Los Angeles is a pretty baffling place, a vast and wild mess that can frustrate even the most native of Angelenos. It helps to know a few tricks around here: tricks to get around, to get cool or simply get by. Here, then, are 10 essential life hacks to make your stay in L.A. a pleasant one:
10) Fly out of Burbank
Between the traffic, the parking, the homeland security, the long lines, LAX is a nightmare. Treat yourself right and fly out of Burbank - a.k.a. Bob Hope Airport - which looks like a Lego set version of a 1960's airfield. Less traffic, fewer people, boarding right on the tarmac, and best of all, long-term parking lots that are close enough to actually walk from your car to your terminal. Or you can take the Metrolink (a train, believe it or not) from Union Station. Public transit to an airport in L.A. - who knew?
9) Take a lesser-known canyon to get over the Hill
Smartly traversing the Santa Monica Mountains from the city to the dreaded San Fernando Valley is a rite of passage for any Angeleno. The 405 freeway? Laurel Canyon? Strictly for suckers. Instead, take a lesser known canyon, like Benedict. Or take the super-secret Roscomare Road by starting, on the city side, at Bellagio Road, which turns into Roscomare. Make a right on Mulholland and left on Woodcliff, which should gracefully deposit you on Valley Vista Boulevard just to the east of Sepulveda.
These shortcuts can cut minutes off your drive, but more importantly, you trade that emasculating feeling of powerlessness caused by bumper-to-bumper traffic for that merely demoralizing feeling of driving past hundreds of mansions you'll never be able to afford.
8) Rent a movie at your local library... for free
Libraries are no longer just a refuge for friendless nerds and grad students. Now they've got computers, where you can surf the world wide web for free (as many homeless people do every day). You can also choose from a surprisingly large selection of DVDs - everything from the Jean Renoir classic Grand Illusion to the complete first season of Survivor: Borneo.
Actually, you don't even have to leave your house to try this hack, thanks to a service called Hoopla, the L.A. Public Library's version of Netflix. The site allows you to stream over 10,000 movies and TV shows on your very own personal computer, tablet or smartphone - all it takes is a library card! Granted, most of the titles are utter crap, but there are some real gems, like Rio Bravo, Touch of Evil, and the forgotten '90s classic I.Q., starring Tim Robbins, Meg Ryan and Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein.
7) Get all sorts of crap from the city ... for free
You'd be amazed at what you can get from the City of Los Angeles for free. I have no idea why the city provides free mulch, or in fact what mulch is (Editor's note: it's for gardening, moron, maybe use Google more?), but the city gives it away for free at 11 different locations. "Just bring your own shovel, bag, containers, or pick-up truck," says the upbeat website. "Load up your own containers and take as much mulch as you need." I need all of the mulch. All of it.
Other random shit you can get from the city: free canisters of dog waste bags, up to 25 free sandbags (attention: independent film productions), and free golf lessons for kids and teenagers. The city's finances may be shaky at best, but the government will still plant a tree on your block for free, as long you "guarantee the early care and watering of the sapling." Is this the greatest metropolis on earth or what?
Finally, you can get free wi-fi at these 79 recreations centers, senior centers and parks. Or just go to Starbucks like a normal person.
6) Get all sorts of crap removed by the city ... for free
The city can't fix a street or busted water main to save its life, and yet when it comes to graffiti removal, Los Angeles is a brutally efficient machine, like Mussolini's Italy without the great parades. Somehow, the city manages to remove or paint over any piece of graffiti within, like, 48 hours. You can even fill out an online form and someone just comes and takes care of it. It's easier than ordering pizza.
5) For Chinese food, go dirty
When it comes Chinese food in L.A., one should always look for restaurants with letter 'C' grades from the county health department, the third-lowest ranking. As former L.A. Weekly restaurant critic Jonathan Gold once told the Wall Street Journal, "A" stands for American Chinese food, "B" is for Better Chinese, and C is for "Chinese" Chinese food.
More hacks this way...
