Do You Need a Car in Los Angeles? 5 Things to Know

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Santa Monica Beech Los Angeles

The first time I visited Los Angeles, I drove a convertible Mustang. Having rented the car in San Francisco and slalomed down the US 101 (considered one of the most scenic drives in the world), I eventually finished my trip in San Diego and Southern California.

It had been a liberating and unforgettable experience – at least until I hit LA.

Sure, the city had some bright lights and big attractions. As a movie fan, I was desperate to lay eyes on the Hollywood sign, the Nokia Theatre, Universal Studios, and the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. Visiting LA was supposed to be a dream, but getting around in my flashy rental proved to be more of a nightmare.

Had I not been visiting Los Angeles in a car already, there is a strong chance I wouldn’t have been anywhere near one. This sprawling metropolis is notorious for traffic congestion, and as much as I love to drive, it certainly tried my patience when trying to get across town. In 2021, transport analytics company INRIX found LA the sixth worst location in the USA for traffic problems. In the City of Angels, perhaps was better to sprout wings and fly.

The big question is – do you need a car in LA? And as large as this city is, the short answer is no, you don’t. That said, there is no doubt that it’s still the most preferred and convenient transportation option in the city. In this article, we look at the public transit system in the Los Angeles area and offer alternatives to driving your vehicle or a car rental when attempting to negotiate Tinseltown.

Los Angeles Aerial Scenery
Newport Coast Media / Adobe Stock

Los Angeles Without a Car – Yes or No?

There is one thing you should consider when deciding if you need a car in LA. Are you visiting, or do you live there? You can follow my handy, bite-sized guide below to keep things simple.

I live in, or I am going to live in Los Angeles – It is probably a good idea to have access to a car.

I’m visiting, or I am going to visit Los Angeles – You don’t need a car.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s look at how to travel to LA and get around once you’re there.

Getting to Los Angeles

Star Wars Characters in Lax Airport
LAX / Facebook

Los Angeles International Airport – Flights

LA is one of the busiest transport hubs in the United States. It connects the west coast of California to the rest of the world. And however you feel about it, the main port for comings and goings is the Los Angeles International Airport.

Otherwise known as LAX, it’s the most frequented airport in the US for domestic flights. Check out Skyscanner or Going.com for up-to-date airfares. Once on the ground, you can take the LAX FlyAway bus to and from Union Station.

You can use Metrolink tickets to board the FlyAway bus, located at Patsaouras Plaza at Union Station at bus bay number one. You’ll find buses leaving LAX for the city at the lower arrivals level for each terminal. Look for the blue FlyAway bus livery.

Two other airports serve LA – Long Beach (LGB) and Burbank (BUR). Check out this schedule of transit to and from each LA airport. Alternatively, you can get this private transfer from LAX into the city.

Lax Airport Bus Up closed
LAX / Facebook

Union Station – Trains

Neighboring Little Tokyo and Chinatown, Union Station is LA’s main train hub. For getting to and from the big city, Amtrak is your best bet.

They offer direct and connecting trains from just about anywhere in the continental United States. Visit their website for tickets, or try Omio for some cheap deals.

Regional Metro rail trains and Metro local buses stop here, and Metrolink services are available to connect five counties in Southern California. Greyhound buses offer links to Fresno, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Ysidro, and Yuma.

Los Angeles Bus Station – Bus & Coach

The city’s main bus station is located in downtown Los Angeles and is serviced by local and regional buses, as well as Greyhound Coaches arriving from and departing to further afield.

Driving – Cars & Other Vehicles

They say that all roads lead to Rome, but in the US, Los Angeles might well be the equivalent. If you’d prefer to reach LA via car, there are plenty of ways to do so. I would highly recommend using a GPS with Google Maps and don’t forget to check this list of road trip essentials. Hit up Rentalcars.com for the best deals on car hire.

Public Transportation in Los Angeles

Bus

Los Angeles Bus

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) is LA’s primary regional public transport agency. You can find a bus stop (metro station) on practically every street. On weekdays, about 1.3 million people use these bus routes, which shows that the bus service isn’t just a way for tourists to get around the city but a vital transportation method for locals. 

