3 Days in LA

Los Angeles is a sprawling Southern California city and the center of the nation’s film and television industry. From the iconic Hollywood sign to beaches along the Pacific, there are a lot of things to do with 3 days in LA.

Each time I’ve come, I’ve spent at least three days in LA, so this is my ideal, budget-friendly itinerary that I would recommend to anyone on their first trip to LA! I love how much art and culture exist in Los Angeles.

Table of Contents

 
best beaches in los angeles
 

LA Trip Overview

 

Total cost: $400

There are so many places you can add on to this three day LA itinerary – a few are a road trip along the coast, visiting Catalina Island, a trip to the central coast wine region, and two days out in Joshua Tree National Park with plenty of easy hikes. Southern California is a place you can easily spend a week or two exploring.

Everything in Los Angeles is pretty spread out. In order to really see the most you can, you want to have a car and plan an hour for travel in between places. That’s why taking a day trip from Los Angeles tends to be so easy! You’re already renting a car, might as well take another day. Pubic transit in LA does exist, and I have ridden the bus, but overall having a car is the best option to get around. 
 
 

Day 1 of 3 Days in LA

Downtown

Downtown LA has some really cool and interesting spots you should definitely check out. Here are the things downtown you can’t miss.
 

Start the day by heading to the Broad Museum — free, 2 hours

This museum is a great place to see some awesome art and experience the unique scene in LA. We did not get in because the line was incredibly long, but if you get there early, I definitely recommend going. I have so many friends who have raved about it and had a great time. Couldn’t make this list without it!

Head over to UOE Skyspace — $30, 2 hours

Head over here to try out the sky slide. This was such a cool place to visit and a great start to seeing LA! They have an observation deck and an all-glass slide you can ride on the side of the skyscraper. It was a huge adrenaline rush but really short.

Pro-tip: When you buy tickets, you have to buy the sky slide option in order to go down the slide. Select this option when purchasing!

Lunch at Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market has been open since 1917 and is a long standing market right in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. There are a lot of great, affordable places to grab some food. 

My favorite are the taco stands located in the center. Both are really good and the tacos are more than enough to fill you up! There’s plenty of other options for food here too though and when I stay in downtown LA I like to start the day here too. Good anytime!

 
 

LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) — $25, 4 hours

This is a huge museum where you could easily spend a half-day. They have extended hours on weekends (open until 8 on Friday, open until 7 on Saturday and Sunday). It should definitely be your last stop of the day if you are there on the weekend.

We had fun looking through all the different galleries and wish we had more time to explore. There are also tar pits located right outside the museum that are really fun to look at and read about as well as a sculpture garden you can enjoy. The museum is several different buildings, and you definitely need a map before you start exploring!
 

Day 2 of 3 Days in LA


Hollywood in the morning and Santa Monica and Malibu in the afternoon

I am not a huge fan of following celebrities or concerned about seeing a ton of celebrity homes. Because of this, I don’t recommend spending a ton of time in Hollywood. I do think that it’s worth seeing Hollywood, though, and would only spend half a day there if I was you.
 
This is a really full day, but bear with me here! You can fit it all in and see some really awesome things if you time it right!
 
griffith observatory cheap things to do in Los Angeles
 

Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory — 1 hour

I recommend starting off here because it is the most difficult to get to. Start your day by 9 am if you want to make it to everywhere you want to during this day! My sister and I started late, so we didn’t make it here during our day, but I have done it before, and you can easily do it if you are up early enough.
 
This is definitely a spot you want to go when visiting LA! Griffith Observatory has a great view of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. You can walk around and hike closer to the Hollywood sign from here, too. The Griffith Observatory is a really cool building and if it is a clear day without smog, you get a beautiful view of LA. You can park along the street or in the very limited parking area. I recommend not trying to park too close and just taking a spot when you see it.
 
Pro-tip: If you want a great view of the Hollywood sign, check out Lake Hollywood Park. You get way closer to the Hollywood sign, and there are fewer people there. It is a quick and easy stop to make. You can also hike here, if you decide to do that, a lot yourself 2-3 hours.
 

Hollywood Boulevard — 1 hour

Hollywood Boulevard is not somewhere I recommend spending a ton of time, but it is really cool to see the Chinese Theater, all the hands in cement, and stars along the road. You can walk around and see this area in just 30 minutes.
 
I say 1 hour though because parking and things can take a while! I am not a huge fan of trying to see celebrities or their homes. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, Hollywood Boulevard has tons of tour to choose from, ranging from $25 – $45, and they are willing to negotiate with you, too. We almost went on one but decided it was not worth our time and moved on.


West Hollywood — 1 hour

West Hollywood, specifically Melrose Ave., has a ton of really cool murals. They are all located right along the street but are not quite walking distance away from each other. We spent about an hour checking the area out.
 
  • Start at the Made in LA mural at 8025 Melrose Avenue.
  • Head to Paul Smith and Carrera Cafe (right across the street from each other). Carerra Cafe will put any picture on a latte, which is crazy! We just got regular drinks.
  • Crochet rainbow at 661 N Laurel Ave.
  • Marilyn Monroe at 8150 Melrose Ave.
  • Retna Wall at 8822 Melrose Ave.

