Welcome to Los Angeles! Home of the film and television industry, miles of extraordinary beaches, movie stars, thrilling architecture, and some of the most exciting cuisine on the planet. Oh, and let’s not forget one of our most notorious claims to fame: Traffic. Los Angeles is ranked number one in the United States for car congestion. You may have “rush hour” wherever you live or have lived in the past, but Los Angeles has a plethora of car cram nearly every hour of the day. If you’ve brought your favorite parking lot music mix, you might enjoy time in the car. However, if you’re someone who might not be overly inspired by the idea of disembarking the plane and jumping right onto a jam packed freeway in a car, there’s good news, the city of Los Angeles has a solution: Car Free LA.
To get from Los Angeles International Airport to any part of the greater Los Angeles area, you can always take a cab, or a shared ride shuttle, or, better yet, LAX has a FLYAWAY direct shuttle ranging from $14-$20 round trip, which is your least expensive option. The bus departs from all airport terminals starting at 7am from Terminal 1 and every two hours thereafter until 11pm. It will drop you off at one of four locations: Downtown, the Valley, Westwood or Mid Los Angeles. From the shuttle, there are buses and trains to more specific destinations. To return to LAX visit www.lawa.org for pick up schedules from the same four drop-off stations. Natives, perhaps this public transportation system is alarming to you. You may not have even known that one exists. Perhaps it’s time to simply to let someone else take the wheel so you can enjoy a new perspective of the sprawling city in which you live.
Let Go Of The Wheel
One year ago the L.A. Tourism & Convention Board launched Car Free LA. The program was designed to encourage visitors and natives to explore Los Angeles by some other mode of transportation rather than driving a personal vehicle. Not only was the programmed designed as a green initiative, but also to inspire people to explore Los Angeles without the concerns of gas prices, traffic and parking.
According to L.A. Tourism & Convention Board’s Vice President, Susan Lomax, the program came quite naturally from “friends, family and visitors who either don’t have a car or don’t want to drive.” She also noted many natives found it easier to get around using the Metro, walking or by bike. Moreover, bike use is up 7.5 % from 2011 in Los Angeles County. This information did not go unnoticed, the city is adding an average of 60 new bike lanes per year as a response. Additionally, the feedback prompted the L.A. Tourism & Convention Board to research and develop Car Free itineraries for the exploration of Los Angeles.
When Lomax was asked about those folks who might balk at the idea of traveling for 60-120 minutes by public transportation she shared, “It’s really about having a different experience. Meeting new people. Seeing new parts of the city and simply a new adventure.” Looking out the window while taking any of the Metro trains or buses offers a completely different version of trip or commute. A big bonus is that it’s far less expensive than the wear and tear on a vehicle. So, how does it work?
First, regardless of why you’re in Los Angeles, the Car Free LA itineraries are simple to navigate, entertaining and free. Travel agents beware — you’ve got some competition. At www.discoverlosangeles.com you can select from one of eleven Car Free LA itineraries. Some of the itineraries include self-guided trips to San Pedro, Museum Row & West Hollywood, Downtown, Hollywood, and a LA Music tour. Recently, Car Free LA has launched two new itineraries: Discover Downtown LA Dining and Discover Koreatown Dining, Culture & Shopping. Both of these tours are explored by using the Metro bus, train, light rail, bike or foot. Each of the itineraries will give options for food, activities, shopping, sports, music and nightlife events. While the website has smartly and strategically laid out plans, which are in very close proximity, they realize there are always more options, thus you can either follow their guide exactly or create your own itinerary from other choices on other itineraries.
Visit the Discover Los Angeles website, sign up, and then click the “Getting Around” tab. Click on “Car Free LA.” Click on “Discover Downtown LA Dining.” Let the adventures begin. Choose what sounds best to you for the food portion of your day and click “Add to My LA.” You can click around the site and continue to add things from various itineraries to My LA. All of the selections have transportation options and maps which you can see in the “Experience Builder”. When you’re finished with choosing what you want to do for the day, simply click on “My LA” and print out your itinerary. We took the plunge and abandoned our gas guzzling, pollution machines to explore Car Free LA.
In this particular two-day itinerary, there is a Car Free, self-guided tour of Downtown LA Dining, which we co-mingled with the Car Free Discover Downtown. We also wanted to share the Car Free Koreatown itinerary because it is new and unique. Each itinerary has suggested activities and dining options. In addition, the pre-created guides Car Free LA provides you with information on which Metro train or bus to use, and approximately how far you will need to walk. It’s extremely user friendly and fun. All of the options in each Car Free LA category, generally, are within a 15-30 minute walk, bus or train trip and each of the tours. Bon Voyage!
