How to Get Around Los Angeles Without a Car in 2023
Los Angeles is the “car capital” of the world, but it’s been getting easier to get around without one
In 2016, I was hit by a drunk driver and my car was totaled. After I recovered, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to do an experiment: to live in Los Angeles without a car for a while. After doing it for a few months and learning a lot, here are my suggestions for getting around Los Angeles without a car!
1. Try the bus: It’s better than you think
Like almost everyone in L.A., I had a very low opinion of buses. I viewed them as slow, lumbering behemoths that clogged LA traffic. But, the bus turned out to be a cornerstone of my new transportation portfolio since I lived very close to a bus stop.
The first time I used the bus, I was really impressed! It was clean, air-conditioned, and surprisingly fast and convenient! Not all are this nice, granted.
By the way, the bus is dirt cheap. I can go all the way across town from Santa Monica to Downtown LA for $1.75.
Amazingly, the Santa Monica Blue Bus on Wilshire Blvd. was actually faster than driving during rush hour due to the dedicated bus lane.
The bus is great if you live near a stop, and it goes where you want to go. But, the bus might not be viable if you live far from the bus stop. There were also some times on more obscure routes where the bus was delayed, so it’s not great if you’re in a huge hurry. The bus also isn’t great if you need to carry big things, or if it doesn’t go where you need it to go. In those situations, I fall back on other transportation methods listed below.
And yes, you’ll encounter a mentally unstable person riding the bus every so often. Other than that, you’ll find mostly Latino workers, students, the elderly, and some tourists (and me!)
I wouldn’t recommend riding the bus as a single woman alone at night, even though many do out of necessity.
Here are my top three tips for using the bus in Los Angeles:
A. Get the TAP App to pay
If you plan to use any public transportation in L.A., get a TAP card or even better, the TAP App phone app for iPhone or Android. TAP works on most buses and light rail in the Los Angeles area, including the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica.
You can load your card or app on their website. I started out using the card and now I use the app exclusively. It works great!
To pay, simply tap your card or phone on the payment panel on the bus, wait for the beep, and the fare is automatically deducted. I strongly urge you to get one of these! It’s better than cash not only for convenience but also because if you register your card online and lose it, you can regain the value with a small fee. Built-in insurance!
B. Use Google Maps to find bus routes
My second problem with using the bus was not knowing which bus to take. The official websites for this will overwhelm you with huge bus schedules and maps. Instead, enter your destination on Google Maps and click the public transport button (between the car and person icons) to see which buses to take. So much easier!
C. Use the Transit App to check bus schedules
The next issue to tackle was the bus schedule. How often would they arrive, and how could I minimize my waiting time? Of course, you can use the convoluted Metro website, but apps are so much more convenient. I chose the Transit app (available for iOS and Android). This tells you down to the minute when buses will arrive. it’s fantastic! Highly recommended.
2. The Metro (Light Rail / Subway)
Having lived on the East Coast for a while where trains are plentiful, I jumped for joy when the Metro light rail finally came to Santa Monica. I rode it the day it opened and loved it, even though I had a car at that time.
If the Metro goes to where you want to go, for example, downtown LA, and you’re close to a station, the Metro is awesome!! Check out these maps for coverage area. Or, just use Google Maps and select
The Metro is better than the bus for long distances. I’ve ridden from Santa Monica to Pasadena using the Metro. It also can be faster than driving during rush hour.
You pay for the Metro using the aforementioned TAP card, the same card that gets you on the bus. Be sure to tap the card at the kiosk before boarding – there are no turnstiles, but there are transit police who check occasionally and will give tickets.
The downside of the Metro is that there are a lot of places that it doesn’t go to. To get you to the “final mile”, you can rely on scooters or a ridesharing service.
3. Dockless electric scooters
Since I first wrote this article, various companies such as Bird have introduced motorized scooters and bikes to Santa Monica, Venice, Long Beach, and Los Angeles. I love them! For me, these solve the “last mile” problem of getting to the Expo line from my house. I also use them to run errands, and when I need to go somewhere without my bike (i.e., when I’m meeting someone with a car who can drive me home).
You’ll need to get the mobile app to ride. Bird costs $1 to start and $0.39 per minute with a $3.50 minimum.
Other parts of town have different electric scooter services. A few rules to abide by:
- Don’t ride on sidewalks or else you could get a ticket, and you’ll definitely piss pedestrians off. Find bike lanes, or ride to the right of traffic in the street.
- By law, you’re supposed to wear a helmet when riding scooters. Many people don’t, but for your safety, you should.
- When done, be sure to park your scooter in a way that doesn’t block the sidewalk or other busy walkways.
- Scooters are banned in Beverly Hills, Pasadena, as well as on the Strand (the concrete beach trail that runs through Santa Monica to the South Bay).
Note that scooters are available in high-pedestrian traffic areas such as downtown areas and tourist attractions, but not so much in residential areas.
4. Biking / bike-sharing
Los Angeles has never been known as a bike-friendly city, but the situation is improving, with communities like Santa Monica putting a real emphasis on adding more bike lines, some of them fully protected from traffic!
