A Cluster of Logistical Miniquestions for an Upcoming First Trip to L.A.
January 20, 2015 7:24 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are heading to L.A. for the first time later this week, and we're stoked to see all the gnarly rad things (people talk like that in L.A., right?). But we have a few nuts and bolts questions.

1. We really want to see the Getty Villa. We'll be staying at roughly Hollywood Blvd and Curson Avenue... is driving from there to the Getty Villa likely to be a day-killer, given L.A. traffic patterns?

2. We also plan on hanging out at a beach, even if it's just to stand on sand and look out at the water and say, "yep, there's an ocean." Are we likely to be able to go into said ocean, or is it just too cold this time of year? And is the Santa Monica beach decent for hanging out on / swimming if the weather's warm?

3. Apple Maps tells us to basically take La Cienega Blvd most of the way into town from LAX. Should we trust Apple Maps?

4. Anything else I / we should know?
posted by the phlegmatic king to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (23 answers total)
La Cienega will definitely get you into town from LAX.
posted by xingcat at 7:28 AM on January 20, 2015

Santa Monica is OK for beach, but Venice is also the movie version of the L.A. beach experience. You could also go to Manhattan Beach, which is the rich person's version. It's kinda fun to walk the Strand and gawk into rich people's houses.

For those not used to it, the Pacific Ocean is decidedly colder than the Atlantic, so yeah, it might be too cold. Surfers will be out in wetsuits.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:34 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. You need to have reservations for parking at the Getty Villa and you need to reserve your tickets ahead of time, so get that sorted to insure that you've done it. It's on the way to Malibu, so continue on there to drive up Pacific Coast Highway and see the ocean. As for traffic, without knowing EXACTLY where you're lodging is, it's going to be a hard call re: Traffic. I always stay in Hollywood and I just take Santa Monica west to the coast. Takes about an hour, but it's kind of a fun drive. According to the Getty Website, there's road construction on PCH, so yeah, plan on the Getty and the beach as a whole day thing.

2. Santa Monica Pier and Beach is as good as any. It might be warm enough to sit on the beach, the water will be very cold. Like you'll need a wet suit cold. I always bring a sweatshirt to the beach. The pier has Hot Dog on a Stick and other fun stuff.

3. La Cienega is how I always get into Hollywood. I usually stay at the Sofitel on La Cienega and Beverly. Again, depends on where you're staying.

4. Be smart about planning your days. Do things in consolidated geographical areas. Unless you're very comfortable, you may want to stay off the freeways and take the slower surface streets.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:38 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm not a big swimmer myself so this is not a personal opinion, but people always seem to say that the water here in LA is too cold especially in winter. And then I go hang out at the beach and see all kinds of people in the water. So it's obviously not too cold for some people. And they aren't dead.

I was just at Venice Beach yesterday and people were certainly in the water. Mostly surfers with wetsuits, yes, but they are in the water for an extended period of time. There were some casual swimmers and even 6 year old kids splashing around in the water. Not hordes of them like in summer, but some. I'm sure it was cold but they were in there. In conclusion, the answer of whether you can go in the water in winter is a firm maybe!
posted by thebordella at 7:44 AM on January 20, 2015

Do things in consolidated geographical areas.

I'm seconding this, and would like to humbly offer a walking tour of Little Tokyo I wrote up for another LA travel question.

The restaurant I mention, Red Medicine, has unfortunately closed.

LA Taco is a great blog for events and such.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another thought. If you want to see celebrities, I suggest hanging out at the Rexall/Longs/CVS on LaCienega and Beverly at The Beverly Connection. I met Seth Green there. You see a lot of people who are just running in for a little something, plus it's a great drug store!

There's also a Ralph's in that complex, if you want fruit or chips or something.

Try to get on a game show. Gives you something to do. I got on one and won $1700!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:13 AM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks a ton, all!

One clarification: On the La Cienega / LAX question, I guess what I was really getting at was, is that route likely to be a bad traffic mess? Or am I just overthinking traffic avoidance altogether?
posted by the phlegmatic king at 8:38 AM on January 20, 2015

The Santa Monica Pier is pretty gritty as is Venice.

From your hotel, take Hollywood Blvd to Fairfax, make a right onto Sunset, Sunset to the PCH, right onto the PCH to the Getty Villa. Continue on into Malibu for better beaches. Park anywhere on the PCH.

