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23 Things to Know before you go to Los Angeles

Things to Know before you go to Los Angeles, hollywood sign, hollywood hills, hollywood postcard, hollywood sign photo

23 Things to Know before you go to Los Angeles

Almost 20 years ago, I lived in Los Angeles while going to college to study art.  Back then, it was an asphalt jungle, a place where people-watching was something everyone did and everyone roaming the streets of Sunset Boulevard and Melrose Avenue was an aspiring musician, actress, filmmaker or producer, glitzing through life to be discovered. I was an aspiring artist living in Hollywood, bedazzled by the sheen and gloss over this smog-filled city of star-filled dreams.

Read: Best Things to Do in Los Angeles

Today, nothing much has changed about the city.  I was the prodigal daughter returning home after a long stretch away. Each city has their survival guides from a topical travel sense to a deeper looking-to-move-there sense. Looking out over the city from a traveler’s vantage, while scanning this place as a new possibility for home, I see a different aspect of Los Angeles.  Travel Survival.

23 Things to Know before you go to Los Angeles:

Basic Essentials

#1.   Wear your sunglasses

It’s not only that many people living there are trying to be stars, but the sun actually feels bright in Los Angeles. Unless you want to grow crows feet with all the squinting you’ll do, throw some shades on and you’ll be stylin’ your eyes from the sun.

 #2.  Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize

If you never thought yourself to have crocodile skin, think again. L.A. is actually a city in a desert. The driest part of your body will be more pronounced here. Bring a bottle of moisturizer.

#3.  Groupon it.

Want to do something, anything in Los Angeles? Groupon Los Angeles will find you a great discount from restaurants, bars, even tour attractions and activities.

Health and Safety 

#4.  Have a medical emergency?

Los Angeles has a healthy amount of free or low-cost doctors and dentists for you. Check this website here.  Call first to either, make a reservation or to see if they take walk-ins. Expect to stand in line and wait though. You won’t be the only one there.

#5.  Smog alerts

That yellow-brown haze over the city is smog, a mixture of dust and pollution. It’s such a daily occurence that Los Angelenos have to wash their car once every one or two weeks, which is why you’ll see many car wash stops.

On days when the smog is extremely bad, you’ll want to avoid outdoor activities and exercise, as it can be hazardous to your health. If you have asthma,  avoid strenuous activity outside.

#6.   Buy bottled water

Buy it bottled. You won’t die or get Montezumas revenge from drinking the water in Los Angeles.  But there’s a lot of trace minerals in the tap water and it’s still not good to drink. Typically, locals opt for buying filtered  water, even for their homes.

#7.  Where to find a bathroom? 

Starbucks, McDonald’s.   Travel Tip: Download the  Sit or Squat app. It’s sponsored by Charmin, but just look for the Sit or Squat download. It’s absolutely free.

#8.  Runyon Canyon

How can you stay fit when you travel? Well, the cheapest all natural gym to go to with great people-watching and yoga is Runyon Canyon. It’s a local hiking spot in the Hollywood Hills and offers a great view of Los Angeles city. Hike is moderate to high depending on the course you take.

Location: 3000 N Fuller Ave,  Parking: Runyon Canyon Road entrance. See website for hiking routes: www.runyoncanyon-losangeles.com

 Eating & Shopping

L.A. has foods for every diet, even weight-loss and picky ones.  If you go with restaurants or cafes, expect to pay on the average $6-10 for a moderate budget. I didn’t say it was cheap. For budget-minded eaters, who are still striving to avoid fast food joints, you’ll want to do some grocery shopping.

#9.   Picky diets and dieters are welcome

Los Angeles is a haven for privileged eaters and folks with picky diets. There’s a superficial glare to this town and “trim and healthy” is where it’s at. Additionally, with all the different lifestyles and beliefs, Los Angeles is large enough to cater to all angles.  There are restaurants for almost every type of diet from Kosher, vegetarian, vegan, raw, wheat or gluten-free… however finicky you are as an eater, Los Angeles has your back, babe!

vegan menu, vegan restaurants los angeles

Vegan Restaurants are easy to find

 

#10.  Which grocery store to pick?

Where you go for your groceries, depends on what you’re looking for. Whole Foods sells “gourmet”, “healthy”, “organic” …( and aka “pricey”). Ralphs and Vons are your average-priced average supermarkets stocked with the standard stuff and occasional sales.  But where can you get wheat cinnamon Pita chips for under $1.50 or Dr.Brommer’s Peppermint soap for $2? Trader Joe’s is where. It’s the granola sister of Whole Foods, offering hippie prices.  You can’t get inexpensive, organic and healthy like you can here, so check it out.

