LA on transit alone?
March 30, 2011 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip to Los Angeles and I can't drive. Is this a bad idea waiting to happen?

I've travel extensively on the east coast and have never had a problem getting anywhere in a city using a combination of transit, cabs and (for the most part) walking everywhere. But looking at the distances between most of the places I want to visit in L.A., something tells me this may not work. For example, I've got an itinerary with stops in Culver City, UCLA, Downtown LA and Hollywood, and the plan being to visit at least one or two of those parts of LA each day.

So, can I do this trip relying on public transit alone (or without spending all my money on cabs)?

And if so, which of those areas would be the best to book my hotel in?
posted by bill the tinman to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Cabs can take you anywhere in la, though it can get expensive. Speak with your hotel to get numbers for cab companies.
posted by dfriedman at 11:23 AM on March 30, 2011

I lived in LA many years and had a car. Then I moved to NYC and ditched the car but then spent some full summers there with nothing but a borrowed bicycle and bus fare and my hardy NYC feet. Worked out fine. Culver City to UCLA is easy by bus or bike. Downtown to Hollywood easy by bus. Use Hopstop and LA Metro Trip Planner.
posted by Pineapplicious at 11:25 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Downtown LA is the most centrally located of the locations you mentioned, and is close to trains that can get you to Hollywood, at least. Culver City and UCLA are going to be tougher. You could take buses, but they could take a long time, depending on traffic, and cabs will be expensive.
posted by something something at 11:27 AM on March 30, 2011

I visit LA often and always drive everywhere. But I know people there who almost exclusively rely on public transit.

This link should help.
posted by The Deej at 11:28 AM on March 30, 2011

I live in NYC and grew up in Boston, and I love public transit. I use the pubtrans in cities that I visit whenever possible, and vastly prefer it to renting a car or paying cabs to drive me around.

I rent or borrow a car whenever I visit LA. Small parts of the city are walkable, but you can't walk from one neighborhood to another the way you can in more centralized cities. I have two friends who don't drive and live in Los Angeles, who've situated themselves such that they can walk or take the bus to work, but they're fairly isolated as a result and get rides from friends whenever they want to visit other parts of the city.

I would budget a lot of money for cab fare, a lot of time for dealing with the not-particularly-great bus system, or see if a friend who drives can travel with you and drive you around. In fact, I would go with the last option if it's at all possible, it'll save you a lot of headaches.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:29 AM on March 30, 2011

Public transit in LA is actually quite good, but it can zap a good chunk of your time.
posted by wcfields at 11:32 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've lived in LA most of my adult life, but I've been without a car for the past month. When I need to get around, I rely on a combination of public transportation, lifts from friends, and a bicycle. I haven't had a problem with the bus and light rail system, but it is rather time consuming. Google Maps indexes public transportation timetables and it's generally reliable. You'll be in areas that are more walkable than most, so I think you'll be just fine without a car.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2011

something something has it --- Downtown and Hollywood are reasonably well served by public transit (subway and buses). The Westside (UCLA, Culver City, etc) is basically bus/cab only (someday there should be subway/rail out there but it's not built yet).

This link under The Deej's link shows what I mean -- San Fernando Valley has rail, but in central LA it doesn't go further west than Hollywood/Koreatown.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:38 AM on March 30, 2011

Yes, downtown and Hollywood have far more frequent subway and bus stops than the rest of Los Angeles. Elsewhere, you have a wait of 40 or 60 minutes between rides.

The LA Metro has a decent subway service. They have something called a 15 minute map: basically, there's a train every 15 minutes. That's handy, but the problem is getting to places after you get off the train. Perhaps bicycle + subway.

I live in Pasadena, and this town and South Pasadena (both on the Metro Gold line) are very walkable. But they're small and you can see them in a day.
posted by Xere at 11:53 AM on March 30, 2011

Waits for buses won't necessarily be 40-60 minutes outside of Hollywood/downtown. Most times of day you can get a bus from UCLA to Culver City (or to downtown) every 10-15 minutes.
posted by synchronia at 12:02 PM on March 30, 2011

Angelenos lacking experience with American mass transit will tell you how "bad" it is in LA. But during my years there, when I took the bus, I was always pleasantly surprised, since I compared the experience with riding DC Metrobuses -- LA buses and roads were always in much better shape. Of course, in most places in the US, the bus doesn't come often enough.
posted by Rash at 12:02 PM on March 30, 2011

Culver City, UCLA, Downtown LA and Hollywood

You want to stay in/near the westside. Public transport will be a breeze in santa monica near the promenade area.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:10 PM on March 30, 2011

You can get between all of those places by bus, but without careful planning you will end up spending an awful lot of your trip stuck in traffic. My guess is that the hardest bit would be getting between Hollywood and Culver City, because there are no major roads/freeways that connect them directly, so you would probably have to change buses at least once. The fastest links are between UCLA and Culver City, and between downtown and Hollywood (this is the only segment served by subway as well as buses).

