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The list below is an introduction to the misconceptions that visitors (and often the travel agents and friends who advise them) have about Los Angeles and California.
• Disneyland is not in Los Angeles but in Anaheim, about 30 miles (almost 50 km) from the middle of Los Angeles and 45 miles or 75 km from Santa Monica. A day trip between Los Angeles and Disneyland can be time-consuming because of the notorious commuter traffic in the metro area. Public transit transfers are complex, often involving a metro rail train or bus followed by a train followed by another bus or taxi. Tours from L.A. to the Anaheim area arrive after the Theme Parks open and, often return before the Parks close. Los Angeles has 100s of attractions and none of them are theme parks. From hilltop art museums to movie studio tours to exploring dozens of ethnic neighborhoods.
• California is about 160,000 square miles in area—more than 414,000 square km. This is about the size of Iraq, or Greece and Italy combined. You cannot “see California” in a week or even two weeks; you’ll have time for a couple of the big cities, Disneyland, and a glimpse of the Monterey coast or the inland desert, but you will only scratch the surface. If you want to add a national park or two, or Las Vegas, you’ll need more time.
• Redwood National Park is located at the far northwestern tip of California and is about 6-7 hours drive from San Francisco. If a visitor wants to see the giant trees but does not have time to drive all the way north, there are more compact, but still lovely, redwood groves located within an hour or so of the San Francisco area. A great place to ask is the San Francisco forum.
• The shortest, quickest drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles is less than 400 miles or a little over 600 km on I-5, an inland road with monotonous terrain, mostly farmland, some towns but few cities, and few visitor attractions. On I-5, you will not see the coast, the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe, national parks, or other unique California sights. Highway 101 has pleasant scenery and touches the coast in a couple of spots. The beautiful scenic coast route - called Highway 1 - is closer to 500 miles (nearly 800 km). It should be a leisurely trip, with a couple of overnight stops to relax and enjoy the sights.
• San Diego and Los Angeles are 125 miles / 200 km apart. Day trips will be time-consuming, so if you want to see both, try to stay at least overnight. Public transit in San Diego can be time-consuming and involve transferring between 2 or more conveyances. Tijuana, Mexico is less than a half hour’s drive from San Diego, but very few on the California forums suggest it as a side trip because of the dangerous crime situation. At best, it is an impoverished 'border town' selling Mexican Crafts (its only feature). Mexicans cross the border into southern California to shop for most things, e.g. clothes. Mexico has other destinations that are safer, more attractive and more interesting to visit, but they are farther from the U.S. border. You can drive a rental (hire) car over the border into Mexico, although only a few rental companies allow it and you must buy special, additional insurance for Mexico.
• Las Vegas is about 275 miles from Los Angeles (440 km or so). The drive can take between 4-1/2 and 6 hours, depending on traffic. Cheap, hourly flights depart from LAX and BUR (Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, just north of Hollywood and northwest of downtown L.A.) You needn't be at the above airports more than 1 hour before departure so flying will save you 2 to 3-1/2 hours over driving. The Grand Canyon is about 450 miles from Los Angeles and the most direct way there is not through Las Vegas.
• Rental (hire) cars are available in just about every city and large town. Drivers generally must be at least age 25, or pay an additional daily extra charge. A rental contract might stipulate that the car not be driven off pavement, taken out of the state, equipped with tire chains, driven by an unlicensed or under-age driver, or any other conditions the agency sets. Be sure to confirm these things if you have more than one driver or if your travel plans include some national parks or other areas with unpaved roads.
• Alcohol can only be bought by those 21 and over, and tobacco can only be bought by those 18 and older, and stores will ask for ID with a current photo. Note that some types of non-USA ID's might not be accepted. Anyone under 21 may not go to a bar or saloon, a place where the main business is selling alcoholic drinks, although restaurants that serve food and have a bar usually will allow those under 21 in the area, so long as they don't sit on the active bar stools. Do not try to circumvent alcohol laws; it will mean legal troubles for the buyer, the seller, and anyone who aids or abets the purchase. If young people ask you to buy beer or tobacco for them, politely decline (not only is it illegal, but the “kid” could be a young police officer or state agent working undercover).
• Each city or region has its local quirks. Some are entertaining or amusing, but some can cost you money or cause problems. For instance, almost all hotels in main tourist areas of Los Angeles charge for parking, $20-40 a day. For not much more, you could get a decent motel room in many parts of California. Also, some hotels fib about their locations because they are in marginal (or worse) areas. You have no way of knowing that “Los Feliz area” is really disguising a dicey part of Hollywood or that a hotel with an address of "Marina del Rey, CA" is really in nearby Venice but shares the same post office to deliver its mail and can, therefore, misrepresent the actual location of the property. If in doubt about an area, TAs (TripAdvisors) are more likely to know than TAs (Travel Agents).
• Smoking is banned in restaurants and in many hotels throughout California. In Los Angeles and other urban areas it is banned in parks, beaches, bars and clubs. There are some exceptions (smaller establishments can allow smoking if they wish). A recent Los Angeles ordinance prohibits smoking in or within 10 feet of outdoor dining areas and food courts and within 40 feet of food carts and mobile food trucks. The outdoor patios of Bars and 18-and-over nightclubs are exempt from the law. There are similar bans on smoking in adjacent municipalities to L.A. e.g. Beverly Hills, Burbank, Santa Monica