Budget Tip: The lowest food prices I’ve seen were at 99 cent stores, which stocks anything from energy drinks, bottled water, canned foods, soups, condiments, refrigerated items and produce for … 99 cents.

#11.  Bring your own shopping bag

If you’re at the checkout counter of a grocery store, you may hear your clerk ask if you’d like to buy a bag for your shopped goods. That’s because plastic bags are no longer free. As of Jan 2014, the city of Los Angeles passed a law removing plastic bags from supermarkets and grocery stores. Bring your own reuseable bag or buy one for 10 cents.

#12.   99 cent stores 

Between renting a car and /or hotel, your vacation bill is likely to add up! So here’s where you can shave some of your expenses off… Los Angeles has a fair share of 99 cent only stores. Everything in it is literally 99 cents and you can find good stuff, anywhere from regular groceries to toiletries, stationary, you name it.  You’ll be tempted to really splurge.

99 cent stores los angeles, dollar stores

99 cent only stores

#13.  Thrift Stores

In a city where everyone wants to be “seen”,  L.A. folks put effort into their fashion sense, even if it’s just t-shirt and jeans. The closet rule is, “Make an effort to look good,  but not like you’re trying“.

Thus, thrift stores, are favored places for clothes shopping. You’ll find an eclectic mix of retro styles and worn looks to support your “effortless” fashion needs. Some popular trendy thrift shop stores are Wasteland, Crossroads. 

Tip: My favorite is Jet Rag at 825 N. La Brea .  Every Sunday they have a $1 sale

Getting Around in Los Angeles

There are ways to get around Los Angeles, from airport shuttles and car services, to renting a car and lastly, taking a bus or metro.

los angeles city bus, getting around los angeles, los angeles travel guide

Taking the Los Angeles city bus isn’t a bad way to get around

#14.  The car is king

Los Angeles is a sprawling mecca of roads and freeways and the only convenient way to get around is by car. From Hollywood, to Studio City, Santa Monica to Malibu or Orange Country, everything fans out. Thus, when in Los Angeles, the car is king. In fact, Los Angelenos are so used to driving everywhere, that its gotten to the point that many might prefer to hop in their car just to drive three or four blocks away.  Sounds crazy? That’s the car craze in Los Angeles.

While it is possible to get a lot of sightseeing done via public transit system, the city vibe may make you impatient to the point, you’d rather splurge on a car.  The public transit requires a bit of patience to understand and the metro system is speedy, but won’t go in some areas.

Tip: Rule of thumb in L.A., most drive on the offense (vs defense). This means, if you’re waiting for someone to let you cut into their lane, you could be waiting for a while.

#15.  Renting a car

There’s many car rentals, which you can book online for as low as $20/day. Not bad.  But who to choose from?

Before this trip, I thought picking a reputable car rental mattered. It wasn’t until I got scammed by one of them “reputable car rentals”, that my impression has changed.  If you rent a car, be thorough with your inspection and see if your credit card  covers car rental insurance; if not, consider buying one of the cheap ones they offer online or get the insurance they offer.

#16  Best free app to find the cheapest gas prices

Gas Buddy is my new best app buddy for cities, where driving is a must. It’s a real-time app that will help you find the nearest gas stations, while also listing their prices.

#17. Avoid rush hour traffic

Avoid freeways during rush hour; although the traffic is continually moving, it’s still bumper-to-bumper.

#18.  Street cleaning days

If you’re parking overnight in a residential area, beware of signs noting “street cleaning” days. This means that one side of the street is cleaned on one day, while the opposite side gets cleaned on a another and if you’re parked on the wrong side,  you’ll get a whopping $73 fine! I learned that one the hard way! Ouch.

#19.  Los Angeles Public metro and bus system aren’t so bad 

I’m considering a move here, so it was the public transit system I was highly curious about. After years of living in cities where I’ve only used the public metro, I didn’t like the idea of having to buy a car. So here’s the lowdown– you can maneuver Los Angeles using the public transit (metro and city bus) and  it’s the cheapest way to get around. I did this for a week! However, a) It’s not the quickest way to get around and b) the Los Angeles transit mapping system is the least intuitive to figure out, when it comes to route planning. But it’s doable and you’ll be surprised- just plan ahead and factor in patience.

I’ve navigated subways from New York to Delhi and buses from South Korea to Thailand, to conclude that Metro.net (L.A.’s transit website and app) is the worst I’ve seen!   The app is wonky and the “real-time” updates are inaccurate. Furthermore, the main transit map contains both, city bus and metro lines, making it a mess to look at. I wouldn’t waste my time trying to sort it unless you had time.

