1. ‘Just jaywalk. Nobody’s watching.’
Actually, everybody is watching — especially those motorcycle cops who are lurking on the nearest street corner and just waiting to zoom out of nowhere with a flimsy pink slip for you. Don’t even think about avoiding those bright yellow road signs or violating “California traffic regulations” in any way for that matter. The City of Angels is notorious for punishing pedestrians for petty little crimes, especially if you’re “foolish rural people who are unfamiliar with city ways” (aka ‘Jay.’) Seriously, even celebs aren’t impervious to these infamously dumb fines, which can get as hefty as $250 a pop (that’s quadruple an illegal parking citation).
Despite the common assumption that Los Angeles is no Manhattan when it comes to “walkability,” there are plenty of neighborhoods from Santa Monica to Silver Lake that are very walkable indeed. So don’t let the LAPD stop you from putting on some aviators, donning a pair of comfortable shoes, and hitting those relatively flat streets or secret staircases all across town. Just remember to be vigilant, to follow all crosswalk signals, and you’ll be absolutely fine — contrary to what Missing Persons might think.
2. Skip DTLA. There’s nothing to see or do.
Big mistake. DTLA is one of the city’s coolest and fastest growing urban neighborhoods. Not only are the lively crowd-filled streets lined with cool, speakeasy-style bars like The Varnish or dives like King Eddy (which was open during the prohibition era), there’s also the state’s largest used bookstore and European-style indoor food market. You can sip on small-batch craft beer inside an old Arts District warehouse, and then go chow down on pasta, pizza, and breadsticks galore at one of the trendiest Italian restaurants in L.A.
For fashion, there’s the garment district. For sports fanatics, there’s Kobe and his mighty yellow-purple boys. For history buffs, there’s the very spot that 44 settlers of Native American, African, and European heritage won over in 1781 (i.e. El Pueblo De Los Angeles).
It’s possible to spend an entire weeklong vacation in Downtown Los Angeles alone, actually. Plus, you can easily do it on foot while gawking at underrated sites like Union Station, the City Hall observation deck, Disney Concert Hall, or Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. On top of all that, a lot of places in DTLA are free. Don’t skip it.
3. ‘Don’t plan, just figure it out on the fly when you get there.’
Drivers in this town always know exactly where they are going, and they’re never happy when they lose even a second of precious traffic time waiting for some head-scratching tourist to figure out if they’re at the right Holiday Inn.
Sure, we fully get that you’re not from here and that it may take some time for you to adjust to LA, but how much time do you really need? Seriously, nothing annoys local Angelenos more than wide-eyed, out-of-towners slowing down on busy roads during rush hour — all while struggling to figure out those confusing little grids marking up the coffee-stained reference maps they seem to be holding upside down.
We admit, when it comes to roads and cars, L.A.ers have major issues. We’re nicer people when we get out of our automobiles, but we aren’t always on our best behavior when we have to get somewhere. And in L.A., who doesn’t have somewhere to be? So don’t spend your entire vacation being honked and yelled at. Just pull over and stay there until you are absolutely and completely sure where you’re headed. Map out and plan out your trip in advance. Please.
4. ‘You have to get a picture with the Hollywood Sign.’
No matter how hard you try, or how drunk you get, there is no possible way to get close to that sign. It doesn’t matter if you drive, hike, or climb, you’re not going to get what you want — unless you want to spend a free night in a jail cell instead of that posh hotel suite at the Holiday Inn.
Parking in the area is totally restricted, local residents will for sure give you the stink eye for even thinking about taking a selfie up on the hill, and pesky patrol rangers are always making their way through the already tight, traffic-jammed streets to wag their fingers at tourists scrambling around Franklin or Beechwood Drive.
There are more than plenty of other places to sneak a peek without all the fuss and the hassle. Try Lake Hollywood Park or the Griffith Observatory. Your best view and photo-op will mostly likely be from beneath the Hollywood Sign — not above it.
5. ‘Take a bus, take a cab, go metro. The city is built on public transportation.’
Do not rely on public transportation or buses to get around in Los Angeles. I repeat: do not rely on public transportation to get around L.A.
Transit that’s made for the public just doesn’t seem to have the same virtues in L.A. as it does in other cities. Taking a bus from LAX to Hollywood, for example, takes about an hour and a half– although it’s just a 12-mile trip. Hailing a cab never really seems to work and there are so many train routes to choose from that you’ll be wishing you were back in Kansas again. And don’t even think about asking for help — it’ll probably yield you the opposite response of the SNL skit, “The Californians.”
6. Rodeo Drive is LA’s ‘finest shopping experience.’
Who doesn’t want to feel like Julia Roberts every once in a lifetime? For some reason, the Rodeo Drive strip in Beverly Hills seems to have always been the place to spend a glamorous afternoon splurging on bags and boxes of clothing and shoes that you’ll never ever have the time to wear when you get back to reality. But when you get here, what you’re bound to really see are flocks of window-shopping tourists clamoring for a photo op in front of Gucci or Chanel — not hoards of fan-favorite celebrities prancing down the streets of a supposedly star-studded shopping spot.
The truly famous keep their distance, staying far far away from elbowing crowds. Instead, head on over to Robertson Boulevard (which is lined with way better small boutiques, prominent designer stores, as well as specialty shops and fine-dining options to cash in on).
7. ‘Just fly into L.A.X.’
