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Visiting Los Angeles without a car

Houston, Texas
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Visiting Los Angeles without a car

Hi All,

This is my first question here. I have found this forum very useful in my travel plans.

My sis & her husband are visiting the U.S and they don't drive. They will be in Los Angeles for 3 days (12, 13, 14 August). They would be visiting the usual touristy spots like the Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, Ripley, Hollywood signs. Besides these, I wanted to give them the following options:

a) One of the theme parks (either Disney or Universal)

b) The beach (is Santa Monica good or should they try Malibu?)

c) A day in San Diego zoo and back the same day (I know - its a 2:45 train ride one way)

I am trying to decide where would they be best positioned to stay (close to touristy spots & close to public transportation). Is Hollywood/West-Hollywood better or is downtown better?

I am also trying to decide whether they should stay in a hotel or a vacation rental. I saw some pretty decent rentals which are cheaper than hotels in the Hollywood area, but dont know if they will be as conveniently located - public transport wise

Thanks in advance for your suggestions


Los Angeles...
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1. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

If it were me, I'd stay in Hollywood and make use of the subway to Universal Studios. Disneyland is difficult to get to using public transportation. Santa Monica can be easily reached by bus from Hollywood. Union Station can be easily reached by subway where they can board the train to San Diego.

Anaheim, California
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2. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

OK, I would opt for the following, stay near the corner of Hollywood and Highland, seems like you are watcjiung the budget, so I would start with the Orchid Suites, an extended stay Hotel, so comes with a kitchen or kitchenette, they have a nice low internet rate.


This will place you next to many of the Hollywood attractions mentioned. Here is a nice discounted bundle of attractions.


If you opt for this area, I would opt to visit Universal Studios , as it is an easy public transit ride. Just take the LA Metro Red Line Subway one stop for the Hollywood and Highland Station to Universal City.

To get to San Diego, take the LA Metro Red Line to Union Station, and then catch the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to San Diego. (Once you arrive at Santa Fe Station in SD, take the San Diego Trolley to the City College Station, and then the MTS Route 7 bus to the Zoo.

The tough one is the beach, lots of choices.

The Amtrak or the Metrolink Trains stop at the San Clemente Pier.

The LA Metro Red Line to the Blue Line will take you to Long Beach.

Or there are a couple of bus options to get to Santa Monica. You might also want to look at the Starline Tours Hop-On/Hop-Off bus service (main depot is at Hollywood and Highland), it has Santa Monica as one of its stops.

Hope that helps.

Los Angeles
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3. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

Hollywood or downtown could both work.

Hollywood is where most of the specific sights you mentioned are located - Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, Ripley, Hollywood signs. From Hollywood...

a) For Theme Parks, Hollywood is a one - two stop (depending on where in Hollywood they stay) ride on the Red Line subway to Universal. For Disney, its more involved - they can take a tour bus to Disney from Hollywood, take the Red Line subway to the 7th St. Metro Center in downtown LA and from there Metro Bus 460 to Disneyland, or take the Red Line subway to Union Station in downtown LA, and from there take Metrolink (www.metrolinktrains.com) or Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) to the station in Fullerton, and from there taxi or OCTA Bus 43 to Disneyland (www.octa.net). The latter is probably the best way to go.

b) the beach (Santa Monica) is two buses away - Metro Bus 217 or 780 west on Hollywood Blvd. to Fairfax Ave. and Santa Monica, Blvd, then Metro Bus 720 west to Santa Monica, exiting at 4th St. and Broadway Ave. which is a short walk to the beach. Malibu is not a good area to visit without your own car - huge, spread out area with very limited bus service, not a good place to end up on foot to explore.

c) for the zoo in San Diego, you can take the Red Line subway as above to Union station and then take Amtrak from there to San Diego.

For downtown LA, it would depend where but most hotels will be near one of the stations for the Red Line subway. They can take the Red Line to Hollywood / Highland to see Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, Ripley, Hollywood signs.

a) for theme parks, basically the same as in Hollywood - take the Red Line to the Universal City station for Universal, or go to Disney via 1) Red Line to 7th St. Metro Center & Bus 460 to Disney or 2) Red Line to Union Station, Amtrak/Metrolink to Fullerton and taxi or OCTA bus 43 to Disney.

b) For Santa Monica beach, take the red line to Union Station and then Big Blue Bus #10 to Santa Monica (www.bigbluebus.com)

c) San Diego - red line to Union Station and then Amtrak.

If they decide to do a vacation rental, just pay attention to the exact location relative to where the nearest Metro station is . Hollywood tends to be better both for public transit and for the niceness of the area on the west side of Hollywood (but do not confuse with West Hollywood, which is a separate, nicer area but public transit not as good there) - near Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave. or Hollywood Blvd. and Vine St. I'm not sure if you'll find much in the way of vacation rentals in downtown LA - chances are they'd be in highrise condo buildings or in bad areas at the edge of downtown, so check with us first.

