Help me maximize my time in Los Angeles!
May 11, 2012 5:52 PM   Subscribe

In less than three weeks I will be spending a week in Los Angeles to see if I want to move there. Not having a car, how can I make the most of the week I have there and make it a great vacation regardless of my decision? Basically, how do I plan this trip?

I have never been one to make an itinerary when I travel, as wherever I've been, it's been so easy to get from one side of town to the other like that. I know that does not describe Los Angeles.

Any suggestions? How do you organize your trips? I suppose the easiest thing to do would be to find all the things I want to do in a certain area, and do them all together. For example: all the places to see on the Red Line, reserve that for 1 day. If I'm going to Santa Monica/Westwood, etc.
posted by signondiego to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Plan accordingly. LA, my hometown, is quite unforgiving without a car. That aside, I would pick a specific neighborhood as your home base (e.g. Westside/Santa Monica/Wilshire, strictly downtown LA, Echo Park, etc.) and go from there.

The way you've said it makes perfect sense-- organize it by location. It's the only way to get anything done there. Much easier to plan out logistics in terms of public transportation. For your reference, the big blue bus in the Santa Monica area is pretty great. Buses elsewhere in LA, not so great. Crappy, actually, and I'd advise you to steer clear.

Are you looking for suggestions as to sights, etc.? My reading of your question was simply "how to plan." Also, consult Yelp if you're curious about what's in or around a point of interest-- Google maps = very illustrative.
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 6:07 PM on May 11, 2012

I think the chances for this being a successful trip will increase substantially if you do a little research on where in LA you might want to live first. With that research will come more focus and an easier-to-answer question.

How you get around town, what there is to see, and how that will happen will depend a great deal on what part of town you are in.
posted by milqman at 6:32 PM on May 11, 2012

The Metro 15 minute map (PDF) will be your best friend. This is the backbone of the transit network; it's all the train and bus lines with 15 minute or less headways (weekday only).

Google Maps's transit directions are pretty good. Beware of bus transfers, though. Maps usually gives you as few as 5 minutes to make a bus transfer, but since so few buses run on time, you'll almost always be waiting for the next one. Never make a trip that has more than 1 transfer unless you're willing to spend 2 hours to get there.

And one last thing, look at your hometown on Maps, make note of the zoom level, then look at LA in the same zoom level. I know you're say you're prepared for the sprawl, but it really is huge.
posted by hwyengr at 8:26 PM on May 11, 2012

I agree with milqman. If you can give us some sense of where you might be living, and what brings you to L.A. (work? school? love? adventure?), we can probably be of more help.

One way to orient yourself to the lay of the land would be to buy an all-day Metro pass ($5), and ride the rails. This will give you an interesting overview of the city (well, the parts that are served by rail, at any rate), and some of its denizens. There are all sorts of interesting places to explore within close walking distance of the stations.
posted by quivering_fantods at 8:51 PM on May 11, 2012

You didn't say where you are staying. But if you already have a sense of what part of LA, what bus/metro line you'd like to be near, etc., then consider AirBnB for lodging. Use the map feature to find housing options in the right neighborhood and if you're lucky you'll find a place walking distance to public transport. If you're on the adventurous side, pick the cheaper options of rooms in homes, where you might have the opportunity to pick the brain of the host. Good luck!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 9:09 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you bring a bicycle?
posted by salvia at 9:10 PM on May 11, 2012

The Red Line is a great idea, but I'd spread it over two or three days instead of only one. Take a day for Chinatown/Downtown, another day for Hollywood, and then maybe a day on the Purple line extension and/or Silverlake/Echo Park. Or maybe a day on the Purple line up towards Pasadena.

You could do another day at the beach, just slowly wending your way up from Marina del Rey or so towards Santa Monica.
posted by carsonb at 9:22 PM on May 11, 2012

Doh, the Pasadena rail is the Gold line, not Purple.
posted by carsonb at 9:23 PM on May 11, 2012

Rent a car. You can't possibly determine if you'll like living in LA, or what part of LA you'd want to live in, without one, because everything economic, geographic and cultural about it premised on getting around by car.
posted by MattD at 8:33 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here are two itineraries that allow you to walk and explore some interesting neighborhoods. Each route passes many excellent shops and restaurants. These routes are several miles long so you will need to start in the morning. There are buses along the routes if you want to skip sections.

