Welcome to the ultimate backpacking Los Angeles travel guide!
When people hear the name Los Angeles, images of movie stars, palm trees, luxury mansions, and year-round sunshine are at the forefront of their imagination, but is this what LA is all about?
Whilst certainly the film industry and Hollywood have made the city famous around the world (even in the smallest Sherpa village in Nepal has heard of Los Angeles), there is much more to the city than rich celebrities, botox clinics, and high-end shopping centers.
This Los Angeles travel guide will NOT take you to Disneyland, the boutique shops of Beverley Hills, or on a cookie cutter tour of celebrity mansions. If that is what you are looking to experience in LA, this is not the Los Angeles travel guide for you.
This guide takes backpackers on a journey to some of LA’s lesser-known attractions. Los Angeles is—at its core— a super diverse sprawling metropolis that is quite hard to understand if you don’t know what to look for.
Most of the top things to do in Los Angeles are actually not in the city center at all. LA is one of the few cities in the world I have been to, where the city center doesn’t actually have much life. This is slowly starting to change, though the city center has yet to reach its full potential as of 2018.
The surrounding areas of greater Los Angeles are a different matter. To fully experience all of Los Angeles you’re going to have to spread your wings a bit.
Hipster nightlife, miles of coastline, a world-class cuisine of every shade, museums, and of course Hollywood, are just a few things that make Los Angeles the unique city that it is.
LA can be an expensive city to visit. This is the city of the rich and famous after all.
Never you fear!
This Los Angeles travel guide highlights the best tips, tricks, and ideas on how to rock your backpacking journey to Los Angeles without spending a fortune in the process. Learn how to enjoy the Los Angeles on the cheap like a local!
Get insider tips on accommodation in Los Angeles for backpackers, suggested itineraries, your Los Angeles daily budget, best things to do in LA, awesome hikes around the city, nightlife, best beaches in LA, and much much more.
Table of Contents
Every budget traveler backpacking Los Angeles should have an honest and realistic idea of what the associated travel costs are here.
Like most places in a developed western country, a trip to Los Angeles can be as expensive or as cheap as you want to make it.
Los Angeles is blessed with plenty of cheap or free things to enjoy. There are also 5-star hotels and places to eat in Los Angeles where you can spend a month’s rent before dessert arrives.
LA ain’t South America, however, with a little preparation and budget savviness, you can backpack Los Angeles on the cheap.
If you are on an extremely tight budget, it would be possible to visit Los Angeles on as little as $25- $40 a day. This would involve outside forces coming together to help you in some way or another, IE Couchsurfing and friends.
A comfortable budget allowing you to eat well, do things, stay in a hostel, and even rent a car would be more like $80-100+ a day.
Here is what you can expect your average daily backpacking costs to be in Los Angeles:
Los Angeles Budget Backpacking Tips
In order to have a successful budget trip backpacking Los Angeles on the cheap, you will need to be very budget conscious. Stuff here adds up fast. One bad choice of where to eat or where to sleep can send your budget into the meat grinder.
That said, I am going to make sure you enjoy yourself as well.
Who wants to visit a place and not actually do anything for fear of spending money? That’s what money is for, though it doesn’t need to be spent in excess.
I intend to arm you with a few practical and useful Los Angeles budget tips so that you can truly get the most out of your time backpacking Los Angeles.
LA is a pretty glamorous city in many respects, but there is endless cheap fun to be had as well.
I want you to walk away from your Los Angeles visit without feeling like you just paid the average movie stars’ child-support bill.
Backpacking Los Angeles Travel Hacks
- Visit Free Museums!: The Getty, LACMA (free every other Tuesday 11 am- 5 pm), and the Natural History Museum are all free (except for certain dates).
- Eat Mexican Food: Mexican food in Los Angles is cheap, abundant, and delicious. I am an LA-area native and I miss Mexican food on a weekly basis. You can score a seriously filling and delicious meal for under $10, even less at a taco truck.
- Drink Cheap Beer at the Bar: In many bars, if you order a typical American beer IE Budweiser, Coors, PBR, ETC, you can usually score a pint for about $3. Go for happy hour and 2×1 specials.
- Take the Bus/Public Transportation: I’ll be honest with you: LA is lagging when it comes to public transit, but there is still enough connections to get by. The Metro is great for quickly getting from Downtown LA to Hollywood.
- Hang out at the Beach: Hanging out at the beach is free and besides the beach is at least half the reason Los Angeles ever became world famous.
- Walk: Walking in Los Angeles does have its limits. Distances can be huge! That said, plan your daily travel route in a way that doesn’t have you doubling back in an Uber or on the metro multiple times. Explore Downtown LA and cities like Hollywood, Venice Beach, and Santa Monica as much as you can on foot.