Tip:  For a *metro only map*  go to Union Station (or print the photo below); they don’t pass them out at the station stops.  Also, for bus navigation,  I realize that not everyone has a smartphone but a Google Maps app to plot your routes is super-helpful and helped me find the bus stops I needed, after I left the metro station!

Fares:  $1.50/ride, $5 day/$20 weekly Unlimited Pass.  Read more on fares here. Many stations have self-service machines to buy tickets. There should be an information call box located somewhere before the turnstile should you need assistance.

LA metro map, los angeles subway only map

Get the metro only map

 #20.  Download Google Maps or GPS it

When I used to live in Los Angeles, I had a street map atlas the size of an encyclopedia to help me find my way around. Getting around in Los Angeles, it was necessary.  Fortunately, today we have GPS apps and devices to help us navigate the L.A. roads.

Tip: Use the GPS/Google Maps on your smartphone. If you have an unlocked phone, you can also buy a prepaid unlimited data SIM for anywhere from $35-$50/month.  Whether you’re planning to rent a car or take the city bus, it’s a handy feature to have.

#21.   Beware of paid parking lots

If you drive a car in L.A., get used to paying for parking.  If you’re going to a beach, the beach lot will be anywhere from $5-10/day. Metered street parking exists and many allow you to pay with credit card. Some malls offer a $1-2 fee with store validation.

Tip: Look for street parking- while some need a residential permit, free spots do abound.  Also, some metro locations have free parking garages.

parking in los angeles, paid parking garages in los angeles, where to park in los angeles

Parking is paid, unless you get validation.

#22.  Need a cheap taxi?

Two new apps out on the market have many raving. Lyft and Uber are  ride share apps, which help you book last-minute rides. The drivers aren’t actually taxi drivers, but honest people who are making side cash by transporting people the way a normal taxi would.  It’s a cashless transaction.

The app has a map which locates where you are and then shows you what cars are available in your area. You book the ride from your app, pay for it online and the car comes to pick you up.  Promises to be cheaper than a taxi.

lyft app los angeles

Lyft: Keep your eye out for cars with the pink mustache

 

 

 Where to Stay in Los Angeles

Hotels aren’t cheap in Los Angeles. Even a ratty motel might cost you $75. What to do?

#23.  Air BnB

Being that Los Angeles is filled with unemployed artists,  Air BnB is likely to turn up some decent shared apartment stays. Many Los Angelenos rent out a place in their apartment for travelers to stay.  The standard going rate for a room to yourself is around $50/night in a shared apartment or house in Hollywood. Keep in mind the owner is still living in them.  I stayed in one with two dogs and two cats and although the owner was nice, it wasn’t my favorite stay.  For hotels, my favorite search app is still Agoda.com, where you’ve got reviews and a range of options for your budget. Hostels also exist for travelers on a tight budget.

20 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles


Read more here.

What are some of your travel survival tips for Los Angeles? Do you think you would live or travel here?

26 Comments

  1. In both L.A. and the valley, the air is very dry, so moisturizer is a needed staple, especially in the Summer. In the area of L.A. I visited before, the water had a strong bleach smell, so I could see why locals would prefer bottled water. There are an abundance of 99 cent and more stores throughout California which are great for buying face masks, foot masks, facial cleansing cloths and other discount beauty products, some of which are made in korea. The transit system here where I live is 75 cents each trip, 35 cents for seniors 55+ from 10-2 m-f and all day saturday. That was a great list you shared about L.A. and can be applied to much of California, so it’s very useful. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Great post, thanks!! I’m planning to go on holiday to LA next year 😉

    http://justsem.wordpress.com/

  3. Agness says:

    My skin’s so sensitive so I should be avoiding sun. Good to know I should pack my moisturizer, sunglasses and a lot of water! Keeping hydrated when sightseeing is so crucial!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Agness: Indeed. Being hydrated is important when you travel as your system is all whacky. Only problem is sometimes, finding a bathroom. lol.

  4. Jessica says:

    No need to promote more plastic, the tap water in LA is perfectly safe. Don’t contribute to the garbage mess that fills our oceans and bay, avoid plastic water bottles, do good for others and the environment this way.

  5. Cool article! I’ve heard public transportation wasn’t exactly the safest though. Thoughts?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Glamous Traveler: I’ve heard that too and I think it depends on what parts of town you’re going thru that you should be slightly more guarded. I’d say for any city, you have to be street smart. But to put it in perspective, this isn’t like traveling on a highway bus through Central America nor a bus in Japan. =D

  6. Jessica says:

    I was born and raised in LA and I have to say that most of these tips are so on point! I really like how you touched on uncommon aspects like paid parking lots and street parking rules. Those are small but important details that nobody thinks of! I would say a car is a necessity if you’re going to live here – unless you live/work super close to major metro areas/landmarks. Public transport outside of the Metro (i.e., buses) can be a pain. Also, SUNSCREEN > moisturizer. Overall, thanks for giving really great, detailed tips – loved it!

