Winter is the perferct time to visit Southern California. With temperatures in the high 60s to 70s ( and everything in bloom as it is the rainy season ), the area is a great respite from the dreary winter in most of the country.
Best of all, you can relax and rely on transit and walking to get around with your visit to West Hollywood, arguable America's biggest gayborhood. They also have a shared bicycle system so bring your helmet if you plan to use it.
( The wildfires were north of LA in the Santa Barbara area so this will not affect your trip. )
Getting there: I grabbed a Southwest sale fare of $79 from Indy to LAX. From LAX, grab the shuttle to Lot C and take the Big Blue Bus #3 to Santa Monica for $1.25 ( ask for a transfer ). In Santa Monica, transfer to the 704 Rapid Bus Line to West Hollywood. ( Yes, I paid $1.25 from LAX to WeHo. ) Exit at San Vincente street and walk three blocks east to your hotel.
Stay: I loved the Ramada Plaza ( 8585 Santa Monica ). It is next door to Trader Joe's, across the street from the 24 Hours Fitness, and just steps to all the bars and restaurants. Tell them you won't be using the safe when you check in to avoid the annoying surprise "safe fee."
The Holloway Motel and Alta Cienega Motel are for the bargain minded. Other options include the London House and a rebranded Hyatt ( Andia ). Check Trip Advisor for other West Hollywood options or Air BnB.
Eat: The Tender Greens at 8759 Santa Monica or at 523 6th Street downtown has fresh cooked-to-order local fare. I had the salmon. The Demitasse Coffee Roasters ( 8700 Santa Monica ) has the best coffee in town.
The Shake Shack ( a NYC burger joint ) has great burgers and fries ( also on Santa Monica ). You will find them at 8530 Santa Monica Boulevard.
Party: The Flaming Saddles ( another NYC offshoot from the venerable Hells Kitchen neighborhood ) has dancing,choreographed cowgirls and cowboys ( on poles, ropes, doing somersaults, and more ). On weekends, the bartenders put on a choreographed show as well on the bar. It's WeHo's newest bar and a lot of fun. ( Details at FlamingSaddles.com whcih is at 8811 Santa Monica Boulevard. )
Also with dancers ( male and female ) is Micky's ( voted #1 by West Hollywood Magazine ) which you will find at 8857 West Santa Monica Boulevard. You can dance or watch dancers as well at nearby as well at Revolver ( 8851 Santa Monica Boulevard ).
Trunks is your neighborhood bar ( 8909 Santa Monica Boulevard ) with $4 glasses of wine and very friendly. It was rated the best gay bar by West Hollywood Magazine. The bars are all close together on Santa Monica Boulevard and welcome everyone ( gay and straight ).
What to do: I took the 704 Rapid Bus back to Santa Monica to explore the great, compact walkable city on the Pacific Ocean. It has a great pier, beach, and downtown boutique shopping on a pedestrian mall ( the Third Street Promenade ). Rent a bike and explore the area.
Next I took the new Expo light rail line from Santa Monica to downtown.It goes through the USC campus and LA Natural History Musuem. You will also find the California African American Museum and the California Science Center in the Expo Park neighborhood.
Downtown has amazing architecture and great spots to eat. Check out Pershing Square for winter ice skating. From there I walked over to Union Station and the LA Historical Park on Olivera Street, El Pueblo de Los Angeles, an official California State Park. It is where LA was founded with many historical buildings and an outdoor market.
When downtown, don't miss the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by architect Fran Gehry.
Other things to do without a car include:
Walking up to Sunset Boulevard in WeHo
Exploring Beverly Hills or UCLA ( also along the 704 Bus Route west of WeHo )
Taking the Amtrak down to San Diego ( the Hillcrest is the very walkable LGBT neighborhood near downtown )
Taking the Amtrak to Palm Spings ( The train operates three days a week or you can connect on the Amtrak Connect at Fullerton. )
LA has many local and regional publications to help you plan your trip, including GED Magazine ( GEDMAG.com ), based out of Palm Springs; LA Blade ( an offshoot of the DC publication ), based in San Diego; The Fight; West Hollywood Magazine; and Adelante ( in Spanish ).
Other publications you will want to check out include LA Weekly, LA Independent and the LA Times.
I've grown to love Southern California. It's an amazing place with rich cultural diversity and a wonderful climate. It is a perfect escape for the LGBT traveller on a cold winter day. And you don't need a car with their great new light rail system, rapid bus lines, shared bike systems, and walkable neighborhoods.
Bill Malcolm ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer ( as a hobby ) who also writes for All Aboard Indiana and The Broad Ripple Gazette. He welcomes reader feedback.