Los Angeles Transportation

Getting from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon

grandcanyonAs two of the certain must-visit places in the US, Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon are easily combined in one trip, but getting from one to the other isn’t quite as straightforward as you might expect. There is a small airport at the Grand Canyon, but there aren’t scheduled flights from major airlines, so it can be a little tricky unless you know how to pull this off.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, as this is where the vast majority of the tourist infrastructure and famous views can be found. The North Rim is actually a long drive from the South Rim, and it’s much harder to reach from Los Angeles as well. The South Rim is a far better place to visit for first-timers as well, so forget the North Rim for now.

Los Angeles to Grand Canyon

  • Distance apart: 410 miles / 660 kilometers
  • Driving distance: 502 miles / 808 kilometers

Quick summary

Unless you intend to actually spend some time in either Phoenix or Las Vegas, which isn’t a bad idea now that we mention it, then driving to the Grand Canyon is probably the best bet for most people. You can also fly to one of three airports or take a train or bus, but all of those options won’t get you all the way there.

Flights from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon

This is where it gets complicated. There is a small airport near the Grand Canyon, but it only does charter flights, mostly out of Las Vegas and for aerial tours of the area. This means if you are intent to fly you have 3 options.

Fly into Flagstaff, Arizona (FLG) – This small airport is about 90 miles south of the South Rim, and has a few regular flights that have surprisingly low fares if you book in advance. There’s a bus company called Open Road Tours and they have regular coaches to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff.

Fly into Phoenix, Arizona (PHX) – This is a huge city and airport about 240 miles south of the South Rim. From here you can rent a car cheaply and it’s a lovely drive as well.

Fly into Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS) – This growing city is about 280 miles from the South Rim, and a bit less to the North Rim. Rental cars tend to be cheap, but then again the drive itself isn’t much farther than driving all the way from Los Angeles.

Trains from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon

You can’t take a train all the way to the Grand Canyon, but you can take it directly to Flagstaff, which is only about 90 miles away. From there you can take the Open Road Tours bus to the Grand Canyon. One tricky thing is the trains usually leave in the evening, so you arrive in Flagstaff the next morning.

Journey time: About 10 hours
Typical price: About $59 each way
>>Amtrak site

Buses from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon

The bus situation is exactly like the train situation, mentioned above. You can take a Greyhound bus to Flagstaff and then the Open Road Tours bus from there. It’s a bit slower, and even a bit more expensive than the train, but at least you have the option of traveling during the day.

Journey time: About 12 hours to Flagstaff
Typical price: $64 one-way if you buy online in advance, and up to $85 if you buy on the day.
>>Greyhound website

Driving from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon

This might be your best bet, since all the other methods are complicated and indirect anyway. You can get specific directions on any online map site, but the quick version is you find your way to I-40 out of Los Angeles, and then drive about 420 miles to Williams, Arizona, at which point you’ll take AZ-64 north for about 70 miles and you are there.

Journey time: About 8 hours

travel guide

When is a mansion not a mansion? When it’s a Hong Kong hostel.

mansions3Y’know how so many hostels in historic areas like to brag about they’re in such-and-such old building that’s been “lovingly refurbished” to bring out all its historic qualities while at the same time providing you with all the modern conveniences? I’m sure that those descriptions are often true, and I’d be charmed by those buildings and how lovingly they were refurbished – but after seeing what passes for a “mansion” in Hong Kong, I’m reading about hostels much more carefully.

See, there are these gigantic apartment buildings in central Hong Kong which have been partitioned into hostels, shops, restaurants, offices, and guest houses – and which are, if you believe the lettering on their facades, “mansions.” The two biggies are the Chungking Mansions building and the Mirador Mansions building, both on Nathan Road and both a far cry from what anyone might call a mansion.

The Hong Kong hostels which occupy these so-called mansions are famous for being some of the cheapest places to stay in the city, but they’re also notoriously small and previous guests often complain about the lack of overall cleanliness. But thousands of people still stay in these mansion buildings every single year, maybe because they really are super cheap or because it’s some kind of backpacker rite of passage.