Downtown is a bus hub, so you can get to wherever you're going fairly directly, but it can be a kind of long haul to/from the west side depending on traffic (i.e., by car it varies from 20 minutes to 80 minutes, and that's without making stops like a bus). However, downtown is the least livable of the areas you mention in terms of being able to walk to shops, restaurants, etc., so there are drawbacks to staying there. Also, all of the areas you mention (except UCLA) are quite big, and I would advise planning out exactly which bus/subway routes you will need to take and choosing a hotel convenient to them, as otherwise you could be doing an awful lot of walking just to and from bus stops.

In terms of traffic, on weekdays anything on a freeway or major street used for commuting will be very slow from 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 4:00-7:00 p.m. This is not to say the traffic will be smooth sailing at other times, and the closer you get to those hours the slower things get, on average. It's slower traveling west in the mornings and east in the evenings than the converse. It's also quite slow heading toward Hollywood (and sometimes downtown) on weekend evenings.

Other notes: take express buses whenever possible. My experience with public transit in LA is relatively limited, but I don't remember having to wait more than 20 minutes for a bus during normal hours (i.e. not the middle of the night).
posted by unsub at 12:13 PM on March 30, 2011

You want to stay in/near the westside. Public transport will be a breeze in santa monica near the promenade area.

This is key. Don't stay Downtown. I recommend getting a hotel in Westwood, Santa Monica or Downtown Culver City.

Buses are doable, but plan to wait 15 to 20 minutes for one to show up, THEN another 30 mins to an hour travel time between places like Santa Monica and Hollywood add another 20 minutes of travel time if you need to transfer.

You may want to rent a bike and a lock to save time, the buses have bike racks on the front.

Buses run regularly, but run about 20 minutes apart.

A cab from Santa Monica to Hollywood: $35 incl. tip
Santa Monica to Westwood: $25 incl. tip
Santa Monica to Downtown: $40 incl. tip
Santa Monica to Culver: at least $25

Basically, if you get in a cab headed anywhere in LA, expect to part with about 30 dollars.
posted by plasticbugs at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

One issue you may want to consider. I'm a native Angelena (3rd generation) and people here are not very considerate of bicyclists. If you're going to ride in L.A., definitely have a helmet.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:25 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I visited Venice last year without a car. I got around fine and never set foot on a bus until I took one to the airport to leave. I walked all around Venice, Santa Monica, and Culver City. When I wanted to visit Hollywood or Downtown, I caught a ride with a friend.

I would recommend that you figure out exactly what you want to do and then book a room (I used airbnb) in the area that has the most things you want to see. If what you want to do isn't date-specific, you could even book rooms in different parts and just change lodging every 3 days or whatever.

If your plans are for sparse areas, yeah, you'll need buses and taxis but to be honest? I once walked from this distance without a single bus or taxi passing me, even though that's a relatively major street. In Toronto, that distance on a major street, 7 or 8 buses or streetcars would have passed and at least two dozen taxis. It was a 25 minute walk or so, but I walk fast.

On a major street in Toronto I can hail a cab in 2 minutes pretty much any time of the day. The only taxi I saw my entire two weeks in California was the one I caught at the airport when I arrived.

Mostly what I found odd is how out of touch Angelinos were with distances on foot. I'd say to my host, "I want to go see a concert at McCabe's Guitar shop. Can I walk it?" and I'd be met with "No way! You're crazy." It was a 20 minute walk. This happened again and again and again, regardless of who I asked and where I was going. The longest walk I took was here and my host thought I was mad. It was about an hour and ten minute walk.

For walkers, the strangest thing about LA is just how unfriendly it is to you. The crosswalks are crazy. There are no overhead lights or anything helpful--just some lines on the road. You just sort of step onto the road and hope for the best. If you stand on the sidewalk waiting for cars to stop, it'll never happen (and there's no way to indicate you want to cross). But when you step into the street at all, it's like they go mad. OH MY GOD, A PERSON! ON THE ROAD! And they all stop. At least, that was my experience.

For instance, in every other city I've been in, if I want to cross 4 lanes of traffic and the first 2 lanes are free, I walk and wait in the middle on the yellow line for the next two lanes to clear. In LA, you're on the street, the cars stop. They're not comfortable passing a person standing on the road. (I'm sure locals will chime in that this is bullshit, but I walked everywhere for two weeks and this happened consistently to me.)

The last comment I have about walking in LA is... do it in the day. :) The night I walked back from McCabe's in Santa Monica I noticed just how little light there is. I walked down ritzy streets with million dollar homes on them and there wasn't a single streetlight except on the corners. I literally could not see the sidewalk in front of me and was walking like someone who'd just lost their sight. (Sidewalks in LA are also pretty shitty in many places, either due to earthquakes or tree roots, I could never get a straight answer; all of a sudden two squares of the sidewalk would point at the sky like the roof of a church--very common.)

