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Why rent a car in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is one of the premier travel destinations in the world. Millions of tourists visit every year to be starstruck, bask in the golden sun, get lost in the Disney fantasyland, and experience what might be the best culinary scene in America.
Los Angeles is a massive sprawling city. Many of its most visited attractions are not even in the city itself, but in the surrounding area. Given this and the lack of public transportation connections to many parts of the area, the City of Angels is certainly best experienced with your own vehicle.
Besides, one part of traveling is experiencing a place like as a local would. In this vein, it would be impossible to visit Los Angeles without driving on its freeways (and sitting in traffic).
Top ways to enter Los Angeles
Most travelers coming from afar while enter through the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It is a busy, bustling airport with a total of nine terminals. Unfortunately, like many of the terminals which haven’t been renovated recently, the rental car situation leaves travelers wanting. Unlike in many other airports of its size, there is no centralized rental car facility located at LAX and none of the car rental desks are in the terminals. Renters must take shuttles provided by their rental supplier to their off-airport locations. Note: Renters using Ace Rent a Car must take the Lot E shuttle bus to the Remote Rental CAr Depot to meet their supplier.
Other airports nearby include Long Beach Airport in the southern part of L.A., Bob Hope Airport in Burbank in the San Fernando Valley, John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana in Orange County, and Ontario Airport in nearby San Bernardino County. All of these airports are much less busy than LAX and have plenty of rental cars available from various suppliers.
Finally, some travellers may arrive via an Amtrak train. Union Station is the main train station in the city and also happens to be an architectural gem. Rental cars are available in Downtown which the stations sits right next to. Do note that L.A. is large and other stations may serve your final destination better.
Useful city facts
Los Angeles is often synonymous with Hollywood and the film industry. In large part due to Thomas Edison and his motion picture patents, filmmakers moved west to California in the early 1900s. Patent enforcement was much more lax here and land prices were cheap. This lead to a significant growth and the building of major film studios. At the same time, the studios had access to many different settings in the region. Therefore, before long, the home of American film became Los Angeles.
Nowadays many productions are filmed outside of Los Angeles. Tax breaks given by other localities plays a large role in this. However, all major studios are still located in the city and most post-production still takes place here.
The city, as many know, enjoys a Mediteranian climate. With an average of just 35 days a year with any significant rain, the city sees almost countless hours of sunshine. Summer temperatures remain temperature, with an average high of just 84 degrees (28C) in August, while winter temperatures remain warm , with an average high of 68 degrees in January. It is worth noting that the city experiences microclimates due to the coast and mountains. In summer, it may be significantly hotter in the San Fernando Valley than on the coast due to the coast winds and lack thereof.
Another unique weather feature in Southern California is that of the Santa Ana winds. During Autumn and Winter, winds from inland around the Great Basin affect coastal Southern California. They bring with them warm temperatures and low relative humidities. The winds, therefore, create perfect conditions for wildfires.
While the culinary scene is Los Angeles is every growing, it is always one of the best in the country. Visitors don’t flock to Los Angeles for traditional fine dining. In fact, the Michelin guide stopped covering L.A. in 2010 (though will begin again this year). White table cloths, fancy dress clothes, and other pretentiousness is notably absent in the city’s dining scene. At the same time, one can find multitudes of restaurants with food prepared with expert technique and luxurious ingredients.
Another culinary treasure worth noting is the abundance of food trucks in Los Angeles. The trend of taking the humble food truck and elevating it with gourmet-like food started in 2008 with Kogi BBQ, serving a combination of Korean BBQ and Mexican tacos. Now it is possible to find food inspired by local cuisine from all over the world roaming around Los Angeles. Apps like Street Food Finder can help with finding a food truck.
Top destinations and activities
- Hollywood - This area north of Downtown has some of the most well-known tourist sites in not just Los Angeles, but the world, including the most famous theater in the world, Grauman's Chinese Theater, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade - Just a short walk from each other, the iconic pier, with its amusement park, and the promenade, with its street performers and restaurants, are one of the most popular places for L.A. residents to get together.
