Car Free Journey: Los Angeles

Car Free Journey

By Steve Atlas


This month, we have a real treat! Nathan Landau: a transit planner in Northern California and author of Car Free in Los Angeles and Southern California (Wilderness Press: 2011), will spotlight where to stay in Los Angeles if you are visiting without a car. This is a column you might want to keep, and give to anyone you know who is considering visiting Los Angeles and doesn’t want to drive. (We have also spotlighted Los Angeles in our May 2012 and June 2012, and Long Beach in March 2012.)  (Please send your comments, suggestions, and ideas for places to be spotlighted in future columns to

Where to Stay on a Car Free Trip to LA

by Nathan Landau

Los Angeles is a great city for visitors. It has topnotch beaches, museums, shopping, theatre, restaurants, and more. And, despite what you may have heard, LA is surprisingly navigable without a car. LA has a large (and growing) rail and bus transit network that takes you just about anywhere you want to go.

But it’s important to stay in the right place if you’re seeing LA car-free. Some places in Los Angeles have world-class transit, elsewhere it’s pretty poor. LA is a big city geographically, so one part of town may be more convenient for you than another.  Unlike in East Coast cities, attractions in LA are spread across a wide area. The quality of your experience as a car-free visitor can be greatly affected by where you stay. And many LA hotels are interesting places in their own right.

You might also want to stay in two different areas if you’ll be in LA for four or more nights. This works particularly well if you stay in Downtown LA and Santa Monica. If you stay in two different areas, you can get a sense of both of them. You can also cut down the length of your transit trips-you can visit various destinations from the hotel that’s closer to them.

There are a number of places you could stay car-free in LA, but three of the best and most popular areas are Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Santa Monica.

Downtown LA

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles

Why stay in Downtown LA? Historic Downtown LA is re-emerging as the heart of Los Angeles, with many restaurants, bars, art galleries, sports teams, and more. Once avoided like the plague by LA’s cool folk, they now flock to it (and live in it). If visual arts or pro sports are your focus, stay in Downtown. The renowned live theatres of the Center Theatre Group—the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theatre—are among LA’s finest.

Downtown LA is a big area, roughly defined by the 110 Harbor Freeway on the west, the Los Angeles River on the east, the 101 freeway on the north, and the 10 freeway on the south, but the core area is much smaller.

Downtown is the center of LA’s transit network—especially its rail network—so it’s easy to get almost anywhere from here.  There are dozens of bus lines too. If you’ve got time, staying a few days in Downtown LA and a few days in Santa Monica can give you a better picture of the city, and make it quicker to get places. Downtown is sprinkled with hotels, ranging from moderate cost accommodations to five star hostelries.

How to get to Downtown LA from transportation terminals

LAX—Take the express Flyway bus from any terminal at LAX to Union Station. Then take the Red Line subway one stop to Civic Center for the Omni, three stops to 7th St. Metrocenter  for the LA Athletic Club. Take the Gold Line one stop  from Union Station to Little Tokyo for the Miyako

Union Station—See the directions for LAX

Greyhound—Take bus 60 to 7th & Olive for the LA Athletic Club, for the Omni take bus 62 to 5th & Hill, for the Miyako take bus 18 from 6th & Alameda to 5th & Los Angeles, then bus 92 to Main & 2nd.

Where to Stay in Downtown Los Angeles Choose from a  sprinkling  of business and boutique hotels.

Los Angeles Athletic Club—A historic hotel on top of a terrific athletic club (open to hotel guests) in the very core of Downtown Los Angeles. Not retro, seasoned.  Roughly $160-250.

Omni—The best of modern business hotels in a Bunker Hill location adjacent to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Usually over $200, but quieter weekends may have bargains.

Miyako—Moderately  priced (roughly $125-175) mid-rise hotel  in the lively Little Tokyo section of downtown, catering to Japanese tourists and others.

Outings from Downtown

Rose Garden, Exposition Park—Exposition Park’s Rose Garden is right in the middle of the city. It’s  7 acres with over 200 varieties of roses.  Get there by taking the Expo Line light rail from 7th St/Metrocenter to the Expo Park/USC station, you’ll see the roses.  The park also houses numerous museums.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)—With 100,000+ art objects, LACMA is the only art museum in the Western United States that rivals the scale of the great Eastern comprehensive art museums. LACMA is particularly strong in California art, Latin American art, and Japanese art, which has a whole building devoted to it. There are always intriguing temporary exhibits.  LACMA has a repertory movie series too. Take the fast, frequent 720 Wilshire rapid bus on 5th St. at Main, Broadway, or Grand to Wilshire & Fairfax, about a 30 minute ride. There are also direct buses from Hollywood.

Walking Tour of Downtown Los AngelesThe excellent  Angels Walk Bunker Hill/Historic Core walking

tour covers the new and the old in Downtown.


Why Stay in Hollywood?Hollywood, the neighborhood, is the most geographically central of LA’s leading visitor areas (Downtown is toward the eastern end of the city). Hollywood is full of fun places to eat, drink, watch movies, see plays, and hear concerts. The American Cinematheque shows classic American movies in the classic Egyptian Theatre—but you can also see Disney’s offerings in the historic El Capitan Theatre.  Theatre Row at Santa Monica & Vine is a top locale for small live theatres. On weekends crowds come to Hollywood from all over the city. And of course there’s the Walk of Fame along and near Hollywood Boulevard, with its “stars you never even heard of.” The core of visitors’ Hollywood is along and around Hollywood Blvd. between  Vine St. and  La Brea Blvd.