- Cook your own food: If you are staying in a hostel or an Airbnb that has a kitchen, try and cook at least one meal per day. If you don’t feel like cooking, then go to the grocery store and arm yourself with sandwich fixings so that you can make food on the road if need be. $10 spent on sandwich materials can feed several people multiple times. If you plan on doing some overnight camping somewhere in Southern California, packing a good backpacking stove is a must.
- Couchsurf: If you can swing it, staying with a local for free is an obvious boon to cutting down your biggest cost, accommodation.
- Pack a travel water bottle and save money every day!
In the event that a Couchsurf host isn’t available or you want to move around a bit, you are going to need to book a hostel. The best cheap hotels in Los Angeles are actually not hotels. You guessed it: they’re hostels!
Whilst prices of hostels in Los Angeles are a far cry from what they are in Asia, they are still the cheapest accommodation for backpackers in town.
As I mentioned before, you will no doubt be spending your time outside the city center. There are some really cool places to stay in Los Angeles that are not downtown.
Let’s take a look at some of my personal favorite areas in and around Los Angeles…
For more great places to stay in Los Angeles, check out our neighborhood breakdown for where to stay in LA, as well as our full list of the 30 Best Hostels in Los Angeles. I have highlighted our top three picks below too.
Best Neighborhoods in Los Angeles
Hollywood: Hollyweird is quite the experience. Though touristy, spending a day or two exploring the streets, visiting a few landmarks, and hunting down your favorite actors’ immortalized in the Hollywood Walk of Fame makes for a good time. Technically not in Los Angeles, but it is so close it might as well be.
Silverlake: The hipster Mecca of LA. If you dig art, funky bars, live music, man-buns, throat tattoos, and septum piercings, Silverlake is your kind of scene. No really, Silverlake is one of the best neighborhoods in Los Angeles for backpackers. There is something fun to do for every traveler here for sure.
Echo Park: LA’s legendary East Side is not as sketchy as it once was, and in 2018 and beyond, it is the focal point of LA’s alternative music and art scene. If you want to be thrust into the middle of the thriving working-class counterculture community, Echo Park is the place to be. Plenty of rad record shops, cafes, and music venues to keep you busy here.
Best Places to Stay Around Los Angeles
Venice Beach: One of my favorite parts of Los Angeles is Venice Beach. This is where Southern California surf, hippie, and skateboard culture came of age more than 50 years ago. The sprawling boardwalk is dotted with tattoo parlors, cheap eats, weed dispensaries, epic graffiti, and street performers. I would definitely recommend a few days in Venice Beach at least. If you are backpacking Los Angeles, Venice is a must-visit.
Santa Monia: You know that pier adorned with carnival rides and burger joints that overlooks the Pacific ocean as seen in countless movies? That is the Santa Monica Pier. Whilst Santa Monica is certainly not as gritty (or sketchy) as Venice, it is a fine place to enjoy one of the best beaches in Los Angeles. A few good hostels here also make the place accessible to backpackers.
Topanga Canyon: Whilst Topanga Canyon really isn’t super close to LA, it is a legendary place worth mentioning here. Topanga Canyon is famous for being the hippie/musician hang-out in the 1960’s. Neil Young, the Doors, and even Charles Manson lived in this bohemian oasis of LA. The vibe is still pretty mellow in Topanga and there are some excellent hikes to be found in the surrounding mountains. It is also worth noting that there is still a vibrant community of musicians living in the area.
Best Hostel in Los Angeles – USA Hostels Hollywood
My top choice for the overall best hostel in Los Angeles in 2018 is USA Hostels Hollywood. This hostel ticks all the boxes for the budget traveler looking to be close to the action, meet fellow backpackers, and rest up in between city adventures.
USA Hostels Hollywood. is close to the metro station and bus stops so getting here and away is super easy.
What is cool about this place as well as there is always a bunch of events on the agenda. If you are keen for a walking tour, a BBQ, or just want a place to chill and watch the game, the staff here ensures you have everything at your disposal to enjoy the hell out of your time backpacking Los Angeles.
Bonus Points: Free Breakfast is included, and every guest has a locker to use. Also the kitchen is top-notch as are the common spaces. USA Hostels Hollywood is a great place to base yourself for your Los Angeles backpacking adventures.
Best Party Hostel in Los Angeles – Banana Bungalow Hollywood
Want to make new friends in addition to making new memories? Banana Bungalow Hollywood is the best party hostel in Los Angeles, hands down. With a ton of activities on offer from poker nights, limo party bus, pub crawls, and themed parties at the hostel itself, there is always something to get into here.