- Disneyland - Located south of the city in Anaheim, the original Disney theme park, and the only one designed by Walt Disney himself, Disneyland is a must-visit attraction for both families and Disney movie fans alike.
- Show tapings - Many of your favorite late-night or daytime talk shows and game shows are taped with a live audience in the Los Angeles area. Most of these shows are free to attend. All you need to do is register ahead of time for tickets, usually on the show’s website. Never purchase tickets to a show on the street, though.
- Mulholland Drive - This road is a stretch that is famous for being the location of numerous movies, including one titled after the road itself. Even if you don’t want to chase the cinema history or stars, you could take in the amazing views over the surrounding valleys that the road offers.
- Shopping - Los Angeles is the place to shop till you drop. With all of the star power residing in the city, it is no surprise that it is a fashion capital. From high-end shopping districts like Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue to outlets like the Orange Outlets in Orange County and everything in between, the city has shopping opportunities to offer travelers of any budget.
Traffic and parking tips
There is perhaps nothing more infamous about Los Angeles than its traffic. When the freeways were built after World War 2 and the flight to the suburbs began, the car became quintessential to L.A. Traffic jams followed not long after. In Los Angeles, rush hour seems to last the entire day. The only times where the roads are relatively calm are from 11PM to 6AM, though drunk drivers become a problem at these hours.
In a large city like Los Angeles, drivers have a choice between freeways and surface streets. Many locals may swear that they are able to navigate this choice to their benefit, taking surface streets in places and times and freeways in others to avoid traffic as much as possible. Even if this may be true for them, it certainly is not for the traveler. Invariably, freeways are quicker for tourists, even if it may seem like the crawl will never end.
Parking is becoming ever more difficult to deal with in L.A. The closer you get to the dense core of the city, the more likely you will have to pay for parking and the higher the price of it will be. Be sure to follow the parking requirements, as nothing would ruin your vacation more than finding your rental car towed and then seeing the bill for such.
On-street Parking is available in many areas of the city, though for a limited period of time. Meters have gradually changed to pay stations, so if you do not see a meter, do not assume that parking is free, but instead look for the station.
Many hotels charge for parking. If you are lucky, they will have a self-parking garage where the rate will be lower. If not, expect valet parking with associated high fees and required tipping. Many hip restaurants also offer valet parking, though it is always possible to park on the street or in a paid self-parking lot.
While the majority of highways in The Greater Los Angeles area are toll-free, there are a few toll roads and express lanes to be aware of.
I-10 and I-110 contain express lanes. While these lanes are free to use if traveling in a vehicle with two or more passengers, a FastTrek transponder is required. Some rental agencies have cars equipped with these; however, if your rental does not have one, avoid entering these lanes.
Orange County, located south of Los Angeles, has about five toll roads. Unlike the express lanes, these can be used without FastTrek. Cash is not accepted on these roads, but you can pre-register your rental here and have the toll charged to your credit card. Alternatively, your rental agreement likely will include a way to be charged afterward with an added convenience fee. If you plan on using these toll-roads, be sure to ask your rental agency in advance.
Ideas for a day-trip
- Santa Barbara - Less than 100 miles north of Los Angeles, this smaller, laid-back city makes for a perfect day trip from Los Angeles. Visitors can bask in the sun on the wide beaches and afterwards visit award-winning wineries. Surfing, whale-watching, and golf are other opportunities to spend the day.
- Catalina - Reachable by ferry from ports in Newport Beach, San Pedro and Long Beach, Catilna is one of the Channel Islands located about 22 miles off the coast of California. Snorkeling and diving are the most popular activities on the island. But for those that don’t want to go in the water but still see the aquatic life, glass bottom boat tours are available. Hiking is also another popular activity, though permits are required for the backcountry.
- Solvang - Do you want to visit Denmark but don’t want to cross the Atlantic Ocean? If so, Solvang is the town for you, at least on its face. With Danish inspired architecture and the opportunity to purchase many Danish wares, such as butter cookies, Solvang is a unique village. It is not to be taken too seriously, however. While it may have been founded by Danish immigrants, most of the Danish influence is only superficial these days.
