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North America : United States of America : California : Southern California : Los Angeles County : Los Angeles
The Los Angeles metropolitan area is the second largest in the U.S and the city forms the core of enormous and diverse Los Angeles County. The city itself is most famous for Hollywood, Universal City, and Downtown. For many visitors, the "Los Angeles experience" includes Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Pasadena.
See also Los Angeles County for more destinations.
Frank Lloyd Wright famously said, "Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles". And he said that before O.J. drove the Bronco or "The Terminator" became Governor.
The Los Angeles metro area has been a "boom town" since the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1876, first attracting "the folks" from the Midwest with a blessedly warm and dry climate-- and then becoming a gateway to a magnificent diversity of immigration from throughout the Pacific Rim and Latin America.
LA is a huge, sprawling, megalopolis-- you could start in one end of LA and drive for more than 2 hours without leaving the county's influence. The metro area includes smaller cities, such as Santa Monica, Burbank, and Long Beach, which broke away many decades ago to form independent governments and "suburban" identities. Geographically, there is very little rhyme or reason to what is part of the city of LA and what isn't. For example, Hollywood isn't a separate city--it's part of the City of LA-- but adjacent West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are not part of the City.
Los Angeles has five airports. Los Angeles International ( LAX (http://www.los-angeles-lax.com/) ) is the major gateway. The others are Long Beach Airport (http://www.lgb.org/), Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport (http://www.burbankairport.com/next/index.html), Orange County/John Wayne Airport (http://www.ocair.com/jwa_main_page.htm) and far flung Ontario airport east of LA. Even though LAX is often cheapest, avoiding LAX will save a lot of hassle because the other airports are small and not as busy (especially Long Beach), but you will typically be farther away from your destination which will entail a lot of driving.
Then again, going anywhere in LA is going to cost you a lot of driving. If you're going to Disneyland or any of the Orange County beaches (Laguna, Huntington, Newport), consider the Orange County/John Wayne airport. For any of the airports, it is probably best to use the numerous buses and shuttles to get to and from the airport, if you are staying in the area. Locals do this to avoid dealing with the hassles and cost of parking.
The main Amtrak station is at Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St. next to the Hollywood (US-101) freeway in downtown Los Angeles. The train station also has a Metro Red Line subway station and Metro Gold Line light rail station (on platforms 1 and 2, parallel to the Amtrak and Metrolink trains), while local city buses stop at various locations around the terminal, including some in the MTA (Patsaouras) bus plaza at the east portal of the station. The train station is patrolled by private security staff and people lingering too long in the seats may be asked to show a ticket. Taxis are available at the west exit and the station is within short walking distance to the Civic Center and Olvera Street. Chinatown and Little Tokyo are also nearby.
Union Station is spectacular (opened 1939), but there are several stops within the County that may be better located to your destination. L.A. is big, make sure you get the right stop. Unfortunately, while Union Station has the best bus and light rail options it may be far from other landmarks. Burbank Amtrak Station is next to the Burbank airport where options include Metrolink, bus and rental cars at the Air Terminal.
The Greyhound terminal is at 1716 E 7th St, near I-10 along S. Alameda Ave. You may be approached by panhandlers around the terminal. Friendly strangers who offer you advice are likely to also ask you for money. At least two Wikitravellers have encountered friendly or helpful, but needy, Vietnam veterans here. If you need to spend time at the terminal and want to avoid panhandlers it is suggested that you stay inside the terminal. The terminal was being given some needed renovation in 2003.
The terminal is in a dodgy area, and not located conveniently near anything, so walking to other locations is not a good idea. Take a taxi or catch the Metro bus. The Metro bus stop is a short way down the street from the Greyhound terminal exit eastward. You may want to ask for directions before leaving the Greyhound station. While there are private patrols (funded by the local Business Improvement District) during the day (on bicycles), those patrols are not present in the evening.
Fortunately, other terminals are in far safer areas and have better access to public transportation. From the north, the North Hollywood station is located at 11239 Magnolia Bl. and is one quarter mile south of the Metro Red Line North Hollywood station. The Hollywood station is at 1715 N. Cahuenga Bl. and is one quarter mile west of the Metro Red Line Hollywood/Vine station.
Of note for passengers coming from the east is the El Monte station, at 3501 N. Santa Anita Ave. The station is co-located with a MTA and Foothill Transit bus station, and frequent express bus service to Downtown Los Angeles is available upstairs. The El Monte station also houses a substation of the local county sheriff. Also, from the east, the Pasadena Greyhound station, located one quarter mile west of the Lake Avenue Metro Gold Line station, is an option.
