Los Angeles, CA – LA Freeways, Los Angeles Freeways – The freeways of Los Angeles and Orange County. The people of Southern California are in a love hate relationship with their freeways. The logo of Los Angeles could be a number of things, but it might very well in fact be one of the automobile. There is an intensity and power found on Los Angeles freeways rarely found in other big cities. The freeways in Los Angeles were among the first and oldest in the nation.
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When there is little traffic on the freeways, typically extremely late at night but during the day as well depending on which freeway in question and the time of day, they work wonderfully – you can zip around from city to city, from freeway to freeway just like that. However, the freeways can also be terribly crowded – ever spent some time crawling over the 405 from the Getty Center north to the Valley? Ever spent time sluggishly moving towards downtown on the 101 to the 110 Four-Level Interchange? How about the crazy 91 freeway stuck in the non toll/non carpool lanes – Santa Ana Canyon? On any number of area freeways you can experience horrific traffic. If you have experience driving the LA area freeways you will know exactly what we mean. The Freeways are the arteries (often clogged) of transportation across the LA basin.
AC/DC’s 1979 song, “Highway to Hell” can be an appropriate tune to listen to at times while driving Los Angeles freeways. Fortunately this song often makes appearances on KLOS, 95.5 FM.
Here in the Southland, the car is King. We even have a number of museums in the region devoted to the automobile!
When referring to Southland freeways people use “The” in front of the freeway name – i.e., “the 10” or “the 405”. In addition all the freeways have personal names just like many fruits and vegetables have common names to help identification among the masses – when the scientific names are too complicated or esoteric to grasp. For example the 710 is called the Long Beach Freeway. If a freeway is long enough it may have several names, for example the 101 is called the Ventura Freeway and the Hollywood Freeway or the 110 is called the Harbor Freeway and the Pasadena Freeway — it all depends on which part of The 101 or the 110 you are talking about. As you can see, if the same freeway has several names depending on its location, it is very important which name you give someone if you are providing directions. During the weekdays freeway driving can be especially slow during the commute hours – typically in the mornings from 5:00am – 9:30am and then again in the afternoon from approximately 3:00pm – 7:00pm. However some of the more traveled freeways rarely see much traffic relief and are quite crowded most of the day. When there is not much traffic the freeways work wonderfully.
Dave personally knows people who alter their commute schedule so they are home by 3-3:30pm. They leave their house by 3:30-4am and are in bed by 8pm. This way they avoid the bulk of the morning and afternoon rush hour.
Driving in Los Angeles is somewhat different than other parts of the country in that the freeways can be huge, speeds intensely fast, and 24/7 carpool lanes (HOV – High Occupancy Vehicles) are the norm. When traffic is light on the freeways, many of the freeways will move along at 80 to 85mph even though the posted speed limit is 65. I’ve seen highway patrol, either motorcycle or car, on freeways and cars hardly even slow down and are still definitely driving much faster than the posted speed limit. Los Angeles is a city of drivers – “why walk when you can drive” seems to be the motto here which somewhat makes sense considering the great distances between things. However Los Angeles has a a metro and there is a Metro Link system serving a large area of the Southland. (Visit our Public Transportation section for more details).
Sensory Distress Syndrome (SDS) – the difficulty of being able to return to one’s equilibrium or state of being due to a hyper alertness created from driving the Los Angeles freeways. This syndrome can effect people after driving the Los Angeles freeways due to their uniquely fast speeds, volume of traffic, massiveness of roadway, freeway connections, and sheer scope of dealing with this entire area freeway system – View more LA Freeway Definitions Here!
Surface streets in and around Los Angeles often contain wide fast moving boulevards such as Wilshire, Santa Monica, & La Cienega among many others. Traffic flow on these can be just as crowded as the freeways at times. One nice feature of the main surface boulevards is the oversized street name signs. Traffic flow is always stopped by stoplights and large intersections on these boulevards. Some of these boulevards are the same width or larger than what would constitute a “large” freeway in another city.