Pinches Tacos — 45 minutes
 

We made a stop at Pinches Tacos, where we had some really good food, and I definitely recommend a stop here because it’s so good! I was able to get three tacos, beans, and rice for $11, which was more than enough food and worth the price. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it…

Santa Monica — 3 hours

The drive from Hollywood to Santa Monica will take about an hour. You can park on the beach for just $8, and I recommend doing this instead of trying to look for free parking. It may be found, but you will have to walk, and it will eat up a lot of your time if you look for parking.
 
I love Santa Monica and definitely think you could spend a whole day just hanging out there. However, with only three days, you should spend an afternoon hanging out here and exploring the pier!
 
 

If you are a thrill-seeker and want something unique on the Santa Monica Pier, try a trapeze class at the New York Trapeze School! It was an incredible experience to go up high on a trapeze overlooking the ocean and beach. They had a Groupon when we went, and it was just $40 for the class. Highly recommend it. They taught us some cool tricks, and the class took about two hours.  There are also rides you can ride on the pier, and the beach itself is really lovely.

If you like shopping, Santa Monica has some of my favorite shopping in the area. It probably has some of your favorite stores, along with boutiques, high-end spots, and gift shops. I think it’s the perfect combo for someone who’s visiting LA because you get a little bit of everything you could shop for!

Sunset in Malibu — 1 hour
 

Malibu has some really awesome beaches. I’m someone who is always chasing a sunset, so an hour’s drive from Santa Monica to Malibu for the evening is no big deal for me. If you are not a sunset chaser, you could skip this and stay in Santa Monica for it.

 

If you’re like me though, you definitely want to make sure you choose the perfect spot—there are tons in Malibu! I’ve watched the sunset from two different beaches in Malibu and loved them both. Recommend either one for a gorgeous view.

 
best beaches in and around los angeles
 

Leo Carrillo State Beach

 
 

El Matador State Beach

Dinner in Santa Monica 

Option 1: Kura Sushi

There is a row of awesome Asian restaurants in Santa Monica along Sawtelle Boulevard. Kura Rotating Sushi is cheap and always has a long line. It was so much fun to pick out different sushi rolls as they came past; they also let you order off an electronic menu if you want specific items.

 They count up the number of plates you eat, and then you pay at the end. We ate four plates each and paid just $12 a piece for dinner (plus tips!), it was awesome!

 

Option 2: Seoul Tofu

 

Another awesome dinner option is Seoul Tofu, where you can get awesome Korean food! We ate here once as well and had a great time. They give you all the yummy Korean side dishes along with whatever you order. They had delicious stone bowls and yummy soups to choose from, too. Dishes cost $12 – $15.

Pro-tip: Lines for both of these restaurants can be quite long. Going on a weekday makes it way easier as far as lines go. We still waited over 30 minutes for both.

 

Day 3 of 3 Days in LA

You can’t go to LA and not spend time at the beach! I know Santa Monica was a part of the day before, but there’s so much to see and do there it gets more time for itself.

Venice Canals — 30 minutes

I had heard about the iconic Venice Canals, and they are definitely picturesque to walk! I parked near them and walked from there to Venice Beach in about 20 minutes. It’s a fun and free way to park in the area and see a little more of LA.

 
 

Amaze Bowls Açai Bowls for Breakfast, Venice Beach, and Muscle Beach — 2 hours

 

I had to try an açai bowl while I was in LA because they are known for them here. I wanted to make sure I tried one of the best, so I waited for the famous Amaze Bowls where the açaí bowl comes in a coconut. It was the perfect thing to eat while I watched the skateboarders and sat on the beach.

From here, walk to the graffiti that lines the palm trees and walls in Venice Beach. Watch the skateboarders and walk the Venice Boardwalk to Muscle Beach. It was pretty fun to walk past all the different shops and see muscle beach!

Laguna Beach 4 hours

Laguna Beach is a bit of a drive from LA. But hear me out on this one! I feel like those pictures speak for themselves, and it only took an hour to get there, but I timed it poorly and ended up in two hours’ worth of traffic on the way back. With how long it takes to get most places, you definitely want to spend some time here… Plus, with traffic, timing is key! Stay around Laguna Beach until after rush hour, don’t make the same mistake as me.
 

Here is a list of beaches I recommend when visiting Laguna Beach.

  • 1000 Steps Beach
  • Victoria Beach
  • Pearl Street Beach

For more about my favorite beaches in and around LA, check out my post here!

 
Get the most out of your 3-day trip to LA. Explore famous landmarks, try delicious food, and relax on the beautiful beaches. Don't miss out on this itinerary!
Get the most out of your 3-day trip to LA. Explore famous landmarks, try delicious food, and relax on the beautiful beaches. Don’t miss out on this itinerary!
 

I hope this post has helped you consider the best way to spend three days in LA on a budget! With so much to do, it can be hard to fit it all in. No matter what you do, you can have a great time. Thinking about 4 days in LA? Check this out! What are your favorite things to do in LA? Leave your thoughts below!

 
Meghan

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