Visiting Los Angeles by car will provide you with a car experience unlike any place else in the U.S. That’s a good or bad thing, depending on how much you want to experience gridlock in its highest, most brutal form.
You’ve probably encountered traffic on the roads in American cities, but it’s hard to encounter traffic quite like L.A.’s outside of L.A. You haven’t seen anything until you’re sitting on the 101 on a night when there are multiple events going on Downtown.
Pack your dinner, Kids. You ain’t gonna make it into the city in time to eat.
Los Angeles, of course, is more than just its insane traffic. It’s America’s entertainment hub, a beach town, and a sprawling city of millions.
It’s also a great place to see some unique car attractions. If you’re headed to L.A., here’s our list of car museums and potential car and car-related sighings not to be missed.
Drive the freeways at rush hour.
Wait. Didn’t I just warn you against L.A. traffic?
Yes. Avoid it. It will take years off your life. Years.
It’s also kind of wild to witness.
Depending on where you live and your roadtripping experience, L.A. may also be the first time you encounter a ramp meter – basically, a traffic light that stops you at an on-ramp, then turns green to signal you when to go. The city has one of the most extensive ramp metering systems in the country.
If you’ve never been stopped at a ramp meter, you don’t know the heart-pumping intensity of trying to get up enough speed from a dead-stop to merge with 70-mph traffic.
Some ramp meters also have an HOV lane that just keeps speeding on by, which means twice the perilous merging vibes. Meters are always on at rush hour.
Just watch out for motorcycles, which are legally allowed to ride between lanes on L.A. roads, including on its freeways. L.A. motorcyclists will happily risk loss of limb (or taking off your car mirror) to shave five minutes off their drives to Wienerschnitzel.
Catch a ride at the Automobile Driving Museum.
There are plenty of museums where you can look at old or unusual vehicles. There are only a few across the United States where you actually get the chance to ride in one.
Automobile Driving Museum is one of those museums.
The museum is a little outside of Downtown L.A., in El Segundo, right next to LAX airport, but it’s worth the side trip. They offer first come, first serve rides on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Call in advance (the Thursday before) to see which cars are on the “Ride List” for the week.
Automobile Driving Museum also offers private tours (rides included) on other days of the week. So, if there’s a classic car you’ve been dying to ride in and they happen to have it in their inventory, you can check this one off your bucket list.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also be in town when the Automobile Driving Museum holds one of their numerous special events throughout the year.
Learn more: Automobile Driving Museum
Visit the big one – the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Petersen Automotive Museum is L.A.’s biggest, most popular auto attraction. Which gels.
First, the museum is located on the city’s Museum Row, which makes it the most accessible attraction on our list for casual visitors.
Second, the museum has a large Cars of Film and Television collection, which puts it on even non-car lovers’ L.A. itineraries.
But don’t discount The Petersen as the “one made for the tourists.” The museum director and curators have gone out of their way to put the “automotive” in automotive museum.
The main learning experience at The Petersen does still have a bit of a Hollywood bent, themed on the animated movie Cars. Cars Mechanical Institute teaches both young and old about the science that makes cars run and the history of personal vehicles. The activities are geared toward kids, but fun for all ages.
The Petersen also just swamps other L.A. car museums in sheer volume, keeping more than 300 vehicles on display.
Learn more: Petersen Automotive Museum
Check out Supercar Sunday.
A little outside of L.A. (about 25 miles from Downtown), Woodland Hills boasts one of the metro area’s most impressive car shows.
Taking place on the first Sunday of each month, Supercar Sunday invites car enthusiasts with particular vehicle types to drive onto the campus of Pierce College and put those vehicles on display.
Each month has a different theme – Ferrari, Hot Rods, Classic European – and gives you the opportunity to see personally-owned vehicles you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the city.
And possibly even spot a celeb. Jay Leno is known to make the occasional appearance to show off cars from his personal collection.
On the third Sunday of each month, Supercar Sunday focuses exclusively on Porsche models – Classic, Boxter, Turbo – which might give you an idea of just how many luxury cars there actually are in L.A.
Learn more: Supercar Sunday
Pop into Whole Foods.
Not kidding. Not a shill. I’m just telling you where the cars are.
When in L.A., it’s important to remember there are a whole lot of rich people mucking about in a whole lot of luxury vehicles.
I once watched Kanye climb into a scissor-doored Lambo after his bodyguard line-jumped me in a convenience store to buy magazines with his face on the cover (Kanye’s, not the bodyguards). This was at a normal, everyday shopping plaza.
There are luxury cars EVERYWHERE in L.A. You’ll see them on the freeways, you’ll see them in parking lots. You’ll see them. Don’t worry.
But you’ll see more of them if you go where rich people like to go. That’s Whole Foods.
Drive a Canyon Road.
Los Angeles may be known more for its smoggy quagmire of ugly freeways, but there is some very pleasant driving in the area if you abandon the city streets and head into the hills.
Just west of the city, the Santa Monica Mountains are home to multiple state parks, Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Ranch, and a system of twisting, turning canyon roads that will carry you into (or out of) the heart of Malibu.
Not only do these roads offer surprising natural scenery and stunning vistas, they also have tight curves and bends you won’t find anyplace else near the city.
Just bear in mind, the Santa Monica Hills are heavily residential and there are a lot of blind curves. This isn’t the place for racing or drifting.
These roads are also ill-advised if you have a passenger prone to car sickness. They will not fare well. Be warned.
L.A.’s Driving Scene
When in L.A., you can do as the locals and tourists do and sit in traffic for hours, or you can do as the thrill seekers do and take to the canyons.
Whatever you do, you’re guaranteed to see plenty of vehicles in L.A., because they are on the roads all. the. time.
Think you can’t possibly get stuck in a traffic jam at three a.m. on a Tuesday? Think again.