By day, there is a pretty relaxed vibe with local tours easily organized from the hostel. Free breakfast helps chase away hangovers, and each and every dorm room has its own restroom, TV, and kitchen! All said and done, it’s a pretty sweet deal. Bottoms up.
Best Hostel for Solo Travelers in Los Angeles – Banana Bungalow West Hollywood
Traveling alone? Banana Bungalow West Hollywood is my top pick for the best hostel for solo travelers in Los Angeles. Like the other hostels, there is always something on the agenda here. Movie nights, parties, group BBQs, you name it; it’s probably happening here.
There is a pool table in the spacious common room and the sunny terrace is a great place to chill if you just feel like reading or flicking through your phone for a while.
The kitchen is well designed, and big enough for multiple hungry people to cook without killing each other.
If cooking is not your thing, there are plenty of cheap places to eat nearby. All dorms have their own restroom, and the hostel has laundry facilities if you need to freshen up your gear. The free Wi-Fi is of decent quality, and so is the work space if need be.
Los Angeles is the kind of city where you could spend three days or a few months exploring and still never experience it all.
My advice is to keep it simple. Map out a few areas that hold things of interest and plan your trip around that with room for being spontaneous as well.
Do you really like movies and pop culture? Keen to surf and lay on the beach? Do you want to buy some (legal) weed and explore the record shops? Fancy trying different ethnic food every day?
Maybe you want to experience all or none of those things, but the fact remains there is a lot on offer here. The more time you have the more you can get into. Plain and simple.
Here is my list of the 10 top things to do in Los Angeles to get your ideas flowing…
1. Eat Taquitos at Olvera Street, Downtown Los Angeles:
Located just across from LA Union Station, Olivera Street is where LA as a city began. Now it is an important historic and cultural center for Latin American communities. Try the Taquitos with green avocado sauce at Cielito Lindo. So damn good. So good in fact I think I’ll repeat myself.
2. Visit the Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory is a great place to catch the sunset, take in views of the Hollywood Sign and hills, and generally gain perspective on the great beast known as Los Angeles. The Observatory itself is totally worth a visit too.
3. Check out Venice Beach
Surf. Sand. Subculture. That is Venice. Oh and a some of the best people watching anywhere in the USA.
4. Go to A LA Dodgers Baseball Game
If you are coming from overseas, I realize that baseball might be a foreign concept. To see the game in person is to understand more of the cultural importance of it within LA and the greater USA. In any case, Dodger Stadium is a great place to spend a summer evening eating salty peanuts and taking in the scene. Budget Tip: Drink your beer BEFORE the game and bring in a cheeky smoke. A pint of beer in Dodger’s Stadium costs $15. Enough said.
5. Explore Amoebea Records in Hollywood
Like music? Even just a little? The Amoeba Records store is the ultimate pleasure for music fans. This is by far the biggest independent collection of music spanning every genre you have ever seen in one place (not online). One could wander the isles or various floors for hours.
6. Take a Meal or Two at Grand Central Market Los Angeles
Love it! All of the amazing diversity of LA cuisine represented in one place, for low prices. Heaven. The Grand Central Market is a must visit if you are exploring downtown LA.
7. Hike to the Sunken City
In 1929, a landslide caused a neighborhood of fancy homes to crumble into the sea. Ok the name “Sunken City” makes this place sound more epic than it actually is. That said, a hike on the coast in San Pedro to the site of the Sunken City is beautiful. Plus it is cool to see just how powerful nature can be when it decides to reclaim the land.
8. Sneak into the Hidden Tunnels of Los Angeles
During the prohibition, the Los Angeles mayor’s office supplied booze to a series of speakeasy bars underneath the city. Fast Forward a hundred years, and the tunnels are nearly forgotten. If you are up for an off the beaten path adventure, the tunnels are definitely worth a look. More on these tunnels later in the article. Not for the faint of heart.
9. Go to a Weed dispensary
Since January 2018, an ever-increasing number of legal marijuana dispensaries have opened for business. If you possess a valid ID and 21 years of age, you can buy some of the best weed on planet earth in all its various forms. It’s that simple. This activity is fast become a favorite amongst people backpacking in Los Angeles.
10. Hike the Trans Catalina Trail
If you have the time to spare, I highly recommend tackling the 37-mile Trans Catalina Trail spanning the island. Catalina Island is located about 46 miles off the coast of LA. The island is home to wild buffalo, stunning scenery, and plenty of Hollywood history. Don’t be like me and do this hike in August as it’s hot AF.
