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Los Angeles|©Arman Thanvir/Flickr
Los Angeles|©Arman Thanvir/Flickr
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14 Things to Know Before Visiting Los Angeles

Picture of Juliet Bennett Rylah
Updated: 18 May 2017
Those unfamiliar with L.A. sometimes assume it’s permanently sunny, full of neon lights, aspiring movie stars, and celebrities – the truth, however, is far more nuanced. Gray days happen, lots of locals are working-class folks and there’s more amazing food and art here than a visitor could possibly cram into a lifetime, let alone a weekend getaway. Here are 14 tips for the Los Angeles newbie.

Bring a jacket

People think Los Angeles is perpetually 72 degrees and sunny, and it often is. The nights, however, can become rapidly chilly and it really does rain sometimes. Travelers who plan to be out and about from sunrise to sundown should not assume the temperatures won’t change. Check the weather before heading out and bring a light jacket for when the sun goes down. In winter, it can actually get quite cold and an even warmer coat is advised.

Wear sunscreen

Blue skies are common, meaning the sun can be hot and unrelenting. Mitigate any damage from UV rays by applying sunscreen and donning sunglasses and/or a hat. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a painful sunburn after a day at Venice Beach. Also, be sure to always carry water, especially if you plan on going hiking.

Los Angeles is wide

Cities like New York and Tokyo are tall. However, Los Angeles is wide. Visitors are advised to look at a map before choosing a hotel or planning an itinerary. Santa Monica and Venice Beach are popular with tourists, but are a considerable driving distance from, say, Echo Park—especially during rush hour. Plan days wisely and pick a hotel that’s near the must-see attractions on your list. If you can’t find a hotel in the neighborhood you’re interested in, check AirBNB. Location will make or break your trip.

Alcohol is expensive

Travelers from the Midwest may balk at the idea of spending $12 on a drink, but that may very well be the price of a whiskey and coke at a trendy downtown or Hollywood hotspot. Luckily for the frugal drinker, many bars offer both afternoon as well as late-night happy hours. Check for specials or consult Yelp to find the best local dive. Of course, for those fine with spending $14 on a cocktail, Los Angeles has some of the most creative mixologists around and an abundance of craft cocktail lounges. Tourists coming from other countries should know that the drinking age in Los Angeles, like the rest of the United States, is 21.

Cocktails at Good Housekeeping
Cocktails at Good Housekeeping | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

Those jokes about L.A. traffic aren’t always jokes

While some of the jokes about avoiding the 405 at all costs may be a touch dramatic, the traffic really can feel interminable sometimes. If you can avoid traveling during morning and evening rush hour, then definitely do so. Also, be sure to check with Google to see how long it will take you to get to your destination before you leave, and be aware that times may change drastically depending on traffic. A Dodgers game ending or street closures for a Hollywood premiere can alter things a lot. Also, motorcyclists are allowed to split lanes, so don’t be surprised if one zips past.

Parking signs are tricky

Visitors should carefully check the area for parking signs before straying too far from their vehicles. Some signs are very confusing and may take extra time to figure out, but it’s worth the effort. A parking ticket in L.A. typically costs at least $63, if not more.

Public transit

The song “Nobody Walks in L.A.” is often quoted, but it’s not true. Plenty of Los Angeles neighborhoods are not only walkable, but connected to one another by train. Guests who are hoping to avoid driving or renting a car should check a map to find lodging near one of L.A. Metro’s many stops. The Red Line, which begins at downtown L.A.’s Union Station, will take guests all the way through downtown, Los Feliz, and Hollywood to Universal City (home of Universal Studios), and North Hollywood in less than 40 minutes away.

The Purple Line will zip tourists through Koreatown, while the Gold Line services fun neighborhoods like Chinatown, Highland Park, and Little Tokyo. The Expo Line will take tourists all the way to Santa Monica, just a short walk from the famous Santa Monica Pier and the beach. To use the Metro, purchase a TAP card at any Metro station from one of the vending machines. A one-way fare is $1.75, with free transfers. Day passes are available for $7. TAP cards will also work on Metro buses, which can be used in combination with the trains to get around more efficiently and avoid parking fees.

The North Hollywood Metro Station
The North Hollywood Metro Station | ©fourbyfourblazer/Flickr

If you can’t smoke, you can’t vape

Absolutely no smoking is allowed in any public place in Los Angeles and, due to recent legislation, you can’t use your vaporizer in any area where smoking cigarettes is prohibited. For those who must sneak a puff, some bars and restaurants offer smoking patios. Otherwise, customers may have to exit entirely.

Know what to do in the event of an earthquake

It’s unlikely that a serious earthquake will occur during a short visit, but it’s not impossible. Should an earthquake happen, get away from windows and hanging furniture, drop to all fours, and cover your head and neck with your arms. Sturdy furniture or walls may offer protection if nearby. Outside, avoid structures and utility wires. If in a car, brake to a complete stop away from anything that might fall, and stay in the car. Don’t forget about the possibility of aftershocks.

Try the street food

For tourists unfamiliar with taco trucks and hot dog carts, it may seem odd to get your dinner from the side of the road. Yet nothing beats the convenience of cheap, flavorful street food, especially late at night. Taco trucks usually serve a variety of affordable tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tortas and more. Hot dogs carts offer the beloved “dirty dog”, a hot dog wrapped in bacon, topped with sautéed peppers and onion. Bring cash and don’t forget to tip.

Tacos al Pastor
Tacos al Pastor | ©T.Tseng/Flickr

How to get help

If something goes awry and you need help, you can reach emergency services by dialing 911, as is the case in any U.S. state. Travelers can also seek help by going to any police station. Visitors may also call 311 for local information, and 411 for directory assistance.

Hollywood is for tourists (and that’s okay)

Tourists probably won’t see any celebrities strolling down the Walk of Fame or hanging out at Hollywood and Vine. Yet this major tourist attraction offers the fun, cheesy photo opps a family vacation wouldn’t be complete without. If not taking a shuttle or driving up to Griffith Park, the best view of the Hollywood sign is at Bronson Avenue, from either Hollywood or Sunset Boulevards.

The Walk of Fame begins at Hollywood Boulevard and Gower Street, and continues down Hollywood Boulevard to La Brea Avenue. More stars can be found on Vine Street, headed south towards Sunset Boulevard. Stop at the Chinese Theater to pose with street performers dressed up like movie characters (and be sure to have cash for a tip). Hollywood is usually very crowded with tourists, especially near the Chinese Theater and Hollywood and Highland. Crosswalks at Hollywood and Highland allow pedestrians to cross vertically or diagonally, which may be unfamiliar to some. Side streets offer respite from the tourists, so explore freely.

TLC Chinese Theater
TLC Chinese Theater | ©Anthony Arrigo/Flickr

Some of the tours are fake

Joining a tour of celebrity homes or famous filming locations might sound like a good idea, but don’t put too much stock into what your amicable tour guide tells you. More accurate (and interesting) tours can be found with historical companies, such as Estouric. Or take a more morbid tour with Dearly Departed, which focus on ‘haunted locations’ and grim history.

Have fun!

There’s so much to do in Los Angeles, including museums, art galleries, theater, live music, beautiful architecture, and plenty of gorgeous hiking trails. Do a little research beforehand to cut through the stereotypes (not everyone is an aspiring actor or screenwriter), and you’ll find a unique and diverse city with far more than Hollywood and a couple of beaches.