?). This only required gas and warm clothes, and we made some AMAZING memories!!! Cost: gasoline
- Downtown Disney. Parking is free for the first two hours. Walking around and getting the essence of Disney without the price of Disney is great for us. Visit the lego store and other fun shops (this girl has awesome pictures!). Just don’t get so carried away that you forget about your car’s time limit! Cost: gasoline and potentially parking
- The Grove. This is such a beautiful shopping area to walk around in. They have lots of shops, a nice fountain, and a little bridge. My best friend got engaged on the bridge; her fiancé sang and played his guitar and then proposed. It’s especially romantic at night if that’s what you’re going for. Cost: gasoline and possibly parking
Photo credit: Prayitno
- The Americana (Glendale). While this place is awesome all year round, I have to say that Christmas time is the best!!! They have a beautiful fountain running through the middle of the outdoor shopping area, and at Christmas time, the lights make it even more inviting. As my husband and I were enjoying the scenery, we hear “Let it Snow” by Michael Buble, and snow starts falling from above!! It was fake of course, but it was still magical! Just magical. Cost: gasoline and possibly parking
This is certainly not a comprehensive list (and I hope to keep adding to it!), but I hope it helps some locals to figure out inexpensive ways to create family memories! Yes, some of these places may tempt you to spend money. However, the goal is simply to give you some fun destinations that don’t require a huge entrance fee and certainly don’t break the bank. Now, please. Let me in: what are some of your favorite, inexpensive things to do in LA?