How to Get to Los Angeles California

  • 01 of 07

    How to Get to Los Angeles

    Jet Landing at Sunset in Los Angeles
    Jet Landing at Sunset in Los Angeles. Joseph Sohm / Getty Images

    Asking how to get to Los Angeles is like asking how to get to the United States: the answer depends on where you're going. To put it in perspective, Los Angeles is a big city all by itself, but the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area covers five counties and more than 15,000 square miles of cities and towns.

    To find out exactly how to get to Los Angeles, first, decide where you're going within that big metro area. After that, you can use this guide to check the options for getting there.

    4 Ways to Get to Los Angeles

    No matter where your final destination is in the Los Angeles area, you'll have to get to town first. The following pages describe the most common ways people get to Los Angeles by driving, flying, bus or train.​​

    Once know how to get to Los Angeles, you still need to get around the sprawling city. Try these options, which are covered after that: airport shuttles, rental car, and transportation by driving and public transit

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  • 02 of 07

    Driving to Los Angeles

    USA, California, Los Angeles, highway signage seen through car window
    Driving to Los Angeles. Grant Faint / Getty Images

    Many Los Angeles visitors arrive in personal cars or rented ones. The major highways into Los Angeles include I-5 from San Diego or Sacramento, US Hwy 101 from the north, I-15 from Las Vegas and I-10 from Phoenix.

    Time Considerations for Driving to Los Angeles

    More people visit Los Angeles from the San Francisco area than anywhere else. Most visitors fly into LAX, so we'll use that trip as an example. Here are the facts:

    • A flight from SFO, Oakland or San Jose to LAX takes a little more than an hour.
    • You need to arrive at the airport at least an hour early to check in.
    • It could take up to an hour to get to the airport, park, and get to the terminal.
    • On arrival in Los Angeles, it will take at least 30 minutes to get off the airplane and pick up your luggage.
    • It will take at least another 30 minutes to pick up a rental car or catch a shuttle.

    That adds up to four hours. Depending on where you live, it could take five to six hours to drive to Los Angeles from San Francisco via the shortest route, and less if your destination is on the road between your starting point and the airport.

    When you first think about it, the advantages of flying should improve with longer distances. That's true if time is your primary concern. However, two or more people who have plenty of time may find costs about the same whether they drive or fly, even for trips that might take two days of driving.

    Cost Considerations for Driving to Los Angeles

    • For one person who has the flexibility to plan ahead and choose lower-priced times of day to travel, the cost difference between flying and driving in a fuel-efficient automobile will probably be small.
    • The cost advantages tip toward driving if two or more people are traveling.

    VIA magazine (Northern California's AAA publication) compared flying and driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Staff members (each with a child) made the trip on the same day. They found driving less expensive, but tedious and time-consuming. Flying was fast but stressful.

    In response to that article, economics professor David Tufte from Southern Utah University offered a different analysis, taking into account less obvious factors:

    • Greenhouse gas emissions (about the same in each case)
    • Risk of a fatal accident
    • How much someone would have to pay you to be on the road when you'd rather be doing something else

    His conclusion was that driving is slightly more costly.

    More About Driving to Los Angeles

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  • 03 of 07

    Airports in Los Angeles

    Los Angeles Area Airports
    Los Angeles Area Airports. Adapted from Google Maps

    See the LA Area airport map above in an interactive version.

    Getting to Los Angeles by Air

    Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is by far the most commonly-used of the LA area airports, but not the only one. In fact, there are five commercial airports in the Los Angeles area.

    Consider one of these other LA area airports, especially if you're flying into LA from within California or adjoining states - or are going to place that the area other airports closer to. The map above shows where they are - along with a few of the most popular tourist spots.

    Los Angeles Area Airports

    LAX: LAX is the largest (and therefore busiest) LA area airport. It's on the coast, west of downtown. LAX is the only option for many international travelers. It's also served by the highest number of airlines. On the downside, it’s busy, chaotic and noisy - and almost 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles. And despite its size and popularity, public transportation isn't readily available.

