When we took our month-long road trip through California last year one of the places we were most looking forward to visiting was Los Angeles. We based ourselves in West Hollywood for 5 days and wanted to see and do as much as possible in that time. From people we had spoken too and blog posts we had read, it appeared that LA was Marmite – some people love it, some people hate it. Having now visited, I’d say Mr ESLT and I fall somewhere in the middle.
We enjoyed our time there; however, it is somewhere we wouldn’t rush back to especially Hollywood and the surrounding area. By the time we reached LA, we were around two and a half weeks into our trip and we had been burning through cash like nobody’s business, therefore we needed to reign our spending in a bit. Luckily for us, there are hundreds of free things to do in the city and here are 10 of the best we managed to fit in during our 5-day stay.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is probably the most famous attraction in LA and I genuinely did not realise how long it was. It runs 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood and has more than 2,600 stars on it. The brass stars honour people who have achieved success in one, or more, of the following areas – motion picture, broadcast television, audio recording or music, broadcast radio and theatre/live performance.
I’ll be honest; we didn’t walk it all as after we’d seen 100 stars and spotting some of our favourite actors we felt like we’d seen them all. We did, however, walk the stretch along Hollywood Boulevard past the Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre. Here the stars are extremely clean considering the number of people who walk it every day, however, it was super busy and as everyone was walking with their heads down checking out the stars it was pretty hard work. We would have loved to have seen a star laid but unfortunately, it just wasn’t our day.
The Farmers Market
This was my favourite place in LA hands down, maybe because it was full of lovely delicious food including food stalls and sit-down eateries from numerous vendors and producers. Basically, anything you can think of, you will find here, from pizza and Chinese cuisine to fudge and cupcakes and everything in between, including a great craft beer stall selling loads of IPAs which are all the rage in California at the moment.
Located at 6333 W 3rd St The Original Farmers Market was also only a hop skip and a jump from our hotel in West Hollywood, meaning we could eat our fill and then only have a short walk home. It originally opened in July 1934 and it is now an iconic landmark in LA and one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and it is very easy to see why. Obviously, you have to pay for food but it costs nothing to have a walk around and see what’s on offer, just don’t visit when you are hungry, you won’t be able to help yourself.
TCL Chinese Theatre
People flock to the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre which is centre stage on Hollywood Boulevard. The theatre opened May 18, 1927, and has since been a firm favourite and a popular tourist attraction, having been restored on a number of occasions. Having seen it on numerous TV shows and the replica at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World Florida, it was pretty cool to see it up close. There are nearly 200 Hollywood celebrity handprints, footprints, autographs and hoofprints, yes hoofprints in the concrete of the theatre’s forecourt.
As with the stars on the Walk of Fame, you can spend time hunting for your favourite actors such as the Harry Potter cast members, Robert De Niro, Jackie Chan and many many more. Seeing it in person and seeing how busy it is constantly, it’s hard to believe that it is an actual 4K IMAX cinema where you can catch a showing. Therefore, it means you can admire it from the outside before watching a movie inside.
The iconic Hollywood sign which is spelt out in 44-foot (13.4 m) tall white capital letters and is 352 feet (107.3 m) long is located on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains. Originally the sign read Hollywoodland and was used as a promotional tool for a new housing development. However, over the years it lost the ‘land’ and is now one of, if not the most famous landmark in LA.
It can be seen from lots of places across Los Angeles and there are loads of great places to get the postcard shot of it from. If you are in a car then the closest you can get to it is Canyon Lake Drive (Hollywood Reservoir). If on foot Mulholland Drive offers a small overlook which allows you to get great photographs of the sign. If you are simply happy enough to say you’ve seen it and have a reasonable zoom lens on your camera then the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex on Hollywood Boulevard is another place where you can get the all-important shot from.