  7. Jay says:

    This article needs clarification. The author has not been to L.A. in 20 years. I was born, raised and have lived here all my life – I’m 56 and love L.A.! You will need sunglasses we are proud of our sunshine! This is not a desert, forget the moisturizer. Groupon wont get you any deals in L.A. – skip it. Forget low cost medical and dental – use UCLA medical center – top rated in the country, we don’t have lines for medical care! Our doctors are amazing! Our smog level is down 85% from 20 years ago and smog is not along the coast. I have never heard of our water not being safe to drink.The tap water in LA is perfectly safe and passes more stringent tests than bottled waters are required to pass. The shopping bag law only affects the City of Los Angeles, not surrounding cities which make up about 90% of the Los Angeles County area. Most tourists never step inside the actual city limits. Stay away from the 99 cent stores and thrift stores – go to beach and have some fun! The car is king is L.A. – just rent a car and call it a day. Don’t bother with public transportation, it wont get to you any place fun without a ton a hassle to dampen your day. Parking is never a problem, allow extra travel time and go early. Paid lots are well marked with the cost per day, nothing to “beware about”. L.A. is huge, explore the coast from Malibu to Palos Verdes Peninsula, hike, bike, and enjoy. Forget BnB and stay at a fun hotel on the beach or treat yourself to a luxury hotel with a stunning ocean view! I feel the author has bashed L.A. with a negative tone which is offensive to this Angelino! This is not an “asphalt jungle” or a “smog-filled city of star-filled dreams” as the author writes. And a lot has changed in 20 years in Los Angeles, you wont need to worry about “travel survival” in Los Angeles as this author writes, you just need to know what you want to see, and enjoy our wonderful city!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @JayKay:LMAO! I think your comment is hysterical and overboard in its effort to rebutt every point including L.A.s good aspects, but I let go as a healthy opinion and artistic expression. And I couldn’t tell if you were joking or not. haha. I actually like L.A. and have many friends there and am considering it as a location to move to. Some of the twinkle dust about the city is both, what I love and don’t. Definitely not a bash, but not necessarily an easy place to travel either in comparison to other cities/countries I’ve traveled. I try to provide a healthy balance for travelers who come to see it on varied budgets. Travel survival is necessary for all places, just as surviving the city you’re living in or call home.

    • Ashley says:

      Renting a car is not an option for people who don’t drive.

  8. This is a great article and much of it applies to traveling anywhere in SoCal. I live in SD and would suggest many of the same things for tourists visiting farther south. Thanks for sharing.

  9. korey says:

    I agree with the sunglasses, but don’t just moisturize, use sunblock as you should everywhere. L.A. is not a desert-that’s a misconception that probably can be traced to the movie Chinatown; it has a mediterranean climate.

    I think with eco-awareness less and less people are buying bottled water, but we do use filters on the taps or filtered water pitchers to fill reusable bottles. Travelers could buy water bottles with integrated filters.

    Yes, every type of diet is catered to here, including those who want something not so healthy so meat-eaters and full-fat lovers don’t need to worry.

    I do hope visitors take advantage of not only Runyan Canyon, but the various other hiking, biking, riding trails and, of course, the beaches.

    And I especially agree with your parking and driving advise! Planning is key.

    Thanks for letting me give my two cents!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Korey: Thanks for all that useful advice. I like your water bottle w/ integrated filters idea. Why I didn’t think of that? And yes, when I lived there we did the filter on the faucet and the Sparkletts. =) It’s a shame the water is still not drinkable. Any cool hiking trails to recommend?

  10. Fantastic tips! I love that there are so many vegan restaurants! That picture of that menu made me smile! 🙂

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Justinpluslauren: Yes, it’s one of those cities we all can heart our hearts out!

  11. Brandy says:

    Just a heads up from a local about the taxi service. They were recently talking on the local LA news radio stations about cracking down on taxi services not licensed to pick up at the airport (LAX). I know they mentioned Uber and I am not sure but I think they mentioned Lyft, too.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Brandy: That’s good news! I know a lot of crackdowns are also popping up due to the union and the taxi competition with Lyft/Uber. Should be interesting to see how those services are affected.

  12. Gabrielle says:

    Thanks so much for the tips! Will be back in L.A. in a month and I’ve bookmarked this to come back to closer to the date–though I’m downloading the apps now 🙂

  13. noelmorata says:

    Great tips and very helpful, love the 99cent store and yes beware street cleaning days – those tickets are crazy expensive

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