4) Sneak Into a private pool
What to do on a hot summer's day, with the beach so far away and the air conditioning so elusive? While L.A. does have a plethora of public pools, many of them are only open during the summer, and are, how shall we put this ... they're fine if you want to swim laps with the great unwashed (quite literally), but what if you want to hang out with a bunch of young, attractive people in a reasonably clean body of water?
Have no fear - there are any number of pools you can sneak into. For instance, a number of Downtown lofts (like the Eastern Columbia lofts or the Pacific Electric lofts, whose pool I snuck into last year on July 4th) have rooftop pools supposedly reserved for residents and their guests, but who can keep track of everyone in this rough-and-tumble world? Just wear your trunks under your pants and walk quickly and purposefully toward the elevator. Once you get to the pool, strike up a conversation with a group of people so you look like you're their guest.
You can also try sneaking into a hotel pool, like the Omni or the Biltmore, which has a gorgeous indoor Art Deco pool that, according to Curbed, is fairly easy to access. Other pools, like those at the downtown Standard and the Hollywood Roosevelt, function almost like nightclubs, routinely letting in people who look cool and/or attractive.
3) View Los Angeles from far above
New York has the Empire State Building. Chicago has the Sears Tower. Nearly every tourist asks at some point, where is the best vantage point from which to see all of L.A.?
Some say Mulholland Drive. Other say the City Hall observation deck, or the Bonaventure Hotel's rotating bar. But the best view in the city belongs to the Library Tower, a.k.a. the U.S. Bank Tower.
Now technically, there's no observation deck at the 73-story building, located in the heart of downtown. And that's where our L.A. hack comes in: Take the elevator to the one of the uppermost floors (apparently the penthouse floor is out - it's gone all secretive ever since a Japanese porn distributor leased it), go to the reception desk, and ask, in the most polite and sheepish voice you can manage, if you can please look out their windows at the sprawling city below.
2) Go to a museum ... for free
You don't have to break the law to cool off - museums often have excellent air conditioning, and often some interesting paintings to look at as well (or in the case of the Getty, some rugs and ottomans and whatnot). Many museums in L.A. are always free, such as the Hammer, the Getty, and Griffith Observatory.
Most of the others have a free museum day. LACMA is free on the second Tuesday of every month (and every weekday after 3 p.m. for residents with ID); MOCA is free every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.; both the La Brea Tar Pits and the Natural History Museum are free on the first Tuesday of every month except in July and August.
And the most important and essential L.A. hack is...
1) Park at yellow curbs after 6 p.m. (and all day Sunday) for FREE
About six years ago I was driving to the Echoplex to see the Silver Jews. I was with a young lady I was dating, looking for parking, and we saw a spot - perhaps the most perfect spot God has ever seen fit to create - across the street on Glendale.
"You know," my date said, "You can park at yellow curbs after 6."
"Really?" I asked. I'd lived in Los Angeles my entire life, and this was the first I'd heard about this. Could it really be such a tightly kept secret? "Maybe we'll just look a little longer I said," guiding my car around the bend.
"I can't believe you don't believe me," she said. After a huge fight, and two hours of Dave Berman's idiosyncratic folk rock, we went home and Googled it, and the world opened up before me.
Los Angeles Municipal Code, Chapter VIII, Section 89.38, reads:
No person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle between the hours of 7:00 o'clock A.M. and 6:00 P.M. on any day except Sunday in a commercial loading zone indicated by yellow curb except that commercial vehicles may stop or stand for the purpose of loading or unloading freight for the time necessary therefor, but not to exceed 20 minutes.
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The law doesn't exactly spell it out for you, but ask any traffic officer and they'll confirm it: You can legally park at yellow curbs after 6 p.m. and on Sundays.
Let me rephrase: YOU CAN PARK LEGALLY, AND FOR FREE, AT YELLOW CURBS AFTER 6 P.M. AND ON SUNDAYS. (The rule is the same in West Hollywood and Santa Monica. Not sure about the rest of L.A. County, so watch out for Inglewood, Pasadena and the like.)
The rule is so random and so seldom talked about, it's almost as if someone said, "You know, on Thursday nights at 11:30, the homeless will give you money."
It is, without a doubt, the best kept secret in Los Angeles - so don't tell anybody!