Where should we stay in LA?
November 14, 2013 12:13 PM   Subscribe

What part of LA should we stay in for a long weekend trip of exploring and eating, preferably without a car?

This previous question was about the same trip - we're still trying to get a plan put together that isn't insanely expensive. Key West has been shot down since it seems like it won't be our speed at all.

Now we're thinking LA - warm weather, great food, and loads of things to do. We'd prefer to not rent a car (unless you all think it's really worth it) so we need help picking the right area to stay in. She's interested in the Getty Villa. I'm a big comedy nerd and would love to catch a show at Nerdmelt or UCB (or both!). A secret LA type tour is also under consideration. Bookstores and markets are always great options. We're both interested in delicious food of many varieties. Otherwise this will be a hang out, explore, see a new city trip.

I checked out several previous LA threads but none of them gave quite the info we're looking for.
posted by brilliantine to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (35 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
LA without a car? Don't recommend. At. All. The Getty Villa is on the PCH in Pacific Pallasaids, it's a gorgeous drive up the PCH, but there's no way you're getting there without a car.

I like staying at the Sofitel at La Cienega and Beverly. It's at the crossroads of what I like about LA. But it can be spendy. You're guaranteed to see movie and TV stars at the drug store across the street (Rexall/Longs/CVS). Lots of dining and shopping, either at Beverly Connecton or at the Beverly Center. I suppose you could hang out there. But you'd be stuck. It's good for a weekend.

The Farmer's Daughter, across from the Farmer's Market on Fairfax is an interesting choice. My family stayed here in 1982 when it was still a dump. (I have SUCH stories!)

Fairfax is an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, so lots of yummy deli nearby. CBS Studios is across the street, as is the Farmer's Market so noms and The Price is Right are right there. If you have a car, this is a pretty good place to make your base.

If you want to do this on the cheap, check out the motels near LAX. Rent a car, and drive where you want to go.

You just can't do this without a car. Really, you can't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2013

LA without a car is hard unless you want to really focus on a particular neighborhood that has good public transportation. The west side ain't that place. If no car is nonnegotiable then I would look at Koreatown (amazing food) and good access to buses and the train. You could reach downtown (also some good food, walking tours and good bars) as well as farther south like Long Beach (aquarium of the pacific and some ok stretches of beach) from Ktown via the train.

Have fun!
posted by teamnap at 12:33 PM on November 14, 2013

LA is probably the worst possible city in the US to visit without a car. It's geographically huge, and the alternative transportation options are generally poor. I think Santa Monica/Venice could be ok without a car (it's not massive, and there are buses and cabs around), but only if you're happy just hanging in those areas and not trying to see stuff in other parts of LA.
posted by primethyme at 12:34 PM on November 14, 2013

It is in fact possible to get to the Getty Villa on public transit! I've done it. But it takes fucking ages and you better not want to do anything else that day... Especially not anything in Hollywood. Car highly recommended.
posted by town of cats at 12:36 PM on November 14, 2013

I am going to go against the naysayers. LA without a car is actually fine, so long as you are patient. I don't drive and I am making my 5th trip out there in December. With planning ahead you can group things to do in the same area to minimise long bus/train trips. We have stayed in Santa Monica and Downtown, the latter to be closer to metro and bus hubs.

The place we had the most trouble reaching was Warner Studios when we went to see Conan - not many buses in Burbank. But otherwise we managed to get buses up to Griffith Observatory, Getty Centre (not sure about Villa), LAX (only 20 minutes from downtown by bus!), Melrose, Westwood, Koreatown etc.

Grand Central Market is neat for food. For comedy, how about Groundlings?
posted by wingless_angel at 12:39 PM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you want to see the Getty Villa I really, really recommend renting a car. I guess there is probably a bus you can take all the way out there but it won't be pleasant and will eat up hours of your time.

