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I'm planning a trip to Southern California. I know that rainy/hurricane season is a cheap time to go to Florida and works well if you plan to do indoor activities. When is the cheapest time during the year to visit Los Angeles, California?

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The crowds in LA do not swing as wildly with the seasons as they do in, say, western Wyoming or the Caribbean. In part this is because it is a major metropolitan area (pop. 13-18 million depending on the definition), and so the tourist or special event population has a much smaller impact on the infrastructure than in places like Black Rock Desert or South Padre Island. Having a Mediterranean climate, there are fewer seasonal swings based on snow or sun, and being on the West Coast, there are fewer snowbirds driving down from Pennsylvania or Minnesota.

As a result, finding a relatively cheap time to visit LA is much like finding a relatively cheap time to visit most major cities— go for the shoulder seasons and avoid the summer, Christmas, public holidays, and major events.

One illustrative proxy is the blockout date calendar for local Disneyland annual pass holders. Disneyland offers a substantially discounted annual pass to residents of certain Southern California ZIP codes— but the pass can only be used during periods of lower volume from out-of-area tourists, who are more lucrative to Disney.

Now, you may have no interest at all in Disneyland, but that is not the point. Disneyland is a big tourist attraction; attendance goes up whenever people are in the area from out of town, for example, during major exhibitions and conventions. Barring special Disney events like Gay Days, a rise in demand for Disney suggests a rise in demand for tourist services in general. You can thus expect higher prices for flights, hotels, rental cars, gasoline, meals in touristy areas, and so forth during

  • The days surrounding the New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Washington's Birthday (aka Presidents' Day) holidays at the start of January, mid-January, and mid-February respectively;
  • The second through the last week of March, corresponding to Spring Break for many schools as well as colleges and universities;
  • The weeks preceding and following Easter, which corresponds to Spring Break for many schools;
  • The summer vacation season, traditionally defined as starting with the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May and concluding with the Labor Day holiday at the beginning of September. The Independence Day (Fourth of July) holiday is particularly busy;
  • The Disneyland holiday/Christmas season, which starts in November and runs through the New Year.

That leaves most of January and February, late April, and September through early November as low periods, and as the relatively less crowded times to visit the LA area.

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