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Los Angeles Travel Guide

10 Things to Know Before You Go to Los Angeles

The rumors are true: L.A. is big and confusing and wonderful and frustrating and hot and weird and so much more.

We get it, it’s a hard city to navigate and knowing a thing or two before coming to one of America’s best metropolises will go a long way to making the most of your vacation. We’re here to help. So whether you’re stuck on the 10, the 101, the 110, or the 405, we’re going to get you out and guide you to the best vacation you can possibly have.

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Size, Oh God, the Size

Oh, you wanted to do Malibu and Disneyland on the same day? That’s cute. Here’s some perspective–that drive is 77 miles and depending on the time of day, can take more than three hours from end to end. Think about L.A. in chunks. There’s the westside consisting of Malibu, Santa Monica, and Venice. The middle, which is Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Hollywood. The eastside, which is Silver Lake, Koreatown, and Downtown. We won’t bore you with all the little details in between, but that’s your basic lay of the land. Stick to these chunks on individual days and you’ll thank us.

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Transportation–Don’t Skip This Section

While we’re on the subject of size, let’s talk about how to get around. You have a lot of options, so choose wisely. You can rent a car, ride a bus, take the metro, hail a taxi, use a ride-sharing app, or scoot (ugh). Lesson 1. Never ride the bus. It takes too long to get anywhere. Lesson 2. The metro doesn’t go everywhere, so pick your routes carefully. Lesson 3. Ride-sharing apps are infinitely cheaper than taxis (download Uber and/or Lyft). Lesson 4. If you must, scoot. The newest transport kids on the block are Lime and Byrd, electric scooters that make it easy to get around individual neighborhoods. Just be careful because bike lanes are scarce and L.A. drivers don’t look (read: they’re on their phones).

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Traffic, the 9th Circle of Hell

Staying on transportation, let’s talk about traffic. Knowing how L.A. traffic works is the difference between a sweet vacation and hell on earth. Here are some rules to live by: First, only get in a car before 7 a.m., after 10 a.m., before 3 p.m., and after 7 p.m. If you MUST drive at any other times, find routes that don’t involve L.A.’s maze of freeways. Side streets are your friends and give you lots of alternatives. If you get stuck on the 405 at 5:30 p.m., you will miss your dinner reservation.

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Parking, L.A.’s Official Foreign Language

Last note on transportation is about parking. If you’ve seen L.A.’s draconian signage, you know how confusing things can be. But to avoid a ticket stick to the meters (which now take credit cards). If they’re blinking red/green, you’ll generally know you’re in a place that works. If you rent a car, hotel parking can be obnoxiously expensive. We’re talking $40 to $50 per night obnoxious. To avoid all these pitfalls, use ride-sharing apps and save yourself the hassle.

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Homelessness: L.A.’s Abominable Sin

This is probably the most shocking thing that newcomers to L.A. will experience. The homeless population has exploded in the last decade and rough estimates put it at north of 60,000 people on the streets. You will see tents, you will see cardboard signs, you will see sadness. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a huge problem, we know it, and are trying to work on it. Just don’t be surprised and don’t be rude. People are people and some just need more help than others.

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Celebrities–Don’t Feed the Animals

If you want to see celebs, you need to know where to find them. But this isn’t a safari and they’re not animals, so try to be cool. If you want some guarantees go to lunch at the Chateau Marmont. Hit up dinner at Craig’s or Catch LA. And grab drinks at The Nice Guy or Delilah. If you’re more into movie stuff than movie people, head over to the Warner Bros. and Universal Studios lots where you can get tours of soundstages and movie sets and maybe, just maybe see an A-lister eating lunch at the commissary–again, be cool.

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Marijuana. Wait, What?

Alright you stoners, this is what you’ve been waiting for. California (like nine other states) has legalized marijuana and you want to know where to get high. First off, think of the marijuana rules like the alcohol rules. You need to be 21. You can’t consume in public. You can’t smoke and drive (and really, you shouldn’t). Fines can be as high (not a pun) as $250 just for driving with an open container. So, if you need a pick-me-up or take-me-down, look for the green crosses on storefronts, or take a gander at this super helpful map from the L.A. Times.

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Beaches–Because Tanning Is a Priority

No trip to L.A. would be complete without bumming out on the beaches. Whether you’re a surfer, skater, or volleyball player, there’s a beach for you. Malibu is worth hitting for the drive alone along the Pacific Coast Highway. Make sure you stop at Zuma Beach, a stunning spot for sunbathers, ocean swimmers, and surfers. Santa Monica and Venice have their own charms, especially with dedicated outdoor gyms, basketball courts, skate parks, and boardwalks for bikers and roller-bladers. Heading a little farther south and you’ll get your top surf spots. Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo are all known for sweet waves, but also big-time volleyball junkies. You can’t really go wrong on any L.A. beach, just don’t forget your SPF.

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The Weather–It’s Pretty Simple

L.A. really only has two seasons. Hot, and two months in January and February where it rains a bit. But this city is also a desert where temps can drop at night into the low 50s, so bring a jacket. Depending on where you stay, fluctuations in temperature can also be a little extreme. The beaches are consistently 5-10 degrees cooler than Downtown, which can be 5-10 degrees cooler than the valleys. Yes, we’re all weather wimps in L.A., but it’s still good to know stuff.

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Food–We Got Hungry Just Writing This

New Yorkers can disagree all they want, but L.A. is the best food city in America. The food truck was practically invented here and you’ll find a rolling restaurant for any cuisine imaginable. Beyond the trucks, L.A. has dozens of farmers markets and near-weekly food festivals celebrating the melting pot that is this city. Lastly, you’ll find more celebrity chefs in L.A. than any other city as cheap(er) than New York rents have ushered in an experimental wave of food not seen in any other city. Whether it’s tacos, Italian, bacon-wrapped hotdogs, or burgers, L.A. is a primo-city for any traveling foodie.

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