That said, I lived in LA for five years and relied on public transportation a lot. If you aren't too concerned about seeing that one thing, a lot of LA is accessible via public transit. You could easily spend a long weekend exploring the areas adjacent to metro stops, which will include Hollywood, downtown, Pasadena, even parts of the Valley. Where you stay, specifically, depends a lot on what type of atmosphere you're looking for. Pasadena is an older, beautiful part of town that will be quiet and safe, Hollywood is touristy and on the gritty side (depending what part of it you choose), and downtown LA is pretty much a standard downtown, although quieter on the weekends than many cities. I would personally probably stay downtown because I feel like it's the most overlooked part of the city for tourists, and there is actually quite a bit to see there. The central library is beautiful, I love Grand Central Market, you can have a drink at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, which you will subsequently recognize on basically every single television show that's supposed to be set in Europe, Olvera Street and Chinatown are there... It's really interesting and not a bit like you would expect LA to be. But then you can still take the subway up to Hollywood to see what all the fuss is about there.

You should know that January is the rainy season in LA - which doesn't mean it WILL rain, but it's the time of year when it's most likely to.
posted by something something at 12:41 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Car or no car, that might not be the issue. LA in January is not guaranteed to be warm. Or sunny. Average temp is only 68, and it's the 2nd rainiest month of the year. Many, many tourists are very disappointed when their trip to the sunshine city gets rained out in the winter.

And if Key West was originally your plan and you're thinking beaches, LA beaches are cold in the summer, let alone the winter. The ocean current comes from the frigid north. Water temps will be mid '50s.
posted by hwyengr at 12:45 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

We just visited LA for three days and on Saturday we didn't use the car at all. The comment above about patience is spot on! Just be patient. Buses take time. Walking takes time. Enjoy it.

We stayed here:


A bit shabby, and the rooms are small, but totally fine and the pool and hot tub were clean. Right near a Metro stop, which will take you quite a few places but not everywhere. Also near plenty of bus lines. The neighborhood itself is ordinary (and also shabby) but the hotel is quite near quite a few really great Thai restaurants and a grocery store.

I found the "Transit" app to be the best one, even better than the official app: http://thetransitapp.com/ . Lesson learned: when the app shows a bus stopping at a certain place, it literally stops right where the map says it will, even if there's no signage at all to indicate a bus will stop there.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:47 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I highly, HIGHLY recommend renting a car. At least if you want to go to variety of spots. You could probably figure out some sort of public transportation but it would be a hassle.

For bookstores two of my favorites are:
Skylight books--located on Vermont in Los Feliz, which also has lots of tasty hipster eats, and The Last Bookstore in DTLA.

Also Griffith Observatory is lovely at night, with lovely views of the city.
posted by sprezzy at 12:48 PM on November 14, 2013

I just did a relatively car-free weekend trip to LA a few weeks ago. The entire point of our trip was a few events happening downtown, so we stayed downtown, and went to a performance + MOCA. It was fine and not excessively challenging, but if this were my first trip to LA, I wouldn't want to be constrained to just one neighborhood, since it's relatively hard to get around on transit! There's so much good food and interesting things to see elsewhere in the area.
posted by soleiluna at 12:48 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think if you want to be car free, you should consider neighborhoods with great food & interesting windowshopping. To me, that spells the Abbot Kinney area in Venice, Silverlake, or 3rd/Beverly/Melrose in roughly the WeHo area.

One thing to know about LA is that you don't flag cabs on the street -- you call for them and they come to you.
posted by janey47 at 12:50 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

My friend is a metro-mostly / car-free L.A. resident. Having just visited in June without a car (but stayed with friends who own a car) I think you could definitely do a few days of car-free exploration, but you'll miss out on things like Griffith Observatory or the Getty which much harder to get to on transit. Stations that had stuff of interest to me were in the Hollywood, Downtown, Koreatown area (based on a quick glance at the LA metro map to refresh my memory, if you want a squiggly line overload, look at the full metro map that includes buses, otherwise you can start with just the metro lines).
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:51 PM on November 14, 2013

Yes, visiting here can be done without a car, if you concentrate on one section of the city. For example, if you wanted to spend a day at the Getty Villa and go to Santa Monica for the evening, that would be doable by public transport, as Pacific Palisades and SM are adjacent. But if you wanted to spend a day at the Villa and then go to a UCB show, it would take you at least 2 hours by bus to get from the Palisades to Hollywood, as compared to c. 45 minutes driving (assuming relatively decent weekend traffic).

