Visitors to Los Angeles (L.A.) wonder if they really need to rent a car or if it's possible to get around without a car. It's not only possible but for some people, it might make more sense than renting a car, especially if you're going to focus your sightseeing in some specific areas or if driving in an unfamiliar city is going to be stressful for you.
Visitors will be pleased to know that many of L.A.'s top attractions can be seen on a Metro Red Line Tour of Los Angeles. The L.A. Metro subway and over-ground train system can take you within walking distance of many attractions.
L.A. Tourism also has some resources for car-free Itineraries of specific neighborhoods or following specific themes. "Car-Free LA" features a series of self-guided car-free vacation itineraries that offer a way to experience the hidden gems of L.A.’s diverse neighborhoods via foot, bike, and Metro.
If you organize your trip well, you can create your own car-free itinerary that's relatively painless and doesn't cause you to lose too much time in transit. There are strategies for having a successful car-free L.A. vacation.
Best Places to Stay When Car-Free
If you are without a car, where you stay in L.A. can make a world of difference. Being close to attractions or public transportation is key.
Consider staying in Hollywood. There are many things to do in Hollywood and vicinity, for example, that can be reached without too much trouble from Hollywood Hotels.
Hollywood also gives you easy access to Downtown L.A. and Universal Studios Hollywood via the L.A. Metro Red Line, the only rapid transit in town. It's quite time-consuming to get to Santa Monica or Disneyland from Hollywood by any public transit options, although it's not impossible. There are many routes that only require one transfer.
Downtown Los Angeles
Staying in Downtown L.A. is an option. It's less touristy and has less glitz than Hollywood, but there's plenty to do and it's a straight shot to Hollywood or Universal Studios Hollywood, and an easier connection to Disneyland via the Metrolink, Amtrak, or the 460 Disneyland Express Bus.
It's also easier and faster to get to Santa Monica from Downtown than from Hollywood. It's not really closer, just more direct. Consider staying in the vicinity of the Music Center. You'll have easy walking access to live theater and music, museums, Chinatown nightlife, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Site, and trendy bars.
You can be in Hollywood in 16-20 minutes via the Metro Red Line from Civic Center or Union Station. If you're used to walking around a big city like New York or Berlin, Downtown L.A. is exceedingly walkable, even if it has multiple blocks of nothing interesting between points of interest. If you're attending an event at the Staples Center, Nokia Theatre, or the L.A. Convention Center then you'll probably want to stay around L.A. Live, an entertainment complex in the South Park District of Downtown Los Angeles adjacent to the Staples Center and Los Angeles Convention Center.
Staying Near LAX
You could also stay at a hotel near the LAX airport and make that your hub. You could then take the Airport FlyAway shuttle each day from LAX to and from Santa Monica, Hollywood or Downtown L.A. to explore.
Even though it's not geographically logical (Hollywood is closer to Santa Monica than to LAX), the directness and economy of taking the Flyaway make it a more efficient hub. If you're the kind of person who is done for the day by 8 p.m., this might be a reasonable option for you. But really, it's more fun to stay where there's actually something going on in the evening.
Santa Monica or Venice Beach
Consider staying in Santa Monica or Venice Beach. If you spend a day or two in Santa Monica and/or Venice Beach, it's easy to get around by bus, or completely manageable by bike. If you're just going from your hotel to the beach, you can probably walk. Most of the hotels and hostels are clustered relatively near the beach, although there are a few further inland.
Staying at Disneyland is convenient if that is your main reason for visiting. If you're visiting Disneyland for multiple days, you can get around fine without a car, including visits to surrounding attractions, most of which can be reached on the many Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) buses.
Santa Monica and Disneyland do not make great hubs for exploring other places without a car, even if you have hired a limo. It's better to just pack up and move to the next area you want to explore.
Stay in Several Locations
Moving and staying in several locations might work for you. With the itinerary mentioned above as an example, rather than working from a hub, if you're flying into LAX, you might want to start in Santa Monica (or Venice) for a night, then move to Hollywood or Downtown, then Disneyland. This will reduce your between-city transfer time. There are Car-Free Strategies to get from Santa Monica to Disneyland but staying there is very convenient for families.
Stay near the attractions you want to see first thing in the morning to avoid having to travel far to your first stop of the day. While using Hollywood or downtown as a base to explore Hollywood and/or Downtown L.A., you won't be dealing with a rush-hour drive in the morning to get to your first activities.
