Three main airports serve the region: Los Angeles International (LAX), Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, and Santa Ana/Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.
Nearly 75 airlines serve LAX, making it one of the world’s busiest airports.
Compared to using other major world airports, arriving at LAX and leaving the airport can be confusing. When exiting baggage claim, color-coded signs indicate where you need to wait depending on where you are going and by what mode of transport. Rental cars, shuttles, shared ride vans, buses, taxis as well as hotels, have differently-colored signs.
Blue signs indicate the LAX bus connection, with Bus A continuously circling the terminals, Bus C going to Parking Lot C and the city bus terminal, and Bus G to the Metro Rail Green Line at Aviation/LAX station.
Green signs indicate the Flyaway Buses, with service to Union Station, Santa Monica, and Hollywood (credit card only), as well as hourly buses for the Disney Resort and hotels.
Near the Pasadena area, Bob Hope Airport is served by seven air-lines in two terminals. Metrolink and Amtrak stop across the street at a small station.
John Wayne Airport has limited international flights from Vancouver, Canada, and a few cities in Mexico. The Disney Resort Bus leaves from here every hour.
Amtrak trains arriving at the historic Union Station in Downtown include the Coast Starlight from Seattle, the Southwest Chief from Chicago, and the Sunset Limited from Orlando. The Pacific Surfliner service from San Diego to Santa Barbara also stops here.
Greyhound operates a huge network of air-conditioned coaches all across the US. Bus travel is inexpensive but slow and is a suitable option only if you’re arriving from nearby cities such as San Francisco or Las Vegas. Buses stop at the main Greyhound terminal in an industrial section of Downtown, an area best avoided after dark. Megabus connects with San Francisco, stopping at Union Station.
Several freeways lead straight to and through LA, including the I-5, Hwy 101, and I-405 from the north; the I-10 from the east; and the I-5 and I-405 from the south. Try to time your arrival in LA to avoid the morning rush-hour traffic from 6:30am to 9am.
Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner travels from Los Angeles to Anaheim. Metrolink, a regional commuter rail system also connects LA to Anaheim and stops further south in Orange County. Another useful line goes from Union Station to Burbank and the San Fernando Valley. Metrolink trains operate from the early morning into the evening.
MTA operates six rail lines on LA Metro Rail – the Red Line, the city’s only subway route, goes from Union Station to Universal City. The Purple Line parallels this as far as Wilshire/Vermont. The Gold Line also goes from Union Station to Pasadena and beyond. The Blue Line travels from 7th Street/Metro Center station to Long Beach, and the Expo Line runs to Culver City with an extension continuing to Santa Monica. The Green Line crosses LA from Norwalk to El Segundo (Aviation Station for LAX), and Redondo Beach.
If you are planning to take public transportation for more than a few rides, consider buying a TAP Card in any Metro Rail station or from vendors in popular tourist areas. You can store value or add a 1-, 7-, or 30-day pass to the card (use any stored value before loading a pass). TAP Cards are good on all public transport in LA County.
The MTA bus network covers just about anywhere you want to go in LA, if you have the time. For visitors, the most useful routes are those running from Downtown to Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood.
Standard one-ride bus fares are $1.75 with no transfers, cash only.
Santa Monica operates its own bus network, the Big Blue Bus. Especially useful routes for visitors are the Rapid #10, between Santa Monica and Downtown, the #3, from Santa Monica to the LAX area, and the #1 between Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
DASH buses provide a frequent service to Union Station, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Fashion District, LA Live, and the Music Center.
A car is still the best way to get around. Distances are vast and freeways are challenging. Always allow plenty of time, especially during the morning and evening rush hours when gridlock is common.
Study all parking restriction signs, including what’s posted on the meter as you’ll often find information in different spots. Parking enforcement is aggressive. Right-hand turns are permitted at red lights unless otherwise posted. All popular car-rental agencies are represented in the area.
Getting around town by taxi can be a pricey proposition unless you’re traveling as a group or are only going a short distance. Taxi drivers usually won’t respond to being hailed but must be ordered in advance, from Checker Cab or Yellow Cab. The Uber app and other ride-sharing services are also options.
The good news is LA is mostly flat, while the bad news is you’re competing for road space with lots of cars. LA has nearly 600 miles (965 km) of bikeways, which is increasing with the growing popularity of biking. To get across LA on a bike isn’t practical, but along the coast from Santa Monica to Redondo Beach, and from Long Beach to Newport Beach in Orange County, it is a delightful means of transportation.
Bicycles can be taken on Metro Rail and Metrolink. Buses in Santa Monica are equipped with front racks for passengers to carry bicycles. Cyclists under age 18 must wear a helmet by law.
With parking at a huge premium, some LA areas are best seen on foot. Leave the car behind and take a stroll in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Downtown, Venice, and Pasadena. Pedestrians have the right of way at crossings.