From the south, Greyhound passengers should use either the East Los Angeles station, located at 1241 S. Soto St., or the Compton Station, located at 305 N. Tamarind Ave. The East Los Angeles station has multiple lines operating to downtown nearby, while the Compton station is across the street from a Metro Blue Line station.
The LA bus system is extensive. Many Angelinos rely on the bus as their primary mode of transportation. Within the central area (from Downtown to the coast, below Sunset Blvd and above Interstate 10) the buses are frequent and ubiquitous enough to get around without a schedule. The drawback is that they are stuck in traffic just like cars. This means you may experience delays waiting for a bus, but during the morning and afternoon hours bus travel is only slightly slower than car travel once you board. Check out the MTA (http://www.mta.net/) website and download maps (http://www.mta.net/riding_metro/system_map/system_map.htm) and route schedules (http://mtaweb5.mta.net/). The best routes for getting across town (east-west) are the #2 or #302(limited) on Sunset Blvd, #720 "Rapid" express service on Wilshire Blvd, and #33 or #333(limited) on Venice Blvd. Be sure to check night schedules; bus service (but not rail service) runs 24 hours but many routes change and have extremely reduced frequency in the late hours. Fares are currently $1.25 per boarding (no transfers) or $3.00 for a day pass (also good on Metro Rail).
The Metro Rail subway and light-rail system is efficient, but limited in its geographic coverage. It works on a 'trust' system: you buy your tickets from machines, then get on and ride... no checking, no gates, no nothing. There are, however, Metro police that are part of the LA Sheriffs Dept. who may check for tickets on the trains or platforms, and the fines for not paying are expensive. If you ride several times chances are you will be asked to show your ticket at least once. The rail is operated by the same agency as the bus system, so their maps (http://www.mta.net/riding_metro/system_map/system_map.htm) include the rail lines. The fare structure is also the same as for the bus system. The Metro Rail system is composed of 5 lines. The Red Line is a subway that runs from Downtown (Union Station) through the near west side to the Hollywood area then into the San Fernando Valley. From there (North Hollywood Station) you can take the Orange Line (Busway system) to the west end of the valley. The Orange Line Busway uses special sleek articulated "bus-trains" on rubber tires. . The rest of the lines are above-ground light rail. The Blue Line runs from a subway connection with the Red Line Downtown at 7th and Figueroa Streets at street level or higher (with some interesting views) through south Los Angeles, southward to Long Beach. The Gold Line runs from Downtown (Union Station) north to East side of Pasadena. The Green Line runs from LAX east to the city of Norwalk along Interstate 105, connecting with the Blue Line at Rosa Parks Station in Watts. It runs west to a location just south of LAX, then on to a remote part of Redondo Beach.
The truth is that Los Angeles is huge and decentralized, so the Metro Rail is only helpful if it happens to go where you want to go. Attractions that are easily reached via the rail system include: Universal Studios, Hollywood, Thai Town, the Griffith Observatory (via a brief bus transfer on Vermont), Koreatown, the Wiltern theater, Westlake, Downtown (including the Financial District, Disney Hall, City Hall, Broadway, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the Convention Center, and the Staples Center), Old Town Pasadena, the Watts Towers, LAX (via a free shuttle bus at Aviation Station), downtown Long Beach, and, via a frequent shuttle bus from downtown Long Beach, the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific. Most of the Metro lines meet in Downtown L.A., where you can transfer to Metrolink Heavy Commuter Railroad (at Union Station). This commuter rail system, which reaches as far as Ventura, Lancaster, San Bernardino, and Oceanside (northern San Diego County) is much more problematic. Unfortunately, most Metrolink lines are shut down on week-ends, and stops service to the suburbs very early in the evenings during the week. Unlike, most major cities, there is no alternative to the Metrolink, but a limited AMTRAK service, if you miss it. This,and the higher fares probably accounts for some of the low ridership, and disatifaction by potential users.
While many attractions are easily served by rail, and others are adequately served by bus, you will need a car to fully enjoy your visit. Yes, traffic sucks, but if you want to experience L.A., you need to get a car. Some of the most interesting parts of town can be very exhausting and time-consuming to reach via public transportation. For example, if you want to visit Malibu, any beach cities other than Santa Monica and Venice, the Korean Friendship Bell (with views of the port), the Chinese communities in the San Gabriel Valley, or any part of Orange County, you are strongly advised to travel by car. There are also many spectacular natural areas surrounding the LA metropolitan area that you can only reach by car. See the article about Driving in Los Angeles County for more information.
