03 Aug Seeing Los Angeles Without A Car: What You Need to Know

When I announced I was visiting Los Angeles for the first time, all of my Californian friends insisted “you’ll need to rent a car.”

The reason for this is Los Angeles is a sprawling city with lots of neighbourhoods and suburbs, plus the public transport system isn’t as efficient as somewhere like New York. Most people use a car to get around so it’s considered kind of weird to see Los Angeles without a car.

Getting Around LA Without a Car

I have never driven on the other side of the road, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to do it in LA traffic. You can get some good rental car deals from the airport so it’s fairly inexpensive, but I felt really anxious about navigating my way around LA.

Was I crazy to even try to get around LA without a car?

As it turns out, it was easier than I thought. I successfully spent 5 days staying at USA Hostels Hollywood and used a mixture of transportation methods to get around.

Here is how you can see Los Angeles without a car:

Airport Shuttles

When you land at LAX and walk outside arrivals you can catch one of the Super Shuttles into the city. You can make a reservation online, or you can simply pay the driver like I did. The cost is $16 one-way or you can get a discount on a return ticket. It’s a shared van service so you will visit various locations dropping people off, but it will drop you off at the door and is excellent value for money. Try one of these discount codes if you want to save a little bit more.

Where to Stay

Since hotels in Los Angeles are very expensive during the summer months, plus I was traveling alone, I stayed at USA Hostels Hollywood, which is right off Hollywood Boulevard. This set me back about $50 per night. I would recommend either staying in a hotel in the Hollywood/Beverly Hills area (think the W Hotel, The Hollywood Roosevelt or the Beverly Wilshire) or down at the beach in Santa Monica or Venice.

Walking

Thought people in LA don’t walk? Think again.

I love to walk as it allows me to stay in shape on the road. I actually walked from Hollywood Boulevard all the way to the Hollywood sign in the hills because the buses were on strike that day. I waited at the bus stop for around 45 minutes until eventually a guy waiting at the bus stop suggested walking there. I ended up getting my exercise for the day as it was all uphill, and I made a new friend.

In LA the distances are pretty far, but it’s pleasant to walk around if you stick to a particular neighbourhood. My hostel ran various walking tours, including a walking tour of the celebrity homes. There are lots of open top buses that will take you to see the celebrity mansions, but by walking you can get right up to the gates to take a look.

I walked a lot around the Walk of Fame area, and I also walked between Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

Biking

If you decide to stay down in Santa Monica or just visit for the day, you can rent bicycles and bike along the beachfront between Santa Monica and Venice. For more information about biking along the coastal path, visit the Santa Monica Bike and Park website.

Biking Los Angeles- Santa Monica Bike Path

Buses

When I arrived at my hostel they gave me a sheet of paper with directions to all the major sights by public transportation. It IS possible, but the problem is it takes a long time. You will often have to switch buses 2 or 3 times, but the fares are cheap at $1.50. You can pay for it in cash (must have the exact fare) or you can buy a plastic TAP card in the metro stations and preload it with money so you can pay-as-you-go. Various people had told me that the buses in LA are full of crazy people and weirdos, but I didn’t find it to be a bad experience at all. I took two buses to get from Rodeo Drive back to Hollywood Boulevard; they were both fine and practically dropped me door to door.

Hostel Hopper

The Hostel Hopper really, really rocks. But it’s not like taking your average taxi or some shared shuttle ride, oh no. It’s kind of like getting a ride with your best mate or your relative. One of their super fun drivers stops by the hostel to pick you up in a new 7-seat passenger car equipped with Wi-Fi internet access and an iPad for choosing your own music!

Hostel Hopper LA

I used this service twice to get from Hollywood to Venice Beach, and at $15 round trip it is worth every penny. The second time I used Hostel Hopper my driver was Lauren, the owner of the company. She and her husband Rafa met in a hostel in Uraguay believe it or not! After several years working in tourism in Southern California, they came upon the sweet idea of Hostel Hopper, making it easier for backpackers to get around. You can tell they are really passionate about working with travelers and they have so much energy.

On my first trip to Venice Beach I spent the entire time talking to the driver and getting her recommendations for what to do in LA. She took me on a quick detour to see some of the beautiful tree-lined neighbourhoods and she even called her friend to ask the name of an old-school cinema I should check out.

The drivers are super flexible too; you just tell them which time you would like to be picked up from the beach (there is a choice of return times), and they will be there! If you change your mind you can just give them a call and let them know. Definitely my #1 choice for getting around.

Metro

I barely used the LA metro because it didn’t seem to take me to any of the places I needed to go, but I did use it when I needed to go downtown for the BET experience. I bought a TAP card and a day pass for $5. The metro was pretty much like every other metro I’ve experienced in the world…a way to get from A to B underground.

Bus Tours

If you visit the Walk of Fame in Hollywood there are lots of people selling tickets on these open-top bus tours that visit the celebrity homes. I was walking down the street with a girl I met in the hostel and we were offered huge discounts on these tours. That’s because we weren’t really interested so we carried on walking. Eventually we were offered such a ridiculous price for the tour that we did it, and we asked to get dropped off on Rodeo Drive on the way back!

So moral of the story, pretend you aren’t interested, walk away and they will lower the price.