TV Show Taping
This was something I knew existed but didn’t realise you could do easily and for free. I started off by googling ‘free tickets for show filming in LA’ and came across the amazing 1 iota website. I found loads of shows offering free tickets for shows while we were in town, admittedly, most of which we had never heard of but were obviously popular in the US. We decided to apply for tickets for The Late Late Show with James Cordon. I applied for every night we planned to be in the city and joined the wait list for each night. We didn’t find out we definitely had tickets until around a week before the scheduled filming. We actually got offered two different nights but decided that would be greedy so simply opted for one.
It wasn’t until we actually arrived that we realised even though we had tickets, that it didn’t grant us definite entry. Therefore I’m glad we got there early and had a place close to the front of the queue, I just wish we had taken a bottle of water with us as it was over 40 degrees with no shade and nowhere to grab a drink from. It was that hot the poor girl in front of us passed out! There are also loads of rules you have to adhere to including wearing dark clothes, no photography, cheering when you’re told etc. It was a fun and unique way to spend a few hours plus the CBS studio where it is filmed is right next door to the Farmer’s Market giving me another excuse to visit.
LA is home to more shops, stores and boutiques then you can shake a stick at. However, there is only one place in this sprawling city you need to head if you want to find the best shops and it is of course – Rodeo Drive Baby! Since watching Pretty Woman years ago, a visit to Rodeo Drive had been high on my must visit list. The street which is a shopping district and tourist attraction is located in the heart of the upmarket Beverley Hills which technically isn’t in LA itself as it is a city in its own right but Rodeo Drive does connect the two so for the purpose of this article, I am including it.
Here you will find a number of designer shops and stores including Jimmy Choo, Versace and Tiffany & Co amongst many others. It is the perfect place to head if you are fashion conscious and have some cash to splash. It is also a great place to head even if you are travelling on a budget as window shopping can be great fun also you can check out the Rodeo Walk of Style which honours fashion icons. And if you are lucky you may even spot a celeb or two. We, unfortunately, didn’t but we had fun trying.
A trip to Universal Studios is not a cheap one (although in my opinion worth every penny); therefore you may decide not to visit during your stay in LA. However, just in case you weren’t aware, Universal CityWalk is free to visit, you do not need tickets for Universal Studios to gain access. Here you will find lots of restaurants, bars, shops and a cinema. There is also plenty of parking in the on-site multi-storey car park. We, however, made the 30-minute journey from West Hollywood in an Uber for less than $20. It is also where Extra TV is filmed in front of a live audience if you want to get yourself on TV.
If you’ve got kids you may think it’s a bit cruel taking them all the way to Universal CityWalk and not take them to Universal Studios, but in reality, there is so much to see and do at CityWalk there is enough to keep them occupied for hours, if not the full day. Obviously, everything whilst you’re there costs money so I wouldn’t recommend going just for a 10 minute look around as there is not much else close to it, but it is a great place with no admission fee with lots of attractions available.
Even though we are not really beach people, we found the beaches and beach towns of LA to be the best things about the city and the ultimate freebies, all you need is your swimming costume, beach towel and your sun cream and you’re good to go. There are so many in and around LA, you will be spoilt for choice. It’s important to remember that they can get very busy, especially at weekends, therefore get there early to secure a prime spot. Our favourites were definitely Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
Santa Monica is a beautiful seaside city which offers fantastic views over the Pacific Ocean, there are loads of unique little boutique shops to wander around, the Santa Monica Pier home to the Pacific Park amusement park and the Santa Monica Pier. Venice is a unique place which will forever hold a place in my heart. It is a laid-back bohemian town located between Santa Monica and Marina Del Ray. Home to many street performers, a busy skate park and the world-famous Muscle Beach outdoor gym. Both of which offer soft white sand – the perfect places to escape to when the hustle, bustle, noise and traffic of LA become too much, which for me happened very quickly.
Los Angeles can be an expensive city to visit however we hope the free things we did and saw during our visit help you save some cash yet still have an amazing time.