The Ultimate Budget Itinerary for 1 Week in Los Angeles

The Ultimate Budget Itinerary for 1 Week in Los Angeles

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I wouldn’t at all be exaggerating to say that Southern California is one of my favorite places in the world. Not only is it amazingly beautiful, with beaches, mountains, and lots of desert landscapes, but it’s full of diverse neighborhoods, all with their own unique characteristics and personalities. I’ve been able to call it my home for the past several years now, and I still get excited visiting and re-visiting its many landmarks and neighborhoods. This one week Los Angeles itinerary covers all the must-see spots, and the best news is, most of these options are either low-cost or free!

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Is 1 week long enough in LA?

Los Angeles has soo much to see and do, that a week barely scratches the surface. Not to mention, most landmarks are fairly spread apart from each other. Even if something doesn’t look far away on a map, or is only 20 miles or so away, keep in mind that with traffic, this could still easily mean an hour or more on the road. Worst traffic times are generally from around 7:00 a.m. to around 10 a.m. and then 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. so you’ll want to plan accordingly. 

But don’t worry, this one week Los Angeles itinerary is organized by region. So you won’t spend all your time fighting crazy LA traffic, but instead maximizing your time.

Especially for your first time here, 1 week is the perfect amount of time to check out most of LA’s top landmarks, get to sample some of the city’s amazing restaurants with nearly every cuisine, visit world-class museums, see architecture and lots of other sightseeing activities. If you have less time though, you’ll just have to prioritize which activities or destinations interest you the most, and go from there. 

Los Angeles, as seen from the Getty Center

How to get around Los Angeles

It’s true what they say, Los Angeles is a city made for driving. With that said, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be difficult navigating such a sprawling city. While this is definitely one of my least favorite parts about LA, unfortunately it is the reality of this area. 

It doesn’t have to deter you from visiting though! Renting a car will be your easiest and most cost-effective bet for a week here. Check out information about renting a car at LAX here. Turo is another popular car-rental option. Ubers can definitely be pricey, especially when traveling longer distances, and public transportation doesn’t have the most reliable reputation. (But if you’re up for it, utilizing public transportation is definitely doable. Check out this guide for more info)

Now let’s get to the itinerary! This itinerary is filled with all the spots that are most worth your while, and where I have taken every guest who’s come to visit me. 

Day 1: Getty Center, Venice, Santa Monica

There’s no better way to start off a sunny week in LA than at some iconic LA sites.

We’re going to start off with some culture at the Getty Center, one of the top museums in the country and certainly in LA. The museum is free, but parking is a steep $25. Although, that number goes down to $15 after 3 p.m. if you’d rather rearrange the order of your activities. The museum is open until 5:30 five days a week except Saturday (when it’s open until 8). It’s closed on Mondays.

This is a gorgeous museum with tons of paintings, photography, and other interesting art, some of which are by really acclaimed artists. It’s also in a beautiful building with a garden, park area, and a panoramic view of LA. Although it’s free, reservations are required, and can be made here.

The Getty Center

Now it’s time to head to the beach.

The Venice Boardwalk is … unique. To be completely honest, there are much nicer beaches, which is why we’re starting off here. However, the boardwalk is definitely an interesting experience. It’s filled with restaurants and vendors selling art, jewelry, clothing, and more. It’s also home to the famous Muscle Beach, street art, street performers, and a skate park. It can be a little overwhelming, veering into the sketchy territory, especially if you’re traveling alone, so just be prepared. 

When you’ve had your fill of the bustling Venice Boardwalk, take a walk down to the nearby Abbot Kinney Boulevard. This area is also filled with tons of stores and restaurants, with a more relaxing ambiance. 

Gjusta is a trendy bakery and cafe with delicious breakfast and lunch options (320 E. Sunset Ave). The Win-Dow  is a cute, casual spot with affordable fare — affordable, as in $4.25 for a classic burger (425 Rose Ave.).

After that, Santa Monica is just the next beach over, so head to another quintessential Southern California landmark — the pier

The Third Street Promenade and Downtown area of Santa Monica is also really nice to walk through, do some shopping and grab a meal. The beach here is really nice and catching the sunset here is a surefire way to start off your week in Los Angeles well. 

Food options tend to be on the pricier end in Santa Monica. But George’s Burgers (3101 Lincoln Blvd.) has affordable breakfast, burger, and sandwich options. Tacos Por Favor (1408 Olympic Blvd.) is another popular option, as is Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery (1517 Lincoln Blvd.) although it closes at 4 p.m. 

