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Your Car-Free Los Angeles Vacation

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Los Angeles celebrates its personal cars with the country's most extensive freeway system and well-marked thoroughfares. Renting your own vehicle for your vacation is theoretically the fastest way to get around, but can be expensive, puts you at the mercy of traffic jams and costs extra in travel insurance. You can avoid this hassle by using the city's public transportation, which has blossomed in recent years with a rail system.

Getting Around

Metro Rail boasts six lines in total. The Purple, Red, Expo and Blue lines, which eventually connect to the Green Line, converge at the 7th Street/Metro Center station. At Union Station, the city's magnificent Art Deco passenger rail terminus, three lines merge: Purple, Red and Gold.

Before your first ride, buy the refillable TAP card from vending machines at the stations. Depending on how long you're staying or how many rides you plan on taking, you may find the day, one-week, or 30-day passes to be a better value. When you approach the platform, tap your card on a turnstile or station validator screen. If your journey takes more than one train, tap the card again at each of the stations where you change trains. Always have the card handy. Fare enforcement officers may check your card at any time using their hand-held validators.

Where to Stay

The Milner Hotel offers inexpensive accommodations near the Metro Center Station. All rooms include high-speed Internet, expanded cable TV and a free breakfast. Those with bigger budgets can stay at The Standard Downtown LA with its rooftop pool, dance floor, bar, DJs and outdoor fireplace. For easy access to Union Station, find a room at the Metro Plaza Hotel, where the Kitchenette Suites include kitchen appliances, so you can cook your own meals. Changing or canceling these accommodations can be costly unless you cover the possibility with Allianz Travel Insurance, which also takes care of you if you miss your flight to L.A.

What to See

The attractions of Los Angeles would take a lifetime to see. But you can pack most of the major sites into a three-day itinerary if you use Metro Rail and start at Union Station. If you intend on getting there from the airport, take the "G" shuttle from the terminals to Aviation Station. From there, hop on the Green Line and change at Willowbrook for the Blue Line to 7th Street/Metro Center. The Purple and Red Lines can then bring you to Union Station.

Allianz - inside of union station in los angeles

Day One

Walk from Union Station to Olvera Street, where the city was born. It's full of cafes, street vendors, and historic buildings. Stop by La Noche Buena Restaurant, if you need to fill up on Mexican breakfast specialties before touring the area. A five-minute walk away is the Chinese American Museum, which details the growth of Chinese communities in the Southland. You can also have an inexpensive lunch in Chinatown at places like the New Dragon Seafood Restaurant, which serves Sauteed Fish Fillets with vegetables.

Head back to Union Station and either take the Gold Line or the long walk to Little Tokyo. Spend some time at the Japanese American National Museum, which details the experiences of Americans with Japanese ancestry, particularly during World War II. Also here, the Geffen Contemporary at Museum of Contemporary Art displays traveling exhibits of contemporary artwork. You can end your day at one of 100 eateries, such as Daikokuya where a line of patrons waits patiently for ramen.

Day Two

For an exciting view of how movies are made, take the Red Line to Universal Studios Hollywood. You can spend the entire day at the self-contained theme park. Go one hour before the rest of the park opens to get a start on the tram, which takes you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the studio. You'll see movie sets and a couple of surprise attractions, and may spot a celebrity or two.

After the tram, you can choose to watch shows like Waterworld and the Special Effects Stage, or ride attractions like Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Jurassic Park, or Revenge of the Mummy. There are enough eateries around that you won't go hungry. Consider buying a Front-of-the-Line pass, so you won't waste precious minutes waiting.

When you're ready for more entertainment magic away, take the Red Line again to Hollywood and Highland, which is just one stop south. The Visitor Information Center contains multi-lingual staff, answers your tour questions and doles out brochures. From there, you can walk to the Chinese Theater to stick your feet in the left in the cement by the likes of Betty Grable, Humphrey Bogart, and R2D2. Outside the famous movie house, follow the celebrity stars embedded in the sidewalk on the Walk of Fame.

Cap off the day with dinner at Musso and Frank Grill, Hollywood's oldest restaurant. Try the daily specials for the best values. Then check out comedy stars-to-be by catching a show at The Second City.

Day Three

To end your stay at a slightly less frenetic note than yesterday, choose one of the following options:

  • The Expo Line takes you to Exposition Park to view the California African American Museum, a celebration of the city's black community. The park also features the California Science Center, which displays the actual Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the Memorial Coliseum, centerpiece of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics.
  • The Gold Line brings you to Pasadena. Its Old Town area houses restaurants and boutiques in turn-of-the-century commercial structures. Check out the world-renowned Norton Simon Museum for its extensive collections of Impressionist paintings and Asian art. The Rose Bowl holds athletic competitions and a flea market every second Sunday of the month.

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Jan 24, 2017