Several of the major freeways in the area run through or around downtown Los Angeles including the 5, the 10, the 60, the 101, and the 110. All four of these freeways come together in quite an engineering feat called the East Los Angeles Interchange. This is one of the busiest freeway interchanges in the world. The freeways near and around downtown seem like they can be busy regardless of the day or night. We’ve driven into downtown at 2am in the morning on a weekend night and there is still a mass of red lights in front of us heading towards downtown. A good time to drive the “freeway ring” around downtown Los Angeles is early Sunday morning. If traffic is light (and it usually is Sunday mornings) you can drive entirely around downtown hitting several major freeways (including the 10 freeway) in about 15 minutes. Every LA freeway buff has to drive circles around downtown in light traffic!
One of the most stressful parts of driving the freeways of Los Angeles (especially when they are busy) is trying to figure out which lane(s) to be in when switching to a new freeway at major freeway intersections. There are many freeway intersections in and around downtown (major freeways) and you have to really stay on your toes to make sure you remain on the correct freeway to reach your final destination. Having to cross multiple lanes of traffic to merge, exit or enter, and having freeway exits sometimes exiting to the right and or sometimes to the left makes driving in this region challenging. This is especially true for merges involving the 10, the 110 and the 101 freeways near downtown. Here is a good example of this: the 10 east to the 110 north; you have to be in the left 2 lanes to exit the 10 freeway. To complicate matters once you are dumped onto the 110 N you must get over to the left immediately to stay on the 110 or you will be unmercifully hung out to dry and will have to drive by all the stacked up traffic leaving you no option but to exit the freeway into downtown. Navigation around downtown Los Angeles would be quite a challenge even if you were the only car on the freeway. Fun times here!
In part due to the large size of the Los Angeles metropolitan region, the area’s fascination with the automobile, and clever engineers, there have been a number of advancements and “firsts” in regards to the freeway systems. A couple notable achievements in the south land are California’s first freeway, (the 110, Pasadena Freeway), the area’s first 4-level interchange (downtown), leading the nation in building totally separate from the rest of the freeway carpool (HOV) lanes, and building the area’s first totally fully automated toll-way system (the 91 Freeway).
Carpool (High Occupancy Vehicle – HOV) Lanes
are among the most advanced in the world in Los Angeles and Orange Counties – more so in Orange County. The double and triple yellow stripes painted on the freeways break into white dots at certain exits so that car poolers can enter and exit the carpool lanes. Carpool lanes in the Los Angeles area differ from other metropolitan areas in that they are normally 24/7 reserved for cars typically carrying 2 or more passengers (unborn fetuses do not count unfortunately – should children under the age of 16 count, as they cannot yet drive – the debate rages on). You are supposed to stay in the carpool lanes until the yellow stripes break for the white dots – and there are signs telling you which breaks you should exit the carpool lane before you get to major freeway intersections or exits. Oh, and note that many times the car pool lanes do in fact work wonderfully however sometimes you might find that carpool lanes can be slower than the regular lanes at certain times of the day – i.e. commute hours – especially if you have a slow driver in front of you. (good example of this is sometimes on the 5 freeway in Orange County).
The first HOV lane opened along the 10 Freeway between El Monte and downtown Los Angeles and serviced buses only. It wasn’t until 1976 that this portion of the 10 opened to carpoolers with 3 or more passengers per vehicle. For about 20 years HOV lanes weren’t really developed in LA. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that HOV lanes started to be added to the freeway system in larger mile quantities. Today over 500 HOV lanes exist in LA County.
Some freeways have very advanced carpool lanes – sometimes 2 HOV lanes – and even their own carpool “freeway” separate from the main freeway and the rest of the traffic. Some freeways have raised carpool lanes above the rest of the freeway. There are certainly a number of carpool lanes that exit on their own to merge with other freeways, so you do not have to merge back into the main lanes before merging onto a new freeway. This author has actually driven on more than one occasion in the wrong car pool lane exit direction from where he is headed just to get a feel for the car pool lane and how it merges with additional freeways. There is at least one example of a 2-lane toll road next to the carpool lane which is then in turn located next to the main freeway which in itself runs 4-5 lanes of traffic! See the 91 freeway below for more information.
