Off to bowls then...

Before we hit the open road to Yosemite National Park, some tips on car hire and getting about LA/California in your box with the steering wheel on the wrong side 😉

“No one walks in LA” is a sentiment you’ve probably heard on many TV shows and movies, its not until you get there and venture passed the tourist spots do you realise how spread out it is and how much a necessity it is to have your own transportation. Our first time in LA we stayed in Santa Monica and only really explored the Hollywood area, so bussing between the two areas was manageable as there’s quite a few services that do that route, but like most cities, finding the right bus and the stops to catch them from can be difficult and time consuming. Fine if you’re only there for a few days but staying any longer its best that you hire a car, not just for convenience but you will also get to see a lot more of the place and have your own personal porter.

LA's notorious freeways

First stop, car rental. There are plenty of places to hire cars from at the airport, but of course the best deals come from pre-booking it online or via your travel agent. We hired through Dollar Rental purely on their cheap prices and even cheaper price found via our travel agent, but be warned, all is not what it seems. Details of hidden charges in my separate review over at (a good source for business reviews in the USA).
We ended up with a less than favourable Ford Focus thanks to space limitations of the other cars available (no other car had a boot big enough to conceal 2 suitcases) but it did the job albeit in its own poor ergonomic and uncomfortable way.

So you got your motor running and are about to get out on the highway, but first some quick tips:

KEEP RIGHT. Start the mantra before you even get in the car each day. It might sound a little silly but anything that can break your years of previous experience will help because once you’re in the thick of it, your first instinct will be to go to the left side of the road, especially when turning left.

Turning right on a red light – Yes, its legal. Basically the red light becomes a give way sign (confirmed with the local boys in blue) This is a little strange to see at first but after breezing down the right hand lane and not having to wait for some of the long light changes you’ll soon wonder how you lived without it and why its not done here!

Turning left at the lights – This is always a little nerve racking, mainly because turning lanes from both directions line up with each other and because the intersections are so big you need to drive to the center to be able to make it across if you don’t have an arrow light. Of course the person travelling in the opposite direction is doing the same except they’re driving a block of flats, so you essentially have more chance of seeing the dark side of the moon than what could be barrelling down in the other lane. Just edge forward and when you see your chance, floor it. If the lights turn red, don’t sweat it, they’re surprisingly patient when it comes to people being stuck in the intersection.

Merging/exiting on the freeway – Sooner or later you will have to get on a freeway. They spaghetti above the city and connect every major area and can be a breeze at the right times.. just be prepared for peak hour. Getting on and off is something else, what you have is a “no man’s land” area of 2, 3 or 4 lanes, unmarked. A lot of on-ramps join to almost immediate off-ramps, good if you’ve taken the wrong turn, bad because there’s on-ers and off-ers trying to share the same space.
This is usually where things get ugly, instead of letting someone exit, an entering car will try to over take the exitee instead of merging behind it and taking its place in a lane. Entering vehicles will also use the smallest of openings to join the freeway, usually as immediate as they can resulting in cutting someone off, rather than using the merging lane to speed match and find an appropriate spot to merge. A tip around this is to watch your right side mirror, if you see someone burning up the merging lane, just as they’re parrellel with the car behind you, speed up just a little bit. This closes the gap in front of you and widens the one behind. They pretty much always take the bait 😉

Parking – Street parking is rare and expensive so use it for “get in get out” stops only, make sure you have plenty of quarters too otherwise you’ll be racking up the fees on your credit card. The other option is parking garages and lots. Unlike Australia this is a very cheap alternative, usually in the range of $3-6 a day, most with no “enter before” or time restrictions. One of the best sites I found for this is which displays locations and costs. Some even display real time vacancies. Don’t fret if you haven’t pre-planned where to park, almost all parking lots have a guy in a hi-vis vest with a flag waving you into their lot. Try not to get these guy confused with actual road workers!

GPS – This is a given, though some might prefer a paper map to forgo the cost of hiring one. While the GPS is almost useless in the downtown area thanks to the skyscrapers, it will more than likely save you many times when making direction changes or finding locations on the fly. Depending on who you hire you’re your car through, it can be around $5-15 a day so if you’re driving for a week or more, an option is to buy a cheap one locally from places like Best Buy (There’s one in the Westfield next to the airport). Alternatively you can rent maps for other countries at a discounted price (usage time limited) via your local GPS manufacturer. Or you may be lucky enough to buy an AU one with a promo deal for a free international country map rental like I did 😉

Paper maps – I know… ewww! Thing is they’re not going to lose their signal or try to tell you to go somewhere you don’t want to go or take you in a 2 block loop instead of doing a U-turn. They will also be a godsend when it comes to getting around road works or randomly closed streets instead of continually redirecting you to the same dead end! Also handy when you’re on foot. Google maps is also your friend for detailing specific areas.

Doin' 80 on the freeway, po-lice catch me if you can..

In general LA drivers, while quite bad (possibly due to the complacency and laziness of all those automatics :p) are rather tamed, cars meander all over the road with many near misses but it seems the most they get is a horn toot and a “now would you look at this sonofabich”, possibly due to the less dense laid back lifestyle, possibly a catastrophic coronary brewing under the surface. In saying that, like any where, even if you’re doing 80mph in the left lane there will always be someone tailgating you or trying to over take you, usually in a Prius. Maybe its their cloud of smug giving them little man syndrome? :p Just keep your calm and let them go, you’ll more than likely overtake them at the next back up of traffic or hill 😉

Get used to this view of never ending brake lights

With that in mind, we say farewell to tinsel town and make our way up to Yosemite!

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here


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