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4. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

The "usual touristy spots" that you mentioned can be seen in an hour or so, and tend to underwhelm many visitors, esp. those who are not devoted to celebrity culture or movie history. So unless this describes your family members, I wouldn't focus the trip on Hollywood Blvd. The primary advantage of staying somewhere near Hollywood Blvd is that this area is what passes for a public transit hub in LA.

San Diego as a day trip from LA isn't really advisable, and is even less so without a car. Too long. Esp. in a visit of only 3 days.

I'd ask your family members to do a little research and come up with a list of things they'd like to do. That will help determine where they should consider basing themselves. But without a car, I'd start by eliminating San Diego and Malibu.

Universal Studios can be reached by the Red Line metro. Disneyland is a somewhat lengthy and complicated, multi-step trip by public transit. But tour companies and Luxebus do go to Disneyland, for a price.

Santa Monica is great, has a fine beach and many things to do nearby, and has a good transit system of its own for getting around. If I were a visitor without a car and just three days, I'd stay in Santa Monica, and venture out just for a day to Hollywood, the Farmers Market, and LACMA. It is somewhat removed from the "center" of things (still not sure we have a center), but this isn't always a disadvantage. Malibu is out of the way for everyone and impossible as a base without a car.

Edited: 22 July 2013, 21:23
Houston, Texas
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5. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

Thanks everyone! I wasnt expecting so many replies within an hour.

Pasca: the reason I am a bit hesitant about Santa Monica is that it would mean at least 2 day-trips into LA. One day for the "usual" spots and another for one of the theme parks (I am thinking Universal). While if I was based in Hollywood, I need to make only 1 trip out to Santa Monica one day.

MachThree: thanks for the tip about West Hollywood. Regarding the 2 vacation rentals, I had checked out so far: one of them was near the intersection of Highland Avenue & W 3rd Street (area called Central LA in the map). The other one was a bit further to the north - the owner said its up in the Hills near the Hollywood sign and not very ideal for public transport

West Hollywood...
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6. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

Near Highland & 3rd Street is a good area (safe, anyway). They'd still have to take short bus rides to reach central Hollywood, the Farmers Market area, etc. How much is the cost of this vacation rental? Have you looked at the Park Plaza Lodge Hotel (which isn't far from there but slightly better located as far as public transit?)

I, too, am not a big fan of visiting San Diego for a day via public transit. I think you're underestimating the transfer time. It's a multi-step transfer in each direction (unless they're willing to pop for taxis in each city) as follows: (Directions are from central Hollywood, a weekday transfer departing the red line station at around 8:00):

a. Walk to red line station (5-10 minutes -- let's call it 7 minutes).

b. Descend 2 levels to the platform (If they need to buy tickets for the train, add 2 more minutes). Let's call it 3 minutes in total.

b. Wait for train (average wait: 6 minutes)

c. Red LIne to Union Station (21 minutes)

d. Ascend 2 levels into Union Station. Walk to the display board and look up the track #: 2 minutes.

e. Enter the tunnel under the tracks and walk to the exit for the appropriate track. Ascend the steps to the platform: 1 minute.

f. Wait for the train (I assume they'll want to be there at least 10 minutes early -- 'just in case')

g. The 8:30 Amtrak departure arrives in San Diego train station in downtown at 11:20.

So, let's recap so far. In order to make the 8:30 train, they'll have to leave their hotel (using the steps above) at 7:40 a.m. By arriving at San Diego's train station at 11:20, they will have spent 3 hours, 40 minutes in transfer, thus far. If they opted for a taxi, they could be at the zoo at around 11:40 -- 4 hours after leaving their hotel. If they utilized public transit to reach the zoo, they'd have to walk a short distance to catch the #7 bus (the next departure is at 11:51) which arrives adjacent to the Zoo at 12:07.

So, that's 8 to 9 hours in round-trip transfer time utilizing:

a. Their feet -- a bunch of times

b. The metro rail (subway) -- in each direction

c. An above-ground train -- in each direction

d. A taxi or a bus -- in each direction

Plus, they have to walk up and down hills (within the zoo) in the August heat. Do you dislike these people? Is that it? LOL

Houston, Texas
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7. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

LOL! Now that you put it that way, I am going to advise them to gave San Diego a skip.

The vacation rental was $75 per night. Add cleaning charge, tax etc, it works out to 100-105 per night. Not bad at all - eh?

Santa Monica...
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8. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

Not a bad price, but it depends on the location. If they don't have a car, it might be a terrible experience.

Drop San Diego for sure, and Malibu is virtually impossible without a car.

9. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

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10. Re: Visiting Los Angeles without a car

We are planning a 8 day trip to LA including 2 days of Disney (my wife and kids are Disney crazy!). We are in the same situation without car, do you think the sub-way, Amtrak and bus service in LA and around are safe? By safety I mean early morning hours, during day-time and late evening, I am worried about extreme such as life-threatening crimes!

Some of my colleagues have scared me to death about life without a car in America.