There are freeways that have long sections of carpool lanes that run for miles and miles – when you see the congestion on the regular lanes of these particular freeways you will know why there are car pool lanes. The exception being when you have a crowded car in front of you doing the speed limit when the regular lanes are zipping by at 80+mph.
Los Angeles & Orange County Freeways
The freeways listed below are found in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas. Dave has driven on all of these freeways – some of which, too many times. The most common names are listed for each freeway, but note that some portions of these freeways have other official names.
Note the following designations listed next to each freeway name: I = Interstate; SR = California State Route; US = US Route.
Read on for individual freeway information organized alphabetically by number.
At a Glance
Common Name: Pacific Coast Highway
Direction: North and South, 655 miles
Boundaries: Leggett-N, Dana Point-S
Carpool Lanes: N/A
Year Founded: 1919
The 1, (SR-1) called the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH for short, isn’t really a freeway, rather it takes on many forms during its coastal journey. It is a windy two lane road in places, in other places its more of a high speed Boulevard and expressway with stop lights and in short sections it has been built to freeway standards. PCH is mentioned here as it is a famous artery connecting the LA and Orange County area beach towns. It is a true coastal highway and actually runs up and down much of the length of some of California’s most beautiful coast line.
PCH gains in strength and has its most influence on the urban areas next to the ocean. It becomes a dominant force starting up north in Malibu, winds its way past the Santa Monica Pier then pops into the Manhattan, Hermosa, & Redondo beach towns – goes inland and loses its beach identity a little as it winds away from the ocean and is slowed down by a frustrating amount of stoplights as it cuts across the Palos Verdes Hills Peninsula. Then it really becomes a center point for activity in the beach towns from Long Beach through Huntington Beach, Newport Beach & Laguna Beach down to San Clemente in the south. The centers of many small towns along the 1 are located on both sides of this road.
There are great views of downtown Los Angeles, especially at night driving northbound on the 1 on a hill in North Manhattan Beach (next to the Manhattan Beach sign). The 1 goes through the Sepulvada tunnel which actually runs under two runways at the LAX airport. As you exit this tunnel you may be treated to a banking plane merely several hundred feet away moving at a high speed about to land – as the runways are right next to the 1 in this location!
The PCH has been immortalized in a number of songs covering various genres from Classical to Jazz, to Oldies to Rock.
At a Glance
Common Name: Glendale Freeway
Direction: West and East, 87 miles
Boundaries: Santa Monica-W, Glendale-E
Carpool Lanes: N/A
Year Founded: 1934
The 2 (Glendale Freeway) is one of the shortest freeways in Los Angeles and is part of State Route 2 which actually runs for a much longer distance. This is a modern freeway with a surprising number of lanes (between 4-6 depending on location) between the 134 and the 5 freeways.
This northern section also feels more rural than the southern part as it passes through undeveloped hills just before it hits the 210 freeway.The freeway portion of State Route 2 runs north from near Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park (just north of downtown) crossing the 5 the 134 and finally terminated at the 210 where in the city of La Canada Flintridge it becomes Angels Highway and continues as a 2 lane road up into the mountains of Angeles National Forest. From Glendale this is usually the fastest way to get to the 210 freeway.
Part of this freeway has been featured in several movies including an overpass that “collapsed” during the 1974 film, “Earthquake”. The 2 is a fairly fast and direct north-south route between the 101 and the 134 freeways. This freeway unfortunately stops on Alvarado blvd and is a slow city street between the end of the freeway and the 101 freeway.
Traffic can certainly backup as the freeway drops down and ends at Alvarado blvd.
At a Glance
Common Name: Golden State / Santa Ana Freeway
& other names depending on location
Direction: North and South
Boundaries: Canada Border-N, Mexico Border-S
Carpool Lanes: 2 places, short strip in LA County
between the 118 & the 14 and all of the OC
Year Founded: 1947
The Great 5 (I-5) has two names in the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas -the Santa Ana Freeway from about downtown south and the Golden State Freeway to the north of downtown. It spans from Canada to Mexico and runs right next to downtown LA on its run to the border. This is a major player on the LA and Orange county freeway scene. In Orange County, the 5 becomes one of the biggest super freeways in the world, with many lanes in both directions. This part of the freeway is an absolute amazing sight to see especially when both sides are clogged bumper to bumper and lane to lane with traffic.
