Dangers & Annoyances
Despite its seemingly apocalyptic list of dangers – guns, violent crime, earthquakes – Los Angeles is a reasonably safe place to visit. The greatest danger is posed by car accidents (buckle up – it’s the law), while the biggest annoyance is city traffic.
Earthquakes happen all the time, but most are so tiny they are detectable only by sensitive seismological instruments. If you’re caught in a serious shaker:
- If indoors, get under a sturdy desk or table and cover your head and neck with your arms. If in bed in the dark, stay in bed and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
- Stay clear of windows, mirrors or anything that might fall.
- Don’t head for elevators or go running into the street.
- If you’re in a shopping mall or large public building, expect the alarm and/or sprinkler systems to come on.
- If outdoors, get away from buildings, trees and power lines.
- If you’re driving, pull over to the side of the road away from bridges, overpasses and power lines.
- Stay inside the car until the shaking stops.
- If you’re on a sidewalk near buildings, duck into a doorway to protect yourself from falling bricks, glass and debris.
- Prepare for aftershocks. Turn on the radio and listen for bulletins. Use the telephone only if absolutely necessary.
If you find yourself being carried offshore by a dangerous ocean current called a riptide, the important thing is to just keep afloat. Don’t panic or try to swim against the current, as this will quickly exhaust you and you may drown. Instead, try to swim parallel to the shoreline and once the current stops pulling you out, swim back toward shore.
The Go Los Angeles Card (www.smartdestinations.com) offers discounted admission to over 30 attractions and tours, including major theme parks (Disneyland excepted). One-day and multi-day passes are available, with one-day passes costing $85 ($69 for children aged three to 12). Purchase passes online, at the Los Angeles Visitor Information Center, or see the website for other vendors.
Emergency & Important Numbers
All phone numbers have a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number. For long-distance and toll-free calls, dial 1 plus all 10 digits.
|International dialing code||011|
|Emergency (ambulance, fire & police)||911|
Although largely informal in their everyday dealings, Angelenos do observe some rules of etiquette.
- Address others by their first names; using a title is usually considered too formal.
- Don't overdress for the occasion; California casual is normally enough. For business meetings, weddings and the like, ask the dress code if you’re not sure.
- Don't use racial, ethnic or sexual stereotypes. It can be seen as racist, homophobic or at least in bad taste.
- Don't stare at (or disturb) the celebrity, model or plastic-surgery junkie sitting next to you.
- Offer to split the bill in a restaurant, buy a round of drinks in a bar, or chip in for gas if someone’s driven you around a lot.
- Learn basic niceties in Spanish. You may encounter Spanish speakers any day.
- Don't jaywalk. It’s illegal.
- Never dismiss someone or something as 'so LA.' What does that even mean?
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
LA is one of the country’s gayest cities and has made many contributions to gay culture. Your gaydar may well be pinging throughout the county, but the rainbow flag flies especially proudly in Boystown, along Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood, which is flanked by dozens of high-energy bars, cafes, restaurants, gyms and clubs. Most cater to gay men, although there’s plenty for lesbians and mixed audiences. Thursday through Sunday nights are prime time.
Beauty reigns supreme among the buff, bronzed and styled of Boystown. Elsewhere the scene is considerably more laid back and less body conscious. The crowd in Silver Lake is more mixed age and runs from cute hipsters to leather-and-Levi’s, while Downtown's burgeoning scene is an equally eclectic mix of hipsters, East LA Latinos, general counterculture types and business folk. Venice and Long Beach have the most relaxed, neighborly scenes.
If nightlife isn’t your scene, there are plenty of other ways to meet, greet and engage. Outdoor options include the Frontrunners running club and the Great Outdoors hiking club. The latter runs day and night hikes, as well as neighborhood walks. For insight into LA's fascinating queer history, book a walking tour with Out & About Tours.
There’s gay theater all over town, but the Celebration Theatre ranks among the nation’s leading stages for LGBT plays. The Cavern Club Theater pushes the envelope, particularly with uproarious drag performers; it’s downstairs from Casita del Campo restaurant. If you're lucky enough to be in town when the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles is performing, don’t miss out: this amazing group has been doing it since 1979.
The festival season kicks off in mid- to late May with the Long Beach Pride Celebration and continues with the three-day LA Pride in mid-June with a parade down Santa Monica Blvd. On Halloween (October 31), the same street brings out 500,000 outrageously costumed revelers of all persuasions.
Getting travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended. Some policies do not cover ‘risky’ activities such as scuba diving, motorcycling and skiing, so read the fine print. Make sure the policy at least covers hospital stays and an emergency flight home.
