Visiting LA on a Shoestring
By Ann Nelson



Some of us may not think of Los Angeles as a vacation destination. And the thought of traffic and crowds may tumble through our minds. First-time visitors may feel overwhelmed, and not know where to begin. If you consider biting off a small chunk of L.A. at a time, it will be enjoyable. If you know where the bargains are, it doesn’t need to be expensive either. Since the focus of this article is seeing L.A. on a budget, you may want to plan your trip around some of these activities.

One way to get a real feel for downtown, L.A. is to take a Saturday morning walk offered by The Los Angeles Conservancy. These $10.00 tours leave at 10 a.m. from the Olive Street entrance of the Regal Biltmore Hotel. Call (213) 623-2489 for more information and reservations.

Following is a list of free and fun things to do during your L.A. visit.
HEAD FOR THE BEACH: In case you visit during winter, or when the water is a little chilly, you can walk or jog in the sand along L.A.’s 81 miles of coastline. Explore the tide pools at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. The Department of Beaches & Harbors Visitors Center phone number is (310) 305-9545.

EXPLORE UNIQUE MUSEUMS: Some museums, like the California Science Center in Exposition Park  (323) 724-3623, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro (310) 548-7562, and the Getty Center in Brentwood (310) 440-7300 are free all day, everyday, except for parking. Other museums offer special free admission days: Los Angeles County Natural History Museum (free the first Tuesday of each month (213) 763-3466, Museum of Contemporary Art, free every Thursday 5-8 p.m. (213) 626-6222, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, free second Tuesday of each month (323) 857-6000 and Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum, free the third Saturday each month (626) 449-2742.

WANDER AROUND GRIFFITH PARK: Griffith Park is the largest city park in the country, consisting of 4,107 acres. You can picnic on the expansive lawns, go hiking, or find a shady hideaway with waterfalls and ferns. Golf, pony rides and a zoo are available for a fee. Griffith Park Visitors’ Center is located at 4730 Crystal Springs Drive. The phone number is (323) 664-1181.

CRUISE MULHOLLAND DRIVE: This is known as one of the world’s most scenic drives. Mulholland Drive winds from the Hollywood Hills across the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains west and almost to the Pacific Ocean. The views on a clear day are incredible.

TOUR LOS ANGELES CENTRAL LIBRARY: The Downtown library at Fifth and Flower is one of the city’s most treasured buildings. The 1926 structure reflects the Egyptian mania that was sweeping the post King-Tut era. This is the third largest library in the U.S. Free docent-led walking tours are the best way to enjoy it. Tours are offered Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m.; Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Highlights include the rotunda and mellowed mural depicting the history of California. The phone number is (213) 228-7000.

DISCOVER FOSSIL FUN: At La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, site of the richest discovery of Ice Age Fossils in the world, more than 100 tons of Fossilized bones representing nearly 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have been unearthed from pools of stick asphalt dating back to prehistoric time. The George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries offers free admission on the first Tuesday of every month. Even Prince Charles visited here when he was in L.A. The address is 5801 Wilshire Blvd., or call (323) 934-PAGE.

STROLL THE HISTORIC FARMERS MARKET: This market opened at the corner of Third and Fairfax in 1934 and retains much of its original flavor. The market offers the freshest produce, made-to-order peanut butter, gourmet meats and cheeses, corned beef and hot donuts. The Grove, an outdoor shopping plaza located next door, expands the market experience with a free trolley ride and dancing water shows every half hour in the central pond. The phone number is (323) 0933-9211.

STEP INTO HOLLYWOOD HISTORY: The forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre has been one of the most popular free attractions since the 1920’s. During the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s “King of Kings,” actress Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement. That is how Hollywood’s biggest stars began imprinting their hands in cement. The location is 6925 Hollywood Blvd. The phone number is (323) 464-8111.

