The Ultimate Los Angeles Transportation Guide
Covering over 500 square miles, Los Angeles is the largest city in California, so cars are pretty much a requirement. Add in nearly four million people and you see why Los Angeles’ notoriously terrible traffic jams are legendary. Public transportation is an option, but the best way to avoid rush hour is to choose your neighborhood based on your commute. Read on to discover the best ways to get around the City of Angels.
The Los Angeles area is served by two major airports and several smaller airports.
RELEASED: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the city’s main international and domestic airport. This commercial airport is the third busiest commercial airport in the United States and the seventh in the world.
Burbank: Formerly known as Bob Hope Airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport is located a few miles northwest of downtown Burbank. Serving the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, Burbank Airport is closer than LAX to several parts of the city, including Griffith Park, Hollywood, and downtown.
Public transport is available from / to both airports. John Wayne Airport serves the Orange County area and Van Nuys Airport serves the North Los Angeles area.
Train / metro / tram / metro
Los Angeles public transportation is run by the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but most people call it LA MTA or Metro. Between bus, streetcar, and subway services, LA has the third largest public transportation agency in the country, averaging over a million trips per week within the city as well as to neighboring counties and suburbs.
Six LA MTA rail lines connect disparate areas of Los Angeles County:
- A (blue line): North to downtown LA, south to Long Beach
- B (red line): South / East of Union Station (main regional station for Amtrak, Metrolink and Metro Rail), North / West of North Hollywood
- C (green line): The light rail operates primarily in the middle of the Century Freeway (Interstate 105). Runs east to Norwalk, west to Redondo Beach.
- D (purple line): Tube line going east to Union Station, west to Wilshire / Western in Koreatown
- E (Expo Line): East to Downtown LA, West to Santa Monica
- L (golden line): North of Azusa through Pasadena and Highland Park, south to east of Los Angeles. Portions are elevated, underground, in city streets and in the median of a highway.
Each of the 93 stations offers connections to the metro bus system and also to the Metrolink commuter train system. Use the metro and bus map and / or the metro route planner to help you find your way.
A one-way trip on the metro is $ 1.75 and is good for two hours of unlimited one-way transfers. Buy a public transit pass or TAP reloadable fare card at any station. Fill them up at stations, online or call 1-866-TAPTOGO. If you already have a TAP card, you can top it up on the bus with cash. Regular riders buy unlimited day, week, or month passes, but they can only be used on trains and metro buses. A TAP card can be used with other local transit agencies, such as DASH, Big Blue Bus, and Long Beach Transit. Sometimes it can even be used to make transfers between two agencies. Metro fare inspectors use a portable unit to randomly verify that TAP card users have paid.
What the tram and metro lines don’t cover is Metro’s extensive network of more than 165 bus lines. Over a million passengers take the bus every day of the week. Metro’s public transport fleet offers local, fast and express services.
Local buses are painted orange and stop every two blocks. Metro buses to / from the city center are numbered 1 to 99. Orange buses numbered in the 300s are limited local routes that only run during rush hour.
Fast buses are faster because they only stop at major intersections. Fast buses are red and their route numbers are in the 700s. Metro line G (orange) and line J (silver) are bus rapid transit (BRT) lines that run on bus lanes dedicated with stops and a frequency similar to those of the tram. The Orange Line runs from Warner Center / Woodland Hills to the North Hollywood Red Line Station, while the Silver Line runs Interstate 10 and Interstate 110 to / from El Monte, East Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, Harbor Gateway and San Pedro.
Express bus routes cover longer distances on highways with fewer stops and a higher premium. Express buses are blue and have numbers in the 400s.
The regular fare is $ 1.75 and can be paid using exact change or a TAP card. Like the train, bus fares include two hours of unlimited one-way transfers. Bus routes intersect with LADOT’s DASH buses, the Commuter Express, and the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.
Intercity bus systems
Take the Megabus from Union Station to San Francisco or Las Vegas. Greyhound has a major bus terminal on Seventh and Alameda on the edge of Skid Row, an area primarily inhabited by the homeless community. Greyhound travels to Bakersfield, which connects to the California Central Valley, San Diego, Las Vegas, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Find them all at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
Metrolink provides regional commuter train service from surrounding areas of Lancaster, Inland Empire, Oceanside, Perris Valley, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura County to Los Angeles.
