Budgeting Los Angeles

The City of Angels draws in upwards of 40 million visitors every year, most of which come from right here in the United States. But why? As the second-largest city in the country, Los Angeles has a long and illustrious history with entertainment, fame, and above all, pursuing the American Dream. People flock to the streets of Tinseltown and see gold on every surface, cast by the light of the never-ending summer sun. While parts of the city fell into disrepair and un-popularity in years past, revitalization efforts have vamped up city neighborhoods to reflect the personality of L.A.: imagination comes to life.

When you're planning a visit to Los Angeles, it's good to have a budget game plan. While she's not as expensive as San Francisco, it's easy to get carried away and spend your whole bank account. Budgeting a student trip to a big city like Los Angeles takes time and effort but believe me, it'll all be worth it when you tour, dine, surf and sleep in one of the finest cities in the world.

Lodging is the first task, after getting there of course. Depending on how picky you are, you can find a very affordable hotel which you can then share with your groupmates to cut down on individual costs. Several hotels offer prices under $100 and if you're willing to stay in a neighborhood a little further out of the city center, it'll be even cheaper. Check for hotel deals in outlying neighborhoods like Pasadena and if you're on a budget, it's perhaps best to steer clear of the beaches where prices tend to be higher for the view.

Now, something that Los Angeles does very well, and doesn't get nearly enough credit for, is food. New York is generally considered the culinary capital of the United States with Los Angeles falling behind the times, choosing to focus on kale and Whole Foods stores. This is a false representation. While the city does enjoy healthy options, you can find greasy spoons, cheap but yummy diners, taco stands, and of course Pink's Hot Dogs all over the place. Food trucks sell you gourmet creations at a fraction of the cost while restaurants like Belcampo Meat Co. will make you the juiciest and least health-conscious burger you've ever seen for around $5. Los Angeles is also a conglomeration of various neighborhoods, many of them culturally-based such as Koreatown and Little Tokyo, both of which are fabulous destinations for hungry visitors. Likewise, the city's close proximity to Mexico makes it uniquely biased towards good Mexican food and they certainly deliver delicious eats every day, many with added American twists and culinary techniques.

When it comes to transportation, don't drive if you can help it. You really don't need to drive unless you are taking a day trip out of the city. While you're in town, the parking and traffic madness will drive you insane and drain your pocketbook. Instead, rely on public transportation and look into a TAP card which will allow you to load up money for fare over 24 different transit agencies, making it easier for you to carry the fare you need. You can also get daily Metro passes going from a single day to seven to thirty day passes for a flat fee. Lines crisscross the city and go to virtually every popular tourist destination so unless you're going off the beaten path, there's no reason to drive.

There's still something else...attractions! You obviously know that Los Angeles is not short on attractions. Beaches line the west side of the city, museums and art galleries fill-up the neighborhoods, arenas, sports centers, auditoriums, and stages show the most popular and celebrated performers in the world. There's absolutely no shortage of things to do in L.A., it's merely budgeting all of your favorites into one trip that'll be tricky. Lucky for you, there's plenty to choose from.

Tip: Don't spend money on admission multiple times a day. If you're touring all day long and want to see several sights, choose one admission-charging attraction that you really want to see and then fill in the rest of your itinerary with cheap or free sights. There are a ton of free things to do in Los Angeles.

Some of the most popular attractions include Disneyland in Anaheim, Universal Studios and their newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the La Brea Tar Pits, and others. It probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that all of these attractions charge admission. However, the following are either free or really cheap: The Getty Center, Griffith Park, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Sign, the various beaches, and the Santa Monica or Venice Beach Piers. Movie and TV film location tours are a fabulous way for cinephiles to see the city and learn about their favorite movies at the same time. But remember, walking down Hollywood Boulevard and seeing the famous sights like the Grauman Chinese Theater and the handprints in the ground out front is free - they will charge you if you want to see the museum pieces or a movie inside the theater though.

Los Angeles is in a unique position in Southern California: it's on the beaches, in the desert, surrounded by mountains, close by famous ski resorts covered in snow, and within driving distance of Mexico, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Northwest, and Las Vegas. If you don't want to stay in Los Angeles for the entire length of your trip, simply take a day trip to one of the surrounding cities.