Los Angeles without a car

‘Ugh, the 405!’ It’s the cry of many visitors to Los Angeles, beleaguered and befuddled by the seemingly neverending traffic jams on one of LA’s most congested freeways. When vacation time is limited and you just. want. to. get. there, the frustration’s almost enough to make a holidaymaker get right back on the plane.

And imagine how Angelenos feel about living with the nation’s worst traffic: GPS maker TomTom calculates that the average LA commuter spends 95 hours per year in traffic above normal drive time.

Coming to the rescue of locals and visitors alike though are new services that make it easier to forget about renting a car, traffic jams and parking hassles – and to be more environmentally sensitive too. Public transportation options are expanding, neighborhoods like Downtown, Hollywood and Santa Monica/Venice are increasingly pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and LA leads the country in the use of app-based ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Keys to LA transport

For the bargain price of $8, Flyaway buses (www.lawa.org/FlyAway) connect Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with Downtown LA (estimated travel time: 35min), Santa Monica (40min) and Hollywood (1-1½hr). Buses depart from the lower (arrival) level of each terminal, under the green signs. Purchase tickets online or on board the bus (Visa, MasterCard and American Express accepted).

Once you’ve got to your preferred destination, public transportation is handled by LA’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (known as Metro), or, in Santa Monica, the municipal Big Blue Bus company (bigbluebus.com). Metro’s base fare is $1.75 ($7/25 for an unlimited day/week pass). Big Blue Bus fares are a cool $1.

On the Metro Rail network of light-rail and subway lines, the Red, Gold and Expo Lines are most useful for visitors as they travel to the areas with most tourist-friendly attractions.

Use of Uber or Lyft requires a free smartphone app and advance registration. They’re a convenient and generally inexpensive (if traffic-dependent) way to get around the city, although Uber is subject to “surge pricing” at peak demand times, when fares can rise steeply. At the time of writing, the mayor had announced that the super popular Uber X will be able to pick up from the airport in the next month or two.

Downtown

Flyaway Shuttle buses let you off at Union Station, LA’s main rail terminal, built in 1939 and well worth a peek for its Spanish-Mission-meets-Art-Deco design. From here it’s a quick rail connection (or about $5 via ride share to save hauling your baggage) for a stay at hotels from old school (Millennium Biltmore) to too-cool-for-school (Standard Downtown and the new Ace), on the Red and Expo Lines.

Barely a decade ago, locals would have told you that there was no reason to go Downtown unless you worked there – no one says that anymore. Visitors throng to the area for the new Grammy Museum and restaurants at the adjacent LA Live, all reachable on the Expo Line, as are some of LA’s top museums around Exposition Park, including the California Science Center  where you can see another (once) futuristic form of transport, the Space Shuttle Endeavour, one of only four on exhibit in the world.

Hop cultures along the Gold Line to Olvera Street (the city’s original settlement, now like a trip to Mexico without the passport), Chinatown, and the ethnic-meets-hipster cultural mashup of Little Tokyo. Or take the Red Line to check out landmark architecture from the Bradbury Building (Blade Runner was shot here) to Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Downtown’s dining scene has exploded too, in restaurants like Baco Mercat and Bestia alongside trusty standbys Philippe the Original and the rejuvenated, gourmet-chic Grand Central Market.

Hollywood

The FlyAway bus to Hollywood terminates near the Metro Red Line subway stop at Hollywood & Vine. The Red Line also connects to the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Highland Ave, from where it’s just steps to the HCL Chinese Theatre, where generations of stars have enshrined their foot- and handprints in the cement; the Dolby Theatre, home to the movie world’s biggest night, the Academy Awards ceremony; and the humble-jumble Hollywood Museum, chockablock with film history.

West Hollywood is just a couple of miles away and well worth a visit: take a ride share; ride on Metro bus line 2 down Sunset Boulevard; or head down to Fountain Ave near La Brea Ave to pick up the free daytime CityLine shuttle buses operated by the city of West Hollywood. WeHo, as it’s known, is one of LA’s great walking neighborhoods by day, and great party destinations by night, primarily along the Sunset Strip (largely straight) and Santa Monica Blvd (largely LGBT). It’s also fun to (window) shop and dodge paparazzi amid the fashion boutiques on busy Robertson Blvd between Melrose Ave and 3rd St.

Stop for lunch or daydrinking at the Abbey (often called the world’s best gay bar – maybe it’s the hunky bartenders), the celeb power lunch spot the Ivy or, for adventurous ethnic cooking, the new District by Hannah An (thedistrictbyha.com), where Vietnamese cuisine takes a California turn with banh mi sandwiches and ‘shaken’ beef with homemade noodles. Or simply ensconce yourself at a café on Santa Monica Blvd to observe an only-in-LA street scene of muscle boys, tiny dogs, hipsters and the occasional tourist family wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.

WeHo-based Bikes and Hikes LA (bikesandhikesla.com) rents bikes and offers cycling tours of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, stars’ homes and a signature 32-mile ‘LA in a Day’ route for fit cyclists, covering WeHo to the ocean.

Santa Monica & Venice

Santa Monica melds beach culture with big city sophistication. The Flyaway Bus takes you to the Civic Center area, from where it’s an easy walk to ocean views and the mini-amusement park atop the world famous Santa Monica Pier, or some of LA’s most spirited street life on the pedestrianized Third Street Promenade and the adjacent Santa Monica Place.