And do keep in mind (as others have said) that January is our rainy season, and not all of our bus stops have covered shelters.
posted by scody at 12:52 PM on November 14, 2013

You can take the 534 bus to the Getty Villa, but it will eat up quite a bit of your time between the waiting and the transferring.

Also, yes, while winter in LA is not at all cold by any reasonable Northeast/Midwest standard, don't go there expecting that it will be like south Florida or Jamaica. The average high (not the average) is in the high 60s, with nights usually dropping into the mid-40s. It only rains 15 inches a year, but when it does (and 99% of this rain is in the winter), it rains heavy and often for several days.

On the other hand, the food is spectacular and there is plenty to do. I recommend Orochon in Little Tokyo downtown if either of you are partial to ramen!
posted by andrewesque at 12:53 PM on November 14, 2013

If you stay at the Farmer's Daughter or will otherwise be near CBS at Fairfax and Beverly, tickets to Late Late Show recordings are free. It's fun and cool to see.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:00 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

OK. So the thing about the Getty Villa is that you basically can't get there without a car. Now, that doesn't mean you have to rent a car. You could take a taxi from wherever to the Getty.

This is what I did the first time I came to LA, when I was staying in Culver City for bidness but wanted to spend one day in Santa Monica/Venice (which is very walkable once you get there). And it was totally fine to spend $50 on cabs rather than a similar amount of money on a rental car AND have to drive myself around.

Anyway, back to neighborhood recommendations.

Hollywood is more walkable than one would think and also has great public transit access. Also presumably lots of hotels in all price ranges, as well as AirBnB and other unconventional options. I stayed in a hostel in Hollywood -- the Hollywood HI, I think? -- when I first got out here. I wouldn't be surprised if they had private rooms, and it's pretty well situated.

West Hollywood, ditto. Surprisingly walkable and sane, though possibly not as well connected to transit.

If you're thinking more AirBnB (or maybe a boutique hotel or bed & breakfast?), look at Los Feliz and Silverlake, both of which have a lot of the bookshops and coffee and cute boutiques for browsing type stuff. And those areas are also pretty centrally located and well served by transit as such things go in LA. You could definitely spend a long weekend in Los Feliz, mostly be on foot (or the occasional short bus trip?), hike in Griffith Park, do brunchy bookstore type wanderings, etc. and then take taxis to the tourist attractions that are too far from public transit. That said, going to the beach at all will not really be possible on a trip like this unless you want to spend an awful lot of money on cabs.

Venice is similar to Silverlake and Los Feliz for walkability and cute places to wander on foot (and the Big Blue Bus system serves a lot of the west side), but you have the opposite problem -- if you want to do anything besides hang at the beach, check out west side tourist attractions, and maybe cab it to the Getty, you are looking at some very expensive taxi rides.

I would not stay around the Grove, Farmer's Market, etc. That part of town is distinctly unwalkable. These are all places you drive to, then walk around once you've parked. And the Grove is one of the outer circles of hell.

LA in January is not guaranteed to be warm. Or sunny.

I think as long as you don't expect to work on your tan in a bikini, you'll probably be fine. It rarely gets below 60 degrees here during the day, and while it can rain, it's still extremely sunny and pleasant if you're used to the weather anywhere else in the US in January. I mean, if you're coming from Miami you may be disappointed, but seriously it's not Cleveland or anything. Just pack a jacket and be aware that it might be cloudy at some point.
posted by Sara C. at 1:25 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I live in DTLA and I'm a big fan of it. If you come on weekends you will almost guaranteed wind up walking by some TV show's shoot (I've walked by or through Bones, Mad Men and Vegas, just to name three). You can also see some great museums (MOCA, the California Science Center - home of the Space Shuttle!), great theater, and a great and immense bookstore. The food here is fabulous (MeMail me for recs). It's also an interesting time to come visit because there is a lot of change going on here, and I mean a LOT of change. Take photos because if you come back in a year it will look radically different - I've lived in this neighborhood for two years and it's already changed vastly. The new Ace Hotel will just be opening in January, which may be good timing for you - I bet the Standard will have some stellar rate deals in order to compete.