Sure, it may be the largest, best-known, and busiest airport Los Angeles has to offer, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. Parking is insane, security is laborious, flights are prone to constant delays, and the entire area in general is a confusing course of traffic jams just waiting to give you more of a headache than you already have. Even the check in lines look like an Escher drawing. Besides, it’s not all that close to destinations outside of the beach cities anyways.
Zoom in and out of smaller ports like Long Beach, John Wayne, or Burbank, which all accommodate major airlines and rental car companies, despite their much tinier size. The latter even has a Metrolink sitting literally right across the street for quick access to Hollywood, the Valley, and downtown Los Angeles. Disney, Warner Bros. and NBC Universal are also a mere ten minutes away, as well as the Staples Center, Griffith Park, the L.A. Zoo, Dodger Stadium, and the Rose Bowl.
8. ‘If you’re on a budget, just forget to tip.’
There are a lot of service workers in LA. Waiters, bell hops, concierges, parking valets, tour guides, hotel housekeeping, spa treatment staff, as well as so many others in the service industry, count on tips to pay the rent. They already have much too little coming into their bank accounts each month due to infamously low minimum wages — so don’t cause further strain or stress by not showing appreciation for their work.
Yes, tips should most certainly reflect the quality of service, how much you value the service, the time that service took, as well as the friendliness of the person providing it, but don’t be snooty. Especially in L.A., where it’s not just a common courtesy to tip, but absolutely and completely necessary (if you plan on surviving).
9. ‘Just park and stop anywhere.’
C-R-A-Z-Y. That’s how to describe driving in Los Angeles — half of that’s all thanks to none other than public parking. In other towns, finding a spot on the road to stop at may be more of a minor automotive hassle than a massively mind boggling huge deal. Angelenos, however, have long taken parking super seriously — sometimes, way too seriously. It’s even gotten deadly.
Most street parking in the city is based off of limited-time meters that leave you running incessantly from three blocks away to chump in change every couple hours. Don’t even think about missing that stop time by a second. The newest meters are pure genius when it comes to alerting parking enforcement officers to speed towards expired car spaces.
When it comes to neighborhood streets, there may be no meters, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t loads of restrictions or requirements that you needn’t obey. There may very well be five different parking limit signs on one single pole. And they don’t just set unreasonable time limits, they’re written in tiny, barely readable letters.
Beware any and all signs. Even if you just park too long in an empty lot after closing hours. Hollywood storeowners and tow companies make a mint from towing and impounding. Seriously, it’s fun for them.
10. ‘You have to go to The Factory!’
True. Some of the greatest acts in comedy have played in and around this Sunset Strip stage, but standing in an overly long line to potentially get in (unless you want to pay extra for priority seating) makes you feel like you’re stuck waiting around in an actual factory — instead of a ‘club’ built for laughs. What’s worse is that once inside, you’ll be forced to quickly choose from a limited sampling of overpriced beer and watered down cocktails in order to meet that two-drink minimum required for each two-hour show. And don’t even think about taking your time with the menu because everybody on staff is always in too much of a bitter rush.
Go for something way more intimate and casual at low-key theaters such as the Largo at the Coronet in WeHo, which routinely books stars from Tig Notaro and Patton Oswalt to Sarah Silverman and David Spade. Plus, there’s a full bar featuring tons of snacks and no drink minimum whatsoever. Added bonus? Louis C.K.’s been known to pop in unannounced from time to time.
11. ‘Hollywood & Highland is the best people-watching spot in town.’
Oh, it’s full of people to watch alright. Hoards and hoards of manic individuals ranging from naïve out-of-towners to wannabe actors that’ll have you scratching your head, wondering why you didn’t listen to your mother when she warned you not to visit LA.
Hollywood and Highland is the biggest tourist trap there is. It’s the Times Square of Los Angeles, where everyone will be trying to sell you something — from souvenirs to DVDs, or photo-ops with the likes of Superman or Elvis. It’s overrun, overrated, overused, and just plain old — like a can of nasty sardines on the weekends. We are so over it. You should be too.
12. ‘You’ll get by with basic elementary-level language skills. Communication is so not a thing here. We all get each other.’
Here’s something to worry your lazy mind over: don’t expect everyone in town to speak the way you do. It’s no big secret that Los Angeles is a real melting pot of cultures, with immigrants and refugees from all over the world. Sprawled within several blocks, you’ll be able to find tiny remnants of China, Japan, and Ethiopia, even Russia and Armenia.
Everybody from shop owners or your valet guy, to the Popsicle vendor down by the sidewalk corner, is probably from someplace else. We are, quite proudly, a truly diverse town — meaning that yes, not everybody speaks proper English, and yes, you’re likely to come across some language barrier issues. It doesn’t help, however, to just yell a little louder or be a lot less friendly. Embrace the eclectic array of individuals surrounding you. Go out of your way to understand others who happen to be a different race or ethnicity. You might just learn something awesome in the process.
13. ‘Grab one of em’ tasty Pink’s dogs.’
If you want to do this, you have to be willing to stand under the scorching hot sun for an hour just to get a bite of a twenty-five centimeter long “signature chili dog.” This is not a truly unique L.A. experience, it’s just another run-of-the-mill pushcart turned hot dog-stand lurking within the hard-to-find shadows of La Brea Blvd (which also happens to always have zero available parking spots).
Ditch Pink’s and go to Dodger Stadium for a ball game and a famous 10-inch Dodger Dog. Or better yet, visit Wurstküche, which offers exotic sausages, Belgian fries with homemade dipping sauces, and more than 20 different European beers. Duck or sausage, anyone?