When my sister and I arrived at HI Los Angeles Santa Monica hostel for a quick SoCal vacation, we had two rules: no cars, and no budget splurges. Despite our posh surroundings in Santa Monica and LA’s well known car culture, we were determined to keep our feet on the ground and spare our credit cards a work out as much as possible.
Fortunately, it turns out there’s plenty to do in and around Santa Monica, even without a car or a lot of cash! Here’s how you can live the high life on the cheap during your next visit to this awesome corner of LA.
Heading downstairs to the hostel’s dining room every morning, you can score free cereal, toast, fruit, juice, coffee, and tea, and enjoy it lounging in the sunny courtyard with fellow travelers.
Santa Monica’s so packed with yoga studios, it’s tempting to laugh the whole scene off as “so L.A.” But the great news is, every studio is different, plenty are located within easy walking distance of the hostel, and even in the land of celebrity trainers there are still some great deals to be had. My favorite is Bhakti Yoga Shala, just a few blocks from the hostel. There’s a huge variety of classes here, from the straight-forward to the heart- and mind-opening, and the studio only asks that yogis pay what they can. Best of all, sitting in a room full of locals opening their minds to the universe is a great way to experience a vibrant culture and meet some fascinating people!
If you’re not in the mood for a work out, stroll down to the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, perfect for a morning of people-watching, roller coaster-riding, or selfie-snapping.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, there are plenty of awesome neighborhood options for a budget-friendly and oh-so-LA lunch. We were lucky enough to stumble on the local farmers’ market that takes place each Wednesday and Saturday just blocks from the hostel’s doorstep, and stocked up on fresh fruits and veggies, plus locally baked bread, to make a seasonal meal back at the hostel. But even if you don’t make it to the market, you can still grab fresh, local food for a song. Just head to the gorgeously dark Misfit bar a block from the hostel on Santa Monica Blvd., where a $6 rotating lunch special at the bar will fill you up with a different dish every week day.
While Santa Monica’s got the high-end beach scene covered, neighboring Venice Beach is the spot for funky art and hipster culture. Rather than hop in the car or on a bus, we rented bicycles a few blocks from the hostel at Santa Monica Bike Rentals ($15 for the entire day; $10 after 4:00 p.m. $3 rentals for volleyball and Frisbee rentals if you want the full beach experience), then cruised south on the flat, paved path cutting across the beach connecting Santa Monica to Venice. While it’s a short and easy ride, we took our time, stopping to lounge by the ocean, admire the public art, and marvel at the skills of local skateboarders along the way.
Once in Venice, we locked up the bikes and strolled around, pausing for impromptu photo shoots in front of building-side murals and re-energizing with some serious cold brew at an airy side street coffee shop. Ready to jump back on our bikes, we rode over to the canals that got this Venice its name, imagining what it would be like to live in one of the many canal-front houses with colorful gardens, modern architecture, and a kayak or two moored out front.
A bit deeper into Venice, the hip Abbott Kinney neighborhood is full of pricey boutiques, but is still worth a visit for the window shopping alone. Our one splurge in the neighborhood? A box of donuts from Blue Star, a personal favorite from Portland that tastes just as good down in LA.
HI Los Angeles Santa Monica offers a range of free or low-cost evening activities depending on the day of the week. On Tuesdays, pop into the hostel’s Rapp Saloon for a night of free, live comedy; on Thursdays, join fellow travelers on a pub crawl around Santa Monica. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, head to downtown LA any night of the week. It’s easier (and cheaper!) than ever to make your way to the heart of LA with the city’s newly expanded Expo line light rail. If you’ve got 45 minutes and $1.75, you can make it downtown for food, nightlife, or just a stroll around the historic neighborhood.