Day 2: Arts District, Little Tokyo, Pasadena

Today we’re starting off in the Arts District, on the outskirts of Downtown (we’ll spend another day specifically in the Downtown area, not to worry). This neighborhood was originally an industrial area until the 1970s when it was reclaimed by artists. This has made for an interesting atmosphere, to say the least. 

Check out tons of street art and galleries, and then walk to nearby Little Tokyo for lunch. As you can probably guess from the name, this neighborhood is full of Japanese shops and eateries that are fun to explore for a couple hours or so.

There are tons of places to choose from. Check out the popular spot Daikokuya (327 First St.) for delicious ramen and other Japanese classics. Then grab a matcha soft serve with honeycomb at Honeymee (120 Japanese Village Plaza Mall). This is a chain, but super worth it nonetheless.  

Want more Little Tokyo recommendations? Check out this post.

Next, let’s head to Pasadena. Old Pasadena specifically is one of my favorite places in the LA area. It’s about 12 miles (20-30ish minutes depending on traffic) away from the Little Tokyo/Arts District area, and is full of gorgeous Spanish-style architecture, historic buildings, and an amazing view of the nearby mountains. Spend the afternoon walking around and exploring. The Pasadena City Hall is super pretty and a great place to check out, as is Vromans, a really cool (and giant) bookstore, and the Pasadena Antique Mall. 

There’s tons of unique and interesting spots to explore here, and there’s definitely no shortage of great restaurants either.

A few years ago I spent a few months at an internship twice a week in Pasadena, and on my lunch breaks, I’d mostly rotate between two places: Russell’s, a cozy diner focused on American comfort food, (30 N Fair Oaks Ave.) (note that this spot closes at 2 p.m.) and Sage Regenerative Kitchen (41 Hugus Alley). This is a more upscale spot with a ton to choose from — I’ve honestly loved everything I’ve tried. There’s also an Urth Caffe here. This is a popular Southern California-based chain with lots of healthy, delicious sandwiches, salads, pizzas and breakfast items, plus an extensive dessert and coffee menu (594 E. Colorado Blvd.) 

If you’re looking for some nature, the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens is also located around here. It’s open until 5 p.m. six days a week and is closed on Tuesdays. Reservations are required on weekends. Tickets are $29, but it is a really extensive garden, and the perfect place for a relaxing afternoon and taking lots of photos. Get more information here.

If you’d like to make your Pasadena visit a day or weekend trip, check out my Pasadena travel guide with even more recommendations for things to do and places to eat!

Day 3: Topanga Canyon, Getty Villa, El Matador State Beach in Malibu

Topanga Canyon is a quaint, artsy town tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains. Head here in the morning and check out Topanga State Park if hiking speaks to you. Or, if shopping is more your speed, stop by Hidden Treasures. This thrift store is packed full of funky clothing items, accessories, jewelry and a really impressive array of vintage items dating back to the 1940s and earlier.

Next, grab lunch at Endless Color, a cute, family-run spot that serves delicious made-from-scratch personal-sized pizzas during lunchtime (123 S Topanga Canyon Blvd.) Inn of the Seventh Ray (128 Old Topanga Canyon Road) is a fancier option with a romantic ambiance. Grab a soft serve ice cream from Canyon Gourmet (120 S Topanga Canyon Blvd.).

Getty Villa is about 30 minutes from Topanga, heading toward the ocean. Like the Getty Center, this is free. Parking is $25, or $15 after 3 p.m. Reservations are required here. (If you’d rather head to both Getty locations in one day, you only have to pay for parking once. But keep in mind that it may take an hour or so to travel between locations). 

I only recently visited the Getty Villa for the first time, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite destinations. Maybe the name should have clued me in, but I wasn’t expecting such an extravagant, gorgeous building, meant to actually emulate a Roman-style home. Unlike the Getty Museum, the Villa is filled with art, sculptures and objects from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. While both Getty locations are more than worth stopping at, if I had to pick one, I may have to go with the Villa!

After a couple hours here, it’s time to wrap our day up in nearby Malibu. Home to some of the nicest beaches in SoCal, a lot of its beaches look super natural and relatively undeveloped. My favorite beach in Malibu is El Matador State Beach. It’s insanely beautiful thanks to its many rock formations, and is the perfect spot for taking photos and watching the sunset.