It's at the public transit nexus, which will allow you to get to a lot of other areas of the city. There's an express bus to Santa Monica, which is a good way to get out there for a day trip. You can take the Gold Line out to Pasadena, and it gets you most of the way to the amazing Huntington Botanical Gardens. You can take the Expo Line to Culver City and go to the not-to-be-missed Museum of Jurassic Technology. You can take the Red Line to Hollywood and Highland and connect by bus and taxi (or just walk, plenty of street stuff to see) to NerdMelt, and you can absolutely take the Red Line to UCB.

But, like everyone else said, you aren't getting to the Getty Villa unless you rent a car or take a cab.
posted by rednikki at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you drive, then ZipCar is an option for those need a car moments.

I use the LA light rail and MetroLink every week. So yeah, there's public transport. However, it would suck for someone only there for the weekend unless you decide to stay in a very small area (which will not include the Getty Villa).
posted by 26.2 at 3:39 PM on November 14, 2013

I would agree that L.A. is really tough without a car, and there’s not really anyway to see more than a small fraction of it walking or using public transportation, BUT; as a visitor you’re probably going to have a lot of trouble with traffic and parking anyway. It’s really awful.

As someone else suggested, a cab might be the best way to go. Spend the money and avoid all the hassle. Don’t forget that you usually have to pay a pretty good fee to park that rental car at the hotel anyway.
posted by bongo_x at 4:22 PM on November 14, 2013

Your mileage may vary, but I would find it intensely stressful to be in LA as a tourist without a car. Unless you plan on sticking to one or two neighborhoods, you could easily spend 1/3 of your vacation planning public transit routes and on public transit routes. LA isn't like San Francisco or New York, where you could reasonably expect to get around as a tourist by carrying around a map of BART/MUNI or the subway, and to not spend too much time on said public transit. Again, unless you plan on sticking to a specific area (Downtown, Santa Monica/the Palisades/Malibu, West Hollywood), you're looking at a lot of bus transfers, Metro trips, walking, etc., and all the transit time eats away at your day. If you must be carless, I second rednikki's Downtown LA option as the most public transit friendly.

A note about the Getty Villa: if you do wind up taking a car there, you will need to book online reservations for the Villa. Parking is limited, so you have to make a reservation for a certain window of time. I don't think it's likely that they are ever completely booked or anything, but you do need to make the reservation no matter what, I don't think they let you park in there without one.
posted by yasaman at 7:59 PM on November 14, 2013

L.A. is 100% doable without a car; in fact, it is a fabulous way to enjoy the city. Pick a neighborhood that has a variety of walkable attractions, and use that as your base. If you also locate yourself near a metro, you will have vast swaths of the city easily accessible to you.

If you need to get somewhere not accessible by foot, train, or bus, you can have a rideshare service take you where you need to go.

You will save yourself a metric fuckton of stress, parking kerfuffles, and traffic-related woes by going car-less.

Seriously, we need to destroy this myth of L.A. being car-mandatory. That's only the case if you are locked into certain venues at certain times, or happen to like taking drives. For a pick-your-own-adventure vacation, you can totally go without.

