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Los Angeles Travel Tips for First Timers

Tips for Traffic, Weather, Driving and LA Airports

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Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Traveling to Los Angeles for the first time and need some travel tips?  For three years before I moved to LA, I used to practically commute between Chicago and the LA area. I would fly out to California at least once a month to various locations and had a chance to experience all of the highways, and almost all of the airports. Read on to learn how to prepare for LA parking, airports, weather, and traffic.

Travel Tips for Los Angeles

Sunset at Los Angeles LAX Airport California WhereGalsWander
Sunset at LAX Airport

Travel Time

Like everything else in Los Angeles, remember two things: timing is everything and distance on a map means nothing.  If you are in rush hour (7 AM to 10 AM and 3 PM to 7 PM Monday through Friday; after 12 noon on a weekend), it will take you approximately three times the amount of time as it is distance.

I have proven this theory time and time again.  For example, if your destination is 20 miles away, and it is the non-rush hour, it will take you 25-30 minutes to arrive.  If it is the beginning or end of rush hour, it will probably take you 40-50 minutes.  If it is peak rush hour it will take you at least an hour, possibly an hour and a half.  Please remember that anytime you look on a map and think something is close to the airport, or the hotel, or wherever.
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Traffic

Also remember that LA is gifted with mountains and canyons, and those dictate how and where the highways and roads run.  There are not many alternate routes once those start to back up, especially going into and out of valleys.

Waze is a common traffic app used in LA to help direct you with the best routes, and you should download it to your phone before you arrive. Waze will also give you about 30 seconds advance notice before you have to get over 6 lanes of traffic to exit.  This is my theory why Californians are constantly whipping across lanes.

  • Highways are referred to in the form of “The”.  “The 5”, “The 110”; helpful to know if someone is giving directions. In Chicago, we always called the highways by their formal name “The Eisenhower” or “The Ike”.
  • The “Diamond Lanes” or HOV lanes are for carpools only, meaning 2 or more Human Operated Vehicles.  Based on what I have seen, people are more likely to be pulled over by the police for illegally using the carpool lane than for speeding.  The ticket for using the carpool lane as a single rider can be $415.00. You cannot enter or exit the carpool lane when it has the double yellow line.

Parking and Crowds

Timing is everything.  Arrive early to get your spot for a table, a parking spot, a spot on the beach.  Download your Uber, Lyft apps before you arrive and plan to use them. Many parking meters have phone apps that allow you to pay the meters and extend time via your phone without having to run back to the meter. Did I mention beaches get crowded?

SoCal Beach santa monica beaches crowded summer
Santa Monica beach on a July afternoon.

Weather

Although LA is almost always sunny, there are a few weather tips to be aware of.
“June Gloom” is a thing and it starts in May and goes until the end of June.  It’s like a heavy, thick fog in the early morning that usually burns off around noon. When the sun comes out, so do the crowds.  Bring a sweater, get comfortable, and get there early. Sweater? Oh yes, because in LA it can swing 10-30 degrees within a day by the ocean.  Also, if you are traveling “Inland” (deeper east of LA) or over the “hill on the 5” (towards Santa Clarita, where I live) it can vary by 20 degrees weather-wise.  In the summer, it can be 110 degrees in Santa Clarita and if I drive 45 minutes to Ventura Beach, it is 70 degrees.

Marine Layer June Gloom LA Cityscape Skyline Los Angeles
LA  as seen from a flight out of Burbank Airport. You can see the Marine Layer over the city.
Travel Tips for LAX and other Los Angeles Airports, plus advice on traveling through LA-WhereGalsWander
LAX

Airports

People are often surprised how many airports serve the LA area. Obviously, the big airport is the Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

Things to know about LAX:

  • has great architecture
  • none of the coffee shops open before 6 AM if you have an early flight
  • The shuttle to take you to the rental car building is about a 10-20 minute ride if you are lucky enough to get on a shuttle the first time
  • The airport and surrounding area always seem to be under construction
  • Strongly encourage carry on bags
    LAX Billboard Lips Ad Lipstick WhereGalsWander

Things to know about Burbank Airport (Bob Hope/Hollywood airport)

  • It’s small and has limited airlines and only has two terminals
  • Parking is easy and offers valet parking as well as a self-park economy  lot
  • Because it’s small, it is very easy to get through security and the terminals
  • You will board your plane outside on a staircase that is rolled up to the plane (no inside gate entrance)
  • The rental car facility is attached to the airport, but its a bit of a longer walk than expected
  • Offers rail service to downtown LA with a train station attached to the airport
  • Baggage claim is outside.  So if it happens to be a rare day where it is raining, yeah, you’ll be outside waiting for your bags.
    Burbank Bob Hope Hollywood airport Los Angeles WhereGalsWander
    The view from Burbank Airport

Long Beach Airport

  • In Long  Beach
  • Many of the cruise lines depart from Long Beach
  • That’s all I knowWhereGalsWander cruise ship port long beach travel tip LA

Santa Ana Airport/John Wayne Airport

  • Very small airport.  Sometimes the security lines are closed, and well, you have to wait for them to open
  • Surprisingly, offers better fares sometimes than the other airports, but depending on where your final destination is, remember the timing/distance rule
    Ontario LA Traffic Sunset WhereGalsWander
    Traffic near Ontario (California)

Ontario Airport

  • Is in California, not Canada
  • Located in between downtown LA and San Bernardino
  • Probably a better choice if you are going for Big Bear, Palm Springs
  • Is the next prominent airport after LAX, although when I told someone I was flying into Ontario they would always ask “Canada?”
    Airplane Jet Airport Los Angeles WhereGalsWander

For other tips on where to go and what to see in Los Angeles, check out these other articles by WhereGalsWander. Click on the links below:

WGW Guide to Visiting Hollywood

Surf City, Huntington Beach

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara

Road Trip To Joshua Tree National Park

Christmas in July at Big Bear

Adventures in Palm Springs

Wanderlusting Up the California Coast

Venice, California

Yosemite Tips for First Timers

Hetch Hechy, Glacial Valley

Do you have travel tips to add? Send them to us at [email protected]

Let us know if this article was helpful!
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Zanne

Zanne is the Founder, Editor, Administration, and Publisher of WhereGalsWander along with the title of Chief Trouble Maker. Blame her for everything.

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