Paying for your airline ticket or rental car with a credit card may provide limited travel accident insurance. If you already have private US health insurance, or a homeowners or renters policy, find out what those policies cover and only get supplemental insurance. If you have prepaid a large portion of your vacation, trip-cancellation insurance may be a worthwhile expense.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime, even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Cybercafes are a dying breed in LA, though free public wi-fi is proliferating, with hot spots including LAX, Pershing Sq and Grand Central Market in Downtown, Echo Park Lake, the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood & Highland mall, Beverly Canon Gardens in Beverly Hills, Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier. Free wi-fi is common in coffee shops and public libraries, and numerous restaurants, bars and museums also offer free wi-fi.
Although most hotels and hostels have wi-fi, some places charge for the service, or only offer it free in common areas such as the lobby.
We identify venues that provide guest internet-connected computer terminals by the internet icon; the wi-fi icon indicates that wireless access is available.
KCRW 89.9 FM (www.kcrw.com) LA’s cultural pulse, the best radio station in the city beams National Public Radio (NPR), eclectic and indie music, intelligent talk and hosts shows and events throughout Southern California.
KPFK 90.7 FM (www.kpfk.org) Part of the Pacifica radio network; news and progressive talk.
La Opinión (www.laopinion.com) Spanish-language daily newspaper.
LA Weekly (www.laweekly.com) Free alternative news, live music and entertainment listings.
Los Angeles Downtown News (www.downtownnews.com) The finger on the cultural, political and economic pulse of the booming Downtown district.
Los Angeles Magazine (www.losangelesmagazine.com) Monthly lifestyle magazine with a useful restaurant guide and some tremendous feature stories.
Los Angeles Sentinel (www.losangelessentinel.com) African-American weekly.
Los Angeles Times (www.latimes.com) Major, center-left daily newspaper.
ATMs are widely available and most attractions, restaurants, coffee shops and bars accept payment by credit or debit card. Cards are usually required for reservations. Travelers checks (US dollars) and non-local checks rarely accepted.
Tipping is not optional. Only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.
- Airport skycaps and hotel bellhops $2 per bag, minimum per cart $5
- Bartenders 15% per round, minimum $1 per drink
- Concierges No tips required for simple information; up to $20 for securing last-minute restaurant reservations, sold-out show tickets etc
- Housekeeping staff $2 to $5 daily, left under the card provided
- Parking valets At least $2 when handed back your car keys
- Restaurant servers and room service 18% to 20%, unless a gratuity is already charged (common for groups of six or more)
- Taxi drivers 10% to 15% of metered fare, rounded up to the next dollar
Standard opening hours are as follows:
Banks 9am–5pm Monday to Thursday, to 6pm Friday, some 9am–1:30pm Saturday
Bars 5am–2am daily
Business hours (general) 9am–5pm Monday to Friday
Post offices 8:30am–4:30pm Monday to Friday, some 9am–1pm or 3pm Saturday
Restaurants 7:30am–10:30am, 11:30am–2:30pm & 5:30pm–10pm daily, some later Friday and Saturday
Shops 10am–6pm or 7pm Monday to Saturday, noon–6pm Sunday (malls open later, usually 9pm or 10pm)
Supermarkets 8am–10pm daily
The US Postal Service is inexpensive and reliable. To search for nearby post offices, click onto www.usps.com.
If sending important letters or packages, also consider FedEx (http://fedex.com) or UPS (www.ups.com).
On the following national holidays, banks, schools and government offices (including post offices) close, and transportation, museums and other services operate on a Sunday schedule. Holidays falling on a weekend are usually observed the following Monday.
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Good Friday Friday before Easter (March/April)
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking and vaping are generally prohibited inside all public buildings, including airports, shopping malls and train and bus stations. Most parks, beaches and farmers markets are smoke-free, and it is generally forbidden to smoke within 20 feet of entryways and windows of buildings open to the public.
- Smoking is banned inside restaurants, although lighting up may be tolerated at patio or sidewalk tables.
- At hotels, you must specifically request a smoking room. Some properties are entirely nonsmoking by law.
Taxes & Refunds
The California state sales tax of 7.25% is added to the price of most goods and services. Local city sales taxes may add up to 2.75% more. To find out the tax rate for a specific area, see http://maps.gis.ca.gov/boe/TaxRates. Accommodation tax in Los Angeles is 14%.
Foreign GSM multiband phones will work in the USA. Popping in a US prepaid rechargeable SIM card is usually cheaper than using your own network; they're sold at any major telecommunications or electronics store.
- US phone numbers consist of a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number.
- When dialing a number within the same area code, use the seven-digit number (if that doesn't work, try all 10 digits).
- For long-distance calls, dial 1 plus the area code plus the local number. Toll-free numbers (eg beginning with 800, 855, 866, 877 or 888) must be preceded by 1.
- For direct international calls, dial 011 plus the country code plus the area code (usually without the initial ‘0’) plus the local phone number.
- If you’re calling from abroad, the country code for the US is 1 (the same as Canada, but international rates apply between the two countries).
Payphones & Phonecards
- Where payphones still exist, they’re usually coin-operated, though some (eg in state or national parks) may only accept credit cards.