I'm going back in April but this time staying in West Hollywood. The walking/transit might be completely different from Venice/Santa Monica/Culver City.

One thing I can say about the transit there is that it's cheap. Some buses are as low as 35 cents, I was told. I only took one bus (to go to the airport) and I don't recall how much it was but I think it was 75 cents. (Public transit in Toronto is $3 a pop.)
posted by dobbs at 12:26 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Basically, if you get in a cab headed anywhere in LA, expect to part with about 30 dollars.

That estimate is only applicable when traffic is good. You pay cabs to sit in traffic as well as to travel distance, so if you're going between UCLA/Culver City and Hollywood/downtown during rush hour, expect that to double.

Re. walking: it is feasible to, for example, walk from central Culver City to UCLA. It would take over an hour, but it can be done - I think I actually have done it, though with a meal stop in the middle. Walking from UCLA to downtown is not feasible. 11 miles is not a pleasant stroll, particularly on congested urban streets.

I am not sure why so many of these answers talk about Santa Monica. The part of Santa Monica they are talking about is an extra 5 miles west of UCLA/Culver City. That is relatively negligible when driving but a significant inconvenience if you're taking the bus or paying a cab driver by the tenth of a mile.
posted by unsub at 12:50 PM on March 30, 2011

You can absolutely do it. I lived in LA for 6 years without a car and transit there has only improved since. If you can combine a bike with the transit ( all busses have bike racks ) you will be golden. It will likely take you 1.5x - 2x longer to get where you're going than with a car, but you will get by just fine. I'd go with Hollywood for hotel. It's a walkable neighborhood with good transit connections and is the most central to your itinerary.
posted by the jam at 1:09 PM on March 30, 2011

consider staying in one of the nicer hotels, and make use their free shuttle services.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 1:10 PM on March 30, 2011

You just sort of step onto the road and hope for the best. If you stand on the sidewalk waiting for cars to stop, it'll never happen -- But when you step into the street at all, it's like they go mad. OH MY GOD, A PERSON! ON THE ROAD! And they all stop.

Native California motorists (especially the older ones) have been trained to stop when a pedestrian steps off the curb. Used to be the law: drivers HAD to stop, even if the pedestrian wasn't in a crosswalk. Now that law applies only to pedestrians in a crosswalk (and cops can occasionally be observed ticketing drivers who don't comply).
posted by Rash at 1:12 PM on March 30, 2011

Metro L.A.'s commuter system is vastly underrated. In fact, with the Hollywood extensions you can now get almost anywhere a tourist will need reasonably well without driving. It's the hills and the suburbs that are difficult to reach, but you probably don't need to visit those anyway, and the benefits of a car tend to be outweighed by two hour traffic jams, anyway.

I stay in East Hollywood, but that's because it's close to some work requirements and handy enough for shopping or downtown (or Dodger Stadium!) which are important too. Santa Monica is a trek, however, as is any other beachside destination.
posted by rokusan at 1:43 PM on March 30, 2011

Don't forget--cabs can't cruise in LA, so you can't hail them on the street. Idiotic, but there you are. If you stay in West Hollywood or Santa Monica, you can get pretty much everywhere, and still have places to walk around (you can do that in Culver City, but there's not a ton to walk to that's all that fascinating. YMMV.)
posted by Ideefixe at 4:25 PM on March 30, 2011

Another thing to realize is that Culver City, Santa Monica, and LA county and LA city all operate independent transit services with different fares (only the County operates subways); most go throughout LA and "their" city, but provide more and more frequent service in specialized areas. E.g. there is one Santa Monica bus that goes to Union Station downtown, but they have ~15 routes in Santa Monica and west LA that run frequently. The Metro ride site linked by Pineapplelicious is run by LA County and "includes" all these transit services, but it doesn't always have the correct times and route numbers for routes run by Santa Monica, Culver City, or LA city buses. If you will change agencies during a trip, check both agencies' websites.

To airport/back, there is also Flyaway, buses operated by the LAX airport, really cheap fares to Westwood (UCLA) and back.
posted by holyrood at 4:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Public transit in LA is better than expected, with generally good quality services (or great quality on some of the newer lines e.g. the Gold line in the east). But the frequency and coverage is less than satisfactory outside of rush hours. Potentially long waits on some routes plus very patchy or even nonexistent coverage in others mean cabs (which are expensive!) will be a must in some cases.

Things to watch out for:

1. If you are on the metro and there are unexpected significant delays or cancellations to services that day, you will not be told about this - in fact, the monitors showing the next train time will continue to show times as if nothing has been cancelled or delayed and everything is normal. You will however be told of the planned 3 minute delay to scheduled train times due to engineering work in a month's time .

2. Be wary of bus stops that are on freeways. they are mainly served by commuter buses on a weird and confusing schedule.

3. Be wary of NYC-style yellow taxi cabs in LA. They are NOT a mark of quality and are actually not considered very reliable by locals.
posted by Bwithh at 6:26 PM on March 30, 2011

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