Driving in Los Angeles is different from driving anywhere else in the country. Massive, 10+ lane freeways are the norm everywhere throughout the metro area. Whether you’re a Hollywood hotshot or new in town, everyone has to learn how to drive in LA. Here are our tips on how to drive and thrive in the City of Angels.
Get the Lay of the Land
It’s hard to keep all the numbers straight: the 405, the 10, the 110, the 101, the 5. But what is helpful is knowing the geographic layout of SoCal. Downtown is farther east and inland than you’d expect. Many signs will have location names on them: Ventura to go north/northwest, Santa Monica to go west, Long Beach/LAX to go south, and San Bernardino, Glendale, and Pasadena to go east/northeast. That being said, a good maps app will keep it all straight fairly easily.
Make a Plan
Map out the spots you want to see and visit them in clusters. Do Santa Monica, Venice, and the beach in one day, then explore Hollywood, Griffith Park, & East LA the next. Driving on city streets can take just as long, or longer, than using freeways. It can easily take you an hour to drive 15 miles! Planning ahead and plugging your route into Google Maps can definitely help give you a better idea of what’s possible.
How to Avoid LA Traffic: Travel During ‘Off’ Hours
“Off” is used loosely here, because LA is always on. That said, there are small windows where traffic is more manageable. The best times to drive through LA? 11:00 am-12:00 pm or 1:00pm-3:00pm on weekdays. All other times will likely result in 1-3 hours worth of traffic. NEVER drive from 4:00pm-7:00pm if you can avoid it. Most freeways lead through downtown, which is always congested. The best time to drive through LA on the weekend is before 9:00 am, especially on Sundays. A good rule of thumb when visiting somewhere new in LA? Arrive early & plan to stay all day.
SoCal pro tip: allow at least an hour to get anywhere in LA, whether you’re just jumping neighborhoods or looking to drive to the beaches/mountains.
Road Etiquette in LA
There is none. Be prepared for some truly…bold decisions from other drivers. Drivers in LA are very accustomed to traffic and often get distracted by their phones, scenery, and gawking at accidents. Drive defensively and don’t be afraid to use your horn. A friendly but firm honk can be a great way to say “I’M HERE!” and snap someone out of a stupor.
Watch & Listen for Motorcycles
Bikers are everywhere in California and as brave as they come. They’re legally allowed to weave through traffic and use the carpool lane. Motorcycles are incredibly loud for a reason, so pay close attention to your side and rear view mirrors if you hear one nearby.
Use the Carpool Lane
The carpool lane, or HOV (heavily occupied vehicle) lane can be used by any vehicle with two or more people. You won’t totally beat traffic, but you can usually get a little breathing room and shave anywhere from 15-20 minutes of your trip if you take advantage of it.
Check the Curbs & Read the Signs
Parking can be a doozy in certain parts of town. Read parking signs and check the curb color. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.
- Red Curb: No stopping, parking or standing/waiting at any time.
- Yellow Curb: Commercial loading only (30-minute limit with a commercial license plate, 5 minutes without) Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. unless otherwise posted on signs.
- White Curb: Passenger loading and unloading only for a maximum of five minutes.
- Green Curb: Short-term parking, 15 to 30 minutes as marked, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. unless otherwise posted.
- Blue Curb: Parking for drivers with mobility limitations displaying a valid handicap parking placard or license plate.