Sunset in Hollywood near your hotel is a traffic snarl and I refuse to drive on it. You should, too.

From your hotel you are 5 minutes from the Griffith Observatory and you should go there on a clear night. Patience gets you a spot at the top. $7 gets you a planetarium show. Sunset on Fridays is a little crowded. Around 7pm the telescopes open for viewing - I saw Comet Lovejoy, Jupiter, and The Orion Nebula last week. The cafe there has really great food.

Memail for specific beaches. Enjoy your trip!
posted by jbenben at 8:43 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

What time of day? What day? Where are you going? Direction matters, time of day matters, day matters.

If you want to avoid traffic, download Waze, it's an awesome ap that can give you alternate routes around traffic. It eats data and battery life, so FYI!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:43 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Driving from Hollywood and Curson to the Getty is not a day killer. Wait until after rush hour (9:45) to set out. And yes, La Cienega or Robertson would be your best bet to the 10. Plan on spending the entire day in Malibu if you can't leave the Villa by 3. From there on, rush hour begins and goes until about 7.

I live in Santa Monica and just got back from a 7 am run. It's foggy and I was running in the water barefoot (I love to do that) with a sleeveless tee and my leggings rolled up past my knees. Picture of Cali perfection right? It's how I like to start at least half my days. So yes, the water is fine for going in up to your knees, particularly if your body is warmed up. Surfers are still wearing wet suits. But do take a sweater to tie around your waist.

As for the beach itself, I like to go far north of the pier where it is less populated. You can walk from the pier along Palisades Park and look for a set of stairs crossing over PCH to the beach. From there you can head north along the ocean toward Malibu until you reach a jetty of rocks. At this point the beach gets too close to PCH and it gets too noisy with traffic and it's time to turn around and head back.

Trust Apple maps.

Go to the Farmers Market on Fairfax.

Have fun.
posted by zagyzebra at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I visit L.A. quite a bit. A couple things I consciously do to make my visits high-fun / low-frustration:

- Expect to be in a lot of traffic and plan for it. If I need to be somewhere at a specific time (like a show that starts at a specific time) I usually plan on eating in that area and get there with lots of extra time to eat and get to the event. If I can park in one place and walk from a restaurant to the event, so much the better. When I'm IN traffic, I take a very zen approach to it, and just try to enjoy the ride as much as possible.

- Parking can be a big pain. I do some online research about parking when I go to an unfamiliar area, and even use Google Street View so I'm familiar with the area before going there in person. Also, I have no problem making use of valet parking. It's usually not that expensive and worth every penny in a congested area. In many areas, the street parking may be very limited, but the valets have permission to use nearby retail parking lots. (My local L.A. friends seem to do everything possible to avoid paying for valet parking, which I understand. If I lived there and paid valet rates all the time, it would get very expensive. But on a week-long vacation, paying $10 or so a few times is well worth the convenience.)

- For beachy sightseeing, a drive along the PCH from Malibu to Santa Monica is great. There are places you can park on the PCH and take a walk on the beach, watch surfers, and enjoy the ocean air. Driving from Malibu will keep the ocean (and oceanside parking) on your right, making it easier to duck into an available parking spot. The Malibu Pier is along that route. Getty Villa is about mile from Topanga Beach, the site of Cholada Thai Beach Cuisine, which is a great restaurant housed in humble-looking shack-like building.

Have fun!
posted by The Deej at 8:49 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just for reference, the current ocean temperature in LA is 62. Too cold for me, and I live here and go to the beach regularly. I had my toes in the water last week on a day when the air temp was 80, and I got out promptly due to the water temp. ymmv.
posted by vignettist at 8:52 AM on January 20, 2015

Before you go in the water at a given beach, it might be worth a gander at the LA County Dept of Public Health Beach Advisories page, as there can be various gnarly (and decidedly not rad) bacteria and/or other contaminations. Mostly not an issue unless it has rained, but a good idea nonetheless.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:08 AM on January 20, 2015

Best answer: You're overthinking it. Do you have a Smartphone? Use Waze (but bring a 12v USB adapter and cable). Or I guess Google Maps uses Waze data now, but I'm so fond of Waze that I stick with it. It's very good at routing you around the worst of what's going on.

