Going on dates can be really expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are some really great date ideas in Los Angeles that are cheap or free. Here’s my list!
Hiking tops many lists of cheap date ideas for good reason. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t enjoy getting into nature for a while. Pack a lunch or snack to turn a hike into more of a picnic date. There are tons of places to hike in the Los Angeles area, from the Santa Monica mountains to Culver City to Griffith Park to the San Gabriel Mountains. Here are my favorite easy hikes on the West Side:
If you’re more towards mid city, downtown, Burbank, or East LA, there are great hiking trails at Griffith Park. There are many many others, so check near your area!
Many of these do charge for parking but sometimes you can avoid the charge by parking further away and, well, hiking, to the trailhead!
2. Free Summer Outdoor Concerts
Many communities in Los Angeles and Orange County feature free outdoor concerts during the summer. Pack a blanket or beach chair and some food and you’re set! These vary from year to year, but here are some free concerts that usually happen:
- Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert Series
- Levitt Pavilion Free Concerts in Pasadena
- Pershing Square in Downtown LA
- Dance Downtown in Downtown LA
- Downtown Culver City Free Concerts
- Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park
- Fairfax Farmer’s Market
Museums can be a good date idea if you’re into art. Some museums are free year-round (except for parking). Here is a list of my favorite free museums:
- J Paul Getty Museum (pack a picnic lunch and have it in the grassy area above the gardens!)
- Getty Villa
- Hammer Museum at UCLA
- California Science Center (Space Shuttle is $2)
- Annenberg Space for Photography
- The Broad (special exhibits require reservations)
Other museums are free on certain days. Some of my favorites are:
- LACMA (free after 3PM every weekday for LA County residents and second Tuesday of every month. The outdoor Tar Pits are always free.)
- Huntington Library (free the first Thursday of every month, requires online reservation, and they sell out quickly.)
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (free the first Tuesday of every month except July and August, reserve tickets online.)
- MOCA Grand Avenue and Geffen Contemporary (free every Thursday from 5 to 9PM.)
See my full article on the Best Museum Date Ideas.
4. Griffith Park Observatory
Griffith Park is not only a great place to hike during the day, but at night the observatory is a worthy free attraction in itself. It features great views of the city and free science exhibits. You might have to park a bit far away and walk, so be prepared. And, the traffic going up the mountain can be VERY bad, especially when there’s a concert a the Greek. But hey, this is one of the date ideas that really is totally FREE and pretty cool once you get there.
5. Shakespeare in the Park
Also in Griffith Park each summer is the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival. I personally am not a huge Shakespeare fan, but this can be fun even if you don’t understand half of what’s being said (I sure don’t, but I seem to get the gist after a while). Bring blankets or towels to sit on, or low beach chairs if you don’t mind sitting further back. Bring dinner and dress warmly – it gets really cold up there at night!!!
Although this is billed as “free”, please consider giving a small donation so they can keep doing it.
6. Downtown LA
Downtown Los Angeles is undergoing a renaissance and has tons of cool, cheap things to do, all within walking distance. During the day, check out the Los Angeles Central Library, then walk across the street to the opulent Biltmore Hotel and find the historic hallway with a photo of the early Academy Awards when they were held there. Or, go to City Hall during the week and take the elevator to the 26th floor and walk up to the 27th for an amazing view of the city. Have a bite for cheap at Grand Central Market. At night, catch a live band or DJ in some amazing venues like the Edison, Clifton’s, or Mrs. Fish without paying a cover charge! Or, see amazing views at Perch for the cost of a drink! Check out my full list of downtown LA date ideas.
The Strand is probably the most famous bike ride in the LA area. It goes from Will Rogers State Beach in the north all the way down to Torrance Stage Beach near Palos Verdes. It goes along the beach for almost the whole time, except for the area around Marina del Rey.
Another bike path I really like is the Ballona Creek Bike path. It’s not as famous or quite as picturesque as the Strand, but I like the fact that it’s really mellow and uncrowded. When you’re done, have drinks or dinner in Culver City or Marina del Rey.
8. Farmers Markets
You need groceries, right? Why not turn grocery shopping into a date? Granted, produce at farmers’ markets might be more expensive than Ralph’s, but the quality is better, and you’ll be outside in pleasant surroundings. A few of my favorite farmers markets are the ones in Santa Monica, Culver City, and Hollywood but there are many others!
Everyone already knows about the beach. But here are a few that you might not know about. The first is Abalone Cove in Palos Verdes. This is more of an experience where you hike and climb rocks rather than lay out or swim, but it leads to some cool caves and tidepools! Parking is $6 for two hours.
Similar in terrain, but free, is the nearby Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve.
A very secluded sandy beach in Malibu that I recommend is Lechuza Beach. It’s hard to find, so it’s much less crowded than beaches further south. Let’s keep this our secret!
10. Flea Markets
A fun way to spend an afternoon or evening is to go to a flea market! There’s usually tons of interesting stuff around, even if you don’t buy anything. The Rose Bowl Flea Market is one of the biggest and most popular ones, but there are many others around town such as the Long Beach Antique Market, and the Silverlake Flea-Night Market. Grab lunch or dinner afterwards!
11. Your Alma Mater
Here’s an idea I’ve not seen anywhere else: make a date out of visiting your alma mater! College campuses like UCLA, USC, Pepperdine, Cal State LA, Cal State Fullerton, and Cal Tech are pretty nice, right? Show your date around to the landmarks from your college life – your dorm, your favorite hangouts, the place where the seniors dumped your roommates mattress after they stole it (yes, that happened to my roommate), and so on. You’re bound to have some good stories and interesting conversation, and of course you’ll know the best places to eat!
12. Santa Monica and Other Beach Cities
Stroll on the Third Street Promenade, Ocean Avenue, Palisades Park, and the Santa Monica Pier, all for the cost of parking (or better yet, take the Metro). End the night with drinks on the top of the Shangri-La Hotel or at Casa del Mar, and you have a pretty cheap but fun date evening! Here’s a full list of Santa Monica date ideas.
Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Long Beach also have some great areas to walk around in, plus lots of restaurants and bars.
Coffee is a classic first date cliche’, but there are some great coffeehouses that are worthy dates. My favorite date coffee shop is Urrth Caffe, with locations in Melrose, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Downtown LA, Pasadena, and Laguna Beach. Urrth offers good ambiance, and a waiter will actually bring out your coffee like in a restaurant, instead of just calling your name. Other coffee places I like are Insomnia Cafe in mid-city, Groundwork Coffee with many locations, and Intelligentcia Coffee in Silverlake, Venice, and Pasadena. Avoid the big chains on a date!
14. Picnic at a Park
Don’t forget about the old-school date idea of having a picnic at a park. We have some damn great ones in Los Angeles including Echo Park (head up to Sunset for drinks afterwards), the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, Griffith Park, Lake Balboa in Van Nuys (formerly Balboa Park), Culver City Park, and Will Rogers State Park (which also has hiking trails).
15. Cooking at Home
If you have just a tiny bit of cooking skill, you can fry a kick-ass steak or pan-sear a salmon filet at home that rivals what you can get at a restaurant for a fraction of the cost. The key is to make the experience special with decor, candles, soft background music, and wine.
If you don’t know how to cook, check out a home-delivery service like Blue Apron, which supplies all of the ingredients and detailed instructions. At the end, you’ll get a gourmet meal for a small fraction of the cost of going to a restaurant, plus, you’ll have fun making it!
Did I miss any of your favorite cheap date ideas in Los Angeles? Let me know in the comments below! – Brian