I recently visited Los Angeles for the first time. The impression I had before I left was that a car was really the only way to tour the city. This was reinforced by residents of San Diego who looked at me with a mixture of pity and curiosity when I told them about my next stop. “Why? Why would you want to fight the traffic?” was their consistent refrain. While it is undoubtedly true that Los Angeles is faced with formidable auto congestion, and while Los Angeles was the only American city to crack The Weather Channel’s 2016 list of the top 20 cities in the world with the worst traffic (it sits at number ten; Mexico City is #1), that is no reason to avoid the city of Angels.
One of the most pleasant surprises for me upon arriving in L.A., was discovering how extensive and inexpensive their subway (they call it the Metro) system is. A single ride costs only $1.75, and with transfers, you can ride a long way on a single fare. Seven and thirty day passes are also available and reasonably priced. The day I used the Metro, I journeyed from the North East part of the city (Southwest Museum stop on the Gold Line) all the way out to Santa Monica. I had to transfer to the Red Line and then the Expo Line, but signage is very clear at the different stops and I had no problem finding the right platform for the next train. The Expo Line segment of the trip took a while, but I would much rather be reading or people watching than sitting in traffic.
What some people overlook or perhaps just don’t know is that Los Angeles is a huge city in terms of its area. It is just over 502 square miles. Consider that Manhattan, by comparison, is not quite 23 square miles in area, and all five boroughs of New York City combined are only 305 square miles. Still, despite the breadth of the city, you can ride the Subway to tourist attractions such as Universal Studios, the Hollywood Bowl, the Walk of Fame, the STAPLES Centre, Watts Towers, the L.A. County Museum of Art, the Music Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Little Tokyo including the Japanese American Cultural and Community Centre and much, much more. With a little practice, you can hop on the bus and pretty well hit every major tourist attraction in the city. This is a major advantage because some attractions will charge significantly for parking, but admit patrons for free.
There is also such a wide variety of things to see and do in Los Angeles. Sure there are plenty of cars and freeways, but there are also gorgeous mountains, canyons, parks, lookout points, hiking trails, bike paths and surfing spots besides the vibrant culture, impressive architecture, phenomenal museums, diverse nightlife and delectable cuisine. Perhaps the spot I got to in my short stay that was my favourite was the Huntington Library in San Marino, just south of Pasadena. What a delightful place. While I admit that I did drive there, it would have been possible to take public transit most of the way, but would likely have taken considerably longer. I am not the kind of person who usually goes out of his way to see flora and fauna, but the botanical gardens at the Huntington are special. The grounds are so massive, that there were many occasions while I was exploring the Desert Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Australian Garden, the Rose Garden or the Lily Pad area when I was the only one around. When it gets too hot (and the day I was there was scorching), you can duck into one of the many air conditioned museums on the grounds such as the American Gallery or the European Gallery. There are some very famous original works housed here permanently(Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy and Pinkie among them) and impressive temporary collections as well. A real bonus for me was the library which beautifully displays such rare, early copies of works such as The Canterbury Tales, The Gutenburg Bible, Thoreau’s Walden, and The Declaration of Independence. Finally, the gift shop is one of the best I’ve ever encountered and requires at least an hour to peruse its beautifully organized displays. The Huntington Library, like a lot of Los Angeles, was a revelation to me. Sometimes, you just have to experience a city and not be scared off by the negative hype!