So if you're planning on taking in Hollywood nightlife, stay in Hollywood. If you're planning on seeing a show or hitting a club Downtown, stay Downtown. That said, it's best not to plan your Disneyland or Santa Monica day after a late night of partying in Hollywood.
West Hollywood has a lot of great hotels and is just down the road from Hollywood, but staying there adds another level of complexity (bus, taxi, ride-hailing) to getting around without a car since it's not on a Metro rail route. So, unless you're staying in a West Hollywood hotel that offers free car service within three miles (which will get you to the Metro) when you're looking for a Hollywood hotel or hostel, try to find something closer to Hollywood and Highland or Hollywood and Vine for the fastest Metro access.
Most of the tours that you can do in L.A., from bus tours to walking and biking tours, leave from Hollywood or Santa Monica, although some have hotel pick-up from Downtown, Beverly Hills, or LAX for an additional fee.
Hire a Limo or Town Car
If you just don't want the hassle of driving in L.A., you can always hire a car and driver to be at your beck and call and take you everywhere you want to go.
If you're traveling alone, it gives you the added bonus of being able to ride in carpool lanes on the freeway, reducing time in transit for greater distances.
If you're traveling with a group or family, it can end up being less expensive than buying individual tours or shuttle fares for everyone in your group.
There are also ride-hailing services in the Los Angeles area.
Transportation From LAX
Getting from the airport to your hotel is often one of the biggest ground travel expenses. It is easier than ever to get to the primary tourist hubs economically from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with the convenient FlyAway bus service that provides direct, non-stop service to drop-off points in Hollywood, Santa Monica and Union Station in Downtown L.A., among other destinations.
If you're flying into another airport, you'll still have multiple options for airport transportation to your hotel or other destination, but you may have to choose between convenience and economy.
Other options include rental cars, shared-ride shuttles, car services, taxis, and ride-hailing apps.
Using Public Transportation
L.A.'s Metro rail subway system is expanding, but still limited. The Metro brand is a county service. There are dozens of local bus services and the Metrolink inter-city commuter train service that make up the difference within smaller cities and between cities.
Many of these are now integrated into Google Maps and Bing Maps, so you can map a public transportation route from any point A to point B. However, neither one includes all the options, and they both sometimes offer weird routes.
One of the reasons we recommend staying in Hollywood if you don't have a car is that Hollywood is very walkable. The other reason is that it's the one area where the faster Metro rail is really efficient between Hollywood, Universal Studios, and Downtown L.A., which is the only area where it actually runs underground.
So it's easy to stay in any of those areas and visit the other two via Metro. If you stay in Hollywood, in the vicinity of a Metro station (Hollywood and Highland or Hollywood and Vine), you can be at Universal Studios or in Downtown L.A. in about 15-20 minutes. There are dozens of attractions you can see in this general area within reach of the Metro Red Line, so between walking and public transportation, it's easy to get around these areas.
Taking the Expo Line to the beach in Santa Monica also makes it relatively easy to visit the museums and gardens at Exposition Park near the University of Southern California with a quick transfer from the Red Line. You can go from Hollywood and Highland all the way to the beach by metro in 76 to 90 minutes.
You can also take the Metro, with transfers to the Blue Line or Gold Line, to visit the attractions in Long Beach or Pasadena, but, like the Expo Line, it takes much longer to get there because the trains run above ground and it's a much greater distance.
Getting from Hollywood or Downtown L.A. to Santa Monica via Bus is an option for visiting the beach. From Downtown L.A., Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus Rapid 10 is the fastest route to the Santa Monica Pier. It takes from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the time of day, usually averaging just over an hour.
From Hollywood, you can plan your trip for speed, or for scenery. For scenery, Metro Bus 2 takes you through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills along the Sunset Strip to UCLA, where you can transfer to the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.
There are a variety of sightseeing tours that can help you make the most of your visit to Los Angeles without a car. They include walking tours of specific locales, biking tours, horseback riding tours, general sightseeing bus tours, and special interest tours, including some that act as cross-town transportation, allowing you to get off and explore.
If you're staying in a hostel in Hollywood, there are often organized excursions planned, including to Santa Monica. They will get you to Santa Monica faster than a city bus, and may include additional activities at the beach, but are more costly than taking a city bus.
The Starline Grand City Tour is one of the city tours anyone can book that takes you to different parts of L.A. and gives you a specified amount of time to explore areas like Rodeo Drive, the La Brea Tar Pits, the L.A. Farmers Market, and Olvera Street. You have to be back at the bus at a designated time to continue the tour.
