Everyone has been to L.A, well at least in the movies, the city is some peoples idea of a nightmare: sprawling suburbs, cars bumper to bumper, smog and a extortionate prices make up what is a synthetic evolving city. Mix this with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the movies, as well as the 'Baywatch' culture of Santa Monica, and you have an interesting concoction. LA needn't be a daunting place, although you will need a fair amount of cash to stay in relative luxury. There are, however, traveller's hostels that are affordable to the budget traveller, but these can be very popular at peak times. A driver's license is also a good idea, because without a car it is very difficult to get round LA, it is not impossible, but buses can be confusing and you will often have to change a few times to get to your destination. Most people seem to think the main problem with the town centre of L.A is the lack of a cultural centre. Restaurants and bars are far and few between and very exclusive. That said, there is plenty to occupy anyone's time in the surrounding suburbs.
You will almost certainly fly into to LUX airport if travelling from abroad or from other US destinations; the airport is a 20 minute drive from the town centre. Combo taxis run from the airport to your chosen destination, these can be expensive, I paid $35 for a ride to Pasadena, that said it is considerably cheaper than a normal taxi, as long as you are happy to be patient while other passengers are dropped off on the way. You can get one of these from straight outside the baggage claim by approaching one of the guys with a clipboard. The taxi drivers seem to be on a rate of commission so expect to wait until your cab is full, in the most cases they are space cruisers seating up to 8 persons. Buses are also another option, journeys can be planned on the web, but expect connections to be a bit unreliable and allow an hour either way for delays. If you have booked in to a major hotel, transport to and from the airport will probably be included. For excursions further a field, if hiring a car is not an option, then the Greyhound bus services serve most of America and are affordable to most people
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As mentioned before, the best way to get around and see L.A is to hire a car, if you can afford it. A word of warning, though, make sure you take out good insurance, if you are involved in an accident, it is quite possible that you will end up paying more than the entire cost of your entire trip put together. That said check out the policy and pricing you are getting, some places will try and rip you off.
If you not going to hire a car, then you'll undoubtedly be rich enough to afford cabs or if not, make do with the bus service. The local bus service runs from all the major suburbs to Downtown L.A and is excellent value. Route maps and connections are available from most libraries and tourist bureaus.
In Downtown L.A, the metro serves the main centre and the suburbs, it is possible to walk through the centre of L.A, but at the height of summer, a cool metro station is a nice alternative, that said, a lot of the stops are above ground. Again prices are quite reasonable.
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L.A and California is notorious for it's sunny weather, and it can get very hot in the summer months, especially in the valleys, where the temperature is not moderated by the sea. I was in Pasadena in September and it rose to 115*F at times.
The dollar comes in denominations of 1,5,10,20,50 and 100, with the dollar broken down into cents at values of 5, 10 (DIME), 25, and 50. It is advisable to get your dollars before you leave, this can be done as Travellers Cheques, rather than large wads of cash.
L.A is a vast suburban area, downtown LA is reasonably safe in the daytime, but avoids the suburbs at night. Keep your valuable hidden from view and get cabs if travelling back late at night.
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PLACES TO VISIT
Santa Monica/Venice Beach - With its pier and golden beaches, Santa Monica is really like stepping on to a set of 'Baywatch'. The pier has the usual rides, but most people come here to relax on the beach or to skate. Venice Beach is the famous boardwalk with market stalls selling antiquities, souvenirs and more interesting things like massages and herbal cures. There is also a big musical element here, every day a group of drummers meet to bang out some great rhythms; there are also some interesting performers.
Warner Brothers - An interesting and informative tour of the Warner Bros studios, where you can visit sets of famous movies and TV programmes. Some of the things filmed here include: The Dukes of Hazard, Friends, ER, Terminator 2 to name but a few. The tour takes approximately an hour and a half, and includes a tour of the museum, a chance to see a programme being filmed and the opportunity to take some photos.
Universal Studios - Again a studio tour but more commercial and more theme park orientated, some great rides with awesome special FX make it something not to be missed
Rose Bowl - Home of L.A Galaxy (soccer), also housed the 1994 World Cup Final between Brazil and Italy. Check local listings for match dates and prices.
Hollywood - The hub of the glitz and glamour of L.A, with the mile long 'star' walk where stars of radio, film and TV have had their names added to the walkway. The Chinese theatre is the best starting point and includes famous hand and footprints of the stars.
Watts Towers - Take the metro out to the suburb stop '103rd Street' and it is a brief walk to this intriguing landmark. Built by a local farmer in the early 1900s, the Watts towers are constructed with a mixture of glass, tin cans, cement and pottery. They became a landmark of the plight of the local people and their hardships. Nowadays walking to them is a bit like walking on to the set from 'Boyz in the Hood', with empty streets and mysterious blacked out cars crawling past. The area itself is safe in the day as long as you are alert, but should be avoided at night.
LA MOMA - Excellent museum dedicated to contemporary art with regular exhibitions set in a great space. The museum also has another building which also features temporary exhibitions
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Pasadena is a leafy, almost English like suburb of L.A. The atmosphere here is a lot less hectic than the rest of L.A and can be a very pleasant place to stay. The main road has a great selection of restaurants and bars along with some great shops. It is also home to the world-renowned Simon Norton Museum which includes a great collection of art and cultural artifacts from around the world.
PLACES TO STAY
Apart from a few motels and hotels, you will struggle to find a cheap place to stay in Pasadena. One place the Fuller Guest Seminary is cheapish at $40 a night, it is supposed to be meant for theological students, but when I was there they seemed to be admitting anyone!
PLACES TO EAT/DRINK
Indian Restaurant - Very good food!
Bar 66 - Sports bar
Arts bar - Pokey little bar with a great atmosphere, pool tables and rock music
THINGS TO DO
Simon Norton Museum
Pacific Asia Museum
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Info supplied by Andy Webb