Waze's ETAs are very reliable, so I tend to check my route about 90 minutes before I need to be somewhere to find out about how long it'll take and when I need to aim to leave the house. And then I check again about 20 minutes before that target time to make sure something hasn't happened.

There is no such thing as "day-killing" traffic, we're not chronically gridlocked. Out of courtesy and for sanity's sake, maybe stay off the freeways from 7-9am.

Every once in a while something ghastly happens on a freeway (yesterday it was a mule on the 405) and that'll make you a little late for lunch for sure, but it gets handled. Pee before you get on a freeway, is my rule, but you don't need a tent and provisions. Avoid crossing town for a 15-minute visit because you will be grumpy about it, definitely, but "bad traffic" on La Cienega getting out of LAX means you might not go quite the speed limit all the time. Surface streets are surface streets, they have outlets in case of blockage, it never gets all that bad.

However, left turns on surface streets are tension-making here because protected lefts are pretty rare compared to other places I have driven. I have finally perfected the thing where I run the red to make my turn, and people will honk at you if you don't, but always remember: three rights usually make a left, if you can do that and cross straight at a light.

Agreed that parking is a beast. If you're going to a specific place (restaurant, for example), check the website for parking instructions, or check Yelp to see if the reviews mention parking issues, or call the restaurant and ask. Sometimes there's a garage or lot, and sometimes you're going to cruise the nearby neighborhoods for street parking (and sometimes the street parking is preferable to other options). Our meters take credit/debit cards. Waze will not tell you how long it will take to park, so add 5-10m for a definite garage where you just need to find a spot and walk through it and 20 for anything Yelpers complain about parking on.

I like Malibu's beaches for quiet beachiness, just anywhere along the PCH that looks good. When guests come to town, we'll take them to Malibu Seafood (the [pay] parking lot next door belongs to the state park service and is the trailhead for a short elevated loop that you might enjoy if you don't mind a little climb) to stuff themselves and then we'll drive back south on the PCH to one of the beaches within sight of the Malibu pier to walk around and take pictures. I get cold very fast on the beach - it's usually 10 degrees cooler there than on my side of town, and windy - even in the sun. But I also like the Santa Monica pier for it's quintessential Santa Monica pier-ness. It is a place you can go and say I recognize this from one million things I have seen before. Santa Monica also seems to have a well-groomed beach; the little Malibu spots I tend to stop at are pretty kelpy.

If you have a favorite comedian or LA-based podcast, check their schedules. You'll be surprised who you might be able to check out for $5-30 in a small friendly venue.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:10 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

From my experiences in LA, I would suggest staying off the freeways as much as possible, and driving outside of rush hour. I was actually really surprised at how empty surface streets could be while the freeway was clogged.

And it wasn't on your list but I highly recommend Griffith Observatory, even if you don't go in you get amazing views of the city from up there.
posted by Automocar at 9:11 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Angeleno here, nthing Waze. Use it for the entire trip and your life (and visit!) will be much easier. Caveat: it's a battery killer. Use it in the car w/a car charger, and when you exit the car and/or are no longer using it, be sure you've quit the app completely.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:30 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing all the Santa Monica recommendations. The pier and the 3rd Street Promenade are fun. Agreed that the beach north of the pier is quite nice.

If you decide to explore closer to your hotel and find yourself near Los Feliz/Griffith Park, consider doing drive-bys of Hollyhock House (unfortunately closed for restoration at the moment, but the park is nice and you can still view the outside) and the Ennis House (the latter particularly if you're a fan of Blade Runner, the original House on Haunted Hill, or the numerous other movies it's appeared in.) La Luz de Jesus gallery is also in that neck of the woods.
posted by usonian at 9:37 AM on January 20, 2015

I work in Santa Monica. It's a bit too chilly for a real beach day this week, but it's not so cold that a walk on the beach and splashing about in the water a little would be unbearable. I wouldn't swim without a wetsuit though. But bring a jacket and you'll be fine.

Looking out the office windows at the beach right now though, it's not exactly pretty beach weather. Pretty cloudy and blah right now. If the weather stays overcast by the end of the week, adjust your expectations accordingly.
posted by yasaman at 10:58 AM on January 20, 2015

Best answer: 1. L.A. traffic is trafficky, but it's not "day killer" trafficky. Getty Villa is like an hour's drive from where you're staying, even if you end up going at rush hour. In general, unless something is outside Los Angeles proper, you can reach it in between twenty and forty-five minutes by car. And that's basically anywhere in L.A., from one end to the other. More far-flung locations (which I would class Getty Villa as) more like 45 minutes to an hour. If you want to go to Disneyland, yeah, that's going to eat a day, because it's Anaheim and not even in L.A. County. But in general it doesn't take all that long to get from point A to point B within Los Angeles proper.

