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Los Angeles

Because L.A. sprawls so vigorously—stretching from the lofty San Gabriel Mountains to the golden shores of the Pacific Ocean—putting together a sightseeing plan is essential. For movie lovers, the Hollywood area should be on the A-list. From the famed TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre) to Universal Studios Hollywood, a close-up encounter with movie myths and magic is a must. Soaking up rays on one of Southern California's beaches is another quintessential L.A. experience, which is best done at vibrant Venice Beach or the ocean bluffs of Malibu. For skeptics who dismiss L.A. as a cultural wasteland, they obviously haven't gawked at the Renaissance art displayed in the Getty Center or heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic at downtown's Walt Disney Concert Hall. Whether it's shopping in Beverly Hills or nightclub-hopping on the storied Sunset Strip, spirits easily soar in the City of Angels.

Getting There

By Car

Driving to L.A. is a worthy ambition sometimes easier said than done. The major north-south route, I-5, is a heavily traveled freeway that not only bisects Los Angeles proper but also cuts a diagonal swath through the entire metropolitan area. From the north this largely straightforward ribbon of asphalt approaches stealthily through the San Joaquin Valley, crosses the Tehachapi Mountains and sneaks into the city under the auspices of the Golden State Freeway; from the south at San Diego the route follows the coast to Capistrano Beach, turns inland and slithers through south Orange County, then reinvents itself as the Santa Ana Freeway as it passes through Irvine on its way to central Los Angeles.

The primary alternate route, I-405, is content to call itself the San Diego Freeway for its entire length, joining I-5 at San Fernando in the north and Irvine in the south; it avoids the busy downtown L.A. area and much of the commuter traffic, although the 10-mile stretch leading north from Los Angeles International Airport is as heavily traveled as any section of the central route.

From the north, two additional routes, SR 99 and US 101, roughly parallel I-5 on the east and west respectively. SR 99 takes the back road through the San Joaquin Valley via Fresno, merging with I-5 about 8 miles south of Bakersfield. US 101 follows the Salinas River through John Steinbeck country then offers a highly scenic route for much of the 204-mile stretch from San Luis Obispo, hugging the coast at Santa Barbara; the route terminates at I-5 in the heart of Los Angeles.

SR 1, an even more scenic north-south route, traverses the rugged California coast. Outstanding views of Monterey and Big Sur make the highway a favorite of visitors (despite the traffic in the summer months) and a challenge for drivers to keep their eyes on the road and off the oh-so-tempting scenery. The route can be slow and dangerous when fog sets in or rain increases the possibility of slides. SR 1 joins US 101 at Gaviota north of Santa Barbara, then branches off in Oxnard, hugging the coast southward through Malibu, Santa Monica and the vast Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor complex before continuing south through the beach towns of Orange County.

I-15 links Las Vegas and San Diego, and by extension Los Angeles; passing east of L.A., the route is accessible to the area via SR 91 (at Corona), SR 60 (at Ontario) and I-10 (at Rancho Cucamonga). From the east, L.A. is easily reached via I-10 (by way of Phoenix and El Paso), which becomes the San Bernardino Freeway, and I-40 (by way of Flagstaff and Albuquerque). I-40, a fast route across the desert that ends at I-15 in Barstow, shadows historic Route 66—a road studded with the quirky remnants of a bygone America—for much of its length.

Air Travel

Fly the friendly (albeit smog-ridden) skies of L.A. It’s easy with five major airports serving the region: Los Angeles International Airport, John Wayne Airport, Long Beach Airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport and Ontario International Airport.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), about 20 miles southwest of downtown L.A. at Century and Sepulveda boulevards near El Segundo and Inglewood, is one of the world’s busiest, served by some 70 domestic and international airlines. Roads approaching it are among the region's most congested, as might be expected. Also be aware that the airport is undergoing renovations, so check on the status before you go to see if it will impact your trip.

To reach Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley, travel north on Sepulveda Boulevard to Manchester Avenue, east to La Tijera Boulevard, then northeast to I-405; the route traverses west Los Angeles on its way north to the Valley. To get to Beverly Hills and Hollywood, take I-405 north to I-10 east (just east of Santa Monica). To reach downtown L.A. and Pasadena take I-105 east direct from LAX to I-110 north. Take I-405 south to reach Long Beach.

