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Driving in Los Angeles

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Navigating Surface Streets in Los Angeles
Wilshire Blvd through Westwood from the Air

High rise buildings along Wilshire Blvd through Westwood seen from the Airship Ventures Hollywood Studios Zeppelin Air Tour, Los Angeles, CA

Photo © 2010 Kayte Deioma, used with permission
It is not uncommon for Los Angeles freeways to be jammed at any time of the day or night, but you can just about guarantee that the major arteries will be clogged from 7 to 9 or 10 am and from 4 to 7 pm and beyond. Weekend nights are jammed in and out of Hollywood and Downtown. At these times, taking surface streets can be much faster than staying on the freeway.

ORIENTATION

For the most part, the Los Angeles Basin is laid out on a grid with streets running north/south and east/west. So if the sun is out, it's pretty easy to keep yourself going in the right direction. There are a few major streets that run at a diagonal, like San Vicente through West Hollywood.

On the West Side of LA north of Los Angeles International Airport, including the cities of Culver City and Santa Monica, the grid changes orientation to parallel the coast with streets running northwest/southeast and southwest/northeast.

In Downtown Los Angeles east of Hoover and paralleling the 110 Harbor Freeway, the grid shifts in the opposite direction with streets running southwest/northeast and northwest/southeast. At Alameda, the grid straightens out again.

In Long Beach, after a jog around the Palos Verde Peninsula, the streets are still north/south, but the beach is south-facing, so instead of heading west to reach the water, you have to go south, which can be confusing if you're not expecting it.

Surface streets in Los Angeles are generally bi-directional everywhere except in downtown areas, where streets become one-way. Downtown Los Angeles, Downtown Santa Monica and Downtown Long Beach all have some one-way streets.

WEST/EAST CROSS_TOWN ROUTES

There are many streets that run all the way from the beaches in Santa Monica and Venice to Downtown LA.

NOT Wilshire -. One of the best-known streets from Santa Monica to Downtown is Wilshire Blvd. Don't even THINK of taking Wilshire across town through Beverly Hills, unless your purpose is to SEE Wilshire. Even if your destination is ON Wilshire, it will likely be faster to take a parallel street like Olympic until you get past Beverly Hills, otherwise, you can spend half an hour going one mile on that strip of Wilshire by Rodeo Drive, and you might as well have taken the jammed freeway with less chance of getting a traffic ticket.

Santa Monica Boulevard gets busy, but it's a bigger street, and through some areas has limited access, so it moves pretty well through Beverly Hills, and takes a northern turn up to West Hollywood and Hollywood before merging with Sunset Blvd in Silver Lake, just west of Downtown LA.

Sunset Boulevard is a winding road that goes every direction at some point. It winds northeast from the ocean above Santa Monica on a circuitous route through the West Side and Beverly Hills, then takes a relatively straight path east through West Hollywood (as the famed Sunset Strip) and Hollywood before heading southeast into Downtown LA, where it changes names to Cesar Chavez Avenue into East LA. Sunset is not too bad from the West side to West Hollywood, but slows considerably through the Strip and can be a parking lot on weekend nights. It's worth a drive while you're sightseeing, but not the best transportation route.

Venice Boulevard is another wider route from Venice Beach into the southern portion of Downtown LA, where it becomes East16th Street. Venice Blvd east to La Brea Avenue north is a reasonable alternative route from the West Side into Hollywood.

Washington Boulevard is another good cross-town option.

From LAX to Downtown LA, try Sepulveda north to Slauson east (right) to Crenshaw north (left) to Washington east (right) into Downtown LA near the Convention Center.

From LAX to Hollywood/West Hollywood, try Sepulveda north to Slauson east (right) to La Cienega north (left) into West Hollywood, or take La Brea north to Hollywood Blvd (Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood & Highland area) or Crenshaw north (left) to Wilshire west (left) to Rossmore north (right), which becomes Vine St for Hollywood & Vine area (W Hotel, Pantages Theatre).

NORTH/SOUTH ALTERNATIVES

La Cienega is a good short cut to know about if you need to travel between Beverly Hills/West Hollywood and southern destinations on the 405. Traveling north on the 405, traffic generally bogs down through the West Side just north of the La Cienega exit. Where the 405 turns northwest, La Cienega continues straight north, with a stretch through Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area with 55 mph speed limits. La Cienega will give you easy access into Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. La Cienega has a Y split to Fairfax on the right, north of Jefferson, near the 10 Freeway ramp. Fairfax is a really slow route through to Hollywood, but La Cienega and Fairfax will be about 10 blocks apart by the time you reach Sunset Blvd, and those are a very slow 10 blocks on Sunset. Consider crossing over from La Cienega to Fairfax on Beverly Blvd, which is actually 14 blocks, but will move much faster than inching the whole way on Fairfax or crossing on Sunset.

N/S Sepulveda Blvd runs north/south along the 405 freeway from LAX into the San Fernando Valley, crisscrossing the freeway several times. When the 405 is parked, sometimes Sepulveda moves faster. At times it can be equally parked.

Sepulveda South of LAX is one of those streets that changes names and routes as it goes through different cities. It becomes Highway 1 through Manhattan Beach, then becomes Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach, jogs over a couple blocks at Torrance Blvd in Redondo Beach to become S. Camino Real for a few blocks before emerging again as East/West Sepulveda heading east across the South Bay, north of the Ports until it becomes Willow St in Long Beach. It's an ugly drive, but if your purpose is to bypass stuck traffic, Sepulveda is the best route through the South Bay. Be careful to take the jog to the left at Torrance Blvd or you'll stay on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), which is just as ugly through the oil refineries and much slower through Lomita and Harbor City.

Crenshaw Blvd reaches from San Pedro in the south up to Wilshire Blvd in the Greater Wilshire/Hancock Park neighborhood just south of Hollywood. A short jog west to Rossmore, which becomes Vine St, will take you right into Hollywood. I use Crenshaw (usually off the 105 or alternate east/west street) to bypass Downtown gridlock when I need to get to Hollywood from Long Beach at rush hour.

More Los Angeles Driving Short Cuts

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