Metro buses operated by LACMTA include Metro Express, Metro Rapid, and Metro Local. Express buses are blue (locally known as the “Big Blue Bus”), Metro Rapid buses are red, and the Local buses are orange. Bus times vary from a half hour to an hour,  

Besides being a fairly reliable transport system, these buses have affordable rates. For instance, you can take a one-way trip for $2, a one-day pass for $7, and 7 day pass for $25, respectively. Furthermore, the metro bus line offers reduced fares for children, students, and people with disabilities.

Metro Rail 

Metro Gold Line Los Angeles

Los Angeles Light Rail transit system comprises six lines – A (blue), B (red), C (green), D (purple), E (gold), and K (pink).To board the train, you will need a TAP card. A single ride will cost you around $2, and a seven-day pass will cost you about $7. 

Use the Metro Red Line for access to Union Station and North Hollywood. The Metro Blue Line serves destinations like the Los Angeles Convention Center, Nokia Theatre, and Staples Center.

The Green Line goes from Norwalk to Redondo Beach. The Purple Line links Union Station with Wilshire.

The Gold Line, commonly known as the Expo Line, is a light rail line between downtown LA and Santa Monica through Culver City and Westwood, comprising 19 key stops. It’s the first light rail service to stop on Rodeo Drive.

Meanwhile, the Pink Line (K) is a new route that connects LAX to the city. The Crenshaw/Lax Transit project will add more tourist transportation options.

The corridor will extend from Crenshaw station and connect the Aviation/LAX station. This metro system project is expected to be fully operational in 2024, so LAX will finally have a metro rail option. Public transportation appears to be moving in the right direction.

Taxis and Rideshares

If you’re going to take a taxi in LA, I hope you’ve got deep pockets. There are multiple services available, including the Yellow Cab Company and LA City Cab.

And while they are friendly and convenient, they’re not going to be cheap. Especially when you get stuck in traffic. For rideshare options, check out Zipcar, which can be great for daily or hourly rentals, and often works out cheaper than hiring from a car hire or taxi company.

Tours for Getting Around Los Angeles

Los Angeles Hollywood Open-Air Tour Bus
Hollywood City Tours / GetYourGuide

If you don’t have a car and you’re trying to see the city and get around at the same time, then guided tours might be the answer. Here’s a rundown of some of the best.

Walking, Bus & Private Tours

Tourist Exploring Los Angeles
A Day in LA Tours / Viator

One of the best ways to get around Los Angeles without a car is by jumping onboard one of the many hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tours. That’s exactly what I did when I parked my rental car at my accommodation and never drove it again until I was leaving the city.

Operated by Starline Tours, the three narrated tour routes will take you to all the major sights, depending on which you choose. See the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, experience the diverse neighborhoods and streets, and visit iconic coastal locations like Venice Beach – all without moving a muscle.

You might not want to drive a car in LA yourself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t let someone else do it for you. This private LA tour will whisk you and your party to all the key locations so that you can see the best of the city in a single day. Celebrity home tours are also hugely popular.

As the city is so large, walking tours are not that popular, and most guided experiences will use some mode of transport to get around. That said, this Hollywood sign hike gets you right up close to the iconic letters. And in a town that’s infamous for its seedy side, this haunted LA walking tour is a must.

Alternative Tours

Tourist Horseback Riding in Los Angeles
Sunset Ranch Hollywood / GetYourGuide

Did you know you can enjoy horseback riding tours in Los Angeles? Said with tongue firmly in cheek, as I don’t mean trotting through downtown LA in the saddle. Horseback tours are available for exploring the outskirts of the city, including a trip to the Hollywood sign.

If you have a head for heights, this helicopter tour offers a unique vantage point from which to see LA. Aside from unbeatable views of the surrounding hills with their decadent mansions, it also takes in Universal Studios Hollywood, Warner Bros Studios Hollywood, and Beverly Hills from the air.

Other Los Angeles Transportation Options

Whether you’re exploring downtown Los Angeles or going further afield, here are a few other solutions for enjoying Los Angeles without a car.

By Foot

Crowd in Los Angeles
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

If it’s good enough for Darth Vader, it’s good enough for me. I spent a lot of time walking around the top attractions in LA, although I believe this photograph was taken from the upper deck of one of the bus tours. Still, you get the idea.

