Aerial View of Los Angeles, California

How to Travel to and Around Los Angeles Like a Local

Los Angeles can be particularly overwhelming to first-time tourists. It’s big, loud, and brash, but also the much beloved center of the universe for many left coasters. Here are a few brief tips for traveling to and around the city like a local and loving it in the process:

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Aerial View of Los Angeles, California
Image via Flickr © Ron Reiring

Know the Weather

California is notorious for its microclimates where the weather can differ dramatically between towns and cities just a few miles away. Around LA, it might be 85 degrees in Pasadena, but only 68 degrees on the beaches of Santa Monica. The key to staying comfortable is to think like a hiker: Always pack and dress in layers.

Embrace the Beach Culture

Southern California is synonymous with beaches. Many tourists are surprised to learn that the water is often too cold for all but the craziest surfers and swimmers. Yet, from Redondo to Venice to Newport Beach, beach culture defines the lifestyle of coastal Los Angeles.

Study the Map

Los Angeles is a massive place that sprawls across five counties. It can require a full day to drive through the entire metropolitan area. In the interest of saving your time and sanity, map the places you’d like to visit before heading out and try visiting them in clusters. Alternatively, target your trip to one specific area of the city, such as Pasadena or Hollywood, rather than trying to cover too much ground.

Sunset on Venice Beach, California
Image via Flickr © DenisDenis

Rent a Car

The city offers a vast public transportation system, but it can be incredibly confusing, especially for tourists. If you plan on traveling more than two city blocks during your stay, it’s best to rent a car to get around. No matter what the GPS tells you, avoid the pandemonium of the 405 at all costs and all hours.

LAX Isn’t the Only Airport in Town

For budget travelers interested only in the bottom line, flying in and out of Los Angeles International (LAX) is typically the cheapest option. Thankfully, however, it’s not the only one because it’s busy and often beset with delays. Depending on your particular travel plans and final destination, look to nearby Long Beach (LGB), Burbank (BUR), or John Wayne Airport (SNA) instead.

Be a Flexible Hotel Guest

The general rules of hotel booking apply to LA: Weekdays are typically cheaper than weekends and you should avoid holidays and major events. Most importantly: Be smart with your Los Angeles hotel booking. Try to either book as far in advance as possible or, for travelers who appreciate living on the edge, book a last-minute stay within two weeks of your upcoming trip. The latter is a real gamble but can pay off big, sometimes with savings of more than 50 percent.

As California’s largest, most populous, and most popular city, planning a trip to Los Angeles can feel downright daunting for tourists. With a little advance planning, know-how, and flexibility, it’s surprisingly easy to dodge the crowds and even save a little money in the process.

Founding Editor
  1. Great suggestions! I’ve been in LA for 10 years now and always have loads of suggestions for people visiting my city. It has SO much to offer other than the Hollywood Walk of Fame Hell that most people only see! I always hate it when people leave thinking that is all we have going for us here.

    I highly recommend (especially to budget travelers) doing one of the many hikes that surround LA because you can get great views of the city, Hollywood sign, and get your heartrate up. Runyan Canyon is a good one for starters and you can get some nice views of the Hollywood sign, though this is very much a “scene” for people. Check out – its great resource for hikes in SoCal.

    You’re spot on about the beaches too – its a beach culture but we don’t go in the water much! The key to LA really is the idea of enjoying being outside – we have fantastic weather (really spoils you for anywhere else) and so many amazing outdoorsy things to do – hiking, skiing, snowboarding, camping, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding……all within an hour of downtown LA.

    I love your blog by the way – I’m a budget backpacker for a big chunk of the year (I was only in LA for about 150 days in 2014) and it’s a great resource!


    1. Hey Lindsay,

      Thanks for checking in!

      I’m always thrilled to hear a true local likes my (humble) advice about their hometown =)

      I love Runyan Canyon and as well. I use the latter constantly when planning my hikes.

      (Thanks for your kind words about Vagabondish as well – it’s very much appreciated =P)


  2. I like how you suggested renting a car to travel around Los Angeles. Last time we went to LA we used an airport shuttle to get to our hotel. Thank you for the tips on traveling around LA like a pro.

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