You have now read the top things to do in Los Angeles. Now let’s have a look at my 3 day Los Angeles itinerary to give you an idea of even more rad things to do in LA for 3 days…
*Note: For this itinerary, you don’t necessarily need to rent a car, though you would have more freedom if you did. This pertains mostly to day 2 and 3. The choice is yours…
Day 1 in Los Angeles: Hollywood and Downtown LA
After spending the night in a hostel either downtown or in Hollywood, you are ready to begin your backpacking Los Angeles adventure. After breakfast, it is time to head out. Come to grips with Hollywood as you cruise the streets of one of the world’s most iconic places.
Check out a few Hollywood Stars’ names set in the sidewalk. Pass by the famous Chinese Theater. Avoid the stupid touristy shops selling movie memorabilia.
Hollywood is filled with plenty of quirky not-touristy shops to pop into as well including some epic thrift/second-hand shops.
Hit up Amoeba Records before having lunch. Hollywood is an expensive area for restaurants, though you can usually score something cheap and tasty from a food truck or grocery store.
Day 1 in Los Angeles: Afternoon
I recommend taking the metro to downtown LA and exploring Olvera Street for lunch before heading off to China Town.
China Town isn’t super impressive, though you can buy almost thing there, including fireworks, pocket knives, and every Chinese knick-knack under the sun. The Asian markets in China Town are full of exotic and downright bizarre ingredients. I have the strange smell of the food shops in my memory forevermore.
Personally, I would take this whole afternoon to explore historic downtown Los Angeles. Check out the LA flower market (in the Fashion District). When the time comes for a snack or a early dinner, definitely hit up the Grand Central Market for your choice of all food delicious.
More options for the afternoon in Downtown Los Angeles include the following:
- Visit Little Tokyo
- The Broad Art Museum
- Explore the Spring Arcade Building
- Bar hopping in the Arts District.
- The Main Museum Downtown
- Browsing through the Last Bookstore (Bookshop)
- Walking down Skidrow is pretty eye-opening (LA has a massive homeless population, though Skidrow remains safe during daylight hours, more or less). Always be respectful, and don’t take photographs without peoples permission. Life is tough on Skidrow, you know.
Best place to enjoy a Sunset in Los Angeles
For the ideal end of your day, head to Griffith Observatory to catch the sunset over the Hollywood Hills and the skyscrapers of Los Angeles . After dinner, you can hit the town in search of a few frosty micro-brews, or just turn in early and save energy for tomorrow.
An alternative end to day one is to go check out a show at the Magic Castle. They have some pretty incredible magic acts on a regular basis, though the place is quite fancy as well.
If you are staying in Hollywood again, there are dozens of fun bars. Ask your friendly hostel staff which bars are best in your area.
Day 2 in Los Angeles: Venice Beach and Around
Day two begins with a early (or maybe slightly slow) morning, depending on how your night went. After breakfast, I recommend heading to the beach. In a perfect world, your Los Angeles backpacking budget includes a car rental (for a day or 2 at least). You can rent a car in Los Angeles for as low as $20 a day.
If you got your own wheels sorted, you’re good to go. Hit the freeway in the direction of Santa Monica. If you find yourself on the road by 10 am the hellish traffic that has claimed the happiness of so many LA locals will be at bay temporarily.
The drive to Venice Beach from Hollywood takes around one hour in theory. No promises.
In Venice Beach, there is enough to keep you thoroughly entertained all day. You can rent a bike and cruise the boardwalk. Check out the local rippers at the famous skatepark (where I spent time during my teenage years).
Walking around in Venice Beach feels like you are trapped at a music festival that never quite ended. There are shops selling hippie wares like bright, billowy clothes, pipes, bongs, incense, skateboards, surfboards, and every imaginable item baring Bob Marley’s likeness.
Venice Beach is old school Southern California counter culture at its core. It’s a place where many desperately wants it to be the 1960s again (especially with gentrification and the rent being so high). Though at the same time, the community is happy that 2018 has brought so many travelers and their money into the community.
Such is life.
There are a ton of budget places to eat and drink as well. If you’re after a cheap tattoo and/or a joint or two you can easily have both.
Day 2 in Los Angeles: Santa Monica Detour
If it were me, I would probably stay in Venice for the night, but since you have a car (or maybe not) you can head down the road a few minutes to Santa Monica.
Santa Monica is bit cleaner, more upscale, and much less festival like. Well, it is just a normal beach town I suppose.
Be sure to check out the Third Street Promenade. The boardwalk area is nice enough and the pier is the classic place to watch the sun go down as the surfers catch their final waves for the day.
