Cheap Thrills L.A.A day in L.A. doesn’t have to be a major investment. Three WHERE reporters explored their neighborhoods to prove that you can paint the town red on just a few greenbacks—$30

Silver Lake

I’ve never been much of a bargain hunter; I delight in small luxuries, like a $5 latte or $25 bottle of olive oil. But on my limited funds, I still want to experience the best of what my eclectic neighborhood of Silver Lake has to offer. My first purchase, a gourmet cup of joe at Lamill Coffee Boutique, is definitely worth the splurge: an 8 ounce Clover, my standard, is $3.50. Coffee in hand, I head north a quarter mile for a brisk jaunt around the Silver Lake Reservoir. For lunch, I settle on Vietnamese restaurant Pho. My favorite dish is Pho Ga, rice noodle soup with free-range chicken, $7.75. At indie designer outlet Eleven of Us, I score with a soft blue tank for $8.95 that’s hanging on a rack outside the store. I round the corner to the delightful cake shop, Lark, for Sarah’s Famous Chocolate Mousse Cupcake ($2.50). Heading north to window shop the trendy boutiques along the Sunset Junction, I stop in at Secret Headquarters, a comic book and rare-‘zine store. I pick up the latest Batman ($2.99) to thank my husband for this day of kid-free leisure. As the afternoon fades, I take myself out to City Sip in neighboring Echo Park and linger over a glass of Pinot Noir, just $4 at happy hour. —Sarah Colombo

Cheap Thrills L.A.Santa Monica

Few would accuse my neighborhood, Santa Monica, of being a budget-friendly city. But in my college years, I spent many days wandering the SaMo streets, so this gal still has a few student budget tricks up her sleeve. It’s Saturday, so I take a tip from the area’s top chefs and explore the Downtown Farmers Market on Arizona Avenue (between Second and Third streets), buying a fragrant bunch of tuberose for $5. A walk on Santa Monica State Beach is free. I stop at Main Street’s always lively Urth Caffe for lunch. I’m a slave to the Urth Salad, and begrudgingly fork over $9.50 for a half-size plate—a heaping serving, and more than enough of the sweet greens to fill my belly. I drive over to Bergamot Station to spend a few hours checking out the galleries. Next, it’s off to the Brentwood Country Mart; I’m running out of dough, but find a small bottle of fragrant body oil, $8, at Marie Mason Apothecary. For dinner, my three scrumptious carnitas tacos from the mart’s quaint Frida Taqueria are just $6.95. —Katie McCarthy

Cheap Thrills L.A.Pasadena

Pasadena is not just for New Year’s Day. The city is loaded with enough fun and culture to occupy frequent visits, even on a budget. I pass on Starbucks and head instead to Euro Pane, where a fresh from-the-oven canele and espresso set me back less than $5. Euro Pane lies in the shadows of Pasadena City Hall, a 1927 masterpiece of French Beaux-Arts design, which inspires me to spend the day exploring the city’s renowned architecture. The Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau suggests 10 self-guided walking or biking tours; I take the two-mile tour of the Civic Center and Playhouse District, which I extend to the South Lake Avenue shopping district. I drop into Cham Korean Bistro, where I enjoy a tofu pocket topped with blue crab meat, a soft bun filled with beef bulgogi and arugula, and a soft drink, about $7. Later that day, I head into architecturally rich Old Pasadena, a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a vibrant shopping/entertainment destination. After test-driving an iPad at the Apple Store, I browse Distant Lands, the ultimate resource for travelers. A guidebook on Spain makes me hungry, so I drop into Bar Celona, a contemporary tapas bar where the tab for tortilla espanola and a glass of sangria keeps my expenditures for the day under $30. —Roger Grody

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