01 of 09
Do You Really Need a Car in LA?
I occasionally get emails from readers asking if you really need to rent a car in LA or if it's possible to get around Los Angeles 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 around some specific areas or if driving in an unfamiliar city is going to stress you out excessively. Many of LA's top attractions can be seen on this Metro Red Line Tour of Los Angeles.
LA Tourism also has some resources for car-free Itineraries of specific neighborhoods or following specific themes, but here I'll address some of the bigger issues of getting across town and between specific popular landmarks without a car.
Of course, car-free means different things to different people. It could be that you left your chauffeur at home, never got a drivers license because you live in a more transit-friendly city, are trying to spend as little as possible in LA, or any number of... other scenarios.
Regardless why you don't want to drive, or what you want to see and do, if you organize your trip well, you can create a car-free itinerary that's relatively painless and doesn't lose too much time in transit. Here are some strategies for having a successful car-free LA vacation. The linked words lead to additional articles about those subjects.
Let's say, for example, that you want to include Hollywood, Universal Studios, Downtown LA, Santa Monica and Disneyland in your 7-day LA vacation, but the strategies are similar for other destinations as well.Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
Where to Stay in LA to Get Around Without a Car
Without a car, where you stay in LA can make a big difference. There are a ton of things to do in Hollywood and vicinity that can be reached without too much trouble from Hollywood Hotels. Hollywood also gives you easy access to Downtown LA and Universal Studios Hollywood via the LA Metro Red Line, the only fast 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 particularly complicated. There are many routes that only require one transfer.
Downtown LA is less touristy and has less excitement 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 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 LA 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 LA Convention Center then you'll probably want to stay around LA Live.
You could also stay at a hotel near LAX and make that your hub. You could then take the Airport FlyAway each day from LAX to and from Santa Monica, Hollywood or Downtown LA to Explore, and use one of my Suggested Ways to Get from LAX to Disneyland. 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 pm, this might be a reasonable option for you. But really, it's more fun to stay where there's actually something going on.
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, if you're a regular walker. Most of the hotels and hostels are clustered relatively near the beach, although there are a few further inland.
If you're staying multiple days at Disneyland, 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 relocate to the next area you want to explore.
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, rather than trying to get from Santa Monica to Disneyland in one go without a car. However, in case you planned your trip before reading this article, I've come up with a bunch of Car-Free Strategies to get from Santa Monica to Disneyland, some of which involve a car, just not one you have to drive yourself.
Stay near the attractions you want to see first 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 LA, 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. (It's not on this itinerary, but if you want to visit the, or Aquarium of the Pacific or take a boat tour, staying in downtown Long Beach is a good option. )
Note: 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, rideshare) 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 3 miles (which will get you to the Metro), when you're looking for a Hollywood hotel or hostel, try to find something close to Hollywood & Highland or Hollywood and Vine for fastest Metro access. There are plenty to choose from. If you're staying at the kind of hotel that has free car service, you're probably not looking at public transportation options.
Most of the different kinds of tours that you can do in LA, 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.Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
Hire a Limo or Town Car
If money is no object and you just don't want the hassle of driving in LA, 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 take 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. Read more about Hiring a Car and Driver in LA. If that's not you, read on.Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Transportation from LAX Without a Car
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 LA, 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.
Options include rental cars, shared ride shuttles, car services, taxis and rideshare apps.
Read more about LA Airport Transportation.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Using Public Transportation to Get Around LA
LA'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 crazy 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 is that it's the one area where the faster Metro rail is really efficient between Hollywood, Universal Studios, and Downtown LA, 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 & Highland or Hollywood... & Vine), you can be at Universal Studios or in Downtown LA 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. This Metro Red Line Tour article will show you all the attractions you can see along the Metro Red Line.
The recent expansion of 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. Now 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 as well, it takes much longer to get there because the trains run above ground and it's a much greater distance.
Read more about How to Ride the LA Metro, including current rates and policies.
Getting from Hollywood or Downtown LA to Santa Monica Via Bus
From Downtown LA, 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. There are other bus systems that also run between the two along various cross-town streets, Like Metro 720 Wilshire Express, but Bus 10 takes the 10 freeway rather than surface streets. You could also take the Metro Expo Line from the 7th Street Metro Station to Culver City Station and catch Metro Bus 534 from there to the Santa Monica Pier.
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 Santa Monica Big Blue Bus 1 to the Santa Monica Pier via Santa Monica Blvd, or continue on the 2 via circuitous Sunset Blvd to land at the beach in posh Pacific Palisades, where you can grab almost any local Santa Monica bus down Pacific Coast Highway into Santa Monica. There are a number of slightly quicker 2-bus routes that will get you from Hollywood to Santa Monica, but they only shave off about 10 minutes from the hour and a half journey. You can use ladottransit.com, socaltransport.org, Google Maps or Bing Maps to look at options. They each come up with different solutions.
When we tested these sites for a route from to Santa Monica Pier, Bing provided three route options that were all faster (1:08-1:14) than anything Google recommended (1:20-1:34). LA Metro's Socaltransport.org offered a slightly faster option at 1:05. Ladottransit.com offered some of the slowest options (1:18-1:40) (although it still routes them on Google Maps), slotting in city buses, where Metro buses would have been faster. Bing Maps has a nice function that tells you the stop before and after yours for reference.Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
Using LA Sightseeing Tours for Transportation
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 Deluxe City Tour is one of the city tours anyone can book that takes you to different parts of LA and gives you a specified amount of time to explore areas like Rodeo Drive, the La Brea Tar Pits, the LA 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 LA. 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. That may sound like a regular city bus, but 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. The 72-hour ticket gets you all around multiple cities for $25 per day. Your Hop-On Hop-Off ticket also gives you discounts to many LA 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 LA that lets you explore other LA 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 others you might want to hop off to take a couple pictures and get on the next bus.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
Getting Around LA by Bike
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 LA 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 for getting around locally. More bike lanes are being added throughout LA all the time. Google Maps has a function to show bike lanes to better plan your route on bike friendly streets. Most buses have bike racks and the LA 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.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
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 2 hours depending on traffic. If you stayed until Disneyland closes at midnight on a summer weekend night, the last 460 bus back to Downtown LA departs around quarter past midnight and gets to the 7th Street Metro Center Station at about quarter to 2 am, and back to Hollywood by Metro around 2:30 am. If you fall asleep and miss the 7th Street Station, you're doomed. If you really do take the last bus, sit next to the driver and make sure he or she knows where you want off, to avoid being abandoned deep in the empty garment district in the wee hours with nary a taxi in sight.
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
If the price isn't the main concern, it's more efficient to book your Disneyland Ticket to include transportation from LA 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 LA 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 thinking.
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 at 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. They don't all fit here, so I've created a separate resource on Getting to Disneyland from LAX with all your options.
Santa Monica to Disneyland
Getting from Santa Monica to Disneyland without a car is such a chore that we had to create a separate article to explain it. Click the link to see your options. There are quite a few.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Personal Ride Services for Getting Around LA
The latest craze in transportation is personal ride services where regular people offer to take you where you need to go for an agreed-upon fee, arranged through a smart-phone app.
Learn more about how it works in my guide to Rideshare Apps in LA.