Getting out of LA

If you are heading up to San Francisco then the cheapest option is taking the Megabus. I have taken the Megabus many times and find it to be far superior to the Greyhound. Not only is it super cheap, but it is much more efficient, has free Wi-Fi and is WAY nicer.

Alternatively I would take the Amtrak train which offers scenic views of the coastline. The Pacific Surfliner will take you to San Diego and the Coast Starlight can take you as far as Portland and Seattle.

Alternatively Hostel Hopper do a door to door shuttle service between LA and San Diego for $40 each way.

Have I missed anything? Have you used public transportation in LA? What did you think of it? Leave Your Comments below!

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Victoria Brewood
victoria@pommietravels.com

Hi I'm Victoria, a British girl from Manchester. After graduating from university I decided there was more to life than the hours between 9 and 5, so I packed my journalism degree into my suitcase to travel the world and find a way to make money at the same time. I now call London home, although I still travel whenever I can. I hope to inspire you to be your own boss, live life and see the world.

14 Comments
  • Kerrie
    Posted at 06:13h, 05 August Reply

    I had no choice *but* to use public transport as I can’t drive. As I am so used to it, it didn’t phase me. Had to wait ages for a bus one day, but things like that happen everywhere! I only used the Metro once as it doesn’t really go anywhere. LA has the potential for fantastic public transport. Imagine a light rail system down to Venice Beach! I met a hairdresser and a student who both admitted that even though they lived in LA their whole lives, they didn’t know how to catch the bus!

  • Annie
    Posted at 09:47h, 05 August Reply

    Thank you for this, I will be going to LA in 2 weeks and won’t be renting a car either. I was a bit nervous but you made me see it is possible! I will also be staying at hostel hollywood! Pretty excited about this trip 🙂

    • Victoria
      Posted at 17:00h, 18 August Reply

      Enjoy Annie, you’ll have a great time and the hostel is very sociable!

  • Amanda @ Adventure Year
    Posted at 13:50h, 05 August Reply

    I am so used to living without a car, I don’t know if I would spring to rent one either! Besides, traffic in LA is not my kind of fun. Great to see a post like this, so thanks! One of my friends lives out near LA, so I was thinking about going out to see it. And that hostel hopper thing looks like so much fun! Awesome!

  • Beverley | Pack Your Passport
    Posted at 15:55h, 05 August Reply

    Awesome tips Victoria 🙂 I had 3 hours in LAX on my flight home from Auckland last month but I basically spent those 3 hours resisting the urge to just run out of the terminal and start exploring!

    I’d love to go back to LA one day and it’s really good to know that you don’t need a car to explore somewhere so big. Looks like you had an awesome time too 🙂

  • Life Leaps
    Posted at 00:54h, 09 August Reply

    Wow! I lived in LA for two years. Could have really used your tips, given how expensive it can be. Thanks!

  • Sofie
    Posted at 20:53h, 12 August Reply

    I’ve been to LA last year but I must say I had a rental car during my entire trip… and I loved it!
    True, LA traffic can be pretty busy, but my friend and I made sure not to head somewhere during the most busiest times whenever we could and the car just gave us so much freedom!
    I’d looked up beforehand how I could get to several places by using public transportation, but like you say, that seemed to take ages and that’s why we opted for the car.
    I’m going back to LA in a couple of weeks and already have my rental car ready.

    Just now realized this comment might seem ‘against’ your public transportation post. Not at all! Just to let you know that driving in LA isn’t as scary as it seems:)

  • Anna
    Posted at 21:48h, 10 October Reply

    i think it’s almost impossible to see L.A. without a car, but u have nice tips, thanks!

  • Jay
    Posted at 20:19h, 26 November Reply

    Ive never been in LA and i am planning a trip with my brother.. obviously without car. We want to be there 4 days (we are going to San Francisco then) and visit Disney, Hollywood and Rodeo Drive.. what else would you recommend us not to miss?

    Also, could you help me where to stay, we were thinking somewhere downtown because it is easy to get, but i have no idea really.

    Thanks!!

  • Sarah
    Posted at 18:03h, 04 May Reply

    Hey! Can you take a hostel shuttle without staying in a hostel? Using airbnb but the hostel shuttle seems like a great way to travel around LA!! I will be using the bus & won’t be renting a car. Can’t wait to be in LA for an entire month or so…first time flying solo on a trip.

  • John
    Posted at 02:21h, 19 January Reply

    Lived in LA for a year with no car. I got to my rock climbing gym, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood just fine. There are LOTS of people without cars in LA. I lived right near Pershing Square and loved it.

  • Neha Arora
    Posted at 18:24h, 28 January Reply

    Lived in LA for a year with no car. I got to my rock climbing gym, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood just fine. There are LOTS of people without cars in LA. I lived right near Pershing Square and really loved it.

  • Evelyn
    Posted at 13:24h, 07 March Reply

    OMG I’m so glad I found this article!
    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    I will be travelling to LA in May and I’m a bit worried thathat it will be really ‘impossible’ to get around there without a car, like what most people say.
    But now I’m more positive and even excited about the trip! 🙂

  • Emily
    Posted at 19:48h, 12 June Reply

    This is a PERFECT guide as I’m heading there this November and cannot drive! My friend and I were umming and ahhing about where to stay, but the hostel you recommended looks fantasticly central – plus it’s real cheap for our dates! 🙂 Thanks! x

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