While these routes are the most direct, they can also be the most congested. It may be quicker to continue northeast on La Tijera Boulevard to La Cienega Boulevard then head north; it’s a straight shot up to the Beverly Hills and Hollywood area. La Cienega intersects Olympic, Wilshire and Beverly boulevards, which run east into downtown. Sepulveda Boulevard, which parallels I-405, may be used as an alternate route to reach West L.A., the Valley and Long Beach. These routes, however, are also traveled by commuters during peak hours and may become snarled with traffic.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) buses, (323) 466-3876, provide access from LAX to many communities. Metro Green Line, which runs from Redondo Beach to Norwalk and connects to downtown L.A. and Long Beach via the Blue Line, provides the free “G” Shuttle between the subway line’s Aviation Station and all passenger terminals. FlyAway buses, (818) 994-5554 or (866) 435-9529, operate between the airport and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), adjacent to Westwood Village; and between LAX and the Van Nuys Airport bus terminal in the San Fernando Valley.

FlyAway also provides inexpensive express bus service (45 minutes nonstop) between LAX and downtown Los Angeles’ historic Union Station. Passengers are picked up on the Lower/Arrivals Level in front of each terminal under green signs labeled “FlyAway, Buses, and Long-Distance Vans.” For the return trip, buses depart bus stop 9 at Patsaouras Transit Plaza on the east side of the station (Vignes Street entrance), and drop off passengers at LAX on the Upper/Departures Level in front of each terminal. Buses depart Union Station on the hour and half hour, providing non-stop service every 30 minutes in both directions between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m.; schedules vary by location between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Other LAX bus services picking up passengers under the green signs at each terminal include Mickey’s Space Ship Shuttle, (714) 642-5399; and Shuttle One, (310) 670-6666. All three offer service to Disneyland® Resort and Knott’s Berry Farm area hotels. Many hotels offer courtesy airport shuttles.

Prime Time Shuttle, (800) 733-8267, and Super Shuttle, (800) 258-3826, offer door-to-door service in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Both pick up in front of the orange signs marked “Shared Ride Vans.” Eight taxi companies service the airport, picking up passengers curbside under the yellow signs. Taxis charge a flat rate per trip of $46.50 for trips between LAX and downtown L.A. in either direction, with a $4 surcharge and a minimum of $15 for all trips originating at LAX. Limousines and luxury sedans also can be ordered.

John Wayne Airport (SNA), about 40 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles at I-405 and MacArthur Boulevard in Santa Ana, is Orange County’s primary airport. Sandwiched between Costa Mesa, Irvine and Newport Beach, SNA is served by nine commercial airlines and two commuter lines. To reach Anaheim, take SR 55 north direct from the airport to I-5 northwest; for the most direct route to downtown L.A., continue northwest on the interstate. To reach Long Beach, exit to MacArthur Boulevard by looping around the access road in front of the terminal, and drive northeast to I-405; take the interstate northwest to I-710. For an alternate route to downtown L.A., continue on I-405 to I-110 north. All ground transportation, including buses, shuttles and taxis, will be found on the Lower/Arrivals Level.

Long Beach Airport (LGB), some 22 miles south of downtown L.A. at I-405 and Lakewood Boulevard, is served by four airlines. Airport traffic exits from Donald Douglas Drive east to Lakewood Boulevard. To reach downtown Los Angeles take Lakewood south to I-405, then drive northwest to I-110 north. As an alternative, take Lakewood north to SR 91 or I-105; both routes run west into I-110. Metro Blue Line provides inexpensive transportation to downtown L.A.; the closest subway stop to the airport is Wardlow Station, accessible by taxi.

Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR), 14 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles at I-5 and Hollywood Way, is served by six airlines. It’s the closest airport to downtown L.A. and Hollywood. To reach downtown, exit the terminal via Thornton Avenue, running east to Hollywood Way; drive north to I-5, then head south on the interstate to I-110 south.

To reach Hollywood, go south on Hollywood Way to Victory Boulevard; head west to SR 170 and take the route south as it joins US 101. Downtown and Hollywood can also be reached by Metro Red Line; the closest subway stop is North Hollywood Station, a short bus ride from the airport. The Amtrak-Metrolink station is walking distance from the main terminal; a shuttle to the station is also available.

