A student's guide to living in Los Angeles
City of Angels. Tinseltown. La-La Land. Whatever you call it, you probably already have an idea of what Los Angeles has to offer.
But there’s a whole lot more to the city than what you’ve seen in movies. Any local will tell you that LA is a place to live in the moment, a place to enjoy the world around you to the fullest, and a place to make memories.
Studying in LA, you’ll enjoy both the bustle of a big city and the quieter discoveries of a sleepy town, fuelled by the dreams and aspirations of people from all walks of life.
LA’s Great Outdoors
A lot of people who visit Los Angeles never leave the concrete jungle of the city – which is a shame, because the city is actually full of nature if you know where to look.
When you’re ready for a little fresh air and some scenic views that aren’t on a movie screen, check out these classic outdoor adventures.
Wisdom Tree Hike
If you want to see all of LA at once, this is the hike for you. On a clear day, doing a full 360° turn from the peak will show you Griffith Observatory, Downtown, and all the major studio lots (if you keep walking along the crest, you’ll even find yourself right behind the Hollywood sign!).
After you’ve had enough of gazing out at the city, make sure to spend some time with the real wonder of this hike – the Wisdom Tree. The only pine tree to survive the Hollywood Hills fires in 2007, the Wisdom Tree has become a symbol of hope to many who have visited.
Just take a look through the dozens of journals and drawings that visitors have left in a vintage trunk that rests underneath the tree. Feel free to bring your own note to leave behind – how cool is it to know that a part of you will forever be a part of the LA landscape?
Santa Monica Beach bike path
Santa Monica beach is beautiful, but the crowds can sometimes make it difficult to enjoy the scenery. Lucky for you, riding along the bike path is a fun way to escape the crowds and still enjoy the beach itself. No need to worry if you haven’t got your own bike – there are a lot of rental options available.
App-based services like Santa Monica Bike Share and JUMP allow you to locate and rent bikes on a per-minute basis. There are also a number of bike shops scattered along the coast, such as Beach Cruiser Rentals, which offer rentals at a flat daily rate. Just remember to wear a helmet, no matter which service you go with.
Will Rogers State Beach
If you prefer to relax on the beach without having to fight for a spot to lay out your towel, consider spending an afternoon at Will Rogers.
Whereas Santa Monica and Venice beaches are well known and well packed with people, Will Rogers is quieter and more secluded. This makes it the perfect spot for soaking up some sun, picnicking with friends, and getting those class readings done. Don’t forget to pack extra sunscreen and lots of water!
Navigating LA’s public transport system
Chances are, you won’t have a car while studying abroad – but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck on campus. Public transportation is an easy and affordable way to get around the city, and a great way to really feel like an LA local.
Spend your ride getting caught up on class readings or look out the windows to sightsee on-the-go.
What to ride
Each option services different parts of L.A, with stops as early as 4:00am and as late as 1:00am. Before diving deep into the route schedules, check out the website of the place you wish to visit – more often than not, popular destinations will include detailed information of which buses or trains are best to take.
How to pay
Forget coins – the TAP card is your new best friend when it comes to busing around LA. Once you’ve bought your reusable card for $2, you can load and reload it with fares whenever you need it. Even better, you can use it for all transport options listed above.
All you need to do is tap your card when boarding buses or look for the TAP terminals when entering the train platforms. When you’re running low on fare, you can easily deposit more online or at one of the pay stations found at every train stop.
It’s also always a good idea to have a few coins on hand, just in case!
Tips and tricks
Whenever you ride, it’s a good idea to keep the following unspoken rules in mind:
- Have your fare ready when the bus or train arrives.
- Move to the back or give up your seat for the elderly, pregnant women and passengers with disabilities.
- Use earbuds if watching videos or listening to music on your phone or laptop.
- pull the stop cord at least a block before your stop (buses only)
- exit through the rear doors when possible to make it easier for new passengers to board
- keep your belongings contained to your own seating area.
LA on a budget
Don’t let the movie premieres, five-star restaurants, and pricey pop-up museums fool you – it’s still totally possible to go out and have fun in L.A. without breaking the bank.
There are tons of fun things to do in LA that don’t cost a single US dollar.
Reading raving reviews about concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, but don’t want to spend $65 on a nosebleed seat? Morning rehearsals are the next best thing and perfect for a picnic with friends.
Tired of binging the same shows on Netflix? Sign up to be part of the live studio audience for a TV show taping on one of the studio lots.
Looking to learn a little more about the area outside of a Wikipedia search? The California Science Centre is full of hands-on exhibits that explore local ecosystems, how California preps for earthquakes, and the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s arrival in L.A.
For those times you just don’t feel like cooking, it’s nice to have a list of affordable yet tasty take-out options.
One of your fall backs should definitely be In-N-Out, which is one of the best burger joints and is unique to the west coast of the US. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, there’s no better deal than an ice cream cookie sandwich from Diddy Riese. And if you’re looking for something on-the-go, track down one of Leo’s Taco Trucks for the best street taco you’ve ever tasted.
You should also keep an eye out for free delivery promotions on apps like GrubHub, Postmates, UberEats, and DoorDash.
If you want to feel a little bit more like a celebrity diner, you can’t go wrong with Carney’s or Pink’s. Both are student budget-friendly and have served numerous Hollywood stars, including Robin Williams, Elvis Presley, and Jennifer Garner. Carney’s serves chilli burgers out of a real vintage train car, and you’ll recognize Pink’s by its hot pink exterior and inside, the best hot dogs in Hollywood.
For the ‘gram
Los Angeles is the land of Instagram influencers, and with the right locations and some creative camera angles, you can join those ranks. Grab a friend or two and make sure your smartphones or cameras are charged, because taking pictures at these locations is completely free of charge.
Everyone knows of the Hollywood sign, which is best accessed via Lake Hollywood Drive. The LACMA lamps are another LA classic, with the bonus of the La Brea tar pits and dig sites within walking distance. Melrose Avenue is also a popular spot – and who knows, you may even run into some celebrities getting their shopping done.