Hollywood is on the Red Line subway, giving you a quick ride to Koreatown, Downtown LA, and Union Station. There’s also frequent bus service along Sunset Blvd., Hollywood Blvd., and Fairfax Ave. Hollywood has a wide range of lodgings, from budget motels to high gloss, high cost establishments.

Getting to Hollywood from transportation terminals

LAX—Take the Flyway bus from any airport terminal to Union Station. Then take the Red Line to Hollywood/Highland station

Union Station—See the directions to LAX above.

Greyhound—Take the  60 or 760 bus to 7th St./Metrocenter Red Line station, then the Red Line subway to Hollywood/Highland station. (Note: Some local Greyhound trips from the north also stop at North Hollywood, adjacent to the Red Line, but faster express trips do not).

Where to Stay in Hollywood—Stay budget, stay trendy, stay retro

Hollywood Orchid—This moderately priced (generally $119-$179) small hotel directly behind the Hollywood/Highland shopping center has clean, comfortable rooms, many of them with kitchens.

Loew’s  Hollywood—Until recently the Renaissance Hollywood, the Loew’s, a block from Hollywood/Highland, is one of only two luxury high-rise hotels in Hollywood, with a pool and views.

An outing from Hollywood

Universal Studios—The massively popular Universal Studios theme park is one subway stop north of Hollywood/Highland. Take the Red Line to Universal City station, then take the tram or walk uphill to the park itself.  A basic ticket now costs $80, $72 for children less than four feet tall.

Walking Tour of Hollywood—The Angels Walk Hollywood walking tour is a great guide to this historic neighborhood.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica

Why Stay in Santa Monica? The independent (and independent-minded) city of Santa Monica, by the beach, at the western end of Los Angeles, is one of the region’s finest areas. The ocean breeze cools and cleans the air. Besides the beach itself, and the palisade (cliff) above it, there are streets to stroll with window shopping galore, especially the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade. If you’re a shopping center fan, upscale, largely open air Santa Monica Place is one of the most pleasant.

Downtown Santa Monica is roughly bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, Lincoln Blvd. on the east, Wilshire Blvd. on the north and Pico Blvd. on the south.  Many of LA’s major bus lines end  in Santa Monica, so it’s easy to get to Venice, Westwood (UCLA), Beverly Hills, and Downtown LA (via freeway express bus). Santa Monica has a large cluster of hotels, though they do tend to cost more than elsewhere. If you’ve got the time, think about staying in both Santa Monica and Downtown LA.

Getting to Santa Monica from transportation terminals

LAX—First, take the airport’s free “Lot C” shuttle to the City Transit Center. From there take Big Blue Bus 3 (or Rapid 3) north to Pico & Lincoln (for the Bayside) or 4th & Santa Monica (for the Georgian)

Union Station—Take Big Blue Bus express bus 10 to 2nd & Broadway in Santa Monica.

Greyhound—Take the 60 bus to 7th & Grand, then Big Blue Bus 10 to 2nd & Broadway in Santa Monica.

Where to Stay in Santa Monica—A dozen lovely downtown Santa Monica hotels, many north of $300.

Georgian Hotel—A beautiful art deco hotel  (once a nursing home) overlooking the ocean in the heart

of downtown Santa Monica.  Rates in the $250-300 range, sometimes less.

Bayside Hotel—A low cost property (roughly $150-250) by Santa Monica standards, a pleasant motel near the beach a short walk south of downtown Santa Monica,

An Outing from Santa Monica


Venice—Venice is the funky, gentrifying but still countercultural neighborhood just south of the city of Santa Monica—about 2 miles south of downtown Santa Monica.  Venice’s Ocean Front Walk is a fun fair of outdoor kiosks selling clothing, jewelry, art items, not to mention (the relocated) Muscle Beach. A few blocks east, Abbott Kinney Blvd. is a street of highly trendy restaurants and flossy boutiques. South of Venice Blvd. (east of Main St.) the famed canals create a lovely, tranquil residential environment.  From Santa Monica, walk, bike, skateboard (a common transport mode in these parts) or take Big Blue Bus 1 to Pacific St. & Rose Ave.

Where Not to Stay—the LAX area—Car-free travelers are sometimes tempted to stay near the airport, near LAX. They figure that rates are cheaper there, so why not stay there and take the bus to various attractions? This is a bad idea for several reasons. The environment around the airport is unpleasant, and the huge, noisy streets there are poor places to walk. Transit isn’t that good to the hotels, because airport transit doesn’t  go to the hotels. You’ll spend a long time getting places, don’t do it.

For More Information


Santa Monica transit—Big Blue Bus–

Arts and entertainment—LA Weekly–

Arts, entertainment, news—Los Angeles Times–

For more details about Los Angeles attractions, visit, or call (323) 467-6412

About me and my book—I’m Nathan Landau: a transit planner in Northern California who has traveled to Los Angeles car-free (and car-burdened) for decades.  I’ve published a travel book for car-free travelers called Car Free Los Angeles and Southern California (Wilderness  Press, 2011). It’s over 400 pages of strategies and details about seeing these LA areas, as well as Pasadena, Long Beach, San Diego, and even Disneyland (and many more).  Ask your favorite bookstore to order it for you. Or order it through, the on-line service of the

famous Portland bookstore:

Get it for yourself, get it for your LA friends who just “Know” that you have to drive everywhere in LA.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: