See Los Angeles without a car? I show you how

People will tell you that that Los Angeles is a city that requires a car, but it's simply not true. Many of Los Angeles and Hollywood's most famous landmarks and attractions can, in fact, be seen if you don't have wheels at all. How? Look down.

Early last year, I did something that shocked my friends in California. I woke up just before dawn and went to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. Then I walked across Los Angeles in a single day. I went all the way across town to the downtown district, taking in Century City, Beverly Hills, the Fairfax Farmer's Market, Hancock Park, Koreatown, and finished near Pershing Square on a night when the city's artists were partying in the streets.

It was a crazy 16 hours, and my feet hurt for days. But I learned that Los Angeles, contrary to what people from L.A. itself will tell you, is not a city of daunting and faceless sprawl, but a city of cozy neighborhoods all pressed together. I met people all along the way, I stopped in local bakeries and cafes filled with people going about their local routines. I came face-to-face with historic buildings and parks and hotels.

The Los Angeles Metro is so new that many visitors to the city don't even know it's there. Its Red Line opened in stages between 1993 and 2000 and wherever it gave the city a new station, glamorous new developments sprang, often from desultory neighborhoods that were otherwise neglected. This under-utilized public transportation marvel swishes neatly between some of the most historic attractions that L.A. has to offer. And it costs just $6 for a day of unlimited rides.

My L.A. walking odyssey, and my other explorations of the city's marvelous downtown district, have convinced me that Los Angeles is one of the richest downtown areas of any American city. For generations, the country's Western wealth was poured into the creation of a lavish and beautiful downtown, only to be abandoned for the suburbs after World War II. Many white Angelinos will scoff at downtown L.A. partly because it's now considered a domain of Mexican immigrants.

That uncomfortable and wasteful classism aside, most of the major events that you probably associate with old Hollywood probably happened somewhere along the Red Line, and that means the subway could be considered the spine of the Los Angeles you have always cherished through film and music. You've lived with this area all of your life.

Charlie Chaplin premiered his City Lights at the Los Angeles theatre on Broadway downtown. Buster Keaton shot his movies at his studio, which was near the Hollywood and Vine station. The Hollywood Bowl that figures in so many Looney Tunes animated cartoons is a 10-minute walk from the Hollywood and Highland station.

Also along the Red Line:
  • Grauman's Chinese Theatre and its cement footprints (Hollywood and Highland station)
  • The Kodak Theatre (Hollywood and Highland)
  • Pantages Theatre (Hollywood and Vine)
  • Union Station, a 1939 landmark to the golden age of train travel
  • The Hollywood Walk of Fame (both Hollywood and Vine and Hollywood and Highland stations)
  • El Capitan Theatre for first-run Disney movie-and-a-show pairings (Hollywood and Highland)
  • The Bradbury Building, an 1893 architectural landmark (Pershing Square station - Featured in the sci-fi classic film Blade Runner)
  • Shopping and bargains in the Fashion District (15-minute walk from Pershing Square)
  • Grand Central Market, for fresh Mexican food (Pershing Square station)
  • Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, Museum of Contemporary Art (walk from Pershing Square station)
  • E.T., Jaws, and many of the films of Alfred Hitchcock were shot at Universal Studios, one of the oldest and most storied movie studios in American history. There's a theme park there now, too, and an all-out, middlebrow shopping-and-entertainment complex called CityWalk. Universal runs a continuous, free 5-minute shuttle bus to the Metro station.
There are more history-rich sites to see, of course, but those are some highlights, and there's more than enough to fill two or three car-free days for the budget traveler.

I know you want to know where to get that maple-glazed bacon donut that you see in the video. That's at the Nickel Diner, located on Main Street near 5th Street, a 5-minute stroll from Pershing Square.

One thing you can't reach on the Red Line? The ocean.

No, for that, you have to take the Blue Line to Long Beach, about an hour's train ride south.

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