The reality is that some of the hostels and guest houses in the Hong Kong mansions are better than others, and the location on Nathan Road is pretty fabulous, so it’s not a good idea to lump them all together just because they share an address. If you’re looking for a cheap bed, don’t overlook the hostels in the so-called “mansions” – just make sure you do a little extra research before you book, so you’re more confident that you’re staying in one of the nicer ones.

Here’s a little information about the two “mansion” bulidings that have hostels in Hong Kong.

Location of Mansions in Hong Kong

mansions5The Chungking Mansions building and Mirador Mansions building are on Nathan Road in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood of Hong Kong. The area is well-known for its great nightlife scene, it’s only a short walk from the ferry that will take you over to Hong Kong Island, and it’s also very close to two MTR stations so you’ll be able to get around the city easily.

The two mansions buildings in Hong Kong are about a block apart on Nathan Road, so you don’t have to choose between them simply based on location. The decision, rather, is between a mansion building and a hostel in an entirely different part of the city.

Chungking Mansions

mansions4According to our friends over at Wikipedia, the Chungking Mansions building has the most guest houses contained in one building in the entire city, with a total of 1980 rooms available for rent. But despite the huge number of guesthouses and hostels taking up space in the building, there’s still room left over for shops, restaurants, and offices.

The most visible shops are the ones on the ground floor and open to the street, but there are more retail spaces and plenty of restaurants inside the building on some of the lower floors. The building attracts budget-conscious travelers as well as Hong Kong residents – many of the restaurants and shops are aimed squarely at the city’s immigrant populations, with cuisines from all over the world, money exchange offices, and import/export businesses.

Mirador Mansions

mansions2The Mirador Mansions building is, in most ways, essentially a carbon copy of the Chungking Mansions building. They’re a stone’s throw from one another, they both are huge buildings, and they’re both chock-full of a combination of hostels, guest houses, offices, restaurants, and shops.

If there’s a difference, it’s that the Mirador Mansions building is slightly less famous – which can make it a little quieter if you’re looking to stay the night and not just shop or walk around inside to see what the fuss is all about. Mirador Mansion has less in the way of businesses like shops and restaurants, which also contributes to the overall quieter feel.

What to Expect in Hong Kong’s Mansion Buildings

mansions1As mentioned, these buildings house much more than hostels. You’ll find restaurants, shops, offices, money exchangers, and other kinds of businesses. Many of them are aimed at (or run by) immigrants, which means you’ll find lots of different ethnicities represented in the foods available (always fun for a traveler).

You’ll read about the elevators in these buildings, which are famous in their own right. Why? Because lines to use the elevators are often long, which also leads to the elevators themselves being extremely crowded. Those with claustrophobia should probably find another way up and down. Because the Mirador Mansions building is a bit less busy, the lines for the elevators tend to be a little shorter.

Hostels and guest houses in the mansion buildings usually have very small rooms to offer (hostels in Hong Kong, no matter where they are, often have small rooms – so this isn’t unique to the mansions) and even smaller bathrooms. This isn’t the kind of place you want to stay if you’re hoping to relax or lounge about in your room while on vacation – but it’s ideal for backpackers or other budget travelers who reason that they’re only in their rooms to sleep, anyway.

Safety of Hostels in Mansion Buildings in Hong Kong

mansions6Both of the mansion buildings in Hong Kong have a bad rep when it comes to safety, and that goes for the hostels and guest houses inside as well as the retail spaces and the area around the buildings. Some of that reputation is a bit undeserved, as the buildings and the neighborhood are much better than they used to be, but it’s still a good idea to keep your wits about you if you’re staying in one of the hostels in these buildings.

Hostels and guest houses in both buildings will proudly promote their 24-hour CCTV coverage or the fact that their front desk is staffed at all hours, and those things are definitely good when it comes to safety. But both of these buildings are old, and you should absolutely not consider your locked room door a trustworthy deterrent. In other words, don’t leave anything particularly valuable in your room when you’re not there.

