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Cheap thrills; Bargain hunting in Southern California

The reporters and critics at the L.A. Times search for deals in this bad economy. The results may surprise you.

March 21, 2009|Reed Johnson

A very wise woman or man named Anonymous once said that you get what you pay for. History doesn't tell us whether she or he bought wholesale or whether she/he lived in Southern California.

But we all know the drill when it comes to consuming culture here. For starters, better whip out that gold-plated AmEx card and plunk down 25 bucks, which may not cover the parking fee. After that, the ka-ching-ing starts in earnest. In metropolitan L.A., the sun, surf and heart-stopping Griffith Observatory views on a clear day are free for the taking. For most everything else, you pay a premium. Whether you're bound for a Wagnerian rave-up at the Dorothy Chandler, a screening of "I Love You, Man" at the ArcLight or an electronica concert in Echo Park, you know an afternoon or evening on the town is likely to cost more than if your entertainment options were on par with those of, say, Tuscaloosa or Oshkosh. (And don't even think about scoring Lakers tickets unless you're either about to win the California Lottery or dating Sasha Vujacic.)

Supposedly, paying through the nose for culture is part of the privilege of keeping oneself edified while living in the "world's entertainment capital." But that rationalization won't help pop-culture cognoscenti and art mavens ride out the Great Decession of 2009. That's why our critics and reporters have been tightening their belts and scouring the cultural landscape in search of off-peak-hours museum prices, free outdoor concerts and movie-ticket giveaways. Call it the Calendar Cultural Stimulus Package.



Offers you can't refuse

Want to savor some of Southern California's many-splendored cultural possibilities without having to skip the car payment or cash in the kids' college tuition? Here's how, categorically speaking.


In recognition of these strangling economic times, Center Theatre Group has launched an "entertainment stimulus package," which is making available 100,000 $20 tickets to the shows in its current season. For the price of a good backyard Pinot Grigio, you can catch "Frost/Nixon" at the Ahmanson (albeit without the ailing Stacy Keach now), Octavio Solis' "Lydia" at the Mark Taper Forum (opening April 15) or an experimental piece at the Kirk Douglas. And when the theater is really satisfying, it's easy to bypass the booze.

-- Charles McNulty


Money-saving clubs aren't just for supermarkets, they're for cinemas too. The Laemmle Sneak Preview Club ( offers free monthly screenings from its selection of art-house fare. Being a member of the First Weekend Club ( will get you into free, special presentations at the Grove or Century City 15 of films featuring African Americans; coming up is "The Soloist" in April. And if you really must go to the ArcLight (, joining its club will shave $1 off the price, which tops out at $14. All three clubs are free to sign up.

-- Scott Sandell

In the shadow of the Grove's crowded multiplex lies one of L.A.'s best-kept secrets: Regency's Fairfax Cinemas. The triplex may be a bit run-down (the original theater opened in 1932), but the selection for the price before 6 p.m. can't be beat. For $5 during matinees, film buffs can catch up on films varying from art-house fare such as Sweden's critically lauded "Let the Right One In" to the Oscar-winning Sean Penn vehicle "Milk." But the best part might just be the $1 Eisenberg all-beef hot dogs. And for an even better deal, check Regency's Buenaventura 6 theater in Ventura, where all second-run flicks (such as "Revolutionary Road") are $3 day or night.

-- Charlie Amter


Southern California is home to two outstanding collections of outdoor sculpture, and, aside from being free to visit, together they're an ideal demonstration of the evolution of the form. The Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA is a lovely 5-acre garden of rolling grassy lawns, pathways and seating areas in front of Young Research Library, dotted with 70 Modernist sculptures -- Auguste Rodin, Jean Arp, David Smith, etc. -- most of them pedestal-bound. The Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, dispersed all over campus (including a few indoors), picks up from the post-1960s move of sculpture down off its pedestal, with site-specific works commissioned from Michael Asher, Bruce Nauman, Alexis Smith and 14 others.,

-- Christopher Knight

California Scenario, a free sculpture garden designed by the late Isamu Noguchi, is a contemplative environment amid high-rises and restaurants on Costa Mesa's Anton Boulevard, not far from South Coast Plaza. Noguchi conceived the 1.6-acre garden as an abstraction of California, with water flowing down a steep triangular form and meandering through a stream to a gleaming metal pyramid.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

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