Day 1: Discover Downtown L.A. Dining
If you stayed downtown at the Biltmore, Hilton or Bonaventure, you can walk to Pershing Square. However, if you stayed at the Andaz, Hotel Wilshire or any other hotel outside of downtown, you will need to take the train or bus to Pershing Square station. Once you land, let the eating begin. Head north out of the train station up Broadway about a block and a half. You’ll come upon the Grand Central Market. GCM is a gastronome spectacle in and of itself, so to narrow things down we suggest hitting up Eggslut. Not only should you visit just because the name is amusing, but because they have saliva inducing egg sandwiches. Generally it’s packed, but worth the wait. Watching the “Fairfax” sandwich (cheddar cheese, egg, caramelized onions, Siracha, mayo and scallions) be constructed is an exhibition. If you’re vegan don’t fret, GCM has a multitude of purveyors from which to choose a delectable that suits you. After you’ve warmed up your belly, take a walk over to Angles Flight. It’s the shortest incorporated railway in the United States. Take a trip up for a dollar and enjoy the fabulous views.
From Olive St., the top of Angels Flight, walk south to 4th St., then north on Grand until you arrive at The Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA has one of the best collections of European and American art in the country. Check the website to see what exhibitions are current. After your art fill, it’s worth it to walk a couple of blocks further up Grand to see the stunning architecture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. After digesting mind expanding contemporary art, refer to your “lunch” itinerary. You could walk a little less than a mile to Marugame Monzo in Little Tokyo for the some of best udon you’ve ever devoured. Generally it’s very busy, but worth the wait. If you are walked out, take the bus. The Metro Dash A runs down 1st Street. Keep exact change in your pocket, or purchase a TAP card day pass for $5.00. You can ride the bus or train an unlimited amount of times in a day. Basically, for the price of a gallon of gas, you can visit anywhere in Los Angeles. That’s a steal. Sometimes all of the bus stops seem daunting, but don’t worry. You can avoid getting lost by downloading the Go Metro app to your smart phone or tablet. It has maps of the Metro bus and train routes. In addition, there is an integrated map of the city with the Metro stops and lines. If all else fails, simply ask the driver of the bus you’re about to board if they will be stopping at your destination.
Post lunch take a little stroll, less than a half mile away from Marugame Monzo, to Eighty Two. It’s a unique vintage arcade and bar located at 707 E. 4th Place. Eighty Two holds over forty restored arcade games ranging from 25 to 50 cents each to play. Don’t worry about spilling drinks on games; each one comes fully equipped with a drink holder. In addition, they boast an outdoor patio shaded by trees in order to keep things cool. They don’t open until evening during the week, but are ready for pinball by 2pm on the weekends. Play a little Ms. Pac-Man and kill a few Space Invaders before heading out for a bit of shopping. It is a 21+ venture, so no kiddies for this jaunt. If you want to stay in the classic spirit, you can pop into Raggedy Threads on 2nd and San Pedro. There are also plenty of shops in Little Tokyo to mingle in and around. After being shopped out, you may want to sit in a park and enjoy a little chill time. Head back over to Grand Park.
Grand Park is a stunning park for being located in the middle of a major metropolitan city. It’s approximately twelve blocks long and one large block wide. It’s clean, in a safe location and has beautiful fountains and places to sit and relax. For your snacking pleasure, there is a Starbucks located inside the park as well. After you feel rejuvenated, if you’re staying downtown, perhaps head back to your hotel to freshen up, for happy hour will be drawing near.
Perch, located on 448 S. Hill Street, is also in walking distance, and has an amazing rooftop bar and restaurant. Perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail. During the week they have a light, but solid happy hour from 4-6pm. On the weekends everything is regularly priced. The menu is French, but not over the top. The house-made cocktails are creative and tasty with a fine selection of wines and beer. Prices are reasonable for a hip Los Angeles setting. If you want a little snack they have a smallish meat and cheese plate to nosh upon, but don’t overdo it, dinner is around the corner — literally. Pair your last sip of vino with the stunning sunset. Stay long enough to see the twinkling skyline if you don’t mind a later dinner.
Discover Downtown LA Dining offers two restaurants within walking distance of Perch and both are incredible. They also suggest Rivera, which is a bus ride away if you’re still in travel mode. Alma is a bit more than a half mile walk from Perch and was named 2013 Best New Restaurant in the country by Bon Apetit. However, if you don’t want to walk too far, and aren’t up for Orsa & Winston’s Japanese fare, try Water Grill. We love this place for its seafood, fresh oyster bar, delicious desserts and no corkage fee. Try the Miso Cod as it is a huge satisfied groan maker at Water Grill. The bread pudding is not to be missed!
