Driving in Los Angeles for tourists

Keep car-m and carry on – driving in L.A.

With the right tips and tricks, you’ll be able to hit the open roads and get the most out of your dream LA getaway.  If you’re planning on hopping in the driving seat after you fly to L.A., we’ve got everything you need to know to keep the wheels spinning smoothly.

Should I rent a car in L.A.?

With an estimated 18 million people living in a huge 33,954 square mile metropolitan area, it’s fair to say L.A. is big - and spread out. You can get around and see all the wonders of the city on public transport, but as it’s as a less thorough system than the London underground or New York’s subway, you might find yourself wasting too much of your precious time. Having access to a car is a must if you want to get the most out of your time in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles road rules

Some of the rules of the road are the same in L.A. as they are nearly all the world over.

  • Normal rules apply like not using your phone while driving and no driving under the influence. In Los Angeles though you can get in trouble just for having an opened alcohol container in the passenger area of a car, even if you’re not the one drinking it.
  • Littering from a car can land you a $1000 fine.

Some of the more L.A. specific laws and quirks you should make yourself aware of include:

  • If there are no signs to the contrary, the maximum speed is 25 miles per hour on surface streets and 65 miles per hour on freeways

There are designated carpool lanes usually on the left of the freeways. Usually announced with a diamond painted on the pavement, you’ll only be able to use these lanes if you have over a certain number of passengers in your car. This number will be marked on the entrance.

Curb colours

L.A. is a colourful town full of colourful characters, so much so that even the roads are bursting with colour. However, these colours are more than added pops of personality. Familiarise yourself with what the pavement colours mean to avoid falling out of favour with California’s travel cops.

  • Red Curb: No stopping, parking or waiting at any time.
  • Yellow Curb: Commercial loading only (30-minute limit with a commercial license plate, 5 minutes without) Monday to Saturday 7am to 6pm unless otherwise posted on signs.
  • White Curb: Passenger loading and unloading only for up to five minutes.
  • Green Curb: Short-term parking, 15 to 30 minutes as marked, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. unless otherwise posted.
  • Blue Curb: Parking for disabled people or their drivers displaying a valid disabled parking placard or license plate.

Handy tips

  • Rent a car with a GPS system - with such a complex road system, the slightest diversion or roadworks can throw a route into disarray. Don’t rely on out-of-date maps.
  • Learn the numbers of your freeways - one of the obstacles for tourists trying to navigate the freeways is that local Los Angelenos refer to them simply as numbers and not always their listed names. And for good reason. Sometimes the names inexplicably change. The I-5 is called the Golden State Freeway if you’re north of Downtown LA… but it’s called the Santa Ana Freeway if you’re south of it. Ditch the names, save the numbers.
  • Leave extra time –There’s little downtime in the comings and goings of California’s citizens,- and who can blame them with so much to see and do -  so always leave plenty of time to get where you’re going.