You may read reports of the tourist who was trapped and killed when a fire broke out in the Chungking Mansions in 1988, or how the electricity went out because the system gets overloaded. The former isn’t something that happens regularly, and the latter happens much less frequently than it used to thanks to an outcry from residents in the early 1990s after a particularly long outage.

The bottom line is that while there are undoubtedly safer parts of Hong Kong to stay in, the Nathan Road mansions are no longer inherently unsafe – especially if you’re a savvy traveler who’s used to staying aware wherever you go.

photos, top to bottom, by the_toe_stubber, xmacex, the_toe_stubber, the_toe_stubber, the_toe_stubber, feserc

Los Angeles Transportation

Getting from Los Angeles to popular tourist cities explained

carjump1As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget just how complicated the transportation city can be. When I am planning a trip to another city for the first time I have been known to spend a lot of time researching exactly the best way of getting from one place to another, and it can often be far more complicated than you’d think.

You may have already noticed that we’ve been working on this series for a while now, and we’ll keep it going adding new places regularly. The main things we are trying to help people sort out is when is it best to fly or to take the bus, or drive, or is there even train service available? Some of these things aren’t nearly as straightforward as you would guess.

On each of these articles we not only discuss how long each method takes, but also the typical price of each method. Many places on the internet seem reticent to quote prices, for fear that they’ll quickly be out of date, but most of these things are fairly stable, and even if the prices go up by 5 or 10% next year, having this information should still be enough to help you determine which strategy works best for you.

Getting from Los Angeles to…


When most people are planning their first-ever trip here, they at least want to know how they’d get to Disneyland, even if they don’t actually go through with it. The fact is that getting from LA to Anaheim is somewhat complicated and time consuming unless you’ve got a car, but of course this is Los Angeles and you really should rent a car if you can. There are buses and even trains that will help, though they aren’t fast or cheap, which really sucks considering how close Disneyland is to most of Los Angeles.

San Diego

This is kind of similar to Anaheim in that you’d think there would be a variety of cheap and relatively easy ways of getting from LA to San Diego, but again the best method by far is by car. There are buses and trains, but both of them tend to be slow and complicated, and not all that cheap either. You would never want to fly between these two cities, as they are just close enough that it would actually take way longer dealing with all the airport stuff than any of the other methods available.

San Francisco

This one is far more straightforward. Getting from LA to San Francisco is usually done by air, and cheap flights are usually available if you book a bit in advance. There’s also a train, and even though it’s kind of slow and expensive, it’s actually a great ride with incredible scenery. You can of course drive or take a bus, and at least you don’t waste a lot of time making connections on this route.

Las Vegas

This is similar to San Francisco, except with no train option. Getting from LA to Las Vegas is usually done by air as well, and flights can be crazy cheap if there is a promotion on. Driving takes about 5 hours each way, or a bit less if there is no traffic. There are buses, but you really don’t want to take them unless you have to.


Here’s another nearby city with a similar situation, except we add a complicated train trip in as another choice. Getting from LA to Phoenix is very easy by air, and there are nonstop flights leaving every few minutes from one of LA’s five major airports. But if you want to drive yourself it’s a rather nice journey. There are cheap buses, and even trains that will get you fairly close.

Grand Canyon

This one is tricky since there is no proper airport near the canyon itself. Getting from LA to the Grand Canyon means getting to Flagstaff, Arizona, one way or another, and then driving or taking a shuttle bus from there. The instructions are all here, and driving the whole way may be your best option.

New York

This one is obvious, but still there are quite a few people from abroad who wonder if there are trains or buses running between these huge coastal cities. Well, there are, so getting from LA to NYC has plenty of choices involved. Flying is surprisingly cheap most of the time, but one of the land-based methods can make for an unforgettable trip (but avoid the buses).

travel guide

Hostels, Hostals, B&Bs, & Guesthouses in Europe: What’s in a Name?

hostelhotelBack in my youth, before I was thinking and writing about travel all the time, I’d heard of hotels (who hasn’t?) and I knew of something called a “youth hostel.” It wasn’t until much more recently, when I really started paying attention, that I learned most of the hostels had dropped the word “youth” from their name and were welcoming all ages, many offered private rooms akin to hotels (some even with private bathrooms), and that hostels weren’t the only kind of budget accommodation out there.