Day 3 in Los Angeles: Museums, Hikes, and Alternative Travel
Day three is all about what you want to get into. Maybe there is a surf competition you want to check out. Or you want to take the time to cruise the famous Pacific Coast Highway. If you head back towards Los Angeles or Hollywood, there is obviously a ton to do, as we barely scratched the surface on day 1.
A fine option for day 3 is a hike in the Hollywood Hills or Sandstone peak if you’re still in Santa Monica.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend catching some live music somewhere in LA.
Echo Park or Silverlake are great destinations for that. If you are backpacking Los Angeles during the weekend, finding live music shouldn’t be difficult.
Day 3 in Los Angeles: Alternatives
An afternoon at either is bound to be time well spent. Furthermore, the LA Country Museum of Modern Art is an awesome place to get lost for a few hours.
The evening of Day 3 would also be a good time to catch a LA Dodgers baseball game if they’re in town and if its the season (April – October). If you’re keen, look up their schedule and see when there is a game on. Tickets are usually affordable unless its a rival or play-off game, especially if you sit in the nosebleeds.
As you can see there is plenty to do in Los Angeles that doesn’t involve spending hundreds of dollars to go to a theme park owned by a massive corporation. If that’s your thing, well, you go for it and have fun.
I must admit, I enjoyed going when I was a wee lad, but I didn’t know any better either…
Whilst the distances between attractions in LA are greater than that of an average city, I am sure that you will get into plenty of amazing adventures based on your own personal preferences and interests.
Los Angeles Off the Beaten Path
If you are in town a couple extra days (or months) there is plenty to keep you busy. Take a look at some fine off the beaten path adventures to be found in Los Angeles:
- Check out LA’s lesser known beaches: El Matador State Beach – This beach in Malibu might just be the best kept beach secret in the Los Angeles Area. Stunning rock formations dominate the coastline, instead of people. My kind of spot. Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Palos Verdes and Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu are also winners free of human hordes.
- Go to a Music Venue that is not the Hollywood Bowl: Ok so the Hollywood Bowl has hosted some fantastic musical acts, including The Beatles, but there are other places to grab a decent show. Check out this informative article for more music venue ideas.
- Go to a Not-So-Famous Museum: There are many. To name a few: The Museum of Broken Relationships, Museum of Jurassic Technology, and the Historic Native American South West Museum.
- Explore the Hidden Tunnels of Los Angeles: Street art, urban decay, and plenty of history make this former bootlegging hub a fascinating place to explore. Check out this guide to exploring the secret tunnels of LA. Bring a headlamp! A truly unique backpacking Los Angeles activity.
Off the Beaten Path Food in Los Angeles
- Don’t Eat at a Fast-Food Place!: America is sadly famous for it’s horrendous, unhealthy, (ugh) fast-food industry. There are so many great places to eat on the cheap in Los Angeles, why would anybody backpacking here want to eat shit food? Try to support the little guys running food trucks or farm to table restaurants.
- Drink a Beer on Skidrow: As I said before, homelessness is a real issue in the city and should be treated as such. That said, drinking a beer on Skidrow has some sort of a nostalgic draw that I can’t quite explain.
- Seek Out Hole in the Wall Bars and Taco Shacks: There are many scattered through Los Angeles. If the paint is peeling and seedy dudes have been sitting at the bar since 10 am, you’re in the right(?) place.
- Go to a Sikh Temple for Meditation and Free Food: There is a substantial Sikh community in Los Angeles. Backpackers and Sikh’s alike can come together at the Sikh Temple in Los Angeles to build community through food and meditation. This is known as langar. You actually don’t have to participate in the meditations if you don’t want to. The food is amazing (and free). The whole experience will be a memorable one for anybody backpacking in Los Angeles.
Best Walks and Hikes in Los Angeles
Los Angeles and the surrounding tangle of concrete, freeways, buildings, and humanity can be quite overwhelming. So where does one go to find a little peace? Let’s dive into some of the best walks and hikes in Los Angeles…
- Runyon Canyon: This park is technically in the city and makes for a great urban escape. Killer views of LA can be gained, and the outer loop hiking trail will definitely wipe you out in the summer time.
- Cahuenga Peak and The Wisdom Tree: This is an excellent hike that takes you to the Hollywood sign, but without the normal troupe of tourists. Few people know about it because it is a new trail, so enjoy the peace while it lasts.
Best Hikes Around Los Angeles
- Santa Monica Mountains: Once you leave the city behind and head for the coast a whole other world of hiking opportunity awaits. The hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains are quite varied and range from easy jaunts to difficult, steep hot treks.
- Sandstone Canyon: This hike is popular, but for good reason. There is excellent rock climbing and sweet views of the ocean once you get up high enough. If you are going to make the effort to do one day hike whilst you are backpacking Los Angeles, this is the one.
