How to Enjoy a Family Trip to Los Angeles (On a Budget!)

*I’m not affiliated with any of the attractions listed- I just enjoy them 🙂

Los Angeles is notoriously expensive.

Having children is notoriously expensive.

Mix the two and you may find yourself on a vacation that drains all the piggy banks.

Being a resident of the Los Angeles area, and having a child that likes to occasionally leave our house, I’ve been forced to find fun adventures that don’t make me choose between recreation, and my monthly contribution to my son’s college savings account.

These are my top ten budget-friendly “fun stops” in Los Angeles (not necessarily in order of awesomeness- they’re just all so good.)

1. Huntington Gardens

Photo Credit: GENE

Growing up in Pasadena, this was a go-to when friends or family came to visit. This nature extravaganza has twelve gardens and 15,000 plant varieties. Engage the kiddos by creating your own “I Spy Scavenger Hunt” with the massive variety of plant life. Oh, and they have a Free Day the first Thursday of every month! To take advantage, you must reserve your tickets in advance. Click here for more information.

2. Camping At a State Park


Affordable lodging (that’s pleasant) is hard to come by in Los Angeles. The state parks located on the Pacific Coast Highway offer beautiful camping options and are across the street from fabulous beaches. My favorite is Leo Carrillo- it’s a go-to surf spot for locals and offers fun tide pool exploration during low tide. A short drive from Santa Monica this camp spot offers the charm of nature while being convenient to the city.

3. Beaches


I’ve never been to a beach I didn’t enjoy in Los Angeles. And if the surf is good you’ll be treated to views of world-class surfers performing incomprehensible moves on the waves. Pack plenty of food, water, shade, sunscreen and toys so you can play all day.

4. Grammy Museum

Photo Credit: Elizabeth The

This interactive museum allows guests to make their own tunes, listen to music from multiple generations and view famous items like Michael Jackson’s Thriller varsity jacket. The intention of the museum is to educate guests about the history and cultural significance of American music, while encouraging younger generations to explore new forms of music, that are influenced by the past.

5. Grauman’s Chinese Theater

Photo Credit: Jose Pestana

Ultimate old-school Hollywood baby. This is where you’ll find the stars (gold stars in the ground- not Leonardo DiCaprio with a Free Hugs sign) and famous handprints in cement. This area of Hollywood has had a major facelift and now offers a glimpse into classic Hollywood- versus seedy Hollywood.

6. La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Photo Credit: Kevin Rosales

Did you know there’s natural asphalt seeping up through the ground in the middle of LA? Yup. When my brother was a toddler he made my mom take him to these tar pits every week. Every. Week. And I don’t blame him- it’s an incredible sight, especially for those enamored by the ice age. The pits have (fake) animals trying to escape the grip of the pits and the attached museum showcases various ice age fossils extracted from this area.

7. Griffith Observatory

Photo Credit: Alex Stone

This is where you go if you want to explore the cosmos- or get some amazing photos of Los Angeles, and the Hollywood sign. You’re able to look through state-of-the-art telescopes, roam through planetary exhibits and (for those over the age of five) view mind-blowing live shows in the planetarium.

8. Getty Museum

Photo Credit: Ayleen Gaspar

This art museum is perched above Los Angeles and offers views-galore. The structure itself is a piece of art, and the gardens and grassy lawn are a fun place for the kids to explore while the adults (with the exception of the supervising adult!) explore the current exhibits.

9. Santa Monica Beach Bike Rentals

Photo Credit: David Jones


Rent a few bikes (and a kid’s bicycle trailer seat for the little ones) and ride a portion of the 22 mile Marvin Braude bike trail running through the beaches of Santa Monica. You’ll get a tour of Venice Beach and can stop off at the pier for a few carnival rides.

10. Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

Photo Credit: Smart Destinations

While you’re in Santa Monica, why not visit some of its natives? This aquarium, whose motto is “When we heal the Earth, we heal ourselves” is home to over 100 species of marine life and offers special events every day of the week- with the exception of Monday, that’s when the animals take their day off.

Extra Tip: Many of these stops allow you to bring in your own food and drink, which I highly recommend. Spending $10 on a bottle of water and mini-bag of chips is not fun. 

*To work on your budgeting skills (I’m talking to myself here) check out Personal Capital who provide free financial software to help clients manage assets and investments.

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