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I visited Los Angeles without renting a car or using rideshare apps. Navigating public transportation was easy with some planning.

Matthew Lubin   

I visited Los Angeles without renting a car or using rideshare apps. Navigating public transportation was easy with some planning.
  • Los Angeles has a network of subways, trains, and buses that stop at popular tourist destinations.
  • Choosing a centrally located hotel made getting around the city a lot easier.

I was concerned when my friend, who doesn't drive, told me she was visiting Los Angeles.

After all, the city isn't necessarily known for its public transportation. At first, I planned to meet her in LA and rent a car. But then I began to consider visiting the sprawling city without one.

I'm used to taking New York City's 24-hour subway system, and most of my vacations have been to cities with extensive transportation networks. This trip, however, required some research.

LA has public transportation options, even if they don't seem popular. The subway and buses are only $1.75 per ride, which includes any transfers within two hours. There's also a $2 fee to purchase a refillable TAP card that's used for the transit.

With such great prices, I was willing to give it all a try.

Getting to and from LAX was a breeze

We took the FlyAway bus, located outside each airport terminal, to Union Station for $9.75. Because there is no ticket kiosk at LAX, we had to download the FlyAway app.

The bus ride was comfortable and took about 30 minutes at midday. At the end of our trip, however, the return trip to LAX took about 50 minutes due to the morning rush.

Once at Union Station, we followed signs for the Metro and purchased tickets at the kiosk. We had to ensure the kiosk was for Metro, not Metrolink, which is a separate commuter rail service.

Location matters when choosing a hotel

I booked the Millennium Biltmore downtown, which was pricier than other hotels. However, its convenient location and great quality made it the best option for our stay.

The hotel is a quick, five-minute walk from the Pershing Square Metro station and two stops from Union Station.

The hotel was also close to other Metro lines and bus stops, making it easier to get around the sprawling city.

If I had to go to LA again, I'd choose a different location to stay, only because downtown isn't the most exciting place in the city. However, I'd still make sure I stayed near a Metro station.

We used public transit to see major LA-area sights

With temperatures in the 70s, downtown LA was walkable. Our hotel was close to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Bradbury Building, Angels Flight Railway, and Grand Central Market.

Metro Line B took us to Hollywood for popular tourist destinations like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theater. The same subway took us to the Vermont/Sunset Station for the Observatory/Los Feliz bus to Griffith Observatory. The bus was crowded on the way back, and traffic delayed our schedule.

We also visited the Petersen Automotive Museum, which felt fitting while we avoided driving in the city. This trip required a 40-minute bus ride, but a bus stop was only a block from the museum. An added advantage was that the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Little Ethiopia were also a short walk away.

There were a lot of buses to figure out, but Google Maps had decent route information, and the arrival times were close to accurate. Our only issue was with buses 20/720 as they were doing detours for a festival.

Although the bus network is extensive, it's best to check a map app for up-to-date times and routes. Some buses run more frequently, while others may have 20-minute headways.

We took both a train and a bus to get to Malibu

Our longest trip was about two hours to Malibu. To get there, we first had to take a 45-minute train ride to Santa Monica. As I looked out the window, I noticed that at most stations, police and Metro staff were available to help passengers.

After getting off of the train in Santa Monica, we walked about a block to catch Bus 134 to Malibu. Although the bus didn't run as frequently as the trains, there were plenty of cafes and shops in the area to keep us busy while we waited.

Using public transportation was a cost-effective way to see Los Angeles

Overall, the metro system in LA was efficient, and stations were spacious despite the usual lack of passengers. I was impressed by the Metro staff and stations, though the subway cars left much to be desired.

Some destinations, like the Getty Museum, are difficult to access via public transportation, but most sights seemed easy to reach. An issue with visiting Los Angeles, whether by car or public transit, is that tourist destinations are not near each other — they're in clusters spread across the region.

Considering how much we'd have paid to rent, park, and fuel a car, the added travel time on the buses and trains was worth it.


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