- Los Liones Trail to Parker Mesa: A moderate coastal hike with great views and just enough solitude (during the week at least) to make you forget you’re in LA.
- Malibu Creek State Park: Want to check out a lake, a small river, and do a bit of rock climbing? This is the spot for you.
- Trans Catalina Trail Hike: If you have 2 or 3 days to spare, this hike traversing Catalina Island is bound to be a highlight of your backpacking Los Angeles experience. Who knew that there are buffalo on an island just off the coast of LA? Well, there are not native. Humans put them there, but they are still cool. Highly recommend this one!
- Joshua Tree NP: With extra time in LA, it’s worth taking a weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park, just 3 hours away (which is nothing to Californians). There is plenty of epic hiking (and rock climbing) at Joshua Tree. This is also one of the best places to watch the stars in the US.
Best Time of Year to Visit Los Angeles
Good news! Southern California and Los Angeles are home to year-round sunshine. Growing up, I remember many Christmas days where I was in shorts and a t-shirt.
In the summer, the temperatures can be intense.
Los Angeles receives a majority of its over 42 million annual visitors during the summer months (June- August). Beaches are slammed, and traffic feels worse, though it is probably the same.
Main attractions found throughout the city and around tend to be more crowded in the summer.
Winter and summer do have very different vibes in LA.
The best time to visit Los Angeles is in the spring. Temperatures are mild, the sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and the days are starting to get longer again. The fall is nice too. Summer is doable; just be prepared for crowded beaches and long, sweaty days.
Avoid August. Temperatures routinely break 100 degrees F and the smog and air pollution hovers over the city in a stagnant dirty cloud.
A bonus to backpacking Los Angeles in the winter is that it is possible to go skiing or snowboarding in the mountains 2-3 hours from LA.
Getting in and out of Los Angeles
Los Angeles is served by one major international airport: LAX. Though it is important to keep in mind that there are several other main (some international) airports that should be considered when booking airline tickets. These include John Wayne Airport (SNA), Ontario Airport (ONT), and Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR).
In my experience, flights in and out of LAX are always the cheapest. If you are traveling to LA in the low season (November, for example) it is possible to find round trip flights from Europe for as little as $350. Norwegian and XL Airways are the best cheap airlines connecting Europe and Los Angeles as of now.
The cheapest way to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco or vice versa is to take the bus which can cost as low as $18 (7 hours/Megabus). Hitchhiking between the two cities is a possibility too, but comes with the associated risks.
FlyAway offers shuttles between LAX and Union Station (Los Angeles City Center) seven days a week for $9.75 each way (estimated travel time: 35 mins).
How to get around Los Angeles
- LA Metro: Primary trains running all around Los Angeles Area. Good for long and short journeys.
- Metro Bus: Buses serving additional routes close to metro lines.
- Dash: Quick Downtown bus transport.
- Flyaway: Airport shuttle bus – LAX – City Center route is very convenient.
- Uber / Lyft: Ride sharing apps, well, you know what they’re about. Great for short distances.
- Taxi: The original ride hailing service, now on its last breath. Thanks, Uber.
How to Choose the Best Transportation in Los Angeles
The best way to get around whilst backpacking Los Angeles depends on what you plan on doing. Really, I would try to avoid driving at all costs if you plan to stick around the city center and Hollywood. There is simply no need to rent a car if you spend most of your time in those two places.
The traffic in Los Angeles is part of the reason I will never live in Southern California again, so help me God. Driving in LA traffic is stressful and unpleasant.
The metro is the best way to get between Los Angeles and Hollywood. A one-way fare is $1.75. If you plan on taking the metro multiple times in one day go for a metro day pass, as its cheaper ($7).
Uber is also a great option for short distances and it is typically cheaper then hailing a cab (sorry guys!).
If you really want to get out and explore the greater Los Angeles area, you will need to rent a car. Having your own wheels is essential for getting to the beach, going on most hikes, and traveling off the beaten path.
Avoid driving during rush hour (7 am – 10 am and 3 pm – 6:30 pm)! Unfortunately, traffic is just part of the backpacking Los Angeles experience. For a tiny car rental without insurance, you can find deals as low as $20/day.
Long Distance Trains and Buses from Los Angeles
If you are looking to travel to the United States by train, it is possible to do so via Los Angeles. Amtrak operates multiple long-distance train lines running up and down the west coast as well as to other cities across the country.
Keep in mind that train travel in the US is NOT cheap.
Likewise, the Greyhound Bus company operates buses to just about everywhere in the US. It is possible to take a bus from Los Angeles to New York City, if you can manage to sit your ass on a bus for 3,000 miles.