Tired yet? Come on, you’ve got one more adventure in you, right? Waddle down to the Millennium Biltmore Hotel and sip a cocktail and breathe in the history. If that’s too senescent for you, there is still dancing to be done at the Edison, music to be heard at Club Nokia, and further cocktails to try at the Mixing Room at the JW Marriott.
Day 2: Discover Koreatown: Dining, Culture & Shopping
Just three miles west of downtown is the heavily populated and historically significant Koreatown. In the 1930s, the Academy Awards were hosted at the Ambassador Hotel. More than thirty years later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated inside the same hotel. Now the hotel is no longer. It was replaced by Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. We love this itinerary due to its history, food, activities, and shopping.
To get to Koreatown there are Metro bus stops and rail stations very close. You can take the red or purple line or the 720 or 920 buses. We suggest the Line Hotel for your hotel. It is directly across from the Wilshire/Normandie Metro train station. It’s chic, large, centrally located, hip, killer food selections and offers free Linus bikes to use. The bikes are sensational since they allow you to literally to scoot to every single place on the self-guided tour. The cultural feeling in this part of Los Angeles is ripe. It is the most populated part of Los Angeles and growing given vast number of culinary and entertainment activities.
Time to explore! Load up onto your bike and head down just a few blocks to Iota Brew Café for a coffee or tea to get revved up for the day. Take a short ride down and see the sprawling 5,000 square foot Koreatown Pavillion. This is where Koreatown began in the 1960s with just a tiny, single shop. From there, mount up and head west on Olympic to the Koreatown Galleria. It boasts over 70 shops and eateries modeled in modern Korean style. Yes, if you speak any language other than Korean, you will certainly be challenged, but it’s a blast. The good news is that all people speak the language of money.
For something a little more mind expanding, which will explain why Koreatown is such an amazing place, head to the Korean American History Museum. Discover the historical significance of Los Angeles to the Korean American culture. The time periods exhibited are from approximately 1848 to the present.
It’s time for lunch! If you’re still up for more culture, hit up a Korean barbeque. Jump back on your bike and head to Park’s BBQ on Vermont Ave. If looking for a little something closer to home after taking long trots through the galleria and museum, it might be time for some good old-fashioned Americana. For another slice of history, visit HMS Bounty for a stiff drink and some pub fare for lunch. It’s directly across from the Robert F. Kennedy School, formerly the Ambassador Hotel. Noteworthy guests from the past and present include Winston Churchill, William Randolph Hearst, Diane Keaton and Jon Hamm.
After such a long day of history, shopping and riding, your body might need a little special pampering. It’s time for you to visit to the Crystal Spa. You might want to drop your bikes off at the hotel before engaging in this treatment. Few people in the United States have experienced a Korean spa. Be warned, it will leave you as limp as a rice noodle when all scrubbed and rubbed. This is a wild and special treat depending on how open you are. When you enter the Crystal Spa they have all sorts of options for massage or simply just heading into the common spa areas which have hot tubs, cold tubs, steam rooms, mineral rooms and warm jade floors to lay upon. There is an admission fee between $15-$30. If you have a “service” the fee is less. We’ve all heard of exfoliation, well, this takes it to a whole new level. When you depart, you will feel like an entirely new person.
Take the new you back to the hotel and settle into a meal at Pot. The food here is stupendous. The Kimchi Fried Rice and Potato Pancakes are musts. They don’t take reservations so saddle up to the bar for one of their specialty cocktails. The hot pots are huge and for several people. Be warned if you order one of the hot pots, you could drown in an ocean of soup.
If you’re not full of food, experiences, history, and exploring, there are plenty of things to keep you out. Head up to Hollywood and “be seen” at Chi Lin. Visit the House of Blues for some live music. Crash a private party at Chateau Marmont, or stay local for one last adventure. In walking distance to the Line Hotel is the Brass Monkey. Karaoke begins at 8pm on Saturday and Sunday and at 4pm the rest of the week. It has a dive bar feel, but an amazing blend of people. Sign up and join the rest of the amateur crooners; it’s a hoot.
After two days in Los Angeles at this speed, you might be worn out. If you’re here for more days of exploration, you better buckle up. Because if you enjoyed these two Car Free LA tours, you’ll love the rest of other guides available on the site, and there are more on the way! The LA Tourism & Convention board encourages and enjoys sharing from locals and visitors. In fact, coming this summer is a new Car Free LA program: Bikes & Hikes Street Art Tour. This new tour was inspired by Bikes & Hikes and Instagram users posting special and alluring photos of their bikes in front of street art @discoverla. Enjoy your Los Angeles expedition and may your bus, bike, train or walking expedition inspire future Car Free LA programs.
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