Depending on where you go in the world, it’s not just the word “hostel” that you need to be on the lookout for when you’re trying to save money on accommodation. In Australia, for instance, they’ll often call their hostels “backpackers” – just like the people who typically stay in them. But just because they’re called “backpackers” doesn’t mean they’re any more restricted than the hostels that continue to call themselves “youth hostels,” even while they’ve done away with their age requirements.

In Europe, the variety of names for budget accommodation is even bigger, but all the options sound less specific to one type of traveler or another. Each type of budget accommodation is going to be a little different and could offer different pros and cons, so it’s worth learning about the variations before you start researching your trip. Below, you’ll find a list of the main kinds of budget-friendly accommodation, and what you can generally expect from each.

Budget Hotel

Most budget hotels won’t actively use the words “budget hotel” in their names, probably because the word “budget” could scare away people who might not be interested in staying in a hostel but still want a cheap room. Instead, you’re more likely to find budget hotels (especially those in the 1- or 2-star range, depending on the city/country) listing themselves among hostels and calling themselves hostels instead.

This means that you can’t take for granted that every place listed on a hostel booking service is, in fact, a hostel. Many of them may very well be hotels – all private rooms with en-suite bathrooms. It’s usually easy to tell by reading the descriptions, and if the price is right you may not care one way or the other. But if you’re looking for a social place to hang out with other travelers, these budget hotels aren’t usually the best bet. They don’t tend to have common rooms or encourage socializing among guests.

On the plus side, in budget hotels you’re more likely to get a room to yourself, and some even offer perks like free breakfast or free internet access.


This is the most commonly-accepted term for a cheap place to stay throughout Europe, but not all hostels are alike. Because the word “hostel” is instantly recognizable and serves as a magnet for budget travelers, many accommodation alternatives market themselves as hostels even if they’re technically not. As I mentioned above, if the price is right then you may not care what category the place falls in. But if you do, here’s what I’d consider a traditional hostel.

Traditional hostels in Europe offer dorm-style rooms, usually with bunk beds (but not exclusively). They’ve got common rooms for hanging out and relaxing with fellow travelers, and many have things like kitchens for guest use, computer stations, and on-site bars or cafes. More hostels these days have some private rooms in addition to the dorms, but a place with all private rooms isn’t a hostel in my book.

Hostels are great for travelers who are going solo and want to make friends, or those who are traveling in a group but are still hoping to meet up with other folks. At their best, they’re social places with communal services to cut costs. Some still have age limits, but that’s largely a thing of the past.


When I first saw the word “hostal” I honestly thought it was a typo. And then I saw it repeatedly. So I did some digging. Turns out that “hostals” are, in fact, not hostels. Imagine that.

Hostals can be an excellent choice for budget travelers who want to pay hostel-like prices but aren’t necessarily interested in a big dorm-style room full of bunk beds or, for that matter, in partying it up at the on-site bar. I think it’s fairly accurate to describe hostals as “guest houses” or “B&B” (see below), in that they’re usually quite small and often in converted apartments or houses which the owners may or may not live in. The bathrooms may very well be shared, and there may be a kitchen for guest use, so they can be more social than a hotel – but they still usually offer more privacy than a hostel would.

Don’t get too excited about staying in hostals everywhere you go in Europe, however, as they’re much more location-specific than the other entries on this list. The “hostal” is a Spanish phenomenon, but you’ll find them all over Spain. Outside Spain, you’ll be out of luck.


Outside Spain, if the idea of a hostal sounds like it’s right up your alley, then the word you’ll want to be on the lookout for is “guesthouse.” Or, sometimes, two words – “guest house.”

