I wouldn’t advise anyone to visit Los Angeles without a car, in fact, I would exhort them not to. Although I fully appreciate the values of walking around a new city – that you invariable get to see far more and learn of unique eateries or shops which aren’t in the guide books – a walking tour is not suited to L.A.
When I turned up at LAX with the benighted belief I would traverse the city by foot and bus, I knew little of the troubles that awaited me. However, to the surprise of many of the locals, I spent a week without any kind of vehicle sightseeing in L.A. and I saw everything I came for. This is my advice to those that, ignoring my admonition, arrive in L.A. and have no intention of renting a car.
I had decided to stay in the Hollywood Hills, seduced by the numerous American TV shows I had seen set there. I jumped into a cab from the airport for ease but as we began to climb the undulating road I was alarmed by the steep hill, at least a mile and a half long from the Hollywood Boulevard, to where I would be sleeping. This was an unforeseen hitch in my car-less scheme. It meant that before I could get on a bus or the underground I had to walk, everyday and usually more than once, a mile and a half up or down the steep hill.
What the car-less traveller needs to know
The sheer size of L.A. means being able to drive ensures you get to places quicker and easier. You cannot walk from one destination to the other. On my first day I made the crippling mistake of believing I could stroll from the Hollywood Hills to Beverly Hills. I usually walk everywhere and as there was no underground to take me I just believed good perseverance would get me there. I got halfway and collapsed on the stretching flat pavement, sweating from the boiling sun, which heated the white-wash streets like a bleached oven. It was only now I fully comprehended the task I had taken on. I gave up and after 30 minutes finally hailed a taxi (they are hard to hail off the street as they are usually busy between the centres of areas). From this day I vowed I wouldn’t try this again.
If you’re going car-less you need to know a bit about the bus, the underground and the places you can wander in.
The bus is not for the faint-hearted. It is unbelievably cheap which is a big positive. Saying this my experience wasn’t always so rosy. The buses are slow, so slow, which doesn’t sound like a pain but if you need to travel from, say, Hollywood to Venice beach then it is (one of the journeys there took two hours). They are also crammed full and very noisy. Everyone who can afford a car in LA drives. The bus isn’t the easiest mode of transport but you can get from A to B and while you’re doing so sample a little of LA life. Bus timetables can be found at any tourist information building, or at your hotel, or online.
The underground is an easy to follow, uncomplicated system; ask your hotel for a map or go to your nearest station. The only problem is that the underground doesn’t service all the places you will want to go when in L.A. so you can’t use it all the time.
You can hail taxis but this becomes much harder if you’re not in the centre of an area. Taxis aren’t too expensive but traffic can cause the price to rocket and if you’re going a long way this may become a problem.
All in all, by driving around L.A. you will see more, in a relax and unstressed way. But public transport isn’t all bad, like I said, it does get you there, even if it takes a while.
My favourite places to go:
Venice beach and Muscle beach
Venice beach is the renowned Mecca of California and has kept its eccentric spirit intact. Muscle-bound gym bunnies, skateboarders, in-line skaters and radicals populate the sun-doused streets. You can lounge on the endless sandy beach, people-watch, enjoy lunch at Figtree’s Cafe or strap on some blades and join in with the locals.
South Grand Avenue is where you will find the sumptuous Mr Churro but ensure you chomp on the caramel-filled churros, with a liquid toffee centre and crisp outer-shell, they are the best. This little centre has numerous tiny shops and where the curvaceous, metal Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall is located. Check out Chinatown for madness and quality Chinese cuisine. As night falls go to the Edison, originally a power-plant, this nightspot is the place to spend an evening with amazing DJS and a weekly burlesque show.
The rather unkempt streets paying homage to the crumbling image of the golden days of Hollywood are enchanting. Many people are unimpressed and disappointed with what they believe to be a dishevelled and no longer awe-inspiring Hollywood. It is more trash-glam than just glam; it has a fading beauty with roads that speak of famous footsteps and are drenched in history. The inside of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is breath-taking; seemingly endless golden ceilings are framed by red-velvet curtain walls where dark sequestered spaces are a little eerie.
On Hollywood and North Highland Avenue there is a classic American diner where I enjoyed my first ever quintessential American breakfast of thick pancakes swimming in golden butter and topped with sweet berry jam. Towering up above the street on Hollywood and Orange Drive is the Roosevelt Hotel, where Marilyn Monroe lived for two years. This place does great cocktails, has a beautiful bar and a gorgeous sweeping balcony.
The Getty Centre
Wander through the gardens, admire the Getty’s incredible architecture or actually go inside and appreciate its unparalleled art collection.
Runyon Canyon Park
There are two distinctive types of Angelinos; the city folk who get out of the smog and go running or hiking up hills and the beach dwellers who take in the sea air and skate, surf or run. This place belongs to the former. This is runners heaven, with superlative views, where the beauty of L.A. formed of mountains, sea and city can be fully appreciated.
You can easily reach Hollywood by bus or underground, depending on where you are coming from, and from Hollywood Boulevard it is a ten/fifteen minute walk.
You have to see this at least once. Although you can no longer get so close to the sign, hiking up Outpost Drive will afford you exceptional views of it.
What makes L.A. an enticing and intriguing place to visit is its heterogeneity and refusal to be identified as any one idea or overall personality. There is so much here it needs more than one trip to make the most of what this assorted city has to offer.