“Visiting Los Angeles without a car is impossible!” numerous L.A. residents had warned me. To which I stubbornly replied, “P’shaw!”
My friend and I had intended to rent a car for at least a couple of the six days we spent in Lala land, but some unexpected financial obligations at home meant that our already-booked L.A. vacation would be an extreme budget trip. That meant no rental car – we’d rely on public transportation for the entire thing.
No problem. Extreme budget trips are right in my wheelhouse.
My experience with Los Angeles buses and subways
Despite the warnings, I knew that seeing the City of Angels by bus and train was entirely doable, as long as we stayed somewhere near the #704 Santa Monica Blvd. bus line. This awesome bus route runs through downtown, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Culver City, Beverly Hills, and all the way to the ocean at Santa Monica. Your mileage may vary, but for me, 90% of the places worth seeing in L.A. are accessible via this bus.
We did a great deal of walking, deciding that if any destination was less than 4 miles away (that’s a one-hour walk), we’d get there by foot. The whole point of this trip was slow travel, so we had all the time in the world.
Under these circumstances, a 4-mile walk was nothing. In fact, it was a great opportunity to exercise in the beautiful southern California sun and see more of the city.
L.A. residents had warned me that the bus and subway are full of vagrants. I don’t doubt that’s the case sometimes, but I saw no evidence of that during my week. While there were no businessmen in suits on the bus, as you’d see in New York and Chicago, there also weren’t any especially scary people, either. I mostly saw regular working-class folks and never felt unsafe or out of place.
The subways were a little more unsettling, since in the evening there simply weren’t very many people down there. So we mostly stuck to the bus rather than the train.
Aside from one night where we found ourselves without a bus home (story on that coming later), spending a week in Los Angeles sans vehicle wasn’t very difficult. We made it to all the neighborhoods we wanted to see.
From the airport, a shuttle took us downtown, and from there, we hopped a bus to our Roomorama host’s home in Silver Lake. The next day we caught the #704 to Hollywood, and from there an easy walk led to Runyon Canyon for some hiking and celeb-spotting. In Santa Monica, we hopped a bus for a short ride down to Venice to check out that quirky beach community. Almost every commute was a breeze.
The only time we used a car during the week was when our Couchsurfing host drove us up to the Griffith Observatory one evening. But even then, we could have taken the Observatory Shuttle, which runs on Saturdays and Sundays and costs a whopping 50 cents each way.
There really is no reason why L.A. visitors can’t get around by public transit. The commutes may be time-consuming, but that would probably be true even if you have a car, right?
Advantages of visiting Los Angeles without a car
Walking = exercise, sun, and a good opportunity to see the city. So do it!
The amount of money you’ll save by skipping the rental car is huge. The bus here is cheap – just a dollar-fifty for a ride! A seven-day transit pass costs $20, or the price of a typical cab ride. One cab ride versus an entire week of buses? I know which one I’m going with.
And then of course there’s THE TRAFFIC!!! Los Angeles has the worst traffic in America, but the buses avoid the worst traffic headaches because they don’t travel on the highways. And even when traffic does slow down, I’d rather be on a bus with the ability to read a book or play on my phone than stuck on a freeway with no hope of moving anytime soon.
The other awesome thing about L.A. transit is the Metro cell phone app, which pulls up a list of all the buses that will be arriving at your location within the next several minutes. There’s no guessing about when the next #704 will be arriving when you have the app.
So why does everyone who lives in L.A. insist that it’s not possible to get around here without a car? I’m not quite sure. I suppose it’s because Angelinos just aren’t used to taking the bus, so they write it off without even considering it.
Resources for visiting or living in Los Angeles without a car
So it’s definitely reasonable to visit Los Angeles without a car. Is it possible to live in Los Angeles without a vehicle? The answer, again, is yes – if you’re really committed to the idea.
You’d probably need to live near one of the primary bus lines, and you may want to own a bicycle. L.A. is not a particularly bike-friendly city, but there are bike lanes in West Hollywood, Silver Lake, Culver City, and several other neighborhoods. Bike rental companies are also an option, though they’re not as abundant as in other major cities.
Check out this insightful article detailing the author’s experience living without a car in L.A. for two full years (which saved her a cool $10,000):
Here’s another guy who did it for eight years:
And more on the debate of car vs. no car:
So, yeah. Los Angeles. Totally doable without a car!