A guesthouse is, like a hostal, not a hostel or a B&B (see below) but somewhere in between. They tend to be on the smaller side, having often been a private home or apartment in a former life, and have a mix of common areas which all guests use and private rooms. A guest house could be a private home where the owner is renting out a few bedrooms and they still live there, too – or it could be a place where you’ll check in with the owner and then never see them again.

There might be a common area like a TV lounge, there might be a guest kitchen, and there might be a computer you can use. The bathrooms are more likely to be shared than private. You may or may not get breakfast (and if you do, it might be that the fixings for a continental breakfast are just made available in the guest kitchen for you to help yourself). Staying in a guest house is akin to feeling like you’re renting an apartment instead of just a room – only you’re renting it collectively with a few strangers.

Bed & Breakfast

The idea of the bed & breakfast, or B&B, is as old as the hills. I also give the term points for truth in advertising – because most of the time you get exactly what’s in the name. Book a room at a B&B and you should rightly expect a bed (and the room that it goes in, of course) and a decent-sized breakfast in the morning.

What you actually get when check into a B&B can vary a little bit according to the country, and some places do it better than others. I still think England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are hard to beat when it comes to what I want from a B&B, but other places are catching up bit by bit.

It’s worth noting that not all B&Bs are budget-friendly – and in some cases, they’re quite a splurge. But some B&Bs are only slightly more than a private room in a hostel might be and offer more personalized service (and a bigger breakfast). In some places, the “breakfast” part of the equation might be minimal, but B&Bs tend to promise more privacy as well as a cozy and romantic atmosphere, still at a decent price.

photo by hoyasmeg

Los Angeles Transportation

Getting from Los Angeles to Phoenix

phoenixfreewayEspecially as the December holidays approach, more and more people start thinking about spending a bit of time in Phoenix, Arizona. Depending on where you are from it could seem like paradise there during the winter months, or like a waste of time. Plenty of people from Los Angeles make the trip each winter, and fortunately there are several decent options available for getting there. Let’s go over them below, shall we?

  • Miles apart: 364 miles / 586 kilometers
  • Driving distance: 372 miles / 599 kilometers

Quick summary

It’s actually quite a nice drive the first few times you take it, and the road is about as straight as can be, so you’ll get there fast. But still, there are usually great deals on flights to Phoenix so that’s the way to go for most people. You can often rent a car there cheaply as well, and save the wear and tear on your own wreck. Buses are cheap, but take a long time, and there is a way to get there on the train, sort of.

Flights between Los Angeles and Phoenix

Unless you love driving, this is probably the best way to go for most people. Quite a few airlines connect these cities nonstop, and US Airways (at least the former America West part of it) has a very busy hub at Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) Airport, so there are cheap flights nearly every hour of the day. You can often get great deals out of any of the 5 major Los Angeles area airports, with prices starting around $60 each way if you buy in advance.

Flight time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Typical one-way fare: Starting at $60

Trains between Los Angeles and Phoenix

There used to be a train that went directly between these two cities, but lately the Amtrak service can only get you close. You can take the train that goes to Chicago and get off in Flagstaff, Arizona, but that takes 10 hours and then you have to take a bus from there to Phoenix, which adds another 3 hours or so. You can also take a train from LA to Maricopa, Arizona, which is a bit south of Phoenix, but from there you’d have to take a taxi as there is no scheduled service into Phoenix.

Long story short, as great as trains are, this route is so complicated and time consuming that it’s just not worth it.

Typical fare to Maricopa: Starting at $38 each way
Typical fare to Flagstaff: Starting at $59 each way
>>Amtrak website

Buses between Los Angeles and Phoenix

Greyhound provides service between several parts of Los Angeles and its main terminal near the airport in Phoenix. If you don’t have a car and your funds are low, this isn’t a terrible method, though there is a cheaper bus from another company. You’ll also be happy to know there are plenty of cheap Phoenix hotel rooms once you get there, as long as you avoid Scottsdale.