- Santa Ynez Valley - If you are going to visit Solvang, then taking at least half a day to visit the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley is also necessary. With over 120 wineries, wine aficionados will be in heaven, so to speak. For those that don’t want to spend their entire time tasting wine, a trip to Los Padres National Forest would make for a great way to enjoy the year-round good weather.
- Channel Islands National Park - This national park consists of islands from the Channel Island chain. Island Packers is the concessionaire for the park, and therefore the only company to offer boat transportation to it. All boats leave from either Ventura or Oxnard, located south of Santa Barbara. The islands offer both hiking and kayaking opportunities, either of which will lead to wildlife sightings. It is also possible to camp on the islands.
Most popular rental types and cars
The most popular class of rental car is economy, such as the Hyundai Accent. Travelers also prefer to use intermediate cars, such as the Nissan Sentra, and compact cars, such as the Nissan Versa. All of these choices are perfect for a family traveling in warm southern California for a weekend or week.
- San Diego - Located just two hours south of Los Angeles is the more laid back, but still populous, city of San Diego. More world-class beaches await the sun-starved. After visiting the renowned San Diego Zoo, visitors can also head to Sea World if they haven’t had their fill for animals. When the sun goes down, venture to the Gaslamp Quarter for clubs and cocktail lounges or to Pacific Beach for a more laid-back beach bar vibe.
- San Francisco - While Los Angeles is the hub of Southern California, San Francisco is likewise for Northern California. Take I-5 or the 101 north for around five hours to get to the Bay Area. Drive across the Golden Gate bridge (being sure to pay the toll online) or mosey through the hilly streets of the downtown area.
- Phoenix - Take a six-hour drive through the desert along I-10 to the capital of Arizona and fifth most populated city in the United States. The city has many resorts, primarily for vacationers to enjoy the warm weather during winter. And with over 200 golf courses to choose from in the area, the city is popular with golfers. Green fees are high during the high season, but can be a real bargain out of season, just be sure to tee-off early to avoid the sweltering heat.
- Death Valley National Park - A four hour drive out of Los Angeles brings travelers to the national park with the lowest point in the United States. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States. It is located a mere 85 miles from Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48.
- Tijuana - It may be possible to take your rental car to Mexico, though this would be highly unlikely if you are not a U.S. resident. In either case, the government fees and insurance make taking your rental car unattractive. With Downtown Tijuana lying just a few hundred yards (or meters) from the border crossing, it is extremely popular to drive to the border and cross on foot.
- Baja California - Spanish for Lower California, Baja California is a peninsula extending south from California. Much of the region is sparsely populated, though the peninsula doesn’t see a deficit of travelers due to the immense opportunities for hiking, camping, surfing, diving, and deep sea fishing. As taking your rental car from the U.S. to Mexico may be unattractive, it would be very easy to walk across the border and rent another car in Tijuana for the journey. Do note that the roads may be narrow and twisty along with being remote and desolate in parts. Be sure to stock up on gas and water when possible.
- Joshua Tree National Park - A short two hour drive down I-10 from Downtown L.A. brings travelers to this desert national park named after Joshua trees, which are abundant within the park. The park’s ecosystem consists of two deserts primarily distinguished by altitude. With over half the park designated as wilderness, travelers flock to the park for backcountry hiking and camping.
- Sequoia National Park - Located in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada and about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles, the Sequoia National Park contains the Giant Forest, a forest of large sequoia trees that includes General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by volume. The park also offers wilderness, mountains, and backcountry hiking and camping. In this backcountry is the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney. If you intend to climb it, be sure to register for the permit lottery between February 1 and March 15 every year.
- Kings Canyon National Park - Bordering Sequoia National Park to the north is Kings Canyon National Park. The canyon from which it takes its name is a valley shaped by glaciers that is around a mile deep. The park also hosts multiple 14ers (peaks of 14,00ft or 4,300 meters). With limited roads, backpacking is the only way to visit most of the park. It is necessary to obtain a backcountry permit beforehand. Kings Canyon is also a prime destination for rock climbing and canyoneer.
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