    Long Beach (LGB): South of LAX, LGB is convenient for visiting the city of Long Beach and the South Bay, or if you're catching a ferry to Catalina Island. Long Beach Airport is served by budget carrier Jet Blue, among others.

    Hollywood-Burbank (BUR): Burbank Airport is small and much easier to travel in and out of than LAX. It's convenient to Hollywood and downtown, and it's the best of the LA area airports for accessing public transportation, including express bus service and Metro trains.

    Orange County (SNA): The most convenient LA area airport for visiting Disneyland (only 15 minutes away), Orange County Airport is a full-featured airport with modern terminals and jetways, but much less hectic than LAX. It's also called John Wayne Airport, and in case you're wondering why SNA is the airport code for Orange County, it comes from the nearby town of Santa Ana.

    Ontario: On the east side of the metropolitan sprawl, this LA area airport is a good choice if you're headed toward Palm Springs or the desert.

    More About Flying to Los Angeles

    You can find information about flying to LA in these guides:

    Ways to Find Cheap Flights to Los Angeles

    Any of the big-name travel sites are worth a try to look for cheap flights to Los Angeles, but we have some better ideas:

    1. Southwest Airlines has some of the cheapest flight to Los Angeles, no baggage or change fees and lots of connections — and they don't charge extra if you fly into one city and out of another. They don't participate in other sites' searches - you'll have to go direct to their website instead. 
    2. Jet Blue also offers very low fares and fees.
    3. Consider a “red eye” flight from Los Angeles to the East Coast. Leaving between 10:00 p.m. and midnight, they're often the cheapest flights, arriving the following morning. You can stay in Los Angeles for most of the day and may save on a night in a hotel as well as getting lower airfare. Although some people hate flying all night, others find it a good way to conquer jet lag.
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  • 04 of 07

    Car Rentals at the Los Angeles Airport - and Other Los Angeles Locations

    Adult in chicken suit holding arrow sign and'rent a car'sign on street
    This is Not the Way to Rent a Car in Los Angeles. Susan Werner / Getty Images

    If you want to hire or rent a car at any Los Angeles airport, you'll find plenty of companies ready to work with you - and car rental rates from LAX can be so cheap you may wonder how the companies make any money at all.

    The easy way to check rates with all the major Los Angeles car rental agencies at once is to compare prices on Los Angeles car rental at your favorite price comparison website. After that, you may want to visit the lowest-priced companies' websites from that list to check for special rates and sales.

    All car rental companies at Los Angeles International Airport are reached by shuttle buses, which stop at the transportation islands just outside baggage claim at each terminal building. At Long Beach and Burbank Airports, car rental offices are very near the terminal building, and at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, the rental counters are inside the terminal.

    No matter which Los Angeles airport you fly into, I can't recommend Fox Rent-a-Car, even though their car rental rates are often the cheapest. You don't have to take our word for it. Check their reviews on Yelp for yourself.

    If you need an accessible minivan with a ramps or lift, you can do that through Wheelchair Getaways. They'll pick you up at the airport when you arrive and drop you off when you're done, too.

    Los Angeles Car Rental Away from the Airport

    Los Angeles area airports aren't the only places you can rent cars in Los Angeles. All of the major car rental companies have city offices scattered around the LA metro area. Those locations may have shorter hours than the airport car rental desks and might be closed on Sundays, but they're often closer to where you're staying and a good option if you only need to hire a car for a day or two.

    To make things easy for you, Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers "We'll Pick You Up" service (with some restrictions). Call the office you plan to rent your car from for more details - their phone number will be on that office's page on the Enterprise website.

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  • 05 of 07

    Los Angeles Airport Shuttles

    A Day In The Life Of Los Angeles International Airport
    Shuttle Vans at LAX. Gilles Mingasson / Getty Images

    If Los Angeles is a place you don't want to drive in — or if you'd rather have someone else do the driving for you, you can hire an airport shuttle van to take you from the airport to your hotel and back again at the end of the trip.

