Think you’re up to the challenge of driving the world-infamous L.A. freeway system? Consider carefully. It’s not as much fun as you might think. Traffic can be awful all the time. (If you believe you’ll miss the jam on I-405 just because it’s 8 p.m., you’re flat wrong. I-405 often stays jammed up.) Local drivers accustomed to the conditions don’t bother being polite, so expect to be cut off constantly and to deal with drivers paying attention to everything in the world but the road.
And finally, if you’re planning to use the traffic reports or local advice, there’s a catch. Most road signs use numbers. But locals, including the radio traffic reporters, use names. There’s no visible name-to-number translation on most maps, and just to make things even more fun, the names change (sometimes into one another) depending on where you are. Public transit is an increasingly viable and definitely preferable alternative.
Parking in Los Angeles  can be as much of a bear as driving. And it can cost you quite a lot of money. You will find parking lots and structures included with many hotel rooms—L.A. is actually better than San Francisco  about that. But parking on the street can be difficult or impossible, parking lots in sketchy areas (like the Flower  and Jewelry Districts ) can be dangerous, and parking structures at popular attractions can be expensive.
Against fairly significant odds in the region that invented car culture, Los Angeles  has created a functional and useful public transit system. The Metro (www.metro.net , cash fare $1.25, day pass $5) runs both the subway Metro Rail system and a network of buses throughout the L.A. metropolitan area. You can pay on board a bus if you have exact change. Otherwise, purchase a ticket or a day pass from the ticket vending machines present in all Metro Rail Stations.
Some buses run for 24 hours. The Metro Rail lines can start running as early at 4:30 a.m. and don’t stop until as late as 1:30 a.m. See the website for route maps, timetables, and fare details.
Taxis aren’t cheap, but they’re quick, easy, and numerous. And in some cases, when you add up gas and parking fees, you’ll find that the cab ride isn’t that much more expensive than driving yourself.
To call a cab, try: Yellow Cab (800/200-1085, L.A., LAX, Beverly Hills, Hollywood) and City Cab (800/750-4400, San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, and LAX). Or check out www.taxicabsla.org  for a complete list of providers and phone numbers.
If you don’t feel up to driving around Los Angeles  on your own (and no one will blame you if you don’t), dozens of tour operators would love to do the driving for you and let you sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of Southern California. You can choose between driving tours, walking tours, and even helicopter tours that take you up to get a bird’s-eye view of the city, beaches, and the wide Pacific Ocean.
In amongst the dozens of cheesy “walking tour” operators who will charge you to walk you over the stars on Hollywood Boulevard (which you can do yourself for free), one organization can give you a better, more in-depth look into the true history of the Los Angeles  area. The Los Angeles Conservancy (www.laconservancy.org , tours Sat. 10 a.m., adults $10, children $5) offers more than a dozen different walking tours that explore the architectural history of different parts of Los Angeles in depth.
You can pick a style-themed tour, such as Art Deco or Evolving Skyline or a specific street, area, or major structure such as Union Station, the Broadway Theaters, or the Biltmore Hotel. Check the website for tour schedules, and for a few self-guided tours you can take on your own if you can’t make your chosen guided tour.
While children are welcome on Conservancy tours, the nature of the entertainment focuses much more on adult visitors; consider leaving the kids elsewhere so they are not bored to bits by all the talk of moldings and archways.
For bus tours, you can’t beat the weight of history provided by Starline Tours (800/959-3131, www.starlinetours.com , adults $40–65, children $20–45), which has been in the business of showing L.A. and Hollywood to the tourists since 1935. Take a tour of Movie Stars Homes (which actually covers many famous star-studded spots around the region), Hollywood , or try the Grand Tour of Los Angeles (can be narrated in many languages) for a start.
Starline can pick you up at almost any hotel in the L.A. Basin. Your tour vehicle will be either an air-conditioned mini-bus, full-sized bus, or topless “Fun Bus” with a second open-air deck that lets visitors breathe the native smog of L.A. unhindered. Fun Tours also allow passengers to jump on and off at various sights and attractions as they please. Expect your tour to last 2–6 hours, depending on which route you choose. Once you’re on board, sit back, relax, and enjoy the sights and stories of Los Angeles .