CHECK OUT THE VENICE BOARDWALK: Every weekend year-round, crowds flock to the beachside walkway where the mild weather and sea air are only part of the attraction. The most amazing street entertainers in the world are here — a chainsaw juggler, a swami on roller blades and all types of dancers is a sampling of what you can see. Start at Windward Ave., and walk north, stopping whenever you see a crowd!

PAY YOUR RESPECTS: L.A.’s cemeteries and memorial parks are as much a part of the celebrity world as footprints in cement. At Hollywood Forever (6000 Santa Monica Blvd.), fans still gather every August 23rd to pay homage to Rudolph Valentino. Cecil B DeMille and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. also rest here. Forest Lawn has two memorial parks worth visiting: Walt Disney, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow are buried in Glendale (1712 S. Glendale Blvd.), and Liberace and Stan Laurel are buried at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills (6300 Forest Lawn Dr.).

WALK THRU 200 YEARS OF HISTORY: El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park is L.A.’s birthplace, the site of the original settlement in 1781. A bustling Mexican Mercado is just to the north of Olvera Street. Visitors shop, listen to mariachi music, watch folklore dances and dine at several wonderful restaurants. Tour the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing house in L.A. Other restored historic buildings include the Old Plaza Church and the Old Plaza Firehouse. For more information, call (213) 628-1274.

DISCOVER L.A.’s WILDERNESS: Los Angeles possesses a wealth of natural wilderness, which attracts avid hikers and bikers at such sites as Topanga State Park (310) 455-2465, Griffith Park (323) 664-1181, and the Angeles National Forest (626) 574-5200. Trails abound in the 65,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (805) 370-2301, which encompasses steep cliffs, lush rolling hills, canyons, meadows, waterfalls and sandy beaches as well as providing a wilderness habitat for local wildlife.

WATCH TV LIVE: Be part of a studio audience on your favorite television show, such as "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and "Dr. Phil,” and game shows like" Jeopardy!” and "Wheel of Fortune.” Tickets are free, but must be obtained in advance. Write for tickets or pick them up in person. Free tickets are available daily at some studio complexes. Tickets and seating for shows are on a first-come, first-served basis. (Most shows have a minimum age requirement of 14.) For more information, contact: Paramount Television Audience Shows, Guest Relations (323) 956-1777; Audiences Unlimited at Fox Television Center (818) 506-0043 and Audiences Associates (323) 467-4697. Free tickets are also available outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Universal Studios Hollywood and Glendale Galleria.

SEE NOHO (NOT SOHO):  The NoHo (for North Hollywood)  Arts District is a mile-square area that is quickly turning into one of L.A.’s artist communities with art galleries, public art, live theaters, boutiques, vintage clothing stores, and ethnic restaurants. Be sure to browse Lankershim Arts Center (5109 Lankershim Blvd.), Arts Coalition (5227 Lankershim Blvd.) Sunny Meyer Fine Arts (11223 Magnolia Blvd.) and Art Academy (4926 Vineland Ave.). Visit:


,  Hollywood): Santa Claus and live reindeer share the starlight with dozens of movie, TV and music celebrities, classic cars, floats and bands as they all make their way down Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. Held the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving (323) 469-2337.

(Downtown L.A.): The merchants of Olvera Street at El Pueblo Historic Monument commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem and their search for shelter during this procession every night from Dec. 16-24. (213) 485-6855.

THE DWP LIGHT FESTIVAL Hollywood: From Thanksgiving weekend to the end of December, this mile-long Crystal Springs Drive route in Griffith Park turns into L.A.’s wonderful display of holiday lighting. The displays pay tribute to L.A.’s history, and can be enjoyed by slowly driving or strolling past. (323) 923-4688, ext. 9.

MARINA DEL REY HOLIDAY BOAT PARADE (Coastal):  Calm marina waters are the perfect locale for this evening boat parade. Boats circle the main channel and compete for prizes. The parade takes place December 9, and ends with a fireworks display. (310) 670-7130.

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer presently residing in San Diego

Return to the November/December Index page