Ontario International Airport (ONT), about 40 miles east of downtown L.A. at I-10 and Archibald Avenue in San Bernardino County, is served by seven airlines. To reach Los Angeles, take Vineyard or Archibald avenues north from the airport, then drive west on I-10 through the San Gabriel Valley to the route’s junction with US 101, which heads west into downtown.

Rail Service

It’s almost worth traveling by train just to experience Union Station, the combination Spanish Revival-Art Deco-Streamline Moderne-style terminal at 800 N. Alameda St., near Olvera Street and Chinatown. Amtrak trains, (800) 872-7245, use the station, as well as depots throughout the region including Anaheim, Burbank, Chatsworth, Fullerton, Glendale, Irvine, Riverside, San Clemente and Van Nuys.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains connect Los Angeles with San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego; the Coast Starlight links L.A. with Santa Barbara, Oakland, and Sacramento. The Southwest Chief provides connections to Fullerton, Riverside and San Bernardino; California Thruway Motorcoaches offer service to Bakersfield. Passengers must have valid photo ID; those boarding at unstaffed stops can purchase tickets in advance from a ticket agency or the conductor.


Greyhound Lines Inc., (800) 231-2222, has a terminal at 1716 E. 7th St., near Alameda Street, about 1.5 miles south of Union Station. Caveat emptor: ticket purchase does not guarantee a seat on the bus.

Getting Around

Street System

Los Angeles area traffic is not for the faint of heart. Cowardly Lions had best employ public transportation or other means of locomotion. That said, driving is the easiest way—and often the only option—to getting around the metro area. The result is a volume of traffic seldom encountered outside the likes of Beijing; L.A. reportedly has one car for every 1.8 residents. Visitors should try to avoid freeways and major thoroughfares during weekday rush periods, roughly 5:30-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.

Downtown L.A. is laid out largely like a grid, though it is slightly askew from a north-south axis. SR 110, US 101, I-10 and Alameda Street border the downtown core. One-way streets abound with Figueroa and Main streets the major northbound one-ways; Grand Avenue, Flower and Spring streets are the prime southbound one-way routes.

City driving is typically less complicated on the major boulevards, such as Sunset and Wilshire—which run from downtown L.A. all the way to the ocean—Olympic, Santa Monica and La Cienega. Oversize street signs are a big help, easily legible from far enough away to permit decisions before reaching major intersections; however, this is not always the case. In many outlying communities signs carry not only the name of the street but the name of the town as well.

The speed limit on most streets is 35 to 40 mph or as posted; residential areas are limited to 25 mph. Freeway speed limits are generally 65 mph. Motorists may be cited for driving at speeds considered dangerously slow as well as dangerously fast. Right turns on red are permitted unless otherwise posted; U-turns at intersections are similarly permitted. Cellphone usage while driving is unlawful.

Pedestrians crossing the street in a marked crosswalk or at an intersection in an unmarked crosswalk always have the right of way.

The Freeways

Winston Churchill once said democracy was the worst form of government—except for all others. The same might be said of L.A.’s extensive freeway system. Its involved interchanges, myriad access ramps and potentially confusing exit signs can bewilder a motorist unfamiliar with the territory. Without the freeways, however, getting around the metropolitan area would be difficult to nearly impossible. Although traffic flow on the city’s surface streets is generally good outside peak hours, the freeways typically provide faster and safer transportation for the greater distances area residents are accustomed to traveling daily.

Carpool lanes, also known as Diamond lanes or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes, require a minimum of two and occasionally three occupants per vehicle. Southern California’s carpool lanes operate 24 hours a day. It is unlawful to cross the double yellow lines of a carpool lane—you may be ticketed. Unfortunately, entrance and exit points or “windows,” indicated by signs or broken double yellow or white lines, are sometimes few and far between.