When you’re ready for dinner, head to the nearby Broad Street Oyster Company (23359 Pacific Coast Highway). This casual seafood eatery has now grown to include a number of other locations, but the Malibu spot is the original. It’s pricey, but in my opinion, worth it for a splurge meal while on vacation. I dream about the warm lobster roll with butter and the oysters Rockefeller. Reel Inn is another delicious and slightly more affordable option for seafood (18661 PCH).

Day 4: The LACMA, The Grove, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Koreatown

Let’s start off the morning at the  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or the LACMA, the largest art museum in Western United States. Spend a couple hours perusing its giant art collection from around the world. Tickets are $25 (or $21 with a student ID), and they’re free after 3 p.m. for L.A. County residents, and for everyone on the second Tuesday of every month. 

The Urban Lights in front of the LACMA
A street light installation, “Urban Lights,” in front of the LACMA

After spending the morning at the museum, head to the Grove for lunch. It’s a shopping center just 5 minutes (1 mile) from the LACMA. Either grab something to eat at the nearby Farmers Market, or at one of the many restaurants and dining options onsite. 

Under 15 minutes away (driving) is the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame. While this is certainly an iconic site, I feel obligated to warn you, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is not a glamorous area. It’s dirty, and doesn’t feel the most safe. But despite that, I still think it’s worth stopping for an hour or two and walking along the famous street (during the daytime). There are tons of stores and kitschy museums to check out, mostly in the $30 range. To be honest, my favorite part of this area is the architecture. There’s a lot of cool Art Deco-style buildings, some with really interesting histories. 

I also love the TCL Chinese Theater, where there are a ton of hand and footprints along with signatures from famous people throughout the decades. There are more modern stars like Michael Jackson and the Harry Potter trio, and icons from the Golden Age of Hollywood like Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and lots in between. 

You can also check out the Dolby Theater, where the Academy Awards take place every year. 

If your schedule allows, check out a live taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show. This takes place every Monday through Thursday at 4:30 p.m. While tickets are frequently available day-of, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to book this ahead of time, which you can do here. It’s free, and is a really cool “Hollywood” experience. I saw Simone Biles and Ringo Starr when I went!

Building with "Jimmy Kimmel Live" sign. It's free to sit in the audience during a live taping, making it a budget-friendly "Hollywood" experience you can easily have during one week in Los Angeles.
Where you can watch a live taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show, for free

For dinner, head about 3 miles away toward Koreatown for dinner. There are tons of options to choose from. If you want an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue experience, Wi Korean BBQ is an affordable option, with three different menus you can choose from (1101 S Vermont Ave Ste 103). This TimeOut article also lays out a ton of other amazing options, if you’re not in the mood for all-you-can-eat.

Day 5: Downtown LA

Today is all about Downtown Los Angeles. 

Grand Central Market is a staple of Downtown. It first opened back in 1917, and quickly became a reflection of the many immigrant communities that made up LA in the early 20th century. Although it has since become more touristy (as in, gentrified), you can still choose from a wide array of cuisines. I always love stopping here when I’m in the area. Right behind it is the Angels Flight railway. Famous thanks to its appearance in “La La Land,” it costs $1 for a block-long, albeit, bumpy, ride.

Girl standing in the Infinity Room, an immersive lights exhibit at the Broad. This free museum is a must if you are spending a week in Los Angeles.
The Infinity Room exhibit at The Broad

While in Downtown, stop at The Broad, a contemporary art museum that is notably free. You do have to reserve your tickets in advance, but I’ve reserved them right when I arrived, and had no problem. This museum is also home to the immersive Infinity Room. This exhibit is much harder to get into, thanks to its immense popularity, so you will have to plan ahead if this interests you. Tickets are released on the last Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. PT for admission the following month. Get more info here.

The Last Bookstore is another iconic DTLA spot. It’s a really extensive bookstore with a huge collection of both fiction and non-fiction, used and new. It has some really cool displays perfect for photos, and has a really cozy atmosphere. I can always easily spend at least an hour here, and never walk out empty handed. 

From Downtown Los Angeles, Olvera Street is just about a mile away. This is another historic spot central to LA culture. Part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, this is the oldest district in Los Angeles. Considered by some to be the birthplace of LA, it was first established as a farming community in the 1700s. Olvera Street, a colorful Mexican marketplace, first opened in the 1930s. To this day, it’s filled with vendors, shops, sit-down restaurants, plus more casual eateries and street food. If you have time, Chinatown is also steps away, and is a great place to grab some food and explore.

