One of my favorite sites, Wisebread.com, recently challenged its readers to create a list of the best things to do in their hometown for less than five dollars. After a few days of research, aided by the discerning tastes of the YTP child, YTP compiled witty insights and insightful witticisms on. . . THE TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN LOS ANGELES FOR UNDER FIVE BUCKS!
Note to the (penny) wise: There are certainly more touristy things to do in Los Angeles than those that appear on this list, from cruising the Sunset Strip and the Walk of Fame to hitting the hot restaurants and clubs. However, many of those activities are overrated and overpriced, and they do not always appeal to the whole life spectrum, from kids to grandparents. Los Angeles is actually quite a family friendly place, and the list below offers suggestions that will interest all ages.
1. Point Dume Beach: Of all the beaches in the Los Angeles area, Point Dume offers the ideal combination of perfect sand and multimillion dollar views, all for the mere four dollars it costs to park in the beachside parking lot. (7103 Westward Road, Malibu, CA; http://beaches.co.la.ca.us/BandH/Beaches/PtDume.htm) The sand is clean and white, the whales breach offshore, and if you can pull yourself out of a sunshine-induced nap, there is a pleasant hike up the to the top of the Point that is well worth the effort. Wildflowers bloom along a sandy path up to the cliff top where you can see views of LA and the entire Malibu coast. Clean bathrooms, lifeguards on duty, and ample parking make it hard not to spend the whole day here. While there are plenty of beaches in the area with free parking, those four dollars for this private access beach mean the difference between hordes of people around you and a pleasant 20 yards between your umbrella and the next one.
2. Aidan’s Place and the Westwood Recreation Center: (1350 S. Sepulveda, Los Angeles, CA 90024; http://www.laparks.org/dos/playground/facility/westwoodUAPRC.htm) The City of Los Angeles did a fantastic job here of putting together a top-notch facility both indoors and out. Aidan’s Place is the cleanest, largest, and most interesting playground in the area. Totally accessible to disabled children, it is a gem among playgrounds, which is no small thing for parents of young children. The athletic fields, indoor pools, basketball courts, walking trails, picnic areas, and baseball diamond are also well maintained. Hang around often enough and you can even watch a TV show being taped; the Center is a favorite spot of the studios for outdoor filming. With the exception of small fees ($2.50) for swimming and other entry passes, most of this facility is completely free and there is plenty of parking.
3. Huntington Gardens, Library, and Art Collection:This spectacular estate-turned-museum (1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108; http://huntington.org) is free to the public on the first Thursday of every month, though advanced tickets for free days are required and available here. The Chinese, Japanese, and Desert gardens are the highlights of the Huntington, but the art collection and library are worth your time as well. The Children’s Garden is an amazing feat of engineering and design. If you want to splurge, have high tea in the former bowling alley that now serves as the Tea Room and the centerpiece of the Rose and Herb gardens. Free parking and friendly docents make this place one of LA’s best. Warning: it is HOT in this part of LA in the summer; come prepared.
4.The Venice Canals: The Canals (Carroll Ct & Eastern Canal Ct, Venice, CA 90293; http://www.westland.net/venice/canals.htm) are an elegant and unique upscale neighborhood in Venice. A visit there explains why Abbot Kinney, the founder of the city, named it after its more famous Italian counterpart. The homes and gardens that line the canals are lovely, and despite the area’s proximity to the crowded beaches, it is unusually quiet and calm. Parking on the street outside the neighborhood is free, as is access to the neighborhood itself, and there are several great restaurants just a few blocks away.
5. Griffith Park Observatory: Griffith Park offers a beautiful setting for hiking, horseback riding, picnics, athletic activities, and more. The Los Angeles Zoo is located there as well as the Museum of the American West. The real star (I could not resist the pun), however, is the Observatory (2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA 90027; http://www.griffithobs.org). Parking and admission to this beautiful old building are free, and the views it offers of the Hollywood sign, the mountains, and the Los Angeles area are incomparable.
6. The Getty Museum: (1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California 90049; http://getty.edu) The world famous Getty Museum always offers free admission, and while it does not have the most extensive art collection in Los Angeles, it looks much more impressive when you realize it all belonged to one person. The gardens of the Getty and the painted manuscripts are my favorite, but other highlights are the architecture, the impressionist art collection, and some of the Getty’s pioneering efforts in modern art and communications. It is a unique facility, and hard to capture in words. Go see it. You will not regret it.
7. People Watching at The Grove & The Farmers Market: No activity is more quintessentially LA than people watching, and there is no better place to do it than at The Grove and the original Farmers Market complex (189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90036; http://thegrovela.com). The movie theater, shops, food stalls, restaurants, and retail stores are top-notch as well, but seeing and being seen are what this scene is really about. Buy a snack or a memento and get your parking validated for three hours free. This place is not as wacky or whimsical as Venice Beach or the Santa Monica Promenade, but it is just as much fun. Far and away the best food in the entire place is at the crepe stand inside the Farmers Market.
For more advice on what to do and eat at the LA Farmers Market, follow the link!
8. The La Brea Tar Pits: This is a classic Los Angeles tourist stop (5801 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036; http://tarpits.org) that is more impressive than you might expect. The tar pits themselves are outside and completely accessible for no charge at all. Admission to the museum and laboratory inside is free on the first Tuesday of each month, though it is fairly inexpensive on regular admissions days as well. The museum does a good job of putting the massive timelines of fossils and evolution in context; the fossils on display, especially of the saber toothed cats, are also impressive. The entire complex is situated in the picturesque Hancock Park, next to the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art, and across the street from the Petersen Automotive Museum.
9. The Petersen Automotive Museum: The Petersen Museum (6060 Wilshire Blvd at Fairfax, Los Angeles, CA 90036; http://petersen.org) is one of those places I love to take friends and family from out of town. The museum’s rather dry name sets their expectations low; they come out laughing and still exclaiming over what they saw. Who knew looking at hundreds of cars – from the earliest homemade models to the cars of the future – could be so much fun? The curators of this museum have a wonderful sense of humor, reflected in the most recent rotating exhibit on Campers of the 20th Century. Yes, campers! As in Airstreams and Studebakers. This place is such fun that I am wiggling it in under the price barrier. Students, seniors, and military admissions are five dollars. Children 5-12 years old are three dollars. Children under 5 are free. Everyone else is ten dollars, which averages to five each if you bring a small kid. Park on the neighborhood streets around the Museum so you do not have to pay for parking.
10. Santa Monica Pier, Venice Pier, and Manhattan Beach Pier: (Santa Monica Pier: 100 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401; www.santamonicapier.org; Venice Pier: Washington Blvd and Ocean Front Walk Venice, CA 90291; Manhattan Beach Pier: Manhattan Beach Drive, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266) The three major piers in Los Angeles each have a totally different feel and scene. The Santa Monica Pier has a ferris wheel and similar amusements. The Venice Pier is incredibly long and surprisingly serene. The Manhattan Pier has a small aquarium and an almost East Coast feel to it. Part of the experience is, of course, strolling the beachfront area near all of the pier entrances. You’ll see a wild variety of shops, bars, and restaurants, as well as their equally varied patrons. Try to get there early for good (and free) street parking. There are no admission fees to enter any of the piers. You can walk between the Santa Monica and Venice piers; it is about two miles. Because of the marina entrance, you cannot walk to Manhattan Beach. It is, however, fun to visit all three in one day just to see the contrast in cultures.
All photography featured in this article appears courtesy of Amanda Morrow Jensen, copyright 2008.