Walking around Los Angeles is possible, and there are several historic walking trails and routes. But some parts of La-La Land can be insalubrious, and I would advise only sticking to well-trodden, well-lit tourist paths.

I remember feeling extremely uneasy just wandering a few blocks from the Chinese Theater at night. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore!

By Bike 

Los Angeles Beech Bike Trail

Cycling in LA is something of a crapshoot. The city boasts near-perfect biking weather on one hand, but dedicated bike lanes and routes can be hit-and-miss. And that’s before we mentioned the LA driver’s attitude to anyone on two wheels.

That said, there are some decent bike path options in and around the city, including the popular Marvin Braude Bike Trail (otherwise known as the beach bike path). There are also several car and vehicle-free routes available, but they nearly all exist outside of the city.

Cycling downtown and in crowded areas is possible in LA, but you’ll need to have your wits about you and a thick skin. Always be sure to wear a good bike helmet and keep yourself visible – even in the daytime.

By Electric Scooter

Np Electric Scooter Zone Sign
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

I’ve only recently discovered the delights of exploring a city on an E-scooter. So much so, that I’ve been thinking about getting one of these portable commuter models to take traveling. But when you visit LA, you’ll find Bird offers reliable and eco-friendly scooter travel that is popular with tourists and locals alike.

You can download the app on your mobile phone to rent a scooter in minutes. Rental prices vary from city to city, but you’ll pay around $1 as a start-up fee and then a per-minute fee for the duration of the ride.  

All E-scooter users should be competent with their operation, wear a helmet, and have a valid driver’s license or instructional permit. There might be a small learning curve, and you’ll need to be aware of others around you. It took me a little time to get used to it when I was scooting around Indianapolis.

Be aware that not everyone loves this mode of transport, and E-scooters are forbidden in certain areas of Los Angeles. This includes Pasadena, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica Pier, and Santa Monica Beach Bike Path. West Hollywood bans rented scooters, but you can still ride your own.

That list is not exhaustive, so always make sure you check the rules and regulations of the area you want to scoot in. Rule number one – don’t be a menace.

Where to Stay in Los Angeles

Hollywood Historic Hotel, Los Angeles room interior
Hollywood Historic Hotel / Booking.com

Where are the best places to stay in the Los Angeles area if you don’t have a car? Hollywood and downtown LA tend to be the more popular options, with notable sights within walking distance. If you want coastal action, try looking for accommodation in places like Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Marina del Rey, and Manhattan Beach.

West Hollywood offers plenty of nice hotels, but this region of the city currently isn’t on a Metro rail link, and staying there is better if you have a car in LA. My suggestion would be to stay downtown if you can. You’ll find a selection of accommodation options listed below.

Budget – Freehand Los Angeles is a budget-friendly hostel conveniently located in the heart of the downtown area.

Mid Range – The Hollywood Historic Hotel is in a great location, boasting vintage decor with an old Hollywood vibe.

Luxury – Stay at the legendary Chateau Marmont to feel like an A-lister with world-class service and secluded privacy.

FAQs

Can you get by without a car in LA?

While it is possible to live in LA without a car, it can be difficult due to the city’s sprawling layout and limited public transport system compared to other cities. A high percentage of residents own vehicles, while visitors tend to rely on buses, ride-sharing services, tours, biking, or walking to get around.

What is the best way to get around LA?

In a city that’s spread 500 square miles, the most convenient way to get around LA is undoubtedly by car. But this can be a logistical nightmare, and planning is essential. If you prefer not to drive (or don’t have the patience for it), alternatives such as ride-sharing services, buses, and metro trains are available.

Do most people in LA have cars?

There is no doubt that LA is a car-loving metropolis, with the culture deeply embedded in the city’s history and identity. That said, more people are trying to go car-free in LA, largely thanks to the cost, stress, and environmental factors they create. In a world looking for cleaner, greener solutions, this is one writer who would love to see a massive improvement in public transportation infrastructure across the US.

Related Resources 

Stuart Jameson
WRITTEN BY

Stuart Jameson

With over 70 countries under his belt, Stuart is a well-seasoned globetrotter hailing from the UK, now living in Madison, Wisconsin. After traveling the world for seven years (including a hitchhike from Germany to Cambodia) his current mission is to visit all 50 states before turning 50 - something he's going to fail to do if he keeps collecting board games.

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