Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the United States and is known for its epic celebrity scene, amazing food, and off-the-charts shopping. As one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, L.A. is packed with tourists year-round.
As the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles offers a myriad of attractions, ranging from movie studios and museums to Venice Beach and the Sunset Strip. But the massive influx of tourists looking to catch a glimpse of the latest stars can mean mayhem for drivers. With nearly four million people populating the city, navigating through the crowds—and the size of the city itself—can be a handful.
Los Angeles is home to some of the worst driving conditions in the world, but if you’re adamant about hopping behind the wheel, knowing how to navigate the city can be extremely helpful. We’re giving you everything you need to know about driving in the City of Angels—what driving is like, transportation options in L.A., and the driving laws you need to know before you hit the road.
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What is driving in Los Angeles like?
Los Angeles has some of the worst traffic in the entire world—it’s not uncommon for freeways to be at a complete stand-still, and traveling 30 miles can take upwards of an hour. While there is no way to completely avoid traffic in L.A., knowing how to navigate the 500-square-mile city can be super helpful.
Traffic in L.A. tends to be heaviest during the morning and evening commutes, so if you’re not interested in spending hours in your vehicle, it’s best to avoid driving during rush hour whenever possible. Traffic is intense; driving is aggressive; and if you’re going to hit the L.A. roads, make sure you know what you’re doing.
On top of the serious road rage and gridlock driving conditions, here’s what else you can expect when driving in Los Angeles.
L.A. is known for its gridlock traffic, but when you’re cruising around town, you’ll find that most streets in Los Angeles are organized into a grid—north-south and east-west, so navigating through the big city is pretty simple.
L.A. is made up of spread-out neighborhoods loosely connected to downtown by the many freeways. You’ll find that L.A. is composed of uniform block lengths and occasional roads that cut through the blocks, but the layout of the city is also complicated by the hills and valleys underneath.
All major streets in L.A. are designed to move large volumes of traffic and are lengthy to accommodate it—Sepulveda Boulevard spans a massive 43 miles, while Foothill Boulevard is over 60.
Although L.A. isn’t the only city with crisscrossing freeway ramps, it’s one of the more dangerous of the bunch. It’s best to practice defensive driving and keep an eye on the road in front of you.
Parking in Los Angeles tends to be better than parking in cities like
New York City and
Chicago, but you’re still up for a challenge. Certain neighborhoods are notorious for their scarce and expensive parking options.
Surface parking in Los Angeles is more than four times the size of Manhattan, equating to about 101 square miles. And when you add in on- and off-street parking, more than 14% of L.A. is dedicated to parking—that shows you just how many vehicles there are.
The L.A. Department of Transportation offers over 35,000 parking meters across the city that accept cash and can be easily paid online for convenience. If you’re parking in a residential area, be sure to read any and all posted signs. Many street parking spots require parking permits.
The other factor you have to consider about parking in L.A. is that it’s darn expensive. Parking in downtown Los Angeles is the priciest part of the city and ranks as the 7th most expensive major city business district in the U.S., with an average parking rate of $9.50 an hour. But although rates are high, they’re still less than New York City, which has an hourly rate of $27.00.
L.A. is known for its yearlong warm climate and sunshine, but certain months of the year can intensify these conditions, leading to extreme heat and potentially dangerous driving conditions. For anyone driving in the summer months, be aware of increasing vehicle interior temperatures, system overheating, and other challenges that come along with high temperatures.
Summer: The summer months in Los Angeles are warm and dry, with temperatures averaging about 73 °F. Be mindful that sunny and hazy days cause heat to reflect off the pavement, which can further increase the risk of your vehicle overheating.
Winter: Be careful when driving on a rainy day—the roads tend to get more slick in L.A. due to built-up oil and other contaminants that rise to the surface after a long dry spell.
Traffic and transportation options in Los Angeles
Traffic in Los Angeles is no doubt some of the worst in the country, and moving one mile can take up to 30 minutes when you’re in the thick of it. Hopping in the
carpool lane may give you a slight advantage—it can save up to a minute per mile—but it’s important to abide by the carpool lane laws to avoid a fine.