This freeway can also be used to make a very quick exit to the north out of Los Angeles (when traffic is reasonable). North of downtown the 5 fly’s right by Six Flags, Magic Mountain (the large theme park) and exits the LA area near the town of Santa Clarita. After this, the 5 shoots over the often windy Grapevine through the Tejon Pass (4,160 feet) and is four lanes in both directions all the way until the 5 and the 99 split in the extreme southern end of California’s great Central Valley – the fruit basket of the state.
Those four lanes are definitely needed at times as the far right and second to the right lanes are commonly home to very slow trucks going over the at times steep grades. Also note that both the north and south bound direction of the 5 freeway for about 4 miles (between Santa Clarita and Pyramid Lake) are totally separate from each other and at one point you can look across at a far ridge to see the other lanes of traffic. Both directions actual invert on one another so that the north bound lanes are well to the left of the south bound lanes. As a side note, if the weather is warm a quick stop at Pyramid Lake for a swim is always a welcome respite from the summer’s heat.
North of Los Angeles, the HOV (carpool lanes) on the 5 start/end right around the 14 Freeway intersection (these have been extended north of the 210 in recent years). If you drive south on the 5 your first “LA Freeway moment” will occur just after the 14 freeway intersection and before the 210 intersection, made possible by a major freeway widening leaving a wide and impressive swath of pavement and lanes. You first realize the power and intensity of the Los Angeles Freeways in this particular area of the 5 freeway.
On the 5, northbound – just south of Downtown, near Santa Fe Springs – you will see lots of Graffiti written on the signs and concrete overpasses.
One downfall of the 5 is just south of Los Angeles there is *no* carpool lane in either direction (parts of this freeway near the town of Downey are just three lanes) until you hit Orange County, just north of Fullerton (much needed freeway widening progress and construction continues in this area, update mid 2014). There you will find at some point 2 carpool lanes totally separated from the rest of the lanes! Most county lines are indicated by small freeway signs – not this county, along the 5 look for the fancy “Welcome to Orange County” sign built to the side of the freeway! During some traffic patterns it is like a breath of fresh air once the lanes open up in Orange County and you hit the “super freeway” section. At this point there is a lot more space and you can often escape from all the traffic because of the extra lanes. Also note that for about a mile near downtown on the 5 North there are only 2 lanes for about a mile. The 5 is also the main access freeway to visit Knott’s Berry Farm and the original Disneyland in Orange County.
Note the following 5 exit challenges. Many freeway exits on the 5 are located on the right side of this freeway. However, several exits to be aware of that leave the 5 freeway from the left are the soon to open new 170 Freeway overpass from the 5 south (currently this exit is on the right hand side of the 5), and around downtown on the 5 north to the 710 Freeway north and also to the 101 north. Further south in Orange County on the 5 south, be aware that there is no exit to the 55 Freeway north and close to downtown on the 5 North there is no exit for the 710 South. Also of significance on the 5 south near downtown and the 10 freeway exit is the following: if you want to stay on the 5 south near the 10 interchange do not be in the far two right lanes, especially during rush hour as traffic will stack way up and you’ll be hung out to dry with the right lanes often flowing fast to the exit onto the 10 freeway. To continue on the 5 south around this freeway interchange you need to be in the two lanes in the middle left of the freeway.
Note that the 5 and the 10 freeways are actually one freeway together for about a mile next to downtown Los Angeles before the 5 continues north to Canada and the 10 begins its great trek across the entire length of the USA.
At a Glance
Common Name: Santa Monica / SB Freeway
Direction: West and East
Boundaries: Santa Monica, Jacksonville, FL-E
Carpool Lanes: From 605 to Downtown,
also near Pomona east
Year Founded: N/A
The 10 (I-10) is called the Santa Monica Freeway or San Bernardino Freeway depending on which section you are referring to. It is also named the “Rosa Parks Freeway” west of downtown Los Angeles. “Santa Monica Freeway makes a country girl blue…” an old country song sung by Shelly West and David Frizzell certainly would make someone from the country “blue”!
