The Best Free and Cheap Date Ideas in Los Angeles

Updated on Nov 14, 2022

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!

1. Hiking

Trail to Sandstone Peak
Trail to Sandstone Peak

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. Farmers Markets

Hollywood Farmers' Market
Hollywood Farmers’ Market

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, Torrance, and Hollywood but there are many others!

3. Museums

LACMA
LACMA

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:

Other museums are free on certain days. Some of my favorites are:

See my full article on the Best Museum Date Ideas.

4. Griffith Park Observatory

Griffith Park Observatory
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

Shakespeare in the Park
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. Exploring Downtown LA

Clifton's Cafeteria
Clifton’s Cafeteria

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 for free. 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 (if you go early)! Or, see amazing views at Perch for the cost of a drink! Check out my full list of downtown LA date ideas.

7. Biking

Ballona Creek Bike Path
Ballona Creek Bike Path

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. Free Summer Outdoor Concerts

Free concert at MacArthur Park
Free concert at MacArthur Park

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:

9. Beaches

Abalone Cove
Abalone Cove in Palos Verdes

Everyone already knows about the beach. But here are a few that you might not know about.

The Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve features hiking paths along the cliffs with spectacular shoreline views.

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

Rose Bowl Flea Market
Rose Bowl Flea Market

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 afterward!

11. Your Alma Mater

California Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology

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 roommate’s 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 Coastal Cities

View from the Santa Monica Pier
View from the Santa Monica Pier

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.

13. Coffee

Urrth Caffe Pasadena
The massive Urth Caffe in Pasadena

Coffee is a classic first date cliché’, but there are some great coffeehouses that are worthy dates. My favorite date coffee shop is Urth Caffe, with locations in Melrose, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Downtown LA, Pasadena, and Laguna Beach. Urth offers a charming 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

Echo Park Lake
Echo Park Lake

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 afterward), 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. Street Taco Stands

Los Angeles has some of the best Mexican food in the country, and you can often find it at “bootleg” street taco stands at various locations around the city for extremely low prices.

My favorite is the one on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice, near Whole Foods.

Street taco stand in Venice

While I wouldn’t go to a taco stand for a first date or anniversary dinner, it’s great for a fun, informal date. I’ll go even further by saying that if I was showing Los Angeles to an out-of-town visitor, I’d take them to a street taco stand for their first meal for a unique and authentic L.A. experience.

16. 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. In 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!

Any More?

Did I miss any of your favorite cheap date ideas in Los Angeles? Let me know in the comments below! – Brian

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