Day One
Wherever you start from, find your way to Venice Blvd, then take the Rapid (Express) bus west on Venice Blvd to Abbot Kinney Blvd. Walk north on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice between Venice Blvd and Main St. Then walk north on Main St. in Santa Monica to the Santa Monica Place mall. Walk through that and continue on the 3rd St. promenade to Wilshire Blvd. Take a Wilshire rapid bus heading east to start your return journey home.

Day Two

Find your way to La Cienega Blvd and 3rd St. Walk east on 3rd St. to Fairfax Ave. Turn left to walk north on Fairfax Ave. to Santa Monica Blvd. Take a Santa Monica rapid bus to start your return journey.

You should also explore:

Sunset Blvd in Silverlake at the Sunset Junction
Larchmont Ave. between Melrose Ave and Beverly Blvd.
posted by conrad53 at 9:46 AM on May 12, 2012

Living in L.A. is living with a car (people don’t joke about that for nothing), or living in one particular area and never leaving it. Even for people with cars it’s surprising how much they stay in their area. The L.A. area is very compartmentalized, and very spread out. If you want to see the city and get a feel for it, rent a car. You won’t see all of it in a week with a car, or after living there for years. If you just want to see one particular area, that’s something else.
posted by bongo_x at 9:52 AM on May 12, 2012

The Westside is generally easier without a car than the rest of the city. Besides the Big Blue Bus, the Culver City buses and the Metro are pretty decent, better than people make them out to be, but be prepared to spend more time on transit than you expect.

- Downtown Culver City and Santa Monica are very walkable. Pop in to the Museum of Jurassic Technology while you're in Culver City, and/or take a tour of the Sony Pictures Studios.

- See if there's anything fun showing at the Hollywood Bowl. I think the venue runs shuttles to various locations, including Culver City.

- Rent a bike and ride the bike path on the beach. The South Bay paths (south of Marina del Rey) are particularly nice.

- Drop by the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center, and rent a kayak or sailboat.

- Take a bus up to the Getty Center; if you like museums, it's a great way to spend a few hours.

- Take a Big Blue Bus to UCLA and walk around campus.
posted by redlines at 2:09 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

OP -- while I certainly stand by my earlier advice about renting a car to get a fair impression of LA, if you would be the type not to have a car if you lived there, or to try not to use it, please always double check the non-car geography.

Because cars are so integral to the way people think about areas, but LA is a dense and complicated place socioeconomically and transportation wise, people's conceptions of proximity and convenience will not easily translate to walking, biking or taking public transportation. If someone says, "there's a bunch of cute cafes and restaurants five minutes away" you might tend to think "oh, cute cafes and restaurants to which I could take the bus to in 15 minutes or walk in 45 minutes, what a great way to use the good weather in LA." However, the reality could easily be that the walk is 90 minutes with detours around freeways and impassible thoroughfares and passage through very sketchy neighborhoods, and the bus ride could be two hours on a Saturday between the walking, waiting, and transfering.

There are also many live-work permutations which are completely routine for drivers, and yet entirely implausible for any other form of commutation. That's worth checking into if you don't want to commute by car.
posted by MattD at 3:16 PM on May 12, 2012

I'm staying in Wilshire, I should have mentioned that part. I was kind of just asking for advice on how I should be planning this trip, because as I stated in my question, visiting this kind of city and having to really plan my days out is new to me. And while I have a good grasp on what I will be doing there, the suggestions like I have received wouldn't hurt!

I would be living in the area without a car, so renting one wouldn't help me at all. I will be mainly looking to see if I like the city enough to move there over other cities, which as of now, I prefer. And a big part of that would be using public transportation.

Thanks! As for things to do, I'm looking forward to doing some of the things mentioned here. Observation deck at City Hall as well, maybe take in a Dodgers game.
posted by signondiego at 8:23 PM on May 12, 2012

[It's totally possible to live in this city without a car. To say otherwise is to ignore the existence of the many people who do so everyday!]

When you say Wilshire, do you mean Wilshire Center maybe? Check to see if you're near a red or purple subway line stop.

Look at this map of (mostly) rail and (some) busways. Regular buses get stuck in street traffic. These lines do not. These lines are your friend! Note that westside of LA is largely empty of these lines, though the Expo line will eventually reach Santa Monica.

If you're here for a week, get a 7 day unlimited metro pass.

There is a free shuttle to Dodger Stadium from Union Station.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:25 AM on May 13, 2012

Wilshire Center, yes. I am near a heavy rail stop!

I knew the obvious things such as to get the unlimited pass, but there were also some things mentioned here I would have never thought of.

posted by signondiego at 9:02 AM on May 14, 2012

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