>  Blog   >  7 Tips for Stress-Free Driving in Los Angeles

Note: The following is a guest post by Lea Ann Christenson

Planning a trip to Los Angeles? Whether you hope to visit Southern California’s famed beaches, experience the Happiest Place on Earth at Disneyland Resort, get your glamour on at iconic eateries, or learn about the world’s most prolific musicians at the GRAMMY Museum, chances are your trip will involve driving. With large distances between attractions and scarce public transportation, renting a car is your best bet for seeing the area in-depth.

And while we’re on the topic of cruising LA, I must mention that having a vehicle with the best car speakers is a must so you can blast your favorite tunes and play some music that matches the vibe of your surroundings.

Top 5 southern california beaches venice beach

Los Angeles doesn’t have the best reputation for driving. In fact, the city consistently ranks in the top five worst US cities for traffic. However, after many visits to the area, most recently to visit my son Sean at USC Trojan Family Weekend, I’ve discovered that driving in Los Angeles doesn’t have to be as negative of an experience as people will tell you.

Follow these seven simple tips I tested while driving the 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring to ensure you keep that laid back vibe while driving in LA.

7 Tips for Stress-Free Driving in Los Angeles

drive mazda6

1. Take Surface Streets

driving in los angeles side streets

On my visits to LA I usually stick to the surface streets and leave the freeways to all the other drivers.  Since my son Sean started attending USC two years ago I have made several trips and I fly in to LAX International Airport.  The USC campus is a consistent 25 minutes away via surface streets while the freeways can be parking lots.

If you aren’t a local, choose a car that comes equipped with a GPS system to help you find the best surface streets. The Mazda6 features Mazda Connect, a touchscreen infotainment system that features navigation technology. This high-tech panel made it easy for me to get clear directions while driving.

2. Watch Out For Pedestrians

driving in los angeles pedestrians

If you do go the surface street route be sure to watch out for pedestrians as you will see many people walking and crossing streets. Contrary to the stereotype, not everyone drives everywhere in LA. In many neighborhoods, walking is the way of life for locals, and, as always when driving, it is very important to play your role in protecting pedestrians.

In California a driver must yield to pedestrians in the roadway, otherwise you risk getting a ticket, or worse, injuring someone. College campuses like USC are particularly crazy places to drive with walkers, bikers and of course skateboarders everywhere. The rear view camera of the Mazda6 gave me extra help with maneuvering pedestrian traffic.

3. Know the Name and Number of Freeways Before You Drive

drive los angeles

There’s a great Saturday Night Live sketch that features ‘Californians’ discussing how they get places from  ‘the 10’ to ‘the 405’ to ‘the 5’. When I saw this sketch I laughed until I cried because that is indeed how Southern Californians talk about their freeways.

One of the hangups for tourists trying to navigate the roadways, is that both a name and a number designate Southern California Freeways. The problem comes in when the number and name are not listed on the road signs. This happens often. For example. did you know that the I-5 is called the Golden State Freeway north of downtown LA but the Santa Ana Freeway south of downtown LA?  Or that the 405 is called the San Diego Freeway? The 101 is called the Ventura Freeway northwest of downtown LA and the Hollywood Freeway south of downtown LA. And just to further confuse you, the Hollywood Freeway is also SR-170 north of downtown LA. Finally, the PCH refers to the Pacific Coast Highway that hugs the cliffs of the Pacific (a must-see!).

To avoid confusion while driving, know the names and numbers before you leave for your destination. A comprehensive list of Freeway names and numbers is available here.

4. Stay close to the Main Attractions You Want to See

celebrating disneyland 60th anniversary in photos castle upclose

To avoid time in your car, even one as luxurious as the Mazda6, which comes with leather-trimmed seats, surround sound audio and steering wheel mounted controls, stay close to the main things you want to see. A few extra dollars towards lodging is money saved on fuel and time saved to do fun things!

On top of staying near the things you want to see, if you are renting a car it is helpful to choose one that is fuel efficient. The Mazda6 gets 40 miles per gallon on highways, which benefited my wallet greatly!

5. Allow Extra Time to Get to Your Location

driving in los angeles traffic

While using surface streets can help you get to your location faster, the fact remains that traffic is very unpredictable in LA.  I have found a very cozy Airbnb about 4 miles from the USC campus where I usually stay when I visit Sean. Those four miles on surface streets (avoiding the 10) can take me 25 minutes in rush hour and only seven minutes late at night. That being said I have also been stopped by road construction late at night and the trip has taken me longer than I thought. If you need to be on time to where you are going, leaving early and allow extra time.

6. Brush Up On Your Parking Skills

driving in los angeles parrallel park

Parking can pose as a challenge in LA. Street parking is common, so it’s a good idea to know how to parallel park before you go. Additionally, small, old parking structures are common in the city, so again, it is a good idea to know how to park in tight spaces.

Having the right vehicle can also make your parking experience easier. The Mazda6 has several features that helped me park in difficult spaces, including a rear view camera, Smart Brake Support with Collision Warning, and Distance Recognition Support System.

And Finally…..

7. Wear Sunglasses

driving in los angeles wear sunglasses

This tip may seem silly, but after all you are visiting Los Angeles where the downtown district boasts 292 sunny days a year! To help with visibility and avoid glare on the road, wear sunglasses.

The Mazda6 came with a moonroof that helped me enjoy the sun even while I was stuck in traffic. I recommend choosing a vehicle that has this feature. It will help you soak up California’s rays, especially as you cruise up or down the PCH!

Find a full review of the 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring here.

Note: This post is sponsored by Mazda. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 


  • November 4, 2015

    I visited LA 7 months ago and my friends and I were pretty lucky at driving around. We mostly used the surface roads and used the freeway twice! As we were 4 persons we also took advantage of the carpooling lane!

  • March 23, 2017

    Pico/Olympic is bay far one of the dangerous places to drive, especially with your family in the car!

  • July 16, 2020

    Awesome tips you have shared. I appreciate your efforts. Last year, I met an accident while travelling to New York with my baby. However, his car seat ensured his safety to a great extent and we are both fine.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.