This article provides actionable ideas for driving in Los Angeles.
One time, I went to Anaheim to meet a high school friend who was visiting for a convention. After hugging and interchanging some words, she asked me to take her to Hollywood to see the famous Walk of Fame.
I almost faint. Why? Because she was asking me to drive her 60 miles (96 km) during rush hour in Greater Los Angeles. That was probably going to take about two hours one way. Plus, I drove one and a half hours to meet her in Anaheim.
With this story, I am trying to illustrate one main point. A lot of people who do not reside in Los Angeles has no perspective of the city’s dimension and how traffic (monster traffic) complicates the scene. Many have heard the nightmare stories about traffic in Los Angeles but, of those, only a few have experienced it.
Do not let those facts deter you from visiting and driving in the City of Angels (you will like it, I promise). Here are my best tips for dealing with freeways, traffic, parking, and other related issues.
Table of Contents
Driving in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is big. Let me say that again. Los Angeles is huge. The metropolitan area is 33,954 sq mi or 87,490 km2. Eighteen million people live in the area.
The city has one of the worst traffic situations in the entire world. During peak hour, it is not uncommon to have some freeways moving at 8 miles per hour. A 30-mile ride can easily take one hour and ten or twenty minutes.
Things can get worse. Yes, you heard me right. The freeways can get to a total halt when multiple accidents occur, when people are trying to get out of the city right before a holiday or when it rains (yes, we are not used to driving in the rain).
Therefore, if something is located in “Los Angeles,” in reality that place can be located miles away (and hours away too).
There is no way to avoid all the traffic. On the other hand, you can avoid most traffic and have a smooth ride with the tips and tricks of a local (like me!)
Getting from Point A to Point B
You need a GPS in Los Angeles!
The city is too big and complicated to drive without one. Even though I have lived in the city for over 20 years, I use one frequently.
Make sure you have a smartphone with the proper app for your trip or rent a car with one.
If you download Google Maps to your phone (to use offline), ensure they are up to date.
Be prepared since GPS systems may fail in some areas of Los Angeles. I am unsure why this happens (it may be related to the high number of roads converging at specific points). I can never get my phone’s GPS to work in Downtown.
If a GPS fails, park in a safe area and restart the system.
It is important to have the exact address or the concrete name of a place or attraction. Having only a street name may not help you to reach a place since streets can be quite long (we are talking about miles).
In some cases, it is important to have the exact AND the city. The exact address may exist in different cities.
Freeways in Los Angeles can have up to 5 or 6 lanes. If you do not feel comfortable in such a big track, try to stay on the right lanes.
People tend to drive faster than the speed limit on the left lanes.
Not a lot of people use their blinkers when trying to change lanes. Be vigilant since somebody may cut in front of you without warning.
If you are getting off the freeway, start moving to the right sooner than later.
Most freeways have a carpool lane on the extreme left. More than one person needs to be in the car for use.
Carpool lanes have entrances and/or exits. You should not jump into the lane by crossing the double line.
Time (and Patience) Saving Tips
Stay close to the attractions you are interested in visiting in order to cut driving time. You may have to stay in different neighborhoods during your visit.
If you are staying with friends and family, realize they may live far from popular attractions and plan accordingly
Use surface streets instead of freeways to move between places. You can choose the “avoid freeways” option on your smartphone app.
A route through the streets is not necessarily faster than the freeway. You get the sensation that it is faster because you are moving. But, have to admit these routes can save some time and work better for people who get anxious by being stuck on the freeway.
Avoid getting on the freeway during rush hours (6:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.)
Avoid passing through Downtown Los Angeles. This is a high-traffic area. I have experienced traffic here at 4:00 a.m. No kidding!
Fridays are usually the worst days in terms of traffic. You do not want to be stuck on the Freeway a Friday afternoon. I am dead serious.
If you are trying to get out of Los Angeles (Las Vegas or Santa Barbara), try to hit the road before 6:00 a.m. This may sound too harsh but believe me, you do not want to sit in traffic for two hours to get out of the city. This applies mainly when you are driving towards Downtown Los Angeles. If you do not want to get out of town early, you must wait for the mid-morning, non-rush hour to get out of the city fast.
A friend of mine (with 3 kids) gets out of the city at night (when he is going on road trips). By driving at night, he avoids traffic, the heat of the day and kids crying on the road. A lot of people use this technique.
Use the carpool lane (need 2 or more people in the car). However, do not expect a great advantage over other drivers. The carpool is as clogged in some freeways as the rest of the lanes.
Ask the car rental agency for Fastrack/Express lane ready cars. These cars are equipped with a transponder that allows your to use the express lanes (paid option different from carpool lanes).
Stuff happens (and more LA’s freeways). If you need to be in a place at a certain time, leave early and allow for some extra time.
Driving Rules to Observe
It is illegal to have a phone in your hands while driving. That means hands-free devices and no texting.
This is common sense, but driving under the influence is prohibited and can cost you 10K to 15K.
The law requires all car’s passengers to wear a seat belt.
By law, you have to yield to pedestrians crossing a street (they are supposed to cross at designated crosswalks but jump out of nowhere once in a while).
Make sure you fully stop when you are required to. We have something called a “California Stop.” Basically, drivers slow down when they see a stop sign, take a quick look, and accelerate. You do not want to do this (ticket if caught) or be a victim of one of these drivers.’
It is important to mention that you can turn right with a red light (unless prohibited at a particular intersection). But, since the light is red, you have to stop and then turn. If you do not stop, you are getting at risk of getting an expensive ticket.
Los Angeles does not have the best reputation when it comes to parking.
In my experience, the “bad rep” is slightly exaggerated. Most cities and neighborhoods have extensive public facilities designed to accommodate many visitors.
Now, finding a parking spot easily depends on factors like time of the day, attraction popularity, and seasonality. Parking on the beach during the height of summer is not as easy as parking in the same place during fall.
The other huge factor to consider here is the price. Yes, parking may be available, but you will pay $20 or $30.
My biggest tip for dealing with parking is to take a few minutes to research parking options around the places you are interested in visiting. Google will inform you about lot availability and give you a price estimate. This is not something to obsess about but is recommendable, especially if you visit popular attractions.
Parking Tips and Tricks
Meters are the most cost-effective option in many areas. Even some parking structures have meters for each spot. Select your amount of time, pay, and go!
Most meters accept credit and debit cards.
It is common to find meters with a 2-hour time limit. If you are staying in a place for more than 2 hours, try to find a spot that gives you more time. Two hours is not a lot of time and it is a hassle to run to put more money into the meter.
Keep track of the time the meter expires. Cities have dedicated employees who drive around in small vehicles, giving tickets to cars parked on expired meter spots
Finding a free parking spot on the street is not as difficult as you may think (even near popular attractions). Just avoid parking in areas painted red (restricted) or green (short-time parking). Also, read the restrictions stated on street signs. These will tell you which days and hours to avoid.
Cheaper parking may be available a couple of blocks away from an attraction.
Make sure your parallel parking skills are up to date. You may need to park fast to avoid blocking a lane/street for an extended period of time.
Be careful in covered parking structures. Spaces tend to be small and many obstacles (cones, bumps, columns) are in the way.
Parking in Most Popular Places and Attractions
Here is a short and sweet assessment of the parking situation in different spots around the city:
- Santa Monica – Easy parking; lots may be expensive on the beachfront ($10 to $15). In Santa Monica, the beach parking flat rate may be a better deal than the parking structures a couple of blocks from the beach (depending on time spent on location)
- Venice Beach – Easy parking, lots may be expensive on the beachfront, cheaper metered spots are located behind Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and free spots on some parts of Venice and Washington Boulevards (but these are located several blocks from the beach)
- Other Beach Cities (Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach) – Easy parking on metered spots ($1 to $1.50 an hour)
- Museums (Getty Center, LACMA) – Easy parking; rates vary
- Downtown Los Angeles – It can be difficult and expensive to park in some areas during the week, but things get cheaper and less expensive during the weekend. There are several good-priced lots in Chinatown
- Beverly Hills – Easy parking and public lots offer the first 2 hours for free
- Hollywood – Difficult to park, lots can be expensive, try to find a cheap spot on the street
- Griffith Observatory – Difficult to park; using a ride-sharing service or public transportation is advised
- Events (Concert, Baseball and Basketball Games, Conventions) – Easy parking, but get prepared to pay top price
Los Angeles has many public transportation options that can work wonders for those who do not want to drive in the city.
However, you want to look closely at this option if you only have a few days in the cities. The options are there, but they may burn your precious time.
Uber and Lyft are great ways to get around Los Angeles.
I recommend using them between short distances.
For long distances, it makes more sense to move using a car.
If your car malfunctions in the freeway, try to move to the emergency lane. Follow your rental car agency instructions or call 911 for assistance. Avoid getting out of the car, walking in the emergency lane, or crossing the freeway (some people have done it with terrible consequences).
More of Los Angeles
- Find out how to spend one fun-filled day in Los Angeles
- Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
- 20 Reasons to Love Los Angeles
- Redondo Beach Pier: What to Do, See and Eat
- Palos Verdes Hikes and Trails
- Things to do in Hermosa Beach
More of Southern California
What are your driving in Los Angeles experiences? What are your tips and tricks to avoid traffic?
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