Safety in Los Angeles
Generally speaking, Los Angeles is a safe city to travel in. Major landmarks and touristy areas are very safe. There are certain parts of the city infested with violent street gangs, drugs, and major crime issues. Cities and areas like Compton (4th most dangerous city in the US), South Central LA, and Skidrow should either be avoided all together or at least off limits at night.
Los Angeles is MUCH safer then it was in the 1980s and 1990s, be sure.
All the same, don’t go wandering into unknown areas, loaded with cash and your attention diverted towards starring at google maps for directions. Keep your wits about you at all times, especially in the city center, in Hollywood at night, and around Skidrow, always.
Backpacking Los Angeles does not need to be a dangerous endeavor. Use the same common sense that you would in any city in the world and you should be just fine.
Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road, and check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking Los Angeles. Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when traveling.
Get Insured Before Backpacking Los Angeles
Even if you are only backpacking Los Angeles for a short period, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your backpacking adventure but please do buy insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of dollars on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance figured out before you strike off on a travel adventure! Traveling without insurance would be fucking stupid, just saying. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads as the best choice for travel insurance: check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Los Angeles Accommodation Travel Hacks
As budget backpackers, we all want to save money and travel on the cheap. In a perfect world, Couchsurfing hosts would grow on trees like California oranges and we would be able to pluck them off the tree at our leisure.
I have found scoring Couchsurfing hosts in big cities (in the west in particular) to be a real challenge as they get so many requests on a daily (or hourly) basis.
Sometimes we just need to book a hostel and count our blessings that we are able to go traveling at all.
Couchsurf in LA: If you manage to land a Couchsurfing spot in Los Angeles, you will have successfully eliminated your biggest cost: accommodation.
When contacting a host, leave a very personal message short of selling your soul. Try to connect with the person on an individual level. Couchsurfing hosts are NOT free hostels! You are not entitled to their generosity.
I hosted a Couchsurfer (I won’t say from where) recently who watched for four days as I bought the food, cooked, fed him, and cleaned up the dishes. He was an awesome dude, but he didn’t lift a finger to help out and to be honest it bothered me.
If somebody is kind enough to host you, show some respect and act like a responsible adult who gives a shit about what others are doing for you.
Tap into your Backpacker Network
If you have done any sort of backpacking before, odds are you know someone who knows someone from Los Angeles. Many Americans do a lot of traveling too (myself included)!
Before you begin your Los Angeles backpacking trip, I suggest you toss it out there to your network of friends to see if they know of someone whom you can crash with for a night or two.
This might sound crazy or stupid, but honestly, this has helped me out multiple times in cities the world over. As it turns out, I have friends of friends of friends in more places I could ever have imagined, and they have come through when I needed them.
Eating and Drinking in Los Angeles
Now onto one of the best parts about traveling: eating and drinking! Los Angeles is blessed with a very diverse population. Every imaginable nationality has culinary representation in Los Angeles.
If you crave it, you can certainly find it. Mexican food – and hispanic food in general, for that matter – is the most abundant for obvious reasons. Latin American ethnicities make up a large percentage of the population of LA. It is projected that in the coming years Hispanic populations with outnumber Caucasian folks.
Here is a quick run down of the different types of places to eat and drink in Los Angeles:
Diner/Cafe ($-$$): Diners can be generic franchise stores open 24/7, frying up all things American IE bacon and eggs, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches, milkshakes etc. Diners can also be high-end, offering seasonal brunch menus that use local ingredients. These are of course better, though more expensive.
Food Trucks ($-$$): I love food trucks. Sometimes the tastiest, most authentic taco or Bahn Mi sandwich you will ever have will come from a food truck. Often food trucks are very cheap compared to sit down places. Try as many as you can! The taco stand at 26th and Humboldt in Lincoln Heights has the reputation of blowing away the competition. Locals and travelers alike swear by it. Go.
Fast Food ($): As I said before, I will probably judge you from afar if you eat shit fast-food, though I know that sometimes budget restrictions and/or alcohol call for desperate measures. Do it if you must. One exception to fast food is In-n-Out Burger. Talk to anyone in California and they will tell you they make the best cheap burgers around. It’s true…
Restaurant ($$-$$$): The whole gauntlet of restaurants can be found in LA. If you love food, try to save money in your budget to eat at least once at a nice-ish spot of your choosing. For the best Thai food in town, try Night Market Song. Worth traveling to.
Bar/Pub ($-$$): Bars also vary across the board in Los Angeles, but generally speaking they are good places to both socialize and blow your budget. Go to a bar whilst backpacking Los Angeles, but try not to get more than a drink or two if you want to hold onto your money.
