Is Los Angeles Safe for Travelers? Everything You Need to Know

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Is it safe to travel around Los Angeles? All your travel safety questions for L.A. are answered by our local expert, Elena Valeriote.

Santa Monica Boardwalk, Los Angeles, United States Photo © Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

Warmed by the eternal sunshine that bathes L.A., travelers are quick to understand why it’s called the City of Angels, but don’t forget the risks of big city life. With a little preparation and self-awareness, it easy to stay safe and enjoy all that Los Angeles has to offer.

Some of the most beautiful and interesting parts of the city are located in or near neighborhoods where safety can be a serious concern.

For some foreigners, Los Angeles means Hollywood and Hollywood means glamour; however, Hollywood is a relatively small neighborhood in the large city of Los Angeles and (to the dismay of some tourists) L.A. is not always glamorous.

Hollywood Boulevard, known for the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, Dolby Theatre (current venue for the Oscars) and TCL Chinese Theatre can be overwhelming with the hustle and bustle of people. The boulevard has become somewhat of a hotspot for homeless folk as a result so be prepared to receive requests or hassled for money.

Take caution when walking the streets as you will be approached by shady folk  trying to sell you tours to the Hollywood sign and celebrities homes.

Los Angeles crime and places to avoid

Tourists should do their best to avoid Skid Row, an area of Downtown Los Angeles about four square miles across, positioned where Downtown meets Little Toyko and the Arts District.

Skid Row

With several thousand homeless people settled in the streets, many suffering from mental illnesses, addiction and other health issues, any traveller who stumbles across Skid Row is likely to feel uncomfortable. There aren’t any signs designating the boundaries of Skid Row, but it’s recognizable by the presence of makeshift homes in the form of tattered tents and cardboard boxes. While most homeless people and panhandlers in the area won’t aggressively approach you, it’s best to keep at a distance.

Skid Row is not far from many popular destinations, including the STAPLES center (home of the Lakers basketball team) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, so it’s fairly easy wander into the area unintentionally.

Keep in mind that taking out an expensive phone to call a cab may put you in a more vulnerable position.

If you're driving it's advisable not to park around here.

South Central

Travelers should maintain a similar sense of caution if they travel through South Los Angeles, also known as South Central. South L.A. is topographically and culturally a large part of the city, but it is not an ideal destination for visitors.

This part of Los Angeles is known for gang violence, famously between the rival gangs known as the Bloods and the Crips. In the past, gang members identified themselves by colors (red for the Bloods, blue for the Crips), but this conspicuous practice has decreased for the most part in recent years. If you crossed paths with someone with a gang affiliation, you probably wouldn’t know it and shouldn’t feel threatened. Gang violence is more likely to be aimed towards rivals than tourists; however, it is still advisable to spend time elsewhere in L.A. and avoid wearing red or blue in South Los Angeles as a precaution.

L.A. at night

As in any big city, it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings and avoid drawing attention to yourself, especially when exploring Los Angeles at night.

It’s tempting to pass the time waiting for public transit by texting a friend or scrolling through social media when you’re alone, but don’t put yourself in a position where it’s easy for someone to run by and snatch your phone out of your hand.

Safety for women in L.A

It’s unrealistic and unnecessary to suggest women shouldn’t explore the city alone or after dark in Los Angeles, however there are certain precautions that should be taken.

Some guidebooks suggest that women buy pepper-spray, which is legal in California, but unfortunately pepper-spray can be out of reach in an emergency situation, or worse, it can be used against the victim. 

Catcalling is not uncommon, but most men won’t aggressively pursue women who refuse to give them attention.

If you’re a woman travelling alone, it is advisable to avoid taking public transportation at night, but if you do, keep a reliable friend informed of your evening plans.

On a similar note, if you’re utilizing Uber or Lyft, share your trip details with someone so they know where you are and by what time you should’ve arrived at your destination.

L.A. nightlife safety tips

Most nightlife takes place in Downtown L.A., where you’ll find plenty of bars and clubs clustered within a fair walking distance.

Cool alternatives can be found in Silverlake or Koreatown, but you’ll need some insider knowledge to ferret them out and plenty of confidence to blend in with the hipsters.

With a classic flair for the secret and the scandalous, speakeasies have been popping up in Los Angeles over the past few years. One such speakeasy, The Lock and Key, has gained popularity in Koreatown, but it’s up to you to figure out how to get in. The entrance is a black wall covered in a variety of doorknobs and only one of them will allow you to enter.

A word of warning: drinks are pretty expensive in L.A. – the average cocktail will set you back about $12 and ordering a glass of wine or a bottle beer is often nearly as much. But, thanks to the mixology trend you’ll find unique flavors you won’t want to miss and it would be a shame to ignore California wines and craft brews.

Cars and freeway safety in L.A

The people of Los Angeles are infamously obsessed with their cars. This reputation, while unflattering, is mostly founded on truth. In their defense, Los Angeles is about five hundred square miles of land laced with freeways, making it impossible to cover it all on foot.

Ridesharing services, like Uber and Lyft are the best option for exploring L.A. These services are cheaper, more efficient than a taxi and less stressful than renting a car.

Not only will you save money on parking and gas, but also you don’t have to worry about navigating the city’s horrendous traffic and complex system of freeways.

The parking signs are universally incomprehensible and the fines are hefty.

If you do choose to drive, don’t be alarmed by aggressive drivers. You may think yourself the victim of road rage, but everyone is just trying to get to their destination as quickly as possible.

Speaking of which, rush hour in Los Angeles is not just an hour – it’s most of the day. If you’re travelling any time between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. be prepared to sit in gridlock for a while and give yourself an extra hour to reach your destination.

Money and credit cards in L.A

Credit cards are almost universally acceptable for shopping and restaurants.

Cash may be necessary or simply more convenient when it comes to valet parking, taxis, ridesharing, food carts and tipping. The general tipping rate at restaurants is 18%, but some food establishments have included a surcharge on all receipts that takes care of the waiter, so be sure to double-check the final cost of your meal.

Shopping, a California state tax of 7.25% will automatically be added to the price tag.

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  • adam said

    la is the best place on earth

  • David Peters said

    I have heard that customs is now really bad. I am Australian and wonder if there has been a change to the way visitors are treated.

  • Chantelle said

    I'm from Canada visiting, and have had no issues with customs. It's beautiful, everyone's generally polite and friendly. Airport was a breeze!

  • Ian James said

    I was born and raised in Los Angeles. It is generally a very safe city to visit. The beaches are beautiful, museums are plenty and pretty much any food you're looking for can be found here.
    The safety precautions here are just common sense. The areas mentioned are correct in that they are the more dangerous places. Like every major city in the world, there are good and bad areas.
    With all the hype of Hollywood, you will find Hollywood Blvd is really pretty dirty and scummy. Go straight to Beverly Hills and take a couple of tours. Take Sunset Blvd. to the beach. It is a beautiful drive that empties out north of Santa Monica.
    There are Great restaurants on Pacific Coast Highway. Great seafood and steaks!

    If you're a woman alone, do check out your surroundings. Best to travel with a partner, don't walk around with gold jewelry hanging off of you, and use common sense.

    There are the places you Don't want to visit, like Dockwieler Beach, South Central, East L.A., Downtown is nice, but do beware of Skid Row.
    People are generally very friendly and helpful if you need directions.

    Again, common sense will take you a long way. I've loved my 61 years living in Los Angeles. It's as safe as any big city in the world. There is a lot of fun to be had here. If you have time, the entire state of California with our National Parks, Yosemite, Sequoia, Redwoods, ect are spectacular.

    Enjoy your visit if you come here!

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