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Los Angeles is served by five commercial airports, a major train station and several bus terminals.
The greater Los Angeles region is expansive and subject to bad traffic, so it pays – if possible – to fly into an airport close to where you’re staying.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), usually called L-A-X, is one of the world's busiest airports and the largest in Southern California. About 18 miles from downtown LA and 22 miles from Hollywood, it serves as the major portal for international travel to and from this region. It’s also the closest airport to beach communities like Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Malibu.
Bob Hope Airport (BUR) is the closest airport to Hollywood, Universal Studios, Pasadena and downtown LA. It offers only domestic flights and has two terminals, one of which is dominated by the low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines. The airport serves one-tenth the number of passengers as LAX, so the crowds are lighter.
Long Beach Airport (LGB), south of downtown LA, is the region’s smallest commercial airport, with many Jet Blue flights. The airport is about the same distance from downtown as LAX is, but farther from the city’s west side. Fly into Long Beach if you plan to sail out of an area port.
John Wayne Airport (SNA) is closest to the theme parks (Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure and Knott's Berry Farm), popular Orange County beach destinations and Catalina Island.
LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT), about 40 miles east of downtown LA, is the farthest from LA but sometimes makes a good alternative airport. It’s less crowded than the others, and Southwest Airlines offers discounts on flights to many destinations.
Amtrak trains, which go in and out of LA’s Union Station, connect the city to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Chicago, Kansas City, New Orleans, Tucson, and San Antonio.
The regional train network, Metrolink, connects LA to Riverside, Lancaster, Oceanside, San Bernardino, Oxnard and other points in between. It also runs from Union Station.
It’s possible to reach LA via Greyhound bus, LuxBus (with four daily trips to/from Anaheim, San Diego and Las Vegas) and Xe Do Hoang buses (with service to/from the Bay Area).
Visitors can navigate from the airport to the city via public transit, shuttles, cab and car rental.
You can use mass transit to get from each airport to downtown LA.
At LAX, free shuttle buses take you to the Metro Green Line Aviation Station, where you can catch a train into downtown LA. You can also take a Flyaway bus to Union Station for $7, or hop on the “C” Shuttle for service to the Metro Bus Center, where you can board city buses serving the LA area.
Bob Hope Airport has its own train station within walking distance of the main terminal, though free shuttles will take you there. You can link up your flights with Metrolink (Mon-Fri only) and Amtrak. The airport is also a stop on Metro bus lines and the Burbank city bus line, which connects to the metro Red Line in North Hollywood.
At Long Beach Airport, you can take the Long Beach Transit Bus Route #111 for $1.25 into LA. The closest metro station is the Wardlow Station on the Blue Line, but you’ll have to take a cab there for about $15.
From John Wayne Airport, you can catch an Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) bus (#76 or 212) outside the lower level. The nearest train stations are located in Irvine, Santa Ana, and Tustin, all approximately 10 miles away. The closest Greyhound stop is located in the Santa Ana train station.
*More public transit details listed below.
Travelers can find taxi service at each airport. All cabs must be equipped with a dashboard meter or rate card that is plainly visible to passengers in the front and back seats of the vehicle. At LAX, you’ll be presented with a ticket stating typical fares to major destinations, usually about $45. There’s a $4 airport surcharge.
Two shared-ride van companies, Prime Time Shuttle and SuperShuttle, operate out of each airport, and they’re authorized to serve all southern California counties. Passengers are encouraged to contact the companies first for more information.
At LAX, many major airport-area hotels and privately operated parking lots provide courtesy transportation from the terminals. Go to the lower/arrival level of each terminal to find them.
Renting a car is a viable alternative to taking taxis or using the metro, especially if you plan to explore the city’s west side, if you’re traveling with children, or if you want to venture into “out of the way places” like Malibu.
Approximately 40 rental car companies operate out of LAX. You can also find competitive rental car offers on any of the online travel services, e.g. Travelocity,com, Expedia.com, Hotwire.com, Priceline.com, Economybookings.com etc.
Be aware that driving in LA can be expensive since parking is costly at most tourist attractions and many hotels (as high as $30 a day). Parking in downtown LA is nearly impossible on weekdays; garages and parking lots are often full and the prices are very high.
LA is extremely spread out, and it can take an hour to drive from one edge to the other. If you’d rather take public transportation, there are two major methods: the newer metro rail system and the older bus system (the buses themselves aren’t old -- just the routes).
Union Station is a public transit hub; there are a number of metro buses that pull up either in front of it, behind it in the bus depot, or on adjacent streets. These buses will take you to all LA destinations, including the beach areas.
LA is not a "walking city", at least not in most areas. The following neighborhoods are best for walking: downtown Santa Monica (especially the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier areas), central Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Old Pasadena.
