Visiting Los Angeles On A College Budget
Everyone’s gotta hit the Sunshine state at some point in their lives, and there’s no better way than by spending a week in the city of dreams, movie stars, and Kardashians:
Los Angeles, California.
With UCLA and USC campuses to explore, L.A. is nothing less of a college student’s paradise. Downtown is bumpin’, the restaurants are killer, and the West Coast beaches can put even the most inexperienced surfers up on a wave.
All of this sounding like a fantasy? I thought so too, until I booked a $213 round trip from Austin-Bergstrom airport to LAX on May 18 and spent a whole week living it up in the City of Angels. And trust me; I don’t got that cash flow.
So lucky for you, I know just how a broke college student can make the most of a week in L.A.
Step 1, y’all. Find yo friends.
I lucked out by befriending some USC seniors over spring break who let me stay with them this May, but I would definitely recommend seeing if any of your Cali friends can spare a bed for your stay in L.A. It not only saves you the money of staying at a hotel, but also gives you a local’s experience. If you can’t, Expedia and Kayak are always great places to look for cheap hotels in close proximity to the places you’re wanting to visit.
2. Hit the surf.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest cities in the world is also the perfect place to learn how to surf. At most local surf shops, wetsuit rentals run around $5-10 per day, and surfboard rentals are about $35-40 per day. During my visit, I surfed El Porto Beach, Mission Beach in San Diego (which is a two hour drive from LA without traffic), and Santa Monica Beach, which were all perfect beginner beaches, in my opinion. The waves are relatively low in some areas, and apps like Surfline provide surf reports before you head out.
3. Eat wisely.
“The food is super expensive in L.A., but it’s totally worth it.”
On the walk to my first meal in L.A., this is what one of my USC friends told me. And he couldn’t be more right. All the food in Los Angeles is to dieeee for, but it definitely comes at a price, so I would recommend using Yelp to scope out the cheaper spots or hit a grocery store to eat a few meals in. Some of the best restaurants I went to were Free Range LA, The Boiling Crab, and Bruxie. Breakfast tacos may not be big in L.A., but their fried chicken and waffles… gah DAMN.
4. Enjoy a live show at the Greek Theatre.
Like Austin, Los Angeles has a solid live music scene, and the Greek Theatre is a beautiful spot to watch a show. The Theatre is an open-air amphitheatre located in Griffith Park, which is also where the iconic Hollywood sign shines above the city. A beautiful backdrop of pine trips and mountains accents your concert experience. When I was visiting L.A., Mac Demarco performed at the Greek Theatre, and my tickets only ran around $40. Kinda pricey, considering Austin’s frequent free shows at Stubb’s, but worth the atmosphere and view.
5. Walk the most famous L.A. boulevards for free.
The Promenade, The Grove, Rodeo Drive and the Santa Monica Pier constitute the list of cliché L.A. spots in the city. The Promenade and The Grove are both up-scale shopping centers in Downtown Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, respectively. In the Promenade, you’ll find the first Lululemon store and unique metal dinosaurs which function as fountains. A trolley runs through The Grove, and an eclectic farmer’s market can be found by the main square.
Rodeo Drive, on the other hand, is a totally different ballpark. A two-mile long street, Rodeo Drive hosts a plethora of the most high-end fashion stores, including Gucci, Armani, Versace, Dior and Valentino. Amidst the Ferraris roaring down the streets and the beautiful celebs who frequent the stores, you’ll feel like a tiny Texas homebody in this superstar complex.
Don’t forget you can also hop on over to the entertainment industry and enjoy the Chinese Theatre, Walk of Fame and street performers in central Hollywood.
Last, but certainly not least, the Santa Monica pier is the idyllic California beach boulevard. With a ferris wheel jutting into the air and arcades and food shops for tourists, the pier is a must-see for any visiting Austinite after a nice surf on the relatively gentle waves.
What’s most important to take away from these picturesque L.A. boulevards is that you can walk down all of them for free!
6. Chinatown and Koreatown.
These two neighborhoods in Downtown and Central Los Angeles, respectively, are some of the most ethnically diverse areas of the city. Both areas are historically oriented to their respective Chinese and Korean populations, and they host a delectable assortment of boba tea shops, such as Bubbly Tea in Chinatown and It’s Boba Time in Koreatown.
7. DISNEY ‘TIL YOU DIE.
OMG It’s Disneyland. I know what you’re thinking – no way I’m spending all day surrounded by kids, cheesy rides and overpriced restaurants for the sake of a firework show and a castle. That’s exactly what I was thinking, until a friend of a friend hooked us up with free tickets and the perfect itinerary to explore the park. O.K., so I did get a little lucky, considering the tickets run around $100, but if you compile the money, I wholeheartedly think it’s worth it, and here are a few highlights.
Damn, the Disney project planners were spot-on with this feature. The 12-acre area of Disney California Adventure, which is a sister park to Disneyland right across the street, is inspired by the 2006 Disney-Pixar film “Cars,” and you couldn’t feel more like you’re right with Lightning McQueen in this attraction. In fact, a real-life Lightning McQueen powered by magnets under the ground can be seen cruising safely down the street. Carsland essentially recreates every detail of Motor Springs from the movie, and what’s better is that you can hit the race track yourself on the fast-paced Carsland ride with an enormous desert landscape in the background. For suuure a must-see.
The indoor outer space-themed steel roller coaster takes you through a high-speed adventure with the Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters, and as unpleasant as a pitch-dark rollercoaster ride may sound, Space Mountain is an absolute blast. I would recommend getting the fast-pass (meaning you get your tickets early to hit the ride during a select time later in the day with no line) for this ride.
Other rides, such as the Matterhorn and Splash Mountain, are exciting as well. After a 12-hour day at Disney, you get to see the real magic at night, when musical floats transverse down the Magic Kingdom Main Street and fireworks explode over the Disney castle. Walt Disney intended for the park to be an enjoyable experience for customers of all ages, and he totally achieved his dream.
Of course, there are thousands of other things that can be done in Los Angeles, but in my experience, taking a trip to Cali in your college years is totally affordable and worth your time.
Californiaaaaa, here we come! *Cue “The O.C.” theme song*