Los Angeles: Need to Know

City Basics

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Getting Around. Rent a car. Seriously. Rent a car at the airport. And pay extra for the GPS.

Traffic. The best way to avoid traffic in L.A. is not to drive. It sucks here almost all the time, but you particularly don't want to drive before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. Really. If you need to get from the beach to the Hills or Valley during rush hour, give yourself 90 minutes. Otherwise, figure about half of that. As Bette Davis told Johnny Carson when he asked her for tips on the best way for aspiring actresses to get to Hollywood: take Fountain Avenue.

Parking. Read street parking signs very carefully, especially in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, where I've funded entire traffic cops' salaries. Basically, you're going to put the keys into your rental car at the airport and never take them out: You'll be valeting everywhere. Even the Grove mall.

Taxis. There are no cabs to hail, despite what the local law allowing hailing may imply. So rent a car. Seriously. Even if you don't know how to drive, rent one and do your best.

Tipping. In restaurants, the standard tip is 15% to 20% and some kind of compliment to the server about how he's so good-looking he should be an actor. Give $2 per drink at bars and $2 to valets. They should really make those $2 bills more popular.

Beaches. The less crowded ones are south — Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach — but they're full of jocks and frat boys. The northern beaches — Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Malibu — are for more arty types.

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