Art lovers can head a couple miles east by Big Blue Bus line 4 or ride share to Bergamot Station for dozens of art galleries and the Santa Monica Museum of Art in a former rail yard, soon to be served again by train (see The Future below).

Just south of Santa Monica is Venice, cool since the days when Jim Morrison lived here and now restyling itself as a hipster haven, particularly along Abbot Kinney Boulevard. On weekends especially, the Venice Boardwalk is a wacky seaside carnival and LA must-see. To get here from Santa Monica, take Metro bus 733 down Ocean Ave and Main St, or it’s a classic California stroll along the ocean of about 1.5 miles (30 minutes).

On the Santa Monica side, stop for farmers market-inspired menus in an urban-meets-rustic, indoor-outdoor vibe at M Street Kitchen, Japanese musubi (rice balls with assorted flavorings) at Sunny Blue, or get your three squares at Three Square Café & Bakery.

As well as being highly walkable, Santa Monica and Venice are also easily cyclable. Numerous shops rent bikes including Santa Monica Bike Center and stalls along the beachside South Bay Bicycle Trail (22 miles).

The Future

When the Expo Line is fully complete (scheduled for early 2016), passengers will be able to travel between Downtown LA and Santa Monica station (a quick walk from Third Street Promenade and the Pier) in about 45 minutes. If that sounds long, trust us: it’s a lot quicker than current rush hour traffic.

As for that train to and from LAX, you’ll need (a lot) more patience. It’s not scheduled for completion until 2024.

Contemporary creative Moscow

moscowWhile icons and onion domes still have their place in Moscow, the capital is now the epicentre of Russia’s cutting-edge contemporary culture. Long-dormant creative tendencies are being cultivated; and they are blooming, as collectors and connoisseurs show a new appreciation for innovative artistic expression. To showcase these artworks, new venues are opening every year – many in surprising, post-industrial places.

Rediscovery of Russian art

In 2014, Christie’s sold over £45 million of Russian art. That same year, Valentin Serov’s Portrait of Maria Zetlin was sold for £9.3 million – the highest price ever paid for a Russian painting. In recent years both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have made record-breaking sales of Russian paintings, a market which has grown considerably over the past decade.

It is mostly private collectors who have blown up the ballooning market – so-called ‘New Russians’ with deep pockets and patriotic tastes. Indeed, the free-spending habits of the newly rich are stimulating a cultural revolution in Russia. While the greatest demand is reserved for 20th-century avant-garde artists, contemporary creatives are also benefitting.

The most famous private collector is supermodel Dasha Zhukova, who opened the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in an old bus depot (thus the name). The art museum has since moved to spectacular new digs in Gorky Park – a derelict Soviet-era building renovated by the visionary architect Rem Koolhaas. But the original name stuck. And Dasha’s Garage is still one of the hottest modern art venues in the city. It hosts exhibitions, lectures, films and many interactive educational programs, featuring both Russian and international artists.

The institution is unique in its efforts to compile an archive of Russian art and related documents, so that this creative period is properly recorded. Garage is also one of the main players in organising and hosting the Moscow Biennale (6th.moscowbiennale.ru/en), an important cultural event which brings together artists, critics and curators from around the world.Garage has received a huge amount of international attention, thanks to its famous patron and her billionaire boyfriend Roman Abramovich. But it is only one of many venues that have fuelled Moscow’s art explosion.

From industry to artistry

Back in the day, art often promoted industry, as Socialist Realist paintings and sculpture celebrated the achievements of socialism. Now, the canvas has been turned upside-down. Idle factories and vacant warehouses are being converted into art studios and gallery space, so industry (or the remains thereof) is promoting art.

The venue that started this trend – when it opened way back in 2007 – is a former wine-bottling factory known as Winzavod. Located in the gritty streets behind Kursk Station, Winzavod’s buildings still have names like ‘Fermentation Workshop’, but now they contain art galleries, studio space, fashion boutiques and other funky shops. Winzavod is home to several of the capital’s most prestigious art galleries, such as Cultural Alliance (formerly Guelman Gallery; www.guelman.ru), as well as exhibit space devoted to Sots Art (nonconformist Soviet art), photography and more. After you browse the art, you can observe the artists in their element at the on-site Tsurtsum Cafe, where they gather to sit on the veranda and plot startups, performances and revolutions.

Following suit, a nearby Manometer factory has been transformed into ArtPlay, a design centre that houses furniture showrooms, antique shops and architectural firms. Considering the architectural emphasis, there is perhaps less for the casual caller to see. But there are usually diverse rotating exhibitions in the various display spaces, not to mention the excellent (and artistic) menu at the on-site restaurant, Art Clumba.

Just north of here, Arma Factory (armazavod.ru) is a former natural gas factory. Reconstruction is ongoing, but the first venues to move in are all creative outlets: underground clubs, innovative restaurants and cutting-edge theatre groups.

Meanwhile, the experiment in industry-to-artistry that’s getting the most attention is Red October, a former chocolate factory on the bank of the Moscow River, just opposite the Kremlin. This island of Russian modernity and flare is a vibrant arts centre as well as Moscow’s hottest nightspot. The flagship venue is the Strelka Institute for Architecture, Media & Design. Aside from the course offerings and the popular Bar Strelka, the institute brings a healthy dose of contemporary culture to Moscow, hosting lectures, workshops, film screenings and concerts. Within the walls of the factory, there are high-profile galleries such as Lumiere Brothers Photography Centre and Red October Gallery (redoctobergallery.com), as well as countless restaurants, bars and hot-to-trot nightclubs.