Southern California is more than just Los Angeles!
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Although Santa Monica is a city itself rather than part of the city of Los Angeles, it basically is the playground for the beach bums in the LA. Most of the action in Santa Monica is centred around the Santa Monica Pier, where the official end of Route 66 is located. The pier, with its activities like rollercoasters and all sorts of shops, splits the beach into two halfs. The northern one is less attractive and most parking takes place there. The southern half, towards Venice Beach, is more attractive, with cycle- and foothpaths and palmtrees. The water here is pretty cold like most of the Californian coast, and watch out for riptides or strong currents at times. There are lifeguards patrolling around the waters, but better safe than sorry!
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While Santa Monica Beach is more of a family style beach, Venice Beach is more the beach for the young and the ones that like to see and to be seen. Apart from the beach, there is also lots of sport grounds, including the famous Muscle Beach, where you'll find the big guys pumping their iron. Next to the beach runs the Ocean Front Walk, or just boardwalk, full with souvenir shops, snacks, drinks and even 'legal' (as in 'good for health problems') marihuana shops. Things can feel a bit worn down and downright shabby after the sun sets, but most of the times it's nothing more than a feeling and certainly not an unsafe place!
Southern California is typically hot and dry during the summer with cool to warm winters. The rainy season is usually light during the winter, unless you are there during an El Nino season, which occurs every few years. The sunny weather in southern California is so infamous, it inspired the annual Rose Parade that takes place every New Years Day. The Valley Hunt Club created the parade in 1890 by decorating their horse-drawn carriages with flowers to show off how beautiful the winter weather was at the time.
Several trains operated by Amtrak travel to and from Southern California. These are:
It can be convenient but incredibly frustrating traveling around Southern California by car. Public transportation is severely lacking, so often travel by car is the only option, unless you want to change buses numerous times and walk part of the way yourself. Likewise, freeways in Southern California are plentiful and reach out to almost every major attraction in the region. Parking lots can be huge and many major attractions have multi-story parking garages to accommodate large numbers of vehicles.
However, Southern California drivers have a well-deserved reputation for aggressive driving. Those of you not used to driving on congested freeways and highways may find it safer to use public transportation and shuttle services offered by your hotel.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
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Ask dmstirling a question about Southern California
I've lived here 19/20 years of my life. I know what the weathers like and most things to do in or around Orange County. Feel free to ask me anything, if i can't answer it I'll try and look it up for you :)
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