This is a major traffic artery for Los Angeles. The 10 officially starts or ends (depending on the driving direction) at the famous Santa Monica Pier and heads pretty much in a straight line due east towards downtown, passing fairly close to Exposition Park and USC before continuing right by Staples Center (Sports Arena) and LA Live (entertainment mega-center) before continuing east. The 10 takes on many forms in and around downtown – it is not a straight freeway from east to west in this area. As a result if you are not familiar with this section you must pay close attention as there are many freeway intersections around downtown to contend with especially where three great Los Angeles freeways come together (the 5, the 10 and the 101).
Note: to merge onto the 110 North from the 10 East near downtown you *must* be in the far left two lanes – often well before the actual merge as traffic tends to backup on this part of the 10. It can be a common mistake here to be in the far right lanes thinking that you can merge both directions onto the 110 but that is not the case. To merge to the 110 South – you will need to be in the far right lanes.
There is one section of the 10 driving westbound where this freeway breaks into three different sections all going the same direction. This is found right by the 110 intersection just before the exit to Koreatown on South Vermont Avenue.
10 HOV info: Note that the car pool lane on the 10 west starts just west of the 605. This is a very unusual car pool lane for Los Angeles. Rather than the 2 person minimum 24 hours a day, this car pool lane is restricted to vehicles carrying at least 3 passengers weekdays between the hours of 5-9am and again from 4-7pm.
All other times this carpool lane defaults to the normal 2 or more passengers per vehicle restriction. There are no other car pool lanes in the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas that we are aware of with this type of restriction. Also note these lanes are Metro Express Lanes and you will need to have a FastTrack Transponder in your vehicle before even entering these lanes (same as parts of the 110 and the 91 freeways).
When you drive the 10 west towards downtown Los Angeles you will see a sign indicating a HOV/Fastrak exit to the 101 freeway (you must have a Fastrak transponder to use this exit). When this lane is empty of traffic this is truly a remarkable freeway exit – it is very long and completely separate from all the other freeways in the area until it merges with the 101 N. As you drive it, you feel totally isolated from the rest of the Los Angeles freeways – yet you are so close to downtown!
Also of interest is that the first HOV Lane in Los Angeles County opened between El Monte and downtown Los Angeles in 1973 on the 10 and for three years was just for buses (known as the El Monte Busway). In 1976 it opened to carpools of three or more persons.
The 10 cuts through Pomona, & then Ontario before skirting San Bernardino and then heading out of the LA area, continuing its journey all the way across the United States before hitting the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville Florida. Along with the two northern freeways the great I-80, and the 90, the 10 is the only other freeway to go from coast to coast in the USA.
Perhaps you are making the long trek across the USA on the 10 – your first fleeting glimpse of the tallest buildings in downtown Los Angeles on the 10 west will be right near the 710 intersection.
There is nothing like driving the 10 (or any LA freeway) at 2 and 3am in the morning through Santa Monica and Los Angeles area with all windows down and a warm breeze blowing through your car. Most major traffic is gone and you have the satisfaction of knowing that in merely a few hours this freeway will be clogged with traffic. In our opinion, the maximum “fun window” for driving the LA freeways fast as the speed limit allows is from about 2am until 4am. This is very addicting. Throw in Hotel California playing as loud as the car speakers will allow and you have an almost religious experience.
Or if you want to experience a lighter than normal traffic day during daylight hours choose a major holiday to do your driving. We recommend Easter Sunday; one year we hit parts of all the major LA and Orange County freeways on this single day! Don’t even think about doing that on a workday.
Note that the 10 West to the South 405 exit is a one lane only exit at times despite having the space for 2 lanes for the entire exit.
Those who drive the 10 Freeway day in and day out most likely will agree that this freeway could seriously use a coronary bypass!