Typical fare: $40 online in advance, or $54 in person
Journey time: Around 8 hours each way

>>Greyhound website

GotoBus here is like an equivalent of the Chinatown buses in the Northeast. They go between mostly-Asian neighborhoods in many big cities, with surprisingly low fares.

Typical fare: $30 each way
Journey time: Around 6 hours each way
>> website

Driving between Los Angeles and Phoenix

As mentioned at the top, the driving mileage is about 380, depending on exactly where you leave from. The nice part is that it’s straight and easy, and the desert scenery can be quite nice the first time you experience it, unlike the far plainer scenery going from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

There are no road tolls to worry about, unless you take that one cutoff down in Orange County, which you probably won’t. One highlight will be driving through that area near Palm Springs with thousands of windmills on either side of the road, as seen in the movie Rain Man, and elsewhere.

travel guide

Hostels in Sydney Aren’t Just for Party People

sydneyYou don’t have to spend time in Australia to know that Australians like to party. All you need to do is stay in hostels just about anywhere in the world – if there’s a group of lively, loud, and happy people staying in the hostel with you, chances are good they’re from Australia. So it shouldn’t be surprising that so many of the hostels in Sydney are party hotspots.

But what if you’re interested in a budget bed in Sydney without the party? What if you like a social atmosphere but you actually want to get some sleep at night? Then you’ll be pleased to know that not all of Sydney’s hostels are all about the party. There are quite a few hostels – or backpackers as they’re more typically called in Australia – where you’ll have a great time with all your new friends and still get a decent night’s sleep.

Where’s the party in Sydney?

Here’s the thing – just because you might choose a quieter hostel to sleep in doesn’t mean you’re some kind of hermit who doesn’t want to go out and have a good time. In Sydney you can have the best of both worlds, because there are plenty of places where you can party in the city and then head back to your hostel for a peaceful night.

One of the areas most famous for its nightlife is the Kings Cross neighborhood, and there are many hostels located in and around this area as a result. If the hostel you’re choosing is in or near Kings Cross and you’re looking for a quiet night’s rest, be sure there isn’t an on-site bar at the hostel or you might find the party follows you home. Otherwise, staying around Kings Cross is a great way to be a short walk from great clubs and bars but still end up in a quieter hostel.

Neighborhoods around Kings Cross which are also known for their nightlife are Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo, and the suburb of Newtown is something of a bohemian area with funky shops and cafes as well as a famous theatre that hosts world class musicians. Although many of the main tourist attractions in Sydney are in the city center, that’s also the main area for Sydney’s business and government buildings – so it’s not necessarily the best place to look for good nightlife.

Non-Party Hostels in Sydney

Assuming you’ve partied yourself out elsewhere and you want a quiet place to sleep (so you can recharge your batteries for yet another fun-filled day in Sydney tomorrow), here are a few Sydney hostels that – while sociable – aren’t known as party central.

  • Billabong Gardens – Located in the Newtown suburb, this resort-like hostel has an outdoor pool, a “tropical courtyard,” a big TV lounge for movie nights, a BBQ area, and free internet and WiFi. There’s good nightlife around the hostel, or there are several buses to get you into Sydney.
  • Cambridge Lodge – This place is in another Sydney suburb called Stanmore, about 4km from the city center. It’s more like a hotel than a hostel, but the prices are good and the amenities are as well.
  • Kangaroo Bakpak – This hostel is in the Surry Hills neighborhood, close to Central Station and walking distance to some good nightlife areas. Breakfast is included, which is also nice.
  • Sydney Central YHA – There’s a bar in the basement of this hostel (which is across from Central Station), but you can request a room on one of the upper floors far from the bar. Plus, there’s a rooftop pool, and it’s family-friendly.
  • Big Hostel – This is another Surry Hills hostel; breakfast is included and there’s free WiFi in the common room. There are regular rooftop BBQ parties which are fun without being out of control.

photo by Ryan Wick

Accommodation Los Angeles

Which area of Los Angeles should you stay in?

hotelsignRecently a friend was planning on visiting Los Angeles from the San Francisco area, and since it was their first visit to La La Land in about 15 years I decided to help out with some suggestions. It then occurred to me that this is one of the most confusing hotel cities on the planet and I should write something about this. My friend had everything up to his OAK airport parking handled, but didn’t even know which part of the city to stay in.