(My car sits idle for days on end here in L.A., and I am happy as a clam and thoroughly entertained without having to hop in it,)
posted by nacho fries at 8:11 PM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Santa Monica.
posted by Dansaman at 10:57 PM on November 14, 2013

I would stay in Venice/Santa Monica area.
Either at or near Erwin hotel which I stayed at a couple of years ago and very much enjoyed (they have a restaurant with great brunches).
You will be walking distance from one of my most favorite Japanese restaurants ever, Hama.
You can stroll down Venice beach or rent a bike.
You can do a long walk down Abbot Kinney which also has a lot of nice little restaurants and bars and vintage furniture shops.
On a Sunday you can do an even longer walk towards Santa Monica and reward yourself with some yummy food at the farmer's market on Main Street.
posted by like_neon at 1:17 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Average temp is only 68

ONLY. They're coming from the midwest and east coast, where the average temp in January is probably closer to 35.

I would not recommend at all doing it without a car. One, because public transport is not good there and two, because there are a lot of really fun drives in or near LA. Rent a mustang or something, it'll be like 800 times more fun.
posted by empath at 1:34 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

ONLY. They're coming from the midwest and east coast, where the average temp in January is probably closer to 35.

Right, but they were considering Key West first, which has an average January high of 75. I just wanted to make clear that SoCal in winter isn't like South Florida in the winter because when I lived in LA and my midwesterner friends came to visit in the winter, it wasn't always the break in the climate that they expected.
posted by hwyengr at 6:11 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re: what part of town to stay in: I have out-of-town friends who've very much enjoyed staying in an airbnb place near Abbot/Kinney (Venice) for a weekend. This will be more affordable than a hotel, and often airbnb places by the beach have free bikes for your use.

Venice is a short ride from LAX, and will make accessing PCH/The Getty Villa easier than if you are a bit more inland.

Since you would only be visiting for a weekend, and already have at least two big chunks of time allocated for specific activities (Getty Villa, a comedy gig), I think you will find that staying in a 'hood with lots of walkable stuff right around the corner will maximize your short-stay here. You can do those things on your to-do list, and then spend the rest of your time staying local to your lodgings. Plenty to do and see nearby.

Hire a ride-share (uber, lyfte) to shuttle you to/from LAX to your airbnb, to/from your airbnb to The Getty, and to/from your comedy show. This will maximize your free time, vs. fiddle-farkling around with picking up/dropping off a rental car (stupid LAX doesn't have car rental at the terminal, so you need to add extra time to shuttle to/from the terminal to the rental places).

By hiring someone else to shlepp you around, you'll free up significant time to actually explore the city. Remember also that whoever is doing the driving won't be able to rubberneck all the hilarious and weird random roadside attractions. Enjoy the view as passengers instead.

I am not a fan of our local cab system, so I would push for the rideshare option. I've also had really great experiences using taskrabbit.com for LAX transportation. Dirt cheap compared to the cabbies.

If you decide to go with Venice, let us know, and I can give you some specific recommendations for airbnb places.

The car-nut in me wants to point out that yes indeed , there are some super-fun drives to be had here, and for some situations I'd would very much recommend getting a car because it would enhance the trip. For this short of a trip, and since you haven't mentioned wanting to do some fun drivin' for its own sake, I wouldn't take that approach.
posted by nacho fries at 7:50 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know what Mo Nickels experience was, but I would ABSOLUTELY NOT stay at the Coral Sands. It is a notorious gay/crystal meth hookup motel, so unless you are a gay couple interested in picking up tweakers and/or looking to purchase crystal meth easily, please find somewhere else to stay.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:37 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

my midwesterner friends came to visit in the winter, it wasn't always the break in the climate that they expected.

I mean maybe if they were expecting Hawaii? But yeah seriously it is 60's-70's and sunny pretty much all the time, even in winter. Today we're having a "rainy" day. Which means it's overcast with a 60% chance of rain, and when the rain happens, it's likely going to be a 20 minute light shower.

In a year of living in LA, I've seen actual weather (comparable to everyday life on the east coast) maybe three times.

"It could be cloudy or only 65 degrees" is not a great reason to avoid a vacation to Los Angeles.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on November 15, 2013

Oh, and I'll add that lyft is a lifesaver for getting around LA without driving.