A more flexible option is Starline's Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. The Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus will take you to almost anything you might want to see in LA, and you can start hopping on from a stop near wherever you're staying in Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Universal Studios, Santa Monica or Downtown L.A. It doesn't go to the Getty Center, Getty Villa, or Disneyland, but its five narrated tour routes do stop at 99 other potential stops, some of which provide access to multiple attractions. Every stop is near at least one tourist attraction. You can buy tickets for 24, 48 or 72 hours that allow you unlimited riding on five routes, plus a connector to LAX. Your Hop-On Hop-Off ticket also gives you discounts to many L.A. attractions as well as 10% off other Starline Tours, like the Movie Stars' Homes Tour or Haunted Hollywood Tour.
You can also use the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour as an option for getting you to Santa Monica from Hollywood or Downtown L.A. and you can explore other L.A. attractions along the way. The downside if you're relocating from a hotel in Hollywood to one in Santa Monica is that you'll have your luggage, which may be inconvenient for hopping on and off in between.
Another disadvantage is that the tour buses don't run in the evening, so you'll want to plan your tour loop each day so that the last stop is at or near your hotel, or somewhere with easy alternate transportation back to your hotel. Some of the activities on the tour route might take all day, like Universal Studios Hollywood (which might not be the best use of a tour day), while at other stops you might want to hop off to take a couple pictures and get on the next bus.
Los Angeles is vast, so it's hard for most people to conceive of using a bicycle as a primary means of transportation, and we don't recommend it, but if biking is how you get around at home, it's possible to plan your L.A. visit on two wheels as well. Beach cities like Santa Monica, Venice, and Long Beach are particularly bike-friendly, and you'll see a lot of locals within those communities using bikes as a primary form of transportation locally. More bike lanes are being added throughout L.A. all the time. Google Maps has a function to show bike lanes to help you your route on bike-friendly streets. Most buses have bike racks and the L.A. Metro also accommodates bicycles.
Hollywood and West Hollywood attractions are within easy biking distance of each other, but this is one of the least bike-friendly areas, due to the density of cars and drivers who are unfamiliar with the area. If you're cycling in this area, you may want to stick to smaller parallel streets for going more than a few blocks, rather than trying to navigate the chaos of cars and tour buses on Hollywood Boulevard.
If you're an avid cyclist, it's about 14 miles to bike from Hollywood to Santa Monica and is probably faster than taking a bus, although more treacherous.
If spending the entire day biking around sounds like fun, Bikes and Hikes LA covers 32 miles from Hollywood through Beverly Hills and movie stars' homes to the beaches and back in 5 hours in their LA-in-a-Day Bike Tour.
Daily and weekly bike rental rates can be as expensive as renting a car, but you'll save on insurance, parking, and gas.
Getting to Disneyland Without a Car
The best public transportation route from Hollywood to Disneyland is to take the Metro Red Line to the 7th Street/Metro Center station and then take the Metro Express 460 Disneyland Shuttle, which drops you off right at Disneyland.
It takes an hour and a half to two hours depending on traffic. If you stay until Disneyland closes at midnight on a summer weekend night, the last 460 bus back to Downtown LA gets you to Hollywood by Metro around 2:30 a.m.
Another option is to take the Metro Red Line to Union Station, then catch a Metrolink (commuter train) or Amtrak train to Fullerton Train Station, then take the Anaheim ART bus one stop to Disneyland. This gives you two transfers instead of just one, and it takes about the same amount of time or longer.
Disneyland Tickets Including Transportation from LA Hotels
It's more efficient to book your Disneyland ticket to include transportation from L.A. hotels. One disadvantage to this is that the hours you get to stay at Disneyland are limited if you plan to use the return to your L.A. hotel. Another is that it may be stopping at a lot of hotels, so isn't necessarily faster than the public transportation options, but it requires less planning.
Another option is to plan your Disney trip for a day or two at the end of your stay and spend your final night or two near Disneyland. You can get the Disneyland Ticket with Transportation option from a broker like Viator, which is still far cheaper than a one-way taxi fare, but don't use the return. Check into a Disneyland area hotel instead. That way you can stay in the park until it closes.
LAX to Disneyland
If Disneyland is your first stop, there are a number of ways you can get there from Los Angeles International Airport without a car. There are so many options, reviewing a resource on Getting to Disneyland from LAX is helpful.
Santa Monica to Disneyland
Getting from Santa Monica to Disneyland without a car is not easy but there are options such as hiring a car, taking a ride-hailing service or, the most difficult, public transportation.