The San Diego Freeway (I-405), the Ventura Freeway (US 101/SR 134) and the Foothill Freeway (I-210) are the completed freeway bypasses of downtown Los Angeles. Other routes, usually named for their ultimate destination, pass through or near central L.A. For example, the southbound Harbor Freeway (I-110) leads to San Pedro and the harbor district, while the southeastbound Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) leads to Anaheim and Santa Ana; they are two of the most heavily traveled highways in the country. Note: I-5 is undergoing changes; check current news to see if work will impact your drive.

The cardinal rule for driving L.A. freeways is PLAN AHEAD. If you lack an onboard navigation system, study your map carefully before you start the engine and familiarize yourself with the exact route you plan to take; jot down highway numbers and directions, as well as major interchanges and the exit or two preceding the one you plan to take.

Newbies will want to avoid weekday rush hours whenever possible, roughly 5:30-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday afternoons can be extremely busy as well, especially I-405 through West Los Angeles, and US 101 between downtown L.A. and Hollywood. On hot summer weekends, beware the westbound I-10 heading into Santa Monica.

If you must, you must, but have an alternate route in mind in case of exceptionally heavy congestion. Use Riverside Drive in place of I-5 and US 101; try Figueroa Street instead of I-110 and Washington Boulevard instead of I-10 west of downtown. Keep your radio tuned to KNX 1070 AM to catch traffic reports and SigAlert bulletins (closure of at least one traffic lane for 30 minutes or more); reports are every 10 minutes on the 5s (8:05, 8:15, etc.). Recorded information on road conditions is available from California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).


Street parking is hard to come by on downtown streets, where not prohibited altogether. Parking regulations are strictly enforced, and meter maids will do whatever it takes to meet their quota; garage and lot parking are the safest bets, and sometimes surprisingly inexpensive.

In downtown L.A., expect to pay $4-$8 per half-hour or $8-$37 per day; Grand Park and the Financial District tend to be the most expensive. Rates outside downtown are not as high, although some parking lots in Hollywood and West Hollywood (especially along the Sunset Strip) can be pricey on weekend nights. Always check to see if the establishment you’re visiting offers free or validated parking.


Taxis are plentiful downtown and at major tourist sites. They can be hailed or boarded from stands found at the airport, Union Station and major hotels. The base rate is $2.85 at flag drop and $2.70 per mile. The fixed fare between LAX airport and downtown is $46.50 plus a $4 surcharge for fares originating from the airport.

Some large companies are Checker, (800) 300-5007; Independent (800) 521-8294; United Independent, (213) 483-7660 or (800) 892-8294; and Yellow Cab, (213) 808-1000 or (800) 200-1085.

Public Transportation

Yes, Virginia, L.A. does have a subway, although the municipal padres waited until the 1990s, by which time it was almost prohibitively expensive to build one. Believe it or not, the city actually had a subway in the ‘20s, part of the legendary Red Car trolley system devised by real estate magnate Henry Huntington, whose former estate is now the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The Pacific Electric Railroad network he started in 1901 eventually had 600 trains carrying 400,000 passengers a day through a central terminal—until people started moving out to the suburbs and buying cars. (For an entertaining take on the city’s earlier transportation system, see the 1988 comedy “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”)

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) operates nearly 200 bus routes throughout the L.A. area, including many that run to major tourist attractions. Information and maps are available at Metro Customer Centers at Union Station/Gateway Transit Center, East Portal, Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Wilshire Boulevard/La Brea Center, 5301 Wilshire Blvd., Mon.-Sat. 9-5; Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Center, 3650 Martin Luther King Blvd., Suite 189, Tues.-Sat. 10-6; East Los Angeles Center, 4501 “B” Whittier Blvd. (on Ford north of Whittier), Tues.-Sat. 10-6.

The Orange Line makes seven stops on its 40-minute run, picking up where the Red Line leaves off at North Hollywood and traveling west to Warner Center in Canoga Park.

Metro's 10-stop Silver Line begins in El Monte at Santa Anita Avenue, connects with the Gold, Red and Purple lines at Union Station and then parallels the Blue Line ending at Artesia Transit Center. It links to the Green Line at Harbor Freeway.