At a Glance
Common Name: Ontario / Mojave Freeway
Direction: North and South, 15 miles
Boundaries: Nevada-N, San Diego-S
Carpool Lanes: Sadly, none
Year Founded: N/A
The 15 (I-15) is a major freeway, called The Ontario or Mojave Freeway depending on its location. It also has other names outside of the LA Metropolitan region. The 15 cuts through Riverside and San Bernardino and eventually hits Las Vegas if you drive north east on it. During busy holiday weekends parts of the freeway can really back up especially around the Agricultural checkpoint (between Baker and Barstow – well east of Los Angeles proper) where it seems like most of the time there is someone standing at the gate waiving cars through. Having merely two lanes from east of LA to Vegas can definitely be problematic.
The 15 is the dominant north/south freeway in the Inland Empire and a major connector to San Diego in the south. As a result of its location this freeway is not in LA proper although it touches the far eastern suburbs of Los Angeles and part of it is contained within the greater LA metropolitan area. On a clear day driving north on the 15 north of the 10, there are some excellent views of the San Bernardino Mountains, especially in the winter when there is snow on top.
The 15 forms a half circle in its brush with the Southland urban area east of LA. The 15 when moving is a very fast freeway.
There is hope among truckers of putting in a truckers only lane along a good portion of this freeway. We can definitely see a need for this having driven the two lane part of this freeway numerous times. Note that traffic tends to become congested around the 215 intersection just north west of the city of San Bernardino.
At a Glance
Common Name: Garden Grove Freeway
Direction: West and East, 15 miles
Boundaries: Long Beach-W, Orange-E
Carpool Lanes: Yes, entire freeway
Year Founded: State Highway from 1934
The 22 (SR-22) called the Garden Grove Freeway is essentially an east/west connector freeway running between most of the major freeways in Orange County including the 405, the 5 and the 55 Freeway at the City of Orange. Besides the dominant 91 Freeway to the north, the 22 is Orange County’s only other major East
/ West freeway. The similarities don’t end there; also like the 91 Freeway which starts out on its western end as a city street, so does the 22. East 7th Street runs all the way through Long Beach before becoming the 22 Freeway.
While this is a very short freeway (one of the shortest in the LA and Orange County metropolitan region), it is an extremely vital one. The 22 cuts across many large long boulevards that also touch the 5 and 405 freeways. This is a fast, premiere modern Orange County freeway when traffic is light.
Major construction was recently finished on this freeway including the addition of a car pool lane in each direction as well as some pleasing artwork in the stone walls that surround both sides of this freeway. This is not your ordinary Los Angeles & Orange County car pool lane, rather its based on the type of car pool lanes commonly used up in the San Francisco Bay Area.
While it is restricted 24/7 to car poolers these are continuous access car pool lanes meaning vehicles containing more than 1 passenger can enter and exit the car pool lanes as they wish, rather than waiting until specific entry and exit points. This is the first freeway in either Los Angeles or Orange County to have these type of car pool lanes, although they have been in use for years in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The 22 is also one of the freeways to form part of the infamous “Orange Crush”, a notoriously crowded section of freeways (also the 5 and 57 freeways) and surface roads near the city of Orange. Near the 5 intersection look for the famous Crystal Cathedral just to the north of the freeway.
There are several freeway defects that are part of the 22. One of the most glaring is there is no exit to get on the 5 South as you drive on the 22 East (between the 57 and the 5 freeways). In addition, as you drive the carpool lane west on the 22, there is no carpool lane only exit to either the 5 south or the 5 north – you need to exit the carpool lane and head to the far right of the 22 freeway to use the regular lanes for exiting onto the 5 in either direction.
At a Glance
Common Name: Costa Mesa Freeway
Direction: North and South, 18 miles
Boundaries: Anaheim-N, Newport Beach-S
Carpool Lanes: Yes, entire freeway
Year Founded: State Highway from 1931
The 55 (SR-55) freeway is called the Costa Mesa Freeway and runs from Newport Beach crossing the 405 and the 5 before finally hitting the 91 Freeway near Yorba Linda. This is a fairly short freeway as far as LA freeways are concerned and was originally a 4 lane highway first built in the early 1960’s after many years as a smaller state highway. It runs in an approximate north-south direction. From the 405 to the southern Beach cities you actually jump on the toll 73 Freeway but exit on the 55 before the actual toll kicks in. Did you know that the 55 was home to Orange County’s first carpool lane? This was built in merely 1985. It is hard to believe that it has only been 20+ years since Orange County has embraced car pool lanes!
