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Health

The air pollution in L.A. may affect sensitive people in different ways. When pollution levels are high, it's a good idea to plan a day indoors or on a windy beach. The sun can burn even on overcast days, and the dry heat can dehydrate, so wear hats, sunglasses, and sunblock and carry water with you.

Hours of Operation

Los Angeles is not a 24-hour city like New York, but in many places business hours extend well into the evening, especially for bigger stores and shopping centers. On Monday, many bars, restaurants, and shops (including outdoor sports outlets) remain closed.

Many L.A. museums are closed on Monday and major holidays. A few of the preeminent art museums, including the Norton Simon and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, stay open on Monday. Instead, the Norton Simon is closed Tuesday, the Los Angeles County museum on Wednesday. Most museums close around 5 pm or 6 pm, staying open late at least one night a week. Many museums, large and small, have weekly or monthly free days or hours when no admission is charged.

Most stores in Los Angeles are open 10 to 6, although many stay open until 9 pm or later, particularly those in trendy areas such as Melrose Avenue and in Santa Monica. Most shops are open on Sunday at least in the afternoon.

Money

Although not inexpensive, costs in Los Angeles tend to be a bit lower than in other major cities such as New York and San Francisco. For instance, in a low-key local diner, a cup of coffee might cost around $1.50. In high-profile establishments, costs escalate; a cup of coffee in a trendy eatery can cost as much as $5.

Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.

Restrooms

You can assume that gas stations along the highways outside of town will have a bathroom available, but this isn't true of every station in L.A. itself. Restrooms in parks can be sub-par. Restaurants and bars may have signs that read "For Patrons Only" so that you're obliged to buy something to use the facilities. Better bets for relatively clean, obligation-free restrooms are those in department stores, fast food outlets, and bookstores.

Safety

Very minor earthquakes occur frequently in Southern California; most of the time they're so slight that you won't notice them. If you feel a stronger tremor, follow basic safety precautions. If you're indoors, take cover in a doorway or under a table or desk—whichever is closest. Protect your head with your arms. Stay clear of windows, mirrors, or anything that might fall from the walls. Do not use elevators. If you're in an open space, move away from buildings, trees, and power lines. If you're outdoors near buildings, duck into a doorway. If you're driving, pull over to the side of the road, avoiding overpasses, bridges, and power lines, and stay inside the car. Expect aftershocks, and take cover again if they are strong.

Of the Metro lines, the Red, Green, and Expo lines are the safest and are more regularly patrolled. The Blue Line can be sketchy after dark. Avoid riding in empty cars, and move with the crowd when going from the station to the street.

Taxes

The sales tax in Los Angeles is 9.75%, one of the highest in California. There's none on most groceries, but there is on newspapers and magazines. The tax on hotel rooms ranges from 13% to 15.5%.

Time

Los Angeles is in the Pacific time zone, two hours behind Chicago, three hours behind New York, and eight hours behind London.

Tipping

The customary tip rate is 15%–20% for waiters and taxi drivers and 15% to 20% for hairdressers and barbers. Bellhops and baggage handlers receive $1 to $2 per bag; parking valets and hotel maids are usually tipped $2 to $3. Bartenders get about $1 per drink. In restaurants, a handy trick for estimating the tip is to move the decimal point of the total cost one space and then double that to get 20%.

Tours

You can explore L.A. from many vantage points and even more topical angles. Not surprisingly, lots of guides include dollops of celebrity history and gossip. Most tours run year-round, and most require advance reservations.

Bus and Van Tours

Guideline Tours offers sightseeing trips all around L.A., including Downtown, Universal Studios, and Hollywood. L.A. Tours and Sightseeing has several tours by van and bus covering various parts of the city, including Downtown, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. The company also operates tours to Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Starline Tours of Hollywood picks up passengers from area hotels and from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, and a slightly tawdry TMZ tour of celebrity hot spots are some of the highlights on this popular tour company's agenda.

Fees and Schedules

Guideline Tours (323/461–0156 or 800/604–8433. www.tourslosangeles.com.)

L.A. Tours and Sightseeing (323/460–6490. www.latours.net.)

Starline Tours of Hollywood (323/463–3333 or 800/959–3131. www.starlinetours.com.)

Helicopter Tours

If you want an aerial tour, lift off with Orbic Air. Based at Van Nuys Airport, the company has been flying its two- and four-passenger helicopters for more than a dozen years, and the pilots have years of experience. It's $84 per person for the basic 15-minute tour.

Fees and Schedules

Orbic Air (818/988–6532. www.orbicair.com.)

Scooter Tours

For an unusual perspective on L.A.'s attractions, you can take a tour of the city on a Segway electric scooter. The $89 tours might include the UCLA campus, Santa Monica, or Downtown. The guided rides last just over two hours.

Fees and Schedules

Segway Tours (310/358–5900. www.segwow.com.)

Special-Interest Tours

With Architecture Tours L.A., you can zip all over the city in a comfortable minivan on a private tour with a historian. Rates start at $70. Esotouric has an innovative take on the city; its weekend bus tours ($58 and up) explore the darker side of L.A. that Raymond Chandler revealed in books like The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

Beverly Hills operates year-round trolley tours focused on art and architecture. They last 40 minutes and depart from 11 am to 4 pm every weekend throughout the year, as well as Tuesday to Friday in the summer. Tickets cost $5. Soak up the glow of classic neon signs from an open double-decker bus on tours offered by the Museum of Neon Art. They cost $65 and are offered June through September.

Take My Mother Please will arrange lively, thematic combination walking and driving tours; for instance, you could explore sights associated with the film L.A. Confidential. Rates start at $450 for up to three people for a half day.

Fees and Schedules

Architecture Tours L.A (323/464–7868. www.architecturetoursla.com.)

City of Beverly Hills Trolley Tours (Dayton Way and Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills, CA, 90210. 310/285–2500. www.beverlyhills.org/exploring/trolleytours.)

Esotouric (213/373–1947. www.esotouric.com.)

Neon Cruise (213/489–9918. www.neonmona.org.)

Take My Mother Please (323/737–2200. www.takemymotherplease.com.)

Walking Tours

Red Line Tours offers daily one- and two-hour walking tours of behind-the-scenes Hollywood. Tours, which cost $25, are led by docents and include headsets to block out street noise. The Los Angeles Conservancy's 2½-hour-long walking tours ($10) cover the Downtown area.

Fees and Schedules

Los Angeles Conservancy (213/623–2489. www.laconservancy.org.)

Red Line Tours (323/402–1074. www.redlinetours.com.)

Visitor Information

Discover Los Angeles publishes an annually updated general information packet with suggestions for entertainment, lodging, and dining, as well as a list of special events. There are two visitor information centers, both accessible to Metro stops: the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex and Union Station.

The Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau runs a drop-in visitor information center on Main Street that is open daily 9 to 5, as well as three kiosks at Palisades Park, the Santa Monica Pier, and the Third Street Promenade.

Contacts

Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau (310/248–1000 or 800/345–2210. www.lovebeverlyhills.com.)

Discover Los Angeles (213/624–7300 or 800/228–2452. www.discoverlosangeles.com.)

Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (323/469–8311. www.hollywoodchamber.net.)

Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (562/436–3645. www.visitlongbeach.com.)

Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau (626/795–9311. www.pasadenacal.com.)

Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau (310/393–7593 or 800/544–5319. www.santamonica.com.)

Visit California (916/444–4429 or 800/862–2543. www.visitcalifornia.com.)

Visit West Hollywood (310/289–2525 or 800/368–6020. www.visitwesthollywood.com.)