    At the smaller airports, finding your shuttle is easy, but at busy LAX, it can be a little harder. To locate the shuttle van stop, go out of the arrival level (where baggage claim is) and look for the transportation islands. You'll find a sign marked "Van," which is where you wait.

    You'll find lists of shuttles that serve the other Los Angeles area airports on these web pages: Burbank Airport, Long Beach, and Orange County.

    Reasons to Use a Los Angeles Airport Shuttle

    Airport shuttles are convenient and the driver takes care of all the traffic and navigation issues - a big bonus if you're tired after a long flight.

    If you don't need a rental car to get around (even for just a few days), you might save money with a shuttle, but car rental rates are so low in LA that you should check this to be sure you're not making a wrong (and costly) assumption.

    Downsides of Hiring a Los Angeles Airport Shuttle

    You may have to share your shuttle with up to three other groups, circle the airport two or three times while the driver tries to find more passengers and make multiple stops before reaching your hotel. All of that could add an hour — or more — to your travel time.

    To ensure you get to the airport on time for your departure, LA airport shuttle companies will insist on picking you up early enough to allow for most potential delays. On a good day with no slow-downs, that means you'll stop playing earlier than you might have to otherwise and you'll be at the gate long before your flight departs.

    Los Angeles airport shuttles charge per person, making them less attractive, budget-wise, for several people.

    Alternatives to Los Angeles Airport Shuttles

    If you're traveling in a larger group, you may find that it's cheaper to rent a car. 

    The trip from LAX to your final Los Angeles destination in a taxi is likely to be the most expensive way to go, but it's convenient and costs the same for several people as for one. Find out about taxis at LAX and check current fares.

    You can also check into getting a ride with Uber or Lyft. However, uberPool may not be an option at the airport and policies about pickups and drop offs are changing too fast to keep up with. Before you count on using one of them, take a moment to search for the service's name to the airport you're going to and look for the latest news.

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  • 06 of 07

    Taking a Bus to Los Angeles

    Megabus to Los Angeles
    Megabus to Los Angeles. Steve Rhodes/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The bus company with the running dog logo is an option for taking a bus to Los Angeles, but it's not the only one.

    • Greyhound has stations in many smaller cities and towns
    • Crucero USA offers cheap fares between some California cities and Los Angeles, where they also stop in Anaheim, Glendale, and Long Beach.
    • Megabus runs to Los Angeles Union Station from several locations including San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Las Vegas, with seats sometimes as cheap as $1 if you reserve well in advance (but more often in the $40 to $50 range).
    • Bolt Bus also runs buses between Los Angeles and San Jose/San Francisco, with prices similar to Megabus. They have stops in downtown LA and Hollywood.

    Check the links below for specific about bus travel to Los Angeles from some of the most common spots.

    More About Taking a Bus to Los Angeles

    You can find out about taking a bus to LA from other places in these guides:

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  • 07 of 07

    Taking a Train to Los Angeles

    Amtrak Train and Downtown Los Angeles
    Amtrak Train and Downtown Los Angeles. Hal Bergman Photography / Getty Images

    Taking an Amtrak Train to Los Angeles

    Several Amtrak routes go to Los Angeles: Coast Starlight (from Seattle and Portland), Sunset Limited (from New Orleans and San Antonio), Pacific Surfliner (San Luis Obispo to San Diego) and Southwest Chief (from Chicago and Albuquerque).

    Get Amtrak fares and schedules at their website. Amtrak offers travel discounts to students, veterans, AAA and AARP members who present their ID or membership card when purchasing a ticket.

    The Los Angeles Amtrak station is Union Station downtown. Other stops in the LA metro area include Burbank, Van Nuys, Glendale, Fullerton, Anaheim and several cities in Orange County.

    Taking Local Trains to Los Angeles

    If you want to go to Los Angeles by train from San Diego, Orange County, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Lancaster or Riverside, a Metrolink train might be a good option.

    More About Taking a Train to Los Angeles

    If you want to take a train to LA, you'll find more about that in these guides: