How to visit Los Angeles without a car

Los Angeles is known for a lot of things: celebrities, beaches, smog and police chases, to name a few. But, when it comes to planning a trip to LA, perhaps the fact that will stick out the most is that LA is a car town (which explains the smog and police chases). Los Angeles is a sprawling city that is really several towns and neighborhoods that are connected by a series of highways that stretch for miles.

As such, when you’re planning a trip to LA, somewhere on your to-do list will be the task of renting a car. But what if you don’t want to spend that money? Or contribute to that smog? Or be chased by police? There has to be a better way! As I prepared to head to LA last week, I decided to skip renting a car. I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook if I was crazy and received these responses:

“It can’t be done.”
“You’re insane, Barish.”
“People will stare at you if you walk more than two blocks.”

Not a lot of optimism there. Was I crazy? Can you visit LA without a car? Well, I endeavored to do just that. Join me, won’t you?
It’s worth noting that I was only in Los Angeles for two days. While not a lengthy stay, I did have a packed agenda. I needed to attend three meetings, a dinner and a charity event. My challenge: to make all those activities happen without having a car of my own. How did I do it? It was simple really.

Airport Shuttles – Before arriving in LA, I had made a reservation with SuperShuttle. A one-way trip to or from LAX costs $16, and they have discounts if you book round trip or use a discount code. Sure, we meandered to my hotel in West Hollywood while dropping off other passengers, but, 90 minutes after my Virgin America flight touched down, I was in my room. That’s not terrible and and it’s cheap. I took the SuperShuttle back to LAX two days later and arrived with time to spare.

The Internet – First, the bad news: Google Maps and HopStop don’t include Los Angeles in their transit directions. Now, the good news: The Los Angeles MTA website provides detailed transit directions with astonishingly accurate time estimates. It fast became my best friend when I needed to take…

Buses – Yes, people take buses in LA. Despite what my friends and native Angelinos told me, I found the bus routes to be quite convenient. I caught a bus right outside my hotel and, three miles and 30 minutes later, I arrived a half-block away from Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles for my first meal in LA. I transferred between two buses while traveling the 13 miles from my hotel to the Skirball Cultural Center in the Santa Monica Mountains. Sure, it took me an hour, but the buses delivered me practically door-to-door.

Selfishness – My first night in LA, I was staying at the Mondrian. It’s home to SkyBar, which is a bit of a hip scene. So, when I offered to schedule one of my meetings at the other person’s office, she quickly suggested that we instead meet over drinks at my hotel. I quickly agreed and avoided having to commute anywhere. Is this cheating? I had my meeting, avoided all transportation and had some delicious mojitos. Seems fair to me.

Rely on Friends – I had dinner plans with a friend while I was in town and we decided to eat in Venice. In order to get us eating sooner rather than later, she offered to pick me up from my hotel and give me a ride to the restaurant. We used the time in the car to catch up and she was happy to do me the favor. And, at the end of that charity event that I attended, a very nice business contact of mine offered to drive me back to my hotel. It may have been out of pity (or maybe it was because I’m charming), but it got me to where I needed to be and only cost me a profuse series of thank yous (thanks again, Sarah).

Walk – Shockingly, you can walk places in LA. So long as Point A and Point B are in the same neighborhood. I walked the mile or so back from my lunch meeting in Hollywood to my hotel and enjoyed working off the meal. And no one stared at me!

Taxis – I actually wanted to avoid taxis. I had been told that they were expensive and they’re not much better for the environment than just having my own car. But, I had left my sunglasses at the Mondrian (after checking out) and had to be at a meeting in 30. The only way I could manage to be on time was to take a cab back to the hotel and then to my meeting. The four mile, 30 minute errand cost me $27 (including tip) and proved my friends right about one thing: cabs in LA are beyond pricey.

Trains – The LA Metro was great for…oh, who am I kidding? Everyone I spoke to said that the Metro was useless and, as far as I can tell, they’re right.

I spent roughly $33 dollars on SuperShuttle trips, $5 on buses and $27 on a taxi. That’s $65. Or, less than the cost of a rental car for one day (and that taxi fare was only necessary because of my carelessness). I used the time on buses to check email and I didn’t contribute to the smog or get chased by the LAPD.

I will concede that I managed without a car for two key reasons: I was able to isolate much of what I was doing to one neighborhood (Hollywood) and it was a short visit. But I hope my point was made. LA can be done without a car if you plan in advance, impose on some friends and don’t mind getting asked by at least three people if “you lost your license because of a DUI.”

Photos by flickr users biofriendly (top) and stevelyon (bottom).