Amtrak / intercity trains
Amtrak has several SoCal stations, but Union Station is one of the busiest, with four lines going to Seattle, New Orleans, and Chicago. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner travels the LOSSAN Corridor, a 351-mile busy intercity rail corridor that runs along the SoCal coast between San Diego and San Luis Obispo with stops at Glendale, Burbank Airport, Chatsworth and Van Nuys.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the traffic. Unexpected traffic jams and highway build-ups can make what should be a 30-minute trip take two hours. A dozen major highways crisscross the area, and although they are numbered, some of them are referred to by name. Another weird thing Angelenos does is say “the” in front of the freeway number, like “Le 101”. State Route 1 is known as “The 1”, but it is also called the Pacific Coast Highway. Interstate 10 goes west to Santa Monica and east to Phoenix, AZ. “The 5”, or Interstate 5, climbs through the Central Valley to Sacramento and south through San Diego to Tijuana in Baja California, Mexico. “The 101”, the American road 101, climbs the central coast to Santa Barbara then San Francisco.
Get to know the surface streets to avoid congested freeway traffic during “rush hour” – that is, at any time of the day. Major east / west routes include Ventura, Hollywood, Sunset, Santa Monica, Beverly, Wilshire, Olympic, and Venice. Major north / south routes include Topanga Canyon, Sepulveda, Van Nuys, La Cienega, Laurel Canyon, and Glendale. La Brea Avenue, Van Ness and Alameda Street are usually crowded with cars. LA is sort of set up like a grid, with 1st Street dividing north from south and Main Street dividing east from west. From downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach, east / west streets are numbered, while north / south streets are named. Northeast of the river, the blocks are referred to as east or west, separated by Pasadena Avenue and North Figueroa Street.
Beware of potholes which are a huge problem in town and can really damage your car. Always read parking signs as some main streets become no-parking zones during rush hour and you could get towed. Find parking with Parking in LA, Best Parking, LA Express Park, ParkMobile, Park Smarter and / or ParkMe.
BlueLA, Zipcar, Turo, Maven and car2go all offer carpooling in Los Angeles.
Uber and Lyft are ubiquitous, but you can also flag down a ride through LADOT’s on-demand rideshare service, LAnow. Shuttle services, limousines and private vans are also available.
Nine taxi companies, including LA Yellow Cab, Bell Cab, and United Independent Taxi, operate more than 2,300 taxis. RideYellow and Curb are like ridesharing apps but for taxis.
Alternative transport options
LA has over 9,000 miles of (somewhat poorly) maintained sidewalk. Little of the sprawling town is very accessible on foot, but DTLA has escalators and airways like the Bunker Hill Steps for pedestrians.
Los Angeles offers perfect weather conditions and level ground for biking, but it’s best to know what you’re doing when you step into a bike path in traffic. There are several bike trails, including the Los Angeles River Trail, which are your safest bets. Scenic attractions include Griffith Park and the Marvin Braude Cycle Path, which runs along the 35 km coastline. Or, take your bike for some of the city’s famous hikes and experience them on two wheels.
Social Bicycles offers smart bikes for use in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and UCLA. Metro Bike Share is the best way to get around downtown, but it also has hubs in the Port of LA and Venice. Bonus: you can register your Metro TAP card to pay for rides.
Speaking of the metro, buses have bike racks on the front, while trains have an open area to accommodate bikes marked with a yellow symbol.
Scooters take over the city and can be found on the Westside, Hollywood, Koreatown, and Downtown. Browse the scooter map to find a scooter near you. Download the appropriate app, like Lime, Bird, Spin, Razor, Uber, Lyft, or Transit to locate, unlock, and pay for your rides. It’s a dollar or two each way, with additional charges depending on the length of your trip. Use the bike path and watch out for the app’s “no-go zones” so you don’t leave your scooter in a place you aren’t supposed to.
Take the Catalina Express from the San Pedro de Los Angeles community for a day trip to Avalon on Santa Catalina Island.
While LA might not be the most fun place to drive your car, its various transportation options have you covered. Search thousands of Los Angeles apartments on Zumper and find your next home.