Today the northern stretch of this freeway between the 5 and the 91 Freeway, boasts 5 lanes in each direction (including the carpool lane). Like the 10 Freeway which is located north in LA County, the 55 Freeway also ends in a beach town. At the end of this large freeway you quickly come to city stop lights (the freeway becomes Newport Blvd) and cross a variety of other boulevards before hitting the PCH (Highway 1).
If you continue all the way on Newport Blvd after leaving the 55 Freeway eventually you will drive out onto the Balboa Peninsula which deposits you into the quintessential realm of southern Orange County’s wealthy beach living. You will see big homes, big boats and a beautiful bay.
The 55 is a direct route for these southern Orange County beach cities to major freeways including the 405, the 5 and the major 91 Freeway further to the north (connecting to the Inland Empire) and as a result this freeway can be quite clogged at times.
At a Glance
Common Name: Orange Freeway
Direction: North and South, 24 miles
Boundaries: Glendora-N, Santa Ana-S
Carpool Lanes: Yes, entire freeway
Year Founded: State Highway from 1931
The 57 (SR-57) Freeway is called the Orange Freeway and runs from the 5 near the city of Orange up through Anaheim crossing the 91, & the 60, before finally terminating at the 210 (Foothill Freeway) at San Dimas. This is one of the major state highways in this particular part of Orange and LA counties and is part of one of the locally well known traffic bottlenecks at times. The 57 forms part of what is called “the Orange Crush” appropriately titled as this often busy freeway interchange is located next to the city of Orange. The Orange Crush involves neighboring freeways including the 5 and the 22. In addition a number of on and off ramps help add to the complexity of this particular interchange. You can think of this interchange as Orange County’s answer to some of LA County’s worst freeway interchanges! However if there is little traffic on this freeway it can be an extremely quick option to go between Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley.
Carpool lanes start/end around Tonner Canyon Road in the 57 hills near the 60 Freeway intersection. Driving northbound on the downside of the hills in this part of the 57 (on a relatively clear day) affords one nice views looking north towards the San Gabriel Mountains.
The 57 fly’s by several well known sports venues including Anaheim Stadium with its big landmark “A” sign located in the parking lot, as well as nearby Honda Center, home to the Anaheim Mighty ducks professional hockey team.
The 57 splits these two sports centers in half with one center located on either side of the freeway. The Richard Nixon Museum and Presidential Library is located on Yorba Linda Blvd off the 57 Freeway north of the 91 Freeway. Raging Waters, the water “rides and slides” theme park is also located almost at the end of the 57 Freeway, just north of the 10.
Existing carpool connector ramps are still fairly rare in the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan region, however a number of new ones are in the planning stage. These connector ramps are physically separated from the main freeway and are for carpool use only. The 57 is unique as presently it is the only freeway in the southland with two carpool connector ramps, one at the 60 Freeway in the north and one at the infamous “Orange Crush” on its southern end.
At a Glance
Common Name: Pomona Freeway
Direction: West and East, 70 miles
Boundaries: Los Angeles-W, Beaumont-E
Carpool Lanes: Mostly east of the 605
Year Founded: State Highway, 1964
The 60 (SR-60) Freeway is one of the major east/west freeways in the LA basin. It can be extremely crowded at times and even that is an understatement. This is one freeway that we try to avoid at all costs during rush hour. It is called the Pomona Freeway and starts/ends just south of downtown and runs all the way east to the 91, ending just east of Riverside at the great 10 freeway. It serves part of the San Gabriel and Pomona valley communities. Depending on your location in the LA area this might be the freeway of choice for heading out to Palm Springs (via the 10 Freeway). In 2007 major freeway construction was completed near where the 91, 60 and 215 converge in the city of Riverside.