2. Time your beach visit with your Getty Villa visit, and it'll feel even less like a "day killer"! Malibu and points north of Santa Monica are also much more scenic than the Santa Monica/Venice* scene. Personally I find the Pacific pretty cold in general (grew up along the Gulf Coast where the water is very warm), but I always see people in the water here so sure. Winters here are very mild, and the weather over the past few weeks has not been especially cold. (In fact last weekend was downright hot.) While the water is colder here than in other places, it's not going to be Polar Bear Dive frigid. One point in favor of Santa Monica, though, is that there's a lot to do besides go in the water, so if you find the water cold you can just hang out on the pier or ride bikes on the boardwalk or people watch or get lunch. The more isolated beaches don't have as much in the way of amenities, and some don't have facilities of any kind. Surfrider Beach in Malibu might be a good compromise, as it's a popular spot, but still interesting and different.

3. I use a combo of the IOS Maps app, Google Maps, and Waze for navigating LA. IOS Maps (AKA "Apple") is fine, though not always the fastest way at this particular moment taking current conditions into account. You will definitely get where you're going, though. Waze, on the other hand, is best at the fastest route RIGHT NOW, but will always want you to do weird shit like take a left turn at a two-way stop onto a busy street. Google Maps is a good compromise in my opinion. But IOS won't steer you wrong.

4. Don't worry too much! Aside from side trips to further out locations, honestly LA isn't nearly as sprawly as people make it out to be. (Though it's also not nearly as compact as a city like New York, Boston, or Philadelphia.) Traffic can be awful if you're a commuter who needs to take the 405 into the Valley on a daily basis, but for just driving around doing the tourist thing it's honestly not that big a deal. Taking surface streets is a good idea, both because you'll see more and also because honestly, as I said, unless you're going outside Los Angeles proper things just aren't that far. I often have to go from Culver City to Burbank for work (basically from one end of the city to the other), and it's usually just as convenient to take surface streets as it is to take the freeway.

*FWIW Santa Monica and Venice are not gritty at all, seriously they're some of the most trendy and upscale neighborhoods in the city. Venice Beach has a reputation as a stoner destination and there are a lot of scruffy busker types, but it's certainly not dangerous at all. In general, you should expect to see more homeless people in Los Angeles than you are used to wherever you're from.
posted by Sara C. at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2015

By the way, you'll be about a mile and a half from my favorite hilltop lookout, at Yamashiro. I like going up there just a little before sunset, poke around and take pictures, then have dinner or a drink while the sun goes down. There's nowhere to park for free, valet's either $5 or $8 (I can't remember), so you might as well have a drink and an appetizer. The food's fine but nothing special. The view is pretty amazing.

You'll drive past the Magic Castle on the way up, as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:01 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I live near the pier and it's really cold right now. The sun didn't come out at all today and the marine layer has been hanging out all day. Personally I think it's perfect weather for riding bikes on the bike path that runs along the beach. Here's a bunch of info from a previous answer of mine.

Remember it will be a few noticeable degrees cooler here than Hollywood; definitely bring a jacket if you're going to be here in the evening. Also, I will donate $10 to the charity of your choice if you go in the water without a wet suit.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:24 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Note that "it's really cold right now" is like 65 degrees or so. I'm at work only a couple miles from the coast and it's warm enough to be walking around in shirtsleeves outdoors. I have a light jacket for after it gets dark.

Angelenos tend to wear parkas if it's under 70 degrees out. Assuming you don't live in either Miami or San Diego, you likely will not find it cold here at all.

Not sure it's precisely sunbathing weather, though, either. Keep in mind just a few days ago it was sunny and in the 80s. Total crapshoot.
posted by Sara C. at 4:45 PM on January 20, 2015

If you are at the Getty Villa at the end of the day, consider eating dinner in Brentwood, Santa Monica, or Venice; do not try to drive back to Hollywood during rush hour. Sunset is often fine for a while and then crazy congested. Traffic is clearer by 6:30 or 7 though!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:31 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

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