Los Angeles has much more to offer tourists than just Hollywood and Rodeo Drive shopping. It’s a wonderful city on the Pacific Ocean filled with art, history and culture.
The last time I was in Southern California was my post-bar exam cross-country road trip 15 years ago, so I was thrilled when a conference I regularly attend was scheduled at the Millennium Biltmore. As I started making travel arrangements, I convinced my mom to join me. Because my dad isn’t a fan of big cities or flying, my mom’s opportunities to visit major metropolitan cities over the past 20 years generally involve travel with me. We’ve visited Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City, Boston and also driven from Northern California to Ohio together. She was hesitant at first to fly all the way to California for only two days, but she ended up having such a wonderful trip that she wondered how she could have ever questioned coming along.
I found direct, round trip flights with perfect timings on Spirit Airlines for the amazing price of $108 each. We’ve flown Spirit several times with great experiences. As is typical for many budget airlines, Spirit allows each passenger to bring one personal item that is the size of a regular backpack for free, but there are significant charges for larger carry-ons or checked luggage, especially if you are not a member of their $9 Fare Club (which actually costs $59.95 annually). Because I needed to bring conference attire and several pairs of shoes, I had to add-on a carry-on that cost an extra $70. But, even at $179, the cross-country flight was very reasonable.
Because the flight was so inexpensive, I decided at the time of booking to bring my nine-year-old son along as well. I thought that this trip to Los Angeles would be an amazing experience for him – even though it meant missing two days of school. As a mom of three, it is rare to get some one-on-one time with any of my kids, especially while traveling. So, I was pretty excited about this special trip with him as well. My mom was already on board, so he would be in good hands while I was attending conference activities. Not surprisingly, he was ecstatic to learn that he would be joining us.
The Millennium Biltmore is a historic-cultural landmark that is located in the financial district downtown and opened in 1923. The lobby, bar and main concourse are magnificently decorated with old-world charm. Our room was spacious and updated. Like many historic hotels, the bathroom was small but more functional than many others we have seen. We didn’t have a chance to use the Roman-style pool or gym during our short stay but definitely would if we had more time. We found the concierges and hotel staff extremely helpful and attentive and would highly recommend this hotel.
The Metro in Los Angeles is one of the newest in the world and still very much under construction. The Metro currently consists of six lines that opened between 1990 and 2012, and further construction is ongoing. We understand that the Purple Line Extension will reach the La Brea Tar Pits in 2023.
Nancy grew up in LA and has never used the Metro and claims she never will. I was intrigued about this idea of a Metro that native Angelenos would refuse to use. The guidebooks I consulted were not very helpful in identifying where the Metro would be most helpful. During a day of texting about LA transportation options before our trip, Nancy pretty much dared me to ride the Metro, and so, I knew I had to at least once. With the help of the Millennium Biltmore hotel concierge, we learned that the Pershing Square Metro stop for the underground Red Line that went directly to Hollywood/Highland was only a short walk from the hotel. So, we decided that this was our opportunity to try the Metro.
It turns out that while the Metro may have limited routes, it is a great way to get from downtown to Hollywood. We each purchased our Transportation Access Pass (“TAP”) cards for $1 each at a vending machine right inside the station. A one-way Metro fare is only $1.75 for adults, and $1 for K-12 children (although honestly, I never saw this K-12 fare as an option in the vending machine and paid $1.75 for each of my son’s fares). The senior rate fare for my mom was $.75 during peak times and $.35 during off-peak times. An all day pass for the Metro and buses cost $7. Because I was not sure whether we would take more than one trip, we only added a one-way fare on each TAP card. After securing and loading our TAP cards, we proceeded to the platform and waited only a few minutes for our train.
The Metro station and car were both clean. It was easy to use the Metro map and follow the well-marked signs. The seats reminded me of those on London’s Underground. While the car was crowded when we boarded, we were all able to sit by the time we reached the next station. Each stop was announced over a speaker system, and we arrived at Hollywood/Highland in less than 20 minutes. As we exited the station, we found ourselves right next to the Dolby Theater in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard.
Our Metro experience was so pleasant that we took it to Santa Monica after my conference was over the next afternoon. Because rush hour had begun, the Uber fare to Santa Monica at the time averaged between $50-$60 each way, and our combined Metro fare ran under $10 for the round trip. Our trip on the Metro Expo Line took about 45 minutes with no loss of time for traffic. Most of the ride was above ground, so we enjoyed the cityscapes during our journey and even caught a glimpse of the Hollywood sign. Taking the Metro Expo Line back downtown after dinner was a no-brainer.
My mom and son used the DASH bus to travel from our hotel to the Disney Concert Hall and report that it was also fast and efficient. Cash fare for these local bus routes are $.50 each ride. Other than our trips to Hollywood, Santa Monica and the Disney Concert Hall, we traveled by Uber. Except during rush hour, Uber is a very fast, efficient and relatively inexpensive way to travel in Los Angeles. We found that the cost of an Uber was often less than or equal to the cost of parking. Trips between LAX and Los Angeles and from one attraction to another generally cost between $11 and $27.
Our only Uber challenge was when we were trying to get from the Getty Center back downtown at 4:00. Rush hour is serious business in LA and starts earlier than you expect. The Uber time estimates were woefully inaccurate. It took our driver over an hour to drive what was initially estimated to be nine minutes and then our journey downtown was another hour. If I were to do this again, I would definitely have an Uber take me to the Sepulveda Station of the Metro Expo Line and then take the Metro back downtown.
If you are not renting a car in Los Angeles, it is pretty much essential to be prepared to use either Uber or Lyft. If you are new to Uber, you can use the code “catherined4256ue” for $5 off each of your first four rides, and I’ll get a $5 credit after you take your first ride.
With the crazy traffic and under-utilized Metro, it is no surprise that there is a definite car obsession in Los Angeles. My son has recently become interested in identifying sports and luxury cars on the road and was in absolute heaven looking out his window on the streets of Los Angeles. Viewing the cars valet parked at the Millennium Biltmore was a particular treat as he counted Rolls Royces, Porsches and Lamborghinis.
Check out Five Fun Family Activities in Los Angeles for great ideas of what to see when visiting LA.
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