That said, it's not free, and the charges will likely add up quickly if you're staying in Venice or Santa Monica and using lyft for basic sightseeing. You should still choose a neighborhood to stay in that is somewhat close to the types of things you guys like to do. If you will want to do a lot of Hollywood stuff, definitely don't stay on the West Side (which Venice is). If you will want to spend a lot of time at the beach, definitely don't stay in Silverlake.
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 AM on November 15, 2013

But yeah seriously it is 60's-70's and sunny pretty much all the time, even in winter.

"It could be cloudy or only 65 degrees" is not a great reason to avoid a vacation to Los Angeles.

No one's saying that anyone should avoid L.A. in the winter, and no one's saying that it's as cold as the Midwest. Those of us who've lived here for awhile are just giving the OP a heads-up that L.A. in January is not always what visitors expect. In 13 years here, I've been through awesome Januarys that have been clear and warm, and I've been through utterly miserable Januarys that rained nearly every day. It will certainly be warmer here than just about anywhere else in the country, but it is still be a good idea to be prepared for what the actual weather might really be like, which is not going to be sunning on the beach a la Miami or Hawaii.
posted by scody at 10:38 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

"It could be cloudy or only 65 degrees" is not a great reason to avoid a vacation to Los Angeles.

That's not what I'm saying. In fact, I'm coming back to LA this January for a visit. But I'm packing a jacket and an umbrella. And not planning a trip to the beach. If the Santa Anas are blowing, it'll be beautiful. If the winds are coming off the coast, not so much.

I guess I don't remember, but did it seriously not rain for you last winter? Take a look at the storm drains in the gutters on the streets. They're sized to swallow small children for a reason.
posted by hwyengr at 2:02 PM on November 15, 2013

When it rains here, it showers for 20 minutes. Or it'll be sort of Pacific Northwest-ish all day and drizzle intermittently. Every once in a while I'll wake up to an especially dewy morning.

I think it actually rained, like, precipitation that would count as rain anywhere else in the US, three times last winter/early spring.

I think there has been one day in my year in Los Angeles where I have wanted an umbrella.

I think an umbrella or a rain jacket might be a good thing to pack if you'll be carless in LA, because those overcast PNW-esque days might actually make life more annoying.

But really, seriously, if you're coming out here from the midwest or the east coast, it is going to seem like the stereotypical sunny California paradise. Even if it's what locals would consider "overcast" and/or "cold". Just be prepared for a cloudy day or two, and bring actual clothing rather than tank tops and sandals.
posted by Sara C. at 2:18 PM on November 15, 2013

One really lovely thing about coming to LA in the winter, by the way, is that the skies are much more clear. You can get gorgeous views of the whole city from just about any hilly area. It's a beautiful place once the summer smog gets swept away.
posted by Sara C. at 2:20 PM on November 15, 2013

I think there has been one day in my year in Los Angeles where I have wanted an umbrella.

The average rainfall in January for Los Angeles is 3.12". The one January you were in Los Angeles, the total rainfall was 1.18". Three of the last 10 LA Januarys have had rainfalls near 8", and the rainiest month on record for Los Angeles was January 1969, when the total was 14.94"

But one thing we agree on 100% is the beauty of the city after the rains.
posted by hwyengr at 3:17 PM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

When it rains here, it showers for 20 minutes. Or it'll be sort of Pacific Northwest-ish all day and drizzle intermittently. Every once in a while I'll wake up to an especially dewy morning.

I think it actually rained, like, precipitation that would count as rain anywhere else in the US, three times last winter/early spring.

With all due respect, you've been here one winter -- a winter that happened to be exceptionally mild and dry. Yes, January is indeed often very nice here, especially relative to the rest of the country. At the same time, it most certainly can and does rain here for longer than 20 minutes in January, and it's also the time when we tend to get our most severe storm systems:

January 2011
January 2010
January 2008
January 2005

It's actually called "rainy season" here for a reason, aside from the fact that the locals are weather ninnies (though I thought so too the first year I moved here from Chicago), and it does a disservice to first-time visitors to pretend otherwise.
posted by scody at 3:48 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

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