Day 6: Melrose Trading Post, Studio Tour, Griffith Observatory

Every Sunday, the Melrose Trading Post returns for one of the best, if not the best, shopping experiences around. Located at Fairfax High School (7850 Melrose Ave.) this marketplace features around 275 vendors selling clothing, decor, art, jewelry, household items, and more. There are even live bands performing and food trucks to grab lunch at. Tickets are $6 plus a $2 booking fee, but your ticket supports arts programming at the high school. Get more information and purchase your tickets here.

Next, I will warn you, is the priciest excursion on this week in Los Angeles itinerary. But trust me when I say that going on a studio tour is one of the coolest “Hollywood” experiences you can get. 

For the Warner Brothers tour in Burbank, tickets are $70, and includes stops at a number of notorious filming locations, exhibits focused on DC heroes and villains and Harry Potter, as well as a recreation of the iconic Central Perk set from “Friends.” Book your visit here.

The Paramount Studio tour in Hollywood is also a great option for history buffs. It was the location for numerous classics ranging from “Psycho,” “Godfather,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” just to name a few. 2-hour tours are $65 and can be booked here. 

Since both tours are similar in price and length, I’d choose based on which movie, series, or franchises you’re most interested in. That’s the studio which will likely interest you more. 

Let’s wrap up the day with another amazing LA view — that’s also free. The Griffith Observatory is a gorgeous planetarium situated on a hill overlooking the famous Hollywood sign. Entrance to the observatory is free, as is parking (as long as there isn’t a show at the nearby Greek Theater). You’ll just have to walk about a mile up to the observatory. The walk is only slightly uphill and is on a paved sidewalk. Alternatively, there’s also a bus that stops across the street and only costs about 50 cents last I checked. It will take you right to the entrance. There’s parking near the observatory, but it’s paid. There are also a number of other hiking trails to explore around here if that’s your thing.

The observatory is a really cool building with a number of interesting exhibits. Planetarium shows are an additional fee. I’d recommend grabbing a quick dinner at the cafeteria here and enjoying it outside around sunset, and then head back down to your car before it gets dark. Also keep in the mind that the observatory is closed on Mondays.

Griffith Observatory and its view of LA
The Griffith Observatory

Day 7 – Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach

Okay, I know this isn’t technically LA, but you’re in Southern California, so it’s safe to say you want to see some of the country’s best beaches while you’re here. Stop by Newport and Huntington Beach for the morning (they’re both right next to each other). Both are fixtures in Southern California’s pop culture representation, and recognized for their surf culture. Huntington Beach in particular has lots of restaurants and bars to stop at for lunch, many of which are affordable.

After lunch, let’s spend the rest of the day a little farther south in Laguna. Laguna Beach is by far my favorite in Southern California. It also has a cute little town to explore with a number of stores and restaurants. I love it so much, in fact, that I have a whole guide dedicated just to Laguna — check it out here.

Steps leading down to Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach

While here, there are a number of gorgeous beaches to check out. Oftentimes, I like to park at the Montage Resort’s general parking area. It’s probably the cheapest parking situation in Laguna, unless you’re able to find a free spot further down the main road. The path behind the hotel leading to the beach is lined with gorgeous landscaping and has a ton of amazing photo opportunities. Its view of the beach below doesn’t get any better!

A little further down the main road, Thousand Steps Beach and Table Rock are smaller and seem more hidden away. The steps are a bit of a workout, but more than worth it, I promise.

It can be hard finding low-cost dining options in Laguna, but it’s not impossible. Coyote Grill, right near Thousand Steps and Table Rock beaches, is a casual Mexican spot with an ocean view (31621 Coast Highway). Closer to downtown and the main beaches is Pizza Bar (397 South Coast Highway). Try the lemon ice! If you’re looking for something more upscale for your last night, Nick’s Laguna Beach is really good (440 South Coast Highway). Nick’s has a number of locations sprinkled throughout Southern California. 

A view of a cliff in Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach

Amusement Parks

Since this itinerary for a week in LA is sticking to a budget, it doesn’t include any amusement park visits. But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least offer a bit of info about them, since they are so popular.

Disneyland is located in Anaheim in Orange County, and you can find ticket options here.

But if I had to choose an amusement park, I’d probably go for Universal Studios, which is located in Burbank. Universal Studios is more affordable than Disney by far (but is still relatively pricey). It also includes both a studio tour as well as really fun rides and attractions, like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Book through Viator here. 

Another fun, and even more cost-effective option is Knott’s Berry Farm, in Buena Park, Orange County. Compared to Disney and Universal, you’ll also definitely find bigger, more exciting rides and roller coasters. Look up ticket options here.