Metro also operates the city’s light rail system, which has six lines running roughly 4 a.m.-1 a.m. Metro Red Line traverses L.A. from downtown’s Union Station (Alameda Street between Caesar E. Chavez Avenue and US 101) to NoHo—North Hollywood’s Arts District—making 14 stops on its 30-minute run. The Red Line zips south on Hill Street to 7th Street (where it connects with the Blue Line) and Wilshire Boulevard, then north on Vermont Avenue to Hollywood Boulevard, then west to Highland Avenue and north through the Cahuenga Pass to Universal Studios, ending at Lankershim and Chandler boulevards.

The eight-station Purple Line follows the path of the Red Line (from which it was split) from Union Station to Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, then continues on its own to Wilshire and Western Avenue; it concludes its 15-minute run across the street from the historic Wiltern theater.

The Blue Line makes 22 stops (including the Los Angeles Convention Center) on its 22-mile run from 7th Street/Metro Center in downtown L.A. to Pacific Avenue in downtown Long Beach, near Grand Park. The 55-minute route roughly parallels the southbound I-110; it links to the Green Line at Imperial Highway and Wilmington Avenue, near Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park.

The 20-mile Green Line follows I-105 as an east-west corridor across southern Los Angeles County. Making 14 stops on its 35-minute run from Redondo Beach to Norwalk, it provides access to Los Angeles International Airport via shuttle bus from its Aviation Station.

The Gold Line roughly parallels westbound I-210 and southwestbound SR 110 on its approximately 75-minute run from eastern Pasadena to Union Station. From there it loops east toward its terminus at Atlantic Boulevard in the heart of East Los Angeles.

The Expo Line runs alongside Exposition Boulevard most of its 50-minute run from 7th Street/Metro Center in downtown L.A. to the University of Southern California and then east to Santa Monica.

The basic fare is $1.75 per single ride, with discounts for ages 62 and older and persons with disabilities (the system is fully accessible). Note: A $7 Metro Day Pass is available on all buses and at all train stations. The pass provides virtually unlimited bus and subway travel for the day; minimal zone charges may apply on freeway express buses. A $25 weekly pass and a $100 monthly pass also are available, as are semi-monthly passes. Timetables, route maps and multi-language pocket guides are available free by mail; phone (213) 626-4455.

Metrolink, a regional commuter rail system, operates seven lines serving 56 stations from Union Station/Gateway Transit Center, connecting downtown L.A. with Anaheim, Burbank, Buena Park, Claremont, Irvine, Northridge, Oceanside, Lancaster, Oxnard, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Juan Capistrano and Simi Valley. The Ventura County, Hollywood Burbank Airport, Riverside and 91 lines operate Monday through Friday only. The Orange County, Antelope Valley and San Bernardino lines run daily. Metrolink also operates the Inland Empire-Orange County line between San Bernardino and Oceanside that does not go into L.A. For schedule and fare information phone (800) 371-5465.

DASH (Downtown Area Short Hop) is an efficient minibus shuttle system serving downtown L.A. with five weekday routes and two weekend routes. The frequent and inexpensive buses (free with Metrolink ticket stubs) connect points of interest and fun places to go—including museums, retail stores, local restaurants, major hotels and Metro stations—in Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Arts District, the Financial District, the Jewelry District, the Fashion District and the Exposition Park neighborhood. DASH runs additional lines in Hollywood/West Hollywood, Van Nuys and many other neighborhoods. Fare is 50c per single ride; 25c for ages 65 and older and persons with disabilities. Phone 808-2273 in the 213, 310, 323 or 818 area codes.

Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus operates a fleet of state-of-the-art coaches serving West L.A., Beverly Hills, and LAX; Big Blue’s Freeway Express provides transportation between Union Station/Gateway Transit Center and Santa Monica, with additional stops in downtown L.A. Phone (310) 451-5444.

Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) rides herd over 79 bus routes that traverse the county from north to south, providing access to tourist attractions, beaches, train depots and shopping centers. Phone (714) 636-7433.

Many Southern California communities operate their own mini-transport networks. Pasadena Transit’s eight-route bus system links the city’s downtown attractions and the Metro Gold Line; phone (626) 398-8973. The Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Red Car Line connects the port’s waterfront attractions with historic downtown San Pedro, using exact replicas of original Red Cars. Note: As of late September 2015, the Red Car line has been suspended due to the Sampson Way Realignment Project; the San Pedro Waterfront Trolley will increase service during this time.

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