- Local calls cost 50¢ minimum.
- For long-distance and international calls, prepaid phonecards are sold at convenience stores, supermarkets, newsstands and electronics and convenience stores.
Public restrooms are standard in museums, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, malls and department stores. Some bars and clubs have restroom attendants; tip a dollar or two.
Los Angeles Visitor Information Center The main tourist office for Los Angeles, located in Hollywood. Maps, brochures and lodging information, plus tickets to theme parks and attractions.
Beverly Hills Visitors Center Sightseeing, activities, dining and accommodations information focused on the Beverly Hills area.
Downtown LA Visitor Center Maps and general tourist information in the lobby of Union Station.
Long Beach Area Convention & Tourism Bureau Tourist office located in downtown Long Beach.
Marina del Rey Maps and information on sights, activities, events and accommodations in the Marina del Rey area.
Visit Pasadena Visitor information with a focus on Pasadena attractions and events.
Santa Monica Visitor Information Center The main tourist information center in Santa Monica, with free guides, maps and helpful staff.
Visit West Hollywood Information on attractions, accommodations, tours and more in the West Hollywood area.
Travel with Children
Los Angeles is sometimes touted as not especially child friendly, and looking around Rodeo Dr or the Sunset Strip, you might think that young Angelenos have been banished to a gingerbread cottage in the woods. In reality, LA offers a plethora of child-friendly attractions, from theme parks to interactive museums.
- Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round
Ride the very vintage merry-go-round that inspired Walt to create the 'Happiest Place on Earth'.
- Southern Railroad
Ride tiny tracks in Griffith Park, where mini versions of vintage locomotives offer 1-mile joy rides through a leafy landscape.
- Santa Monica Pier
LA's best-loved ocean pier is home to a Ferris wheel, old-fashioned merry-go-round and aquarium to boot.
- Griffith Observatory
Watch eyes widen inside the world's top planetarium then scan the skies through a telescope.
- La Brea Tar Pits
Get up close and personal with curious prehistoric beasts, right beside an ancient death pit.
- California Science Center
Hands-on, high-tech exhibits exploring nature and technology, plus a real-deal NASA space shuttle and seven-story IMAX screen.
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
You'll find one of the world's most impressive dinosaur exhibits at LA's Natural History Museum, as well as creepy bugs and a dedicated Nature Lab.
- Zimmer Children’s Museum
Play instruments, fly planes and drive ambulances at this community-minded museum, specially designed for children aged eight and under.
- Museum of Tolerance
Explore the life of Anne Frank and the importance of compassion and cultural understanding at this interactive educational center.
- Kidspace Children’s Museum
Get wet and a just a little muddy at Pasadena's nature-driven museum, complete with educational gardens and water features.
- Six Flags Magic Mountain
Hair-raising, adrenaline-searing roller coasters are the main drawcard at this massive Valley theme park.
- Hurricane Harbor
Magic Mountain's adjacent water park cools kids (and kids at heart) with its wave pool, 1300ft river and soaring, fully enclosed speed waterslides.
- Universal Studios Hollywood
Studio tours, live shows and theme-park rides keep the families coming to Universal Studios Hollywood.
- Sunset Ranch Hollywood
Explore LA's wilder side with a horseback tour through rugged Griffith Park.
For Coastal Fun
- Santa Monica
Fun-fair attractions, wide sweeps of golden sand and wade-friendly shallows beckon families at Santa Monica.
- Aquarium of the Pacific
Eye up strange creatures from the shallows and the deep at Long Beach's knockout aquarium, which also runs harbor cruises and seasonal whale-watching trips.
- Manhattan Beach
Long shallows and an aquarium with touch pool at the end of the pier.
- Cabrillo Beach
Tide pools, the choice of calmer waters and the nearby Cabrillo Marine Aquarium make this stretch of sand perfect for younger kids.
For Budding Artists
Need to Know
- Car Seats Children under the age of eight must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat.
- Discounts Most attractions offer discounted admission for children, though theme parks often charge full price for kids as young as 10.
- Strollers Generally not allowed on public buses unless they are folded.
Travelers with Disabilities
Los Angeles is reasonably well equipped for travelers with disabilities.
- Telephone companies provide relay operators (dial 711) for the hearing impaired.
- Many banks provide ATM instructions in braille.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
A Wheelchair Rider’s Guide to the California Coast (www.wheelingcalscoast.org) Free online directory and downloadable PDF guide for LA and Orange County coasts covers wheelchair access at beaches, parks and more.
Los Angeles for Disabled Visitors (www.discoverlosangeles.com) Offers tips for accessible sightseeing, entertainment, museums and transportation.
- VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) Matches your interests, talents and availability with a local nonprofit where you could donate your time, even if only for a few hours.
- Craigslist (https://losangeles.craigslist.org/search/vol) Lists volunteer positions throughout the LA area, from music therapist and yoga instructor, to hairdresser and beautician.