Google Maps has a bike button that lets you see the best bike route to your destination.
If you don’t own a bike, or you’re a visitor, many LA-area municipalities including Santa Monica, Culver City, and LA proper offer rental bike-share programs. You can find their bikes on many street corners in special docking stations. You can pay using your TAP card or TAP App!
In Santa Monica, Lyft offers bikes that cost $1 to start and $0.34 per minute. Other parts of town have different bike rental services.
5. Uber / Lyft ride-sharing
Unfortunately, there are large areas of Los Angeles that are not covered by the bus, Metro light rail, or scooters. Or, maybe you’re in a hurry. It’s inevitable that you’ll need to use an Uber or Lyft at some point.
To mitigate the cost, you can use Uber Pool, where they pick up other passengers going the same direction. But, the commute time can explode if you’re unlucky. I found that I would get mildly car-sick sitting in the tiny back seat of an Uber for too long, so I tended to avoid Uber pool. On the other hand, if Uber can’t find other riders for your car pool, you still pay the low rate and rid alone.
Uber also now offers Express Pool, another way to save money by having set pickup points. You’ll need to do a little walking, but you save money as a result.
What I would often do is combine different transportation methods. For example, I might take Uber to a business meeting, then take the bus back to save money.
Since I live in the area, it was often easy for me to hitch rides with friends and family. If you do this, I recommend giving something back though, like paying for parking or gas.
There was a huge side benefit to this: I got to spend quality time with people (a rare thing in Los Angeles). Sometimes I got rides from friends and was able to catch up, a great use of otherwise wasted driving time. Other times, I got a ride back from an event or dinner from someone I had just met, so I got to know someone new! This was a very cool side-effect of sharing rides!
If you don’t know anyone in Los Angeles to bum a ride off of, there carpooling apps such as Ride Match. I’ve never tried these but they look interesting.
Although I wouldn’t describe Los Angeles as a great city for public transportation, it’s gotten a lot better than before.
Yes, there are still some cases where having a car is ideal, but Lyft and Uber can take care of many of those.
If you’re a visitor to Los Angeles, check out my other site with my favorite fun things to do in L.A.! – Brian
Please Leave a Question or Comment
I try to answer each one! - Brian
Hi Brian, thanks for your sharing! my family-4 adults and 4 kids (age 12,10,8 &5) plan to go LA in Jan 2023. We plan to go Disneyland and day trip to Hollywood, Yomesite (stayed 2 nights) and go SF. We dont intend to rent car. Any recommendation?
While it is possible get around within Los Angeles without a car, you’re talking about going vast distances up the state with a large group. I think renting an SUV would be the best way to go.
For example, taking a bus from LA to Yosemite could be $50 per person or over $400 for your group one way. I saw a cheaper price but it takes 22 hours!!! That would eat up a good part of your Yosemite vacation time! Might as well rent a van or SUV and get there in 6 hours.
My advice would be to narrow the scope of your trip, unless you have a lot of time. You could do SF and Yosemite, or Disney and LA. Doing it all with that many people would be a huge enterprise and you might end up with a lot of cranky and tired kids on your hands, especially if don’t have your own vehicle. Just my two cents.
Here are some ways to get between Disneyland and Hollywood:
Hi Brian, thanks. My friend and I are doing 3 days in LA & 3 in Palm Springs. I am debating on just doing the Metro & Uber for LA, then getting a rental car for our trip to and around Palm Springs. I think for now, I will do as you said & try the Metro and buses. Thanks! We also decided to stay along the beach in case we weren’t wild about the city.
Hi Brian! Thanks for the great article. Moving back to LA in January and determined to try and do it without a car for the first 6 months. It will be very interesting :) definitely will try the bus you suggested… cheers
Welcome to LA and best wishes! If you live near a bus stop and/or in an area with scooters available, it helps a lot.
Thanks for writing this Brian – very thorough. – will be bookmarking this!
We’re heading to LA for a week in October, staying in Anaheim for Disney/that side of LA before heading over to West LA for Hollywood etc.
We’re looking at staying in Korea town as it seems fairly close to Hollywood, Chinese Theatre etc using Metro and then Uber for beaches, Griffith Observatory etc. Do you think this is feasible we will have 4-5 days. Fully aware we won’t be able to see everything.
Yes, that sounds do-able! Uber is a good way to get to places where the Metro doesn’t go to.
BTW, I have a whole other site dedicated to fun things to do in LA. Here are some articles you might like:
And many others… Please let me know if you have any other questions about visiting Los Angeles.
I recently moved from NY to Woodland Hills, CA. As we all know transportation without a car in NY is feasible in many ways. However, I do not have any car transportation at this period of time where I live. Could you please advise me where I am located what you would suggest to be able to get around.
Due to COVID-19, one of my favorite ways of making short trips, dockless scooters, is mostly offline now.
The valley does have the Orange Metro line, which is a bus, but feels like a train because it has a dedicated lane, so it’s worth checking out.
If your destination is near a bus stop, then busses are a feasible alternative. And then of course you have Uber and Lyft.
Definitely no where near as good as NY, but there are options.