Los Angeles | 2

Assuming you're arriving by plane, you’ll soon get the layout of the city: the flat, orderly grid hemmed in by mountains and sea, dotted with thousands of turquoise swimming pools.

On the ground, your first glimpse is LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, with its arched concrete 'spider'. The Theme Building – 1961’s Jetsons-style idea of what the space age would look like – houses Encounter Restaurant. I don’t know anyone who's ever eaten there. And chances are, you won’t be able to now. It seems the restaurant finally closed its doors in 2013.

The Theme Building at LAX

The 1961 Theme Building at LAX

Unless you’re bravely picking up a rental car immediately after the flight, you’ll probably want to spend your first night at one of the strip of large corporate hotels along West Century Boulevard alongside the airport.

All the regulars are lined up here – Radisson, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Travelodge, Best Western – but if you want to kick off the movie theme right away, head for the glossy black tower of the Hilton Los Angeles Airport. This is the hotel at which Michael Mann’s Heat winds up, before the climactic shoot-out spills out onto the airport runways.

Hilton LAX

The tower of Hilton LAX – used for the climactic scenes of Michael Mann’s Heat

The stops on the airport’s Lower Level, outside baggage claim, are helpfully colour-coded: blue for the free LAX shuttle between terminals or to Aviation Station on the Metro Green Line; purple for the ten or so major car rental companies; and red for hotel courtesy buses. The swirl of traffic is relentless and you’ll rarely have to wait more than a few minutes.

A cab to Hollywood or Downtown will cost around $30.

Los Angeles finally has a Metro system and, though it’s still growing, it’s pretty basic and nothing like the New York subway or the Paris metro. LA without a car? Don’t even think about it.

Freeways can be intimidating if you’re used to strict lane discipline. You can’t simply tootle along in the slowest lane – the outside lane peels off at each junction. Frequent traffic lights and the sheer volume of traffic, though, mean that city driving is comfortably laid back or infuriatingly slow according to the mood you happen to be in.

Parking can be a headache. Don’t set out without a pocket full of quarters.

So choose your neighbourhood and start exploring...

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Visit Los Angeles



Los Angeles is car city, of course, though there's a Metro system, with 200 bus lines and seven rail lines:

  • Blue (north-south from Downtown to Long Beach)
  • Green (east-west, from Redondo Beach to Norwalk, with a free shuttle to LAX, from Aviation)
  • Red (Downtown to Hollywood, Wilshire and on to the San Fernando Valley)
  • Purple (Koreatown to Downtown)
  • Gold (East Los Angeles to Pasadena, via Downtown)
  • Silver (El Monte to Artesia)
  • Orange (west-east in the San Fernando Valley, linking Canoga Park and North Hollywood)

You can access online bus and rail route maps