Club ($$$): Clubs are always expensive. They are, well, clubs. People go to them to party and have fun. If going to a club is your idea of a good time, there is no shortage of them in LA. Just be prepared to pay for the pleasure.
Best Beer and Brewpubs in Los Angeles
Over the last several years, craft beer has gained immense popularity in America and quality brewers have finally come to LA. Here is a list of some of the top Los Angeles Breweries/Brew Pubs. No trip backpacking Los Angeles is complete without trying a few local cold ones.
- Los Angeles Ale Works: Hawthorne, food trucks on site.
- Smog City Brewing Company: Long Beach, ranked at the top of the best beer in La list.
- Brewyard Brewing Company: Glendale, California lager specialists.
- Brouwerij West: San Pedro, fun vibes.
- Modern Times Brewery: Downtown location, vegan food.
Best Wine Bars in Los Angeles
Back in the day, Southern California grew a ton of wine grapes. Times have changed and local grape farming is not what it use to be. That said, there are still plenty of good wineries making quality products in Southern California, and of course heaps up north in Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles, etc.
Editor’s Note: In fact, if you are backpacking Los Angeles on a larger California trip up the coast and want to go winetasting under the sun, I highly recommend checking out the wineries around the Central Coast: Santa Barbara, Ojai, San Luis Obispo, and of course the underrated crown jewel of California, Paso Robles. Think Napa-quality without the pricetag.
Here are a few places to drink wine in Los Angeles:
- Tabula Rasa: Hollywood, hidden gem in the middle of Thai town.
- Wilde Wine Bar and Restaurant: La Brea, fancy, romantic, pricey.
- Upstairs 2 : West Los Angeles, small plates.
- Restoration Wine Bar: Torrence, Fine wines, craft beers.
- A.O.C: Los Angeles, amazing, authentic tapas.
Nightlife in Los Angeles
The nightlife in Los Angeles has something for every backpacker. Perhaps no city in the world is better known for its wild and lavish parties then LA.
Just to be clear, the likleyhood of you finding yourself at a legendary Los Angeles party if you are a newly arrived broke backpacker are slim to none. Saying that, I don’t know how you operate, so anything goes I guess.
No matter what is your idea of a good time, you will find it whilst backpacking Los Angeles. On any given night of the week, you are liable to find a live show spanning all genres: punk, hip-hip, reggae, pop, rap, metal, alternative, bluegrass, folk, indie…it is all on the table.
Same goes for clubbing, if that is your thing.
Whilst some of the bigger name music venues are not so cheap, there are plenty of hole in the wall clubs, bars, and low-key venues that have reasonable prices. Many might not even have a cover charge.
The sky is the limit, really. You could find yourself sipping Champagne with celebrities and spending more money than you have made in the last two years in a single hour. Or you could be chilling on the beach around a bonfire sipping back a few beers after an afternoon of surfing.
Whether you enjoy hearing some soulful bluegrass, going nuts at a punk show, or just feel like having a game of pool with your mates at the bar, it shouldn’t be too hard to find what you like in the City of Angels.
Books to read on Los Angeles
The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building an online income.
Ask the Dust – Ask the Dust is a virtuoso performance by an influential master of the twentieth-century American novel. It is the story of Arturo Bandini, a young writer in 1930s Los Angeles who falls hard for the elusive, mocking, unstable Camilla Lopez, a Mexican waitress. A great read for anybody backpacking Los Angeles.
Ham on Rye – The autobiographical account of legendary LA native Charles Bukowski’s childhood and teenage years in Los Angeles. Powerful, disturbing, honest, and one of my favorite books by Bukowski.
Post Office – Another Charles Bukowski classic. This novel offers up the half-fictionalized story of Bukowski’s time working for the US post office in LA. Bukowski writes some of the best books set in Los Angeles.
Locals Only: 1970s California Skateboard Culture – A brilliant first-hand look at the skateboard culture that forever changed the sport.
Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood – In Laurel Canyon, veteran journalist Michael Walker tells the inside story of this unprecedented gathering of some of rock n roll’s leading musical giants.
Lonely Planet Los Angeles – It never hurts to have a Lonely Plant on hand.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to my good amigo Tim Donohue for his contributions to this article.
“Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.”
Need More Inspiration?
- Los Angeles Backpacker Accommodation Guide
- Los Angeles Neighborhood Breakdown
- New York City Travel Guide
- Backpacking San Francisco City Guide
- Best Hostels in San Francisco for Travelers
- Where to Stay in San Francisco
- Best National Parks in the USA
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