Where to stay in Los Angeles if you aren’t sure

Many first time visitors book their flights to LAX, and then look for a hotel near the airport because that sounds convenient. While it is convenient, and they’ve built dozens of hotels in that area because of that, it’s actually a terrible part of town to stay in unless you have specific business in that area. There are hundreds or even thousands of hotels in Los Angeles, and unfortunately they are spread out all over.

My best tip is that if you are coming into the city for something specific, and especially if you need to spend more than one day at that thing, stay near there. In other words, if you want to go to Disneyland or something else in Anaheim for two or more days, it’s not a bad idea to stay near there. The same is true of the San Fernando Valley for Universal Studios or other attractions near there.

Areas to consider

Santa Monica/Venice Beach

This is always my choice for those who can afford it, and fortunately there are quite a few discount hotels in the area, even though real estate prices are high. Santa Monica has good public transportation compared to the rest of the city, plus decent nightlife, dining, and shopping, and of course a really nice beach.


I lived for several years in Hollywood and unless you are after something very specific, it’s likely to be disappointing. If you want to attend some TV show tapings and that sort of thing, it can be fun, but don’t stay here if you want to see celebrities or things like that, because you won’t.


This area is actually getting better, after several decades of work, but it’s still quite remote from most of the tourist attractions, in spite of being “downtown.” If you aren’t going to a convention or don’t want to learn about ethnic neighborhoods, it’s probably better to stay elsewhere.

South Bay

Assuming you are renting some wheels, this is another great choice. The cities of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach all have loads of small hotels in them, yet the area still feels like it’s “locals only.” There’s great food and nightlife and excellent beaches and recreation. The only trouble is it’s not too close to much else. At least it’s way nicer than Downtown.

LAX area

As mentioned in the intro, there are many hotels around the airport, and unless you have some specific reason to stay near the airport, don’t.

The Westside

This is a confusing city and I can’t explain it all here. But suffice to say, if you can afford it and you want a bit of glamour then staying in West Hollywood is far better than staying in the real Hollywood, and staying in Beverly Hills or Westwood is great too. There are cheap hotels just a mile or two from the city limits of the cities mentioned above, and since they are technically in Los Angeles proper they can’t charge much more.

San Fernando Valley

There’s no reason to stay on the other side of the Hollywood Hills unless you have your own thing going on. Hotels are a bit cheaper on that side of the hills, and you’ll see why once you check in.

Orange County

If you want to see Disneyland and some beaches even better than those in Los Angeles, consider staying in Costa Mesa or Newport Beach. You have many options of places nicer than those in Anaheim, and you are still close to Disneyland.

travel guide

Spend Less in Europe: Off-Season Travel & Hostel Stays

brugesThe economic news hasn’t been at all rosy for awhile now. For some people, this has meant cutting back on already painfully short vacations. Some have even eliminated trips entirely in the last couple of years. (Remember the dreaded “staycation?”) Anyone who considers travel a luxury, or who books package tours through travel agents because they don’t have time (or don’t know how) to do their own travel research, probably has written off taking a trip to Europe anytime soon because it’s a notoriously expensive destination.

But for those of you who need to get on the road and are used to traveling on a modest budget, maybe the economic downturn is just another excuse to get creative money-wise. And if you know anything about traveling in Europe, you’ll know that there are some very easy ways to visit the continent on a budget.

Go to Europe in the Off-Season

It goes without saying that if you visit a destination during its slower tourist season, you’ll save money. Why? Because with fewer tourists in town opening their wallets, hotel operators, airlines, and others in the travel industry drop their prices to entice more people to come and spend money. The slow season is, therefore, the perfect time to travel if you’re on a budget.