Where to stay in LA

As we talked about earlier, LA is pretty spread apart. Since you’ll probably spend most of your time traveling across the county, it’s hard to say which location would actually be most convenient for you to stay in. 

Both through this itinerary and in your other research, if there’s a certain neighborhood or area you’d like to spend more time in, then find a hotel or Airbnb there. Venice and Santa Monica are definitely popular options, and will allow you to maximize your beach time. They’re also walkable areas, making it easy to grab breakfast in the morning, or explore nightlife. However, it can definitely be harder to find affordable places to stay in these areas. 

HI Los Angeles is a highly-rated hostel just a block from the ocean in Santa Monica, if you’re okay with not having a private room. There are dorm rooms available with four, six, and eight beds, and they’re divided by men and women. Find out more here.

Santa Monica

West Hollywood is a somewhat central location known for its vibrant nightlife. The Banana Bungalow West Hollywood Hotel & Hostel is one of the most affordable options available, and is close to the airport as well as other destinations like the LACMA. It even includes parking and breakfast. (If you end up renting a car, finding accommodation that includes parking will make your life much easier.) Get more information and book here. 

Staying in Downtown Los Angeles would also be convenient, as it is relatively close to a lot of the destinations in this itinerary and plenty of food options. 

Libra Hotel is in the heart of Koreatown — parking is available and costs $20 a night. Book here. If you’re up for a dorm, Melrose Hostel in Hollywood is super affordable, cute, and in a great location. Check it out here. The Steady, in a similar area, is also a great option if you’re okay with staying in a dorm. Get more information here.

For even more budget hotel recommendations, plus a breakdown of six popular areas to stay in L.A., check out this guide!

Where else to visit in Southern California

If you have another couple days you can add on to your trip, I’d highly recommend taking a drive up to Santa Barbara. Check out this guide perfect for a weekend in one of California’s prettiest beachside towns. It typically takes two hours or so to get there from LA. 

If you head another 40 minutes to an hour north, you’ll reach Solvang, the Danish capital of the U.S. This town is cute, kitschy, and so much fun, if you love picturesque towns filled with bakeries, cute shops, and lots and lots of wineries. Check out this guide for more.

If you’re looking for somewhere even closer that you could even make an easy day trip, consider visiting Long Beach. It’s definitely on the chiller (and more affordable, for the most part) side compared to the rest of LA, and it’s full of soo many great restaurants, bars, and vintage shops. Check out this guide to learn more!

Joshua Tree

Alternatively, you could drive two hours south to spend a couple days in San Diego. Palm Springs and Joshua Tree are also two to three hours east. But, I probably wouldn’t recommend this option if you’re visiting during the summer, as temperatures frequently soar into the hundreds out there.

What else do you want to know ahead of your LA trip? Are there any amazing spots or restaurants that I missed?

Let me know and happy travels,

Tess

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12 Comments

  1. April 1, 2024 / 4:28 pm

    I love this itinerary, I hope I can get to all of zhese places one day! 😍

    • Tess
      Author
      April 2, 2024 / 4:30 pm

      Thanks so much! I hope so too!

  2. April 1, 2024 / 7:53 pm

    What a great itinerary. The Getty Villa looks amazing!

    • Tess
      Author
      April 2, 2024 / 4:12 pm

      Thank you 🙂 It was so beautiful!

  3. April 1, 2024 / 8:49 pm

    Lots of great information! I’ll look to this post for ideas when I visit LA again.

    • Tess
      Author
      April 2, 2024 / 4:12 pm

      Thanks so much! I hope it helps 🙂

  4. April 2, 2024 / 3:28 am

    Literally at LAX right now! Great ideas!

    • Tess
      Author
      April 2, 2024 / 4:10 pm

      Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy 🙂

  5. April 2, 2024 / 7:33 am

    Honestly I never wanted to go to LA – traffic and hollywood stars are not my thing, but after reading this post I think there is so much to discover. Thanks for all of the insider tips and details about how to not break the bank!

    • Tess
      Author
      April 2, 2024 / 4:20 pm

      I totally get that! Hopefully you get to visit at some point and see for yourself 🙂 thanks for reading!

  6. Sara Meyer
    April 2, 2024 / 5:30 pm

    I love Southern California! There’s so many amazing spots. I’m gonna be out there in a few months and I will definitely be bookmarking this blog.

    • Tess
      Author
      April 3, 2024 / 12:17 am

      Hope you have an amazing time! Thanks for reading 🙂

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