You can take a walking tour of Hollywood. Find more information at www.redlinetours.com
LA is famous for its congested traffic and awful rush hour periods. If you’re driving on weekdays from 6-9 a.m. or from 3-7 p.m., prepare to spend twice as long in the car (Fridays are the worst). Sunday afternoons/evenings are also bad because so many locals are coming back from weekend trips. During these rush periods, different traffic rules may apply, such as no left turns in many main intersections and no parking on main streets. Pay close attention to signs.
The region has several important freeways. San Diego Freeway/405 runs north/south, connecting the northern suburbs of the San Fernando Valley with Santa Monica and the "West side" of Los Angeles. Santa Monica Freeway/Rosa Parks Expressway/10 runs in an east/west direction connecting Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles, and it’s very crowded during rush hour. Hollywood Freeway/101 runs in a northwest/southeast direction between downtown L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, while Hollywood Freeway/170 runs north south through the San Fernando Valley. Golden State Freeway/5 crosses LA from northwest to southeast, traveling through Glendale, Echo Park, Downtown and Orange County.
All LA communities have regular metro bus service, and some areas are only accessible by bus (including Santa Monica, Venice and much of the west side). Unlike the metro rail, metro buses must contend with traffic, so they can be slow during rush hours.
Routes are numbered to indicate bus speed. Buses numbered between 1 and 299 are local buses that stop very often and take the longest to reach a destination. Buses numbered between 300 and 799 are faster buses known as either ‘Limited Stop’, ‘Express’ or ‘Metro Rapid,’ and they stop less frequently. For example, on Santa Monica Blvd, the #4 and the #704 buses both follow the same route, but the ‘Limited Stop’ #704 is faster. If your bus trip is 20 minutes or less, taking an ‘Express’ bus will only save you about five minutes, so it’s foolish to ignore a local bus in order to wait for an express bus. But, if your ride is 30 minutes or longer, the time savings can add up.
The fare is $1.50 for each Metro bus ride, and you must pay in exact cash. There are also day passes ($5) and weekly passes ($20) and monthly passes ($75). Each adult may bring two children younger than 5 onboard at no charge, while seniors and disabled persons get a reduced fare.
There are no free transfers. Instead, you must either buy a 35-cent transfer when you board a new Metra bus (to use as fare on the municipal bus) or pay for an entirely new bus ticket once you get on the municipal bus.
Several bus routes are popular among tourists.
A secondary bus system, known as DASH, is especially useful in exploring downtown LA or connecting riders between Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, the Beverly Center and the Farmers Market/the Grove. DASH buses have a 50-cent fare, cover small, circular "tourist-friendly" routes and do not accept the Metro day or weekly passes. The DASH routes are shown on: www.ladottransit.com/map/dashmap.html
The Big Blue Bus is the Santa Monica's efficient and cheap ($1 local, $2 express) bus service. You can transfer from a METRO bus to a Big Blue Bus for 35 cents, or visa versa for 50 cents.
LA’s five metro lines can help you reach many neighborhoods and sightseeing, including downtown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Los Feliz, Thai Town, Hollywood, Universal City, North Hollywood, Chinatown, Pasadena and Long Beach. The fare is $1.50 for each Metro rail ride, but you can buy a weekly pass for $20. If you need to ride more the one Metro rail line, you must either pay $1.80 per ride or buy a DAY PASS for $6. Metro rail routes can be found on the Metro website at metro.net by entering your starting and ending points at the right side of the home page.
1. Green line Metro Rail (above ground): Runs east/west between Norwalk and Redondo Beach with a stop near LAX (take a shuttle to the terminal).
2. Red Line Metro Rail (underground): Service between Union Station (Downtown), Mid-Wilshire area, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley (Universal Studios and North Hollywood).
3. Purple Line Metro Rail (underground) Service between Union Station (Downtown), Mid-Wilshire area and Koreatown.
4. Blue Line Metro Rail (mostly above ground): Runs north and south between Long Beach and Los Angeles
5. Gold Line Metro Rail: Runs northeast into Pasadena and southeast to East Los Angeles.
If you’re staying near Disneyland and prefer to tour LA on your own (without a car or an organized tour), you must first transfer to Union Station in order to access the local metro rail and metro bus system.
Unlike other U.S. cities, taxis are usually not flagged down at the curb. You can secure a taxi in front of the airport terminals, popular restaurants, bars and clubs (like those on the Sunset Strip) or bigger hotels. If a line of taxis isn't present, there will be someone near the entrance to the establishment who can call one for you, e.g, the concierge at a hotel or the host at a restaurant. You can also take a list of taxi companies with you and call yourself (Lists are available at your hotel or from this website: http://www.taxicabsla.org). Ordinarily, the fares are calculated according to the distance you travel, your destination, and the time it takes to get there.
Many tour companies will take you around the city (or to outlying attractions like Disneyland) for an hour, two hours, half a day or a full day. By taking these tours, you can see the city’s neighborhoods without the hassle of public transportation or heavy traffic, plus you can listen to interesting commentary about passing sights. The two most popular coach tour companies are Grayline Tours and Starline Tours. Most will pick you up at either your hotel or a specific landmark.