In Europe, there doesn’t seem to be as much of an off-season as there is in some other places, since cities like Paris, London, and Rome tend to be pretty busy year-round – but there are definitely certain times of the year when not only are the crowds smaller but the prices are lower, too.

The slow season in Europe varies a little by country, mainly because of the weather. In northern Europe, for instance, the colder winters tend to keep more tourists away than the milder climate of winter in Mediterranean countries. In general, however, you can count on the cost of a trip to Europe dropping after September and staying relatively low until March. There may be spikes around popular holidays, but winter in Europe is typically a pretty inexpensive time to visit.

Stay in Hostels in Europe

Smart travelers know that accommodation can eat up a good chunk of your travel budget, so it’s important to plan where you’re going to stay carefully. Anyone who’s traveled on a shoestring in the past knows that the word “hostel” usually weighs lightly on the wallet – and lucky for you, there are lots of hostels in Europe.

To be sure, there are hostels in countries all over the world, but nowhere else is there such a concentration of truly budget-focused places to stay than in Europe. You’ll find inexpensive hostel beds in cities big and small all over Europe, and while you might pay more for a hostel bed in Rome or London than you would in Lisbon or Zagreb, you’ll still be saving loads of money over even a 1-star hotel in those cities.

Not only that, hostellers know that staying in a hostel is an ideal way to meet with other budget-minded travelers – people with whom you can shop for dinner ingredients at the local market and save money by cooking up a communal feast. You might even meet up with other travelers interested in doing a guided tour you’re interested in as well, where you could negotiate a group rate and save money that way, too.

And keep in mind that with so many hostels having private rooms nowadays, you could get the privacy of your own bedroom (still might have to share a bathroom, but not always) at a nightly rate that’s still cheaper than a dive-y hotel.

photo by Wolfgang Staudt

Los Angeles Transportation

Los Angeles side trips: San Francisco is quick and easy

carjumpRecently I discussed how quick and easy it was to combine a trip to San Diego, the Grand Canyon, or Santa Barbara with a trip to Los Angeles, and I got quite a few emails from people asking me about San Francisco. Well, yes, it is quite easy to combine those trips into one, though San Francisco is a bit farther than the others I mentioned, and also usually more expensive once you get there. Anyway, here are the details on adding San Francisco into your holiday.

A side trip to San Francisco

The cities are about 400 miles (620 km) apart, so this isn’t a drive you might do on a whim. The fastest route is the I-5 until you are almost there, but this stretch of freeway is almost scenery free, and there is a notorious speed trap in King City as well.

Flying between the two cities

The flight itself is only a bit over an hour each way, but the hassle of getting to and from both airports can make it feel like an all-day affair. There are also 5 airports in the LA area that have nonstop flights to the 3 airports in the Bay Area, so don’t just assume that LAX to SFO is your best bet. Sometimes it will be, but flights into Oakland or San Jose can be cheaper.

  • Los Angeles airports: LAX, BUR, LGB, SNA, ONT
  • San Francisco airports: SFO, OAK, SJC

One reason I didn’t mention this as an obvious side trip is that Los Angeles is fairly intense and also fairly expensive, and San Francisco is too. When I travel I like to mix and match destinations so part of my trip is a bit more relaxed and even cheaper. So with that in mind you might want to consider adding San Francisco to one of the other side trips discussed before. Cheap flights from San Diego to San Francisco are pretty easy to find, and the airport in San Diego is also very easy to reach from the tourist areas.

Going to Phoenix in between

This would be highly recommended as a way to string together a nice trip. You can rent a car in Los Angeles and then drive to the Grand Canyon on your way to Phoenix. Then you can take a quick trip to San Francisco from there, often with lower airfares. Flights from Phoenix tend to be cheap, partly due to the fact that Southwest and US Air have big hubs there. You can even pay for PHX airport parking while you are in San Francisco and the whole thing will still be far cheaper than nearly any other option. Phoenix is big and parking is plentiful and safe.