Usually I try to only spend words on things I recommend, not things to stay away from, but avoiding these pitfalls can save you trouble, money and prevent you from missing some of LA's most valuable treasures.
Don't Smoke in Public
Southern California cities have some of the most restrictive smoking bans in the world. You can't smoke on beaches, in parks, inside any public venue, in the vicinity of the entrance to public buildings and businesses, in the outdoor dining areas of many restaurants and just about anywhere else you encounter people. The laws vary slightly from city to city, but to be on the safe side, if you're a smoker, make sure to stay in a hotel that allows smoking (they are becoming rare), and rent a car from a company that allows smoking, since those are the only places you will be able to smoke freely. If you do light up in public, expect to get dirty looks and disgusted comments from the locals, and possibly a citation.
It may be commonplace in New york and Chicago to express your impatience with slow traffic by honking your horn, but in LA it is considered gauche and will signal you immediately as a tourist or transplant. The horn is reserved for warning of danger, or a light tap to alert the person texting or putting on mascara at the traffic signal that the light is now green.
Read more about Driving in LA
Don't Overlook Parking Limit Signs
Parking in Los Angeles can be pretty crazy. If you are going to a specific business or attraction, check their website or call and ask them where to park. They may have designated parking somewhere or you may have to park in a public pay lot or find street parking. Most street parking is limited-time meters, usually with one or two hour limits. The meters may be at the space or down the block. With the new smart meters, the parking enforcement officer gets an alert if the meter expires with a car in the space, so be really careful about your meter time.
Where there are no meters on neighborhood streets, there may still be time limits, neighborhood permit requirements and weekly street sweeping days or school zone restrictions. There may be 4 or 5 parking limit signs on a pole, and parking signs a few cars apart may have different restrictions. Obey them all to avoid a hefty parking ticket.
Also, if a sign says you will be towed in a particular lot if you park after hours, you WILL be towed. Hollywood parking lot owners and tow companies make a mint doing this.
Don't Spend More than You Have To
If you're independently wealthy, please be philanthropic and feel free to pay full price for LA theatre and museum tickets. They can use your support.
If you're on a budget, you can make your vacation dollars stretch much further by finding discount attraction and event tickets and using restaurant discounts. Use these resources to find the best money-saving offers for you.
Don't Try to Drive to the Hollywood Sign
You can't actually drive to the Hollywood sign, and the people who live in the Hollywood Hills would really appreciate it if you don't try. People in the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood below the Hollywood Sign have enlisted the local police to help rid their neighborhood of the hazard of tourists standing in the middle of the road to take pictures of the sign and creating unbelievably crazy traffic jams. Parking restrictions in the neighborhood have also been tightened. Patrols are regular, especially on the weekend. Yes, it's a great view of the sign from the middle of the road, but just don't do it if you want to avoid a ticket for obstructing traffic (even if there's no traffic, you can get a ticket). If you want to head into this neighborhood, walk in from Franklin.
Also, while we're in the neighborhood, don't try to climb the fence to the Hollywood Sign. You can hike up to behind the sign, but there's a fence surrounding it. The sign is under constant security surveillance, and you'd be surprised how quick the park rangers can be there. No matter how drunk you are, don't try it unless you want to spend the night in jail.
There are many Los Angeles Metro stations where you can board a train without passing through turnstiles. You're still required to buy a TAP card, pay the appropriate fare and tap the card when you get on the train. But who's checking, right? Well, the roaming posse of Metro controllers (and their dogs) are, and you never know when they'll show up on your train. It's a steep ticket for riding without a valid fare. For $1.75 per ride, it's not worth the risk.
More on Riding the LA Metro
Don't Forget to Tip Service Staff
Hospitality service jobs in the US don't pay very well, so restaurant servers, bellhops, concierges, hotel housekeeping staff, parking valets, spa treatment staff, tour guides and other service staff need their tips to pay rent. In addition to standard percentage or dollar guidelines for different services, how much you tip should reflect the quality of service, how much you value the service, the time that service takes (did you spend 1 hour or 3 hours at that restaurant table?) and the friendliness of the person providing it. About.com has some good guides for tipping at hotels, restaurants, golf courses, casinos and spas.
Don't Be Too Cool for Hollywood Kitsch
Yes, Hollywood is totally cheesy and overrun with tourists. That's part of its charm. But if you just give in to even a casual interest in movies and TV, there's a lot of fun to be had exploring movie props, costumes and cars at the Hollywood Museum or on a Studio Tour.
If you're seriously too cool, pretend you're not, and take a selfie with a walking, talking Spiderman, Darth Vader or Hello Kitty or the wax figure of Marilyn Monroe out between the Chinese Theatre and Madame Tussauds. You'll have fun, and your friends will never believe you loosened up that much. Don't forget to tip the character actors - usually a dollar or so per photo.They are not paid to be there.
Don't Stay Indoors
Los Angeles has 75 miles of beaches and a mountain range that cuts through the middle of the city, so we have a plethora of opportunities to explore the outdoors from hiking and horseback riding to bike trails and all manner of water sports. There are also many public gardens featuring plants from Southern California and around the world.
We have a few rainy days in winter, and it can be scorching hot inland in summer, but the Los Angeles beach communities are pretty temperate all year long. It can be as much as 30 degrees cooler at the beach than in Hollywood or at the theme parks.
If you want to really dig in and learn something new, try one of these Adventure Learning Vacations in LA.
Don't Stick to Tourist Attractions
The reason that tourist attractions become tourist attractions is because there is something about them that draws and entertains at least a certain percentage of visitors. Many LA tourist attractions, such as theme parks, are also popular with locals, who buy annual passes. So if you want to see LA like a local, that could still include Disneyland and Universal Studios. But to get beyond the major attractions, check out my guide to Alternative Things to Do in LA.
Don't Stay in at Night
But you don't have to be a party animal to enjoy Los Angeles after dark. Star-gazing at Griffith Observatory or exploring the Pop Culture Attractions along Hollywood Boulevard that stay open until midnight are fun things for the whole family.
For a romantic evening or girls or guys night out, there are all kinds of Shows in LA from world-class theatre to concerts and comedy.
Don't Expect Everyone to Speak English
Los Angeles is a real melting pot, with immigrants and refugees from all over the world. They may be your hotel housekeeping staff, the valet, the shop owner where you stop to buy a bottle of water, or the popsicle vendor on the sidewalk. It doesn't help to yell louder. Try hand gestures; ask if someone else speaks English; or go somewhere else. If you're friendly, people will usually go out of their way to figure out what you need, even if they can't understand you.
Of course, don't assume all service staff will have language issues. They could equally well be students, college graduates on their way to their big acting break or script sale, or average Americans trying to make ends meet.