Also, keep in mind that all carpool lanes in Southern California require two or more people in the vehicle, which the exception of El Monte Busway, which requires three during peak hours (between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.).
That said, if driving a vehicle is a must in Los Angeles, there are ways you can avoid the headache of traffic. Here are some of the worst times to drive in Los Angeles:
7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: Traffic is the heaviest during the morning commute into the city.
4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. onwards: Commuters leaving Los Angeles jam up the roads and increase the risk of accidents. Stay aware and keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving during evening rush hour.
Weekend nights: Traffic going in or out of Downtown L.A. and Hollywood can be heavy with tourists and locals alike.
When highways are stopped during rush hour, there’s another option you can choose—surface streets. Surface streets in Los Angeles include any street that isn’t a freeway or limited-access highway (expressway). However, keep in mind that others likely have the same idea, so even side streets can get busy.
Rush hour takes up a major part of weekdays in Los Angeles, so the best times to drive there are off-peak travel times, usually, before 7:00 a.m. and after 7:00 p.m., but you may find that mid-day has a slightly better traffic flow depending on where you’re going.
KNX News 97.1 FM for all the live traffic updates and the latest news in Los Angeles.
Should I rent a car in Los Angeles?
If you’re thinking about renting a car in Los Angeles, there are plenty of agencies that you can visit. However, you’ll need to brace yourself for heavy traffic and be sure to research your parking options before heading out.
Another option you have is to forego the car and hop on public transit. Public transportation in L.A. famously leaves a lot to be desired, but both the bus and rail lines have improved quite a bit in recent years.
Metro rates start at $1.75, but for more frequent users, you can purchase a day pass for $7.00 or a 7-day pass for $25. For convenience, you can load funds on a
Metro TAP card that can be purchased from TAP vending machines found at Metro Rail or Metro Orange Line stations.
Pro Tip If you’re looking to save a few bucks, buying a pass is often cheaper than paying the base fare per ride. To find out more about Metro fares, you can visit the L.A. Metro website.
Local driving laws in Los Angeles
Before you hit the road in Los Angeles, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local traffic laws. Here are a few examples of what’s expected of you if you’re driving in the City of Angels:
Carpool lanes are intended for two more people, and being caught without a passenger could land you a $341 fine
Reduce your speed and stay aware when driving through construction zones
All drivers are required to move to the side of the road or reduce their speed when near active emergency vehicles—it’s part of
California's move over laws
Driving with a blood alcohol content over 0.08% is illegal in California
Littering on public or private property is illegal and can land you a fine of $250 to $1,000
Motorcycles can legally lane-split (drive between traffic lanes),so keep an eye out for them at all times, especially when changing lanes
Crime rate in Los Angeles
Both the violent crime rate and the property crime rate in the Los Angeles metropolitan area were higher than the national average in 2020, but they’re comparable to other metro areas of similar size.
The LAPD suggests that more than 30,000 cars are stolen each year in L.A., representing about 24% of property crimes and 18% of total crime in the city. In 2021, there were 24,224 vehicle thefts—the highest numbers seen since 2010, marking a 13.7% increase from the previous year and a 54.1% increase from 2018.
How to find car insurance in Los Angeles
While you’re stuck in L.A. traffic, you may be treated to glimpses of some of the most expensive sports cars in the world. But you shouldn’t have to spend an arm and a leg to drive in the City of Angels. That’s where the
Jerry app comes into the picture.
Jerry helps you find affordable car insurance no matter where you live. All you have to do is download the app, enter your information, and Jerry searches through personalized quotes from over 50 of the top insurance providers to find you the best coverage at the cheapest rate.
Once you find the policy that’s right for you, Jerry’s team of experts will take care of the paperwork and get you switched over. And when it comes time to renew, they’ll even shop around so you’re always getting the lowest rate. That’s why Jerry is rated the #1 insurance app in the App Store.
The average Jerry user saves $887 a year on car insurance.
Jerry quoted me a price that saved me almost $4,000 a year in California! I definitely recommend Jerry.” —Patricia B.
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