If you are going to be driving around, make sure you have access to extensive street and freeway maps, a Thomas Bros Guide (a large spiral-bound street atlas), AAA offers good free maps to members from any state, or a car with an onboard navigation system. The freeways in LA can be confusing and overwhelming, and typically the speed of the freeway during the non-rush hours is much higher than the speed limit. If you have two or more people in your vehicle, regardless of your purpose, you may use the "Carpool Only" lanes (some require 3 people, but these will be clearly marked). There's also lots of construction work going around since the beginning of 2004 (especially late at night), so watch out for that too. Listening to a radio station is helpful for any long trip through LA since most stations regularly disseminate traffic information during the daylight hours. KNX 1070 AM is probably the most frequent and has a strong enough signal to be heard well outside LA county, so you can plan ahead. As you get closer to your destination, it will probably be too late to change course. Note that freeways are broadcast by their name (i.e. Santa Monica) not their route number (I-10). The name usually changes on opposite sides of downtown LA. (I-10 becomes the San Bernardino) Be sure to have an alternate route planned out in advance and know its freeway name(s) also. Traffic accident reports on the radio will give the name of the freeway interchange cross street which, unfortunately, a non-local would have no idea where that is. It could be so far away that you won't be affected even on the same freeway and direction. If possible, use a passenger as your navigator. You may also check SigAlert (http://www.sigalert.com/map.asp?Region=Greater+Los+Angeles) for current traffic information before your trip. If you are traveling more than 10 or 15 miles on the freeway network, ask a local for the best route at that time of day.
Los Angeles abounds with inexpensive, authentic food that represents the culinary traditions of LA's many immigrant communities. In this regard, LA has any other city in North America, and probably the world, beat (and this from a New Yorker). You have to be willing to do a little legwork, go to neighborhoods you might not otherwise go to and often deal with charmless florescent-lit storefronts in strip malls, but your reward is hype-free, authentic cuisine from around the world served up at bargain prices.
Below are a few favorites, this list can not ever be considered complete -- restaurants open and close with regularity. Spot a restaurant that looks interesting, take a chance, and if it's good, write about it here. This section especially needs tips on Vietnamese, Korean, Iranian, Central/S. American and Japanese restaurants.
Superior Fast Food
There are some local fast food places that are universally aclaimed:
It's hard to summarize the plethora of hotel options in LA. From some of the most opulent (and expensive) resorts in the world to budget hostels to apartment-hotel crash pads, there's something for everyone. Deciding where to stay will have a lot to do with what areas you plan on visiting, and how you're going to get there. As usual in SoCal, a car opens up a world of options, but be sure to check the parking arrangement at your accommodations before you arrive.
Hollywood is a good place to stay for at least three reasons:
The main east-west streets of central Hollywood are Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd, crossed by the main north-south streets of La Brea Ave, Highland Ave, Cahuenga Blvd, Vine St, and Gower St. Any location within a few blocks of the intersections of these streets is likely to be a satisfying choice. Night-time pedestrian activity in this area is focused on Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles is similar to other major metropolitan areas in that travel within certain parts of the city at night should be conducted with caution and only in groups. As with any large city, do not walk alone at night, male or female. Most areas are safe in the daytime, but traveling in groups is still a prudent precaution. Most homeless individuals are harmless and if you are asked for money a polite refusal will typically be adequate. Certain areas of Downtown where much of the homeless population spends the night are known as Skid Row. These areas can be violent and should be avoided at night even by groups. Other than that most areas are safe for groups (who pay attention) after dark. Gangs should not be a major concern. They do persist throughout the region (not only in South Los Angeles) but they have no reason to be interested in you.
In the unlikely (although not as unlikely as in the rest of the country) event of a major earthquake, duck and cover and stay where you are during the shaking, then go outside once the shaking stops. Buildings and other structures are unlikely to collapse. Your largest threats come from breaking windows and falling objects such as ceiling tiles and bookshelves. Try to get under a table, desk, or doorjam to reduce your exposure to these threats. You are more likely to be injured if you try to run during the shaking.
Visit the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants tucked away in Sun Valley, a community in the eastern portion of the San Fernando Valley. The non-profit organization has the only nursery devoted exclusively to California native plants in Los Angeles County, with more than 400 native species and a seed store with more than 200 species available. For more information, call (818) 768-1802 or visit www.theodorepayne.org. The organization operates an annual wildflower hotline by phone and web that lists wildflower sites throughout California and hosts an annual Fall Festival with speakers, exhibits and a plant sale.