The problem with all the traffic on the 60 is this freeway serves dual functions; it is a major commuter corridor between downtown Los Angeles and many communities in both the San Gabriel Valleys and further east to Riverside and San Bernardino. In addition, the Federal Sub-system of Highways has designated the 60 a Super Truck Route so as a result you have many trucks using this freeway mostly serving the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Note that there is no connector from the 60 west to the 5 south. Also the 60 and the 57 freeways actually run together as one freeway for about 2 miles near their intersection.
At a Glance
Common Name: Corona del Mar Freeway
Direction: North and South, 18 miles
Boundaries: Costa Mesa-N, Mission Viejo-S
Carpool Lanes: None in LA County
Year Founded: Initial section, 1978, 1996 the rest
The 73 (SR-73) is a sweet toll road (however, note that not the entire length is a toll road) that provides a fast modern freeway shortcut experience between the 405 and the 5 freeways in southern Orange County. Orange County is without a doubt the toll road leader in California and this is one of their shining accomplishments.
As you exit the 405 note that you can drive for about 3 miles before you actually enter the toll section of this freeway. The first exit (1.25 miles in) driving southbound is the fairly short 55 Freeway which ends as a stop lighted highway in Newport Beach.
This is a fast freeway and because of the fairly high tolls is a much lesser traveled road than some of the nearby public freeways. Note that as of May 12, 2014 Orange County has done away with all cash machines at all toll roads including the 73. You can use your Fastrak transponder to pass through the former toll plaza where the cost of each time you enter will be added to your Fastrak account. If you do not have a Fastrak account you must login to www.thetollroads.com within 48 hours and pay your toll there, otherwise be subjected to fines. This is a very weak and stupid system for those who do not have Fastrak transponders.
If you have a FasTrak transponder in your car you will save you a bit on the cost of the toll fare.
Photo above: Entrance to the old toll booth & automatic toll machines, northbound on the 73 freeway.
At a Glance
Common Name: Marina Freeway
Direction: West and East, ~ 3 miles
Boundaries: PCH (1)-W, W. Slauson Ave-E
Carpool Lanes: No
Year Founded: 1964 as a highway
The 90 (SR-91), called the Marina Freeway is the shortest freeway in all of Los Angeles (about 3 miles) – as a result of its far western coverage and short distance it does not often see the extreme congestion that some of the area’s larger freeways have. This freeway also resumes as the Imperial highway to the East and runs through several Orange County communities such as Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills.
The 90 starts as an expressway right near the Marina at Marina del Rey and turns into an official freeway near Ballona Creek (like other creeks in Los Angeles, its a “paved” creek – for flood control reasons) – it then crosses the only major freeway in its path – the 405 before dwindling out at West Slauson Ave in the small community of Fox Hills. While it is named the “marina freeway” the freeway does not actually touch the “marina” – starting about a 1/4 mile East of the water.
At a Glance
Common Name: Riverside Freeway
Direction: West and East, 59 miles
Boundaries: Gardena-W, Riverside-E
Carpool Lanes: Yes, all of LA, OC, & almost
off of its length in Riverside County
Year Founded: 1930’s as a highway
The 91 (SR-91) Freeway, called the Riverside Freeway, the Gardena Freeway or the Artesia Freeway depending on its specific location, begins not as a freeway but rather as Artesia Blvd (with lots of stoplights) in Hermosa Beach on the Pacific Ocean. It becomes a major freeway at the 110 interchange in the town of Gardena and follows a pretty much straight east-west route through Anaheim and then Corona, before heading north east up to Riverside where it is finally buried at the 10 Freeway and turns into the 215. Like the 210, the 10, and the 60 freeways, the 91 is a major east-west artery in the LA area. It is the direct link between Orange and Riverside counties and is one of the most congested freeways in the Southland. There is a carpool lane on most of this freeway. Parts of this freeway between Orange County and Riverside have a carpool lane plus 1-2 “Express” lanes accessed by FasTrak – a toll only separate part of the freeway which parallels the main part of the 91. There are 6 or 7 lanes in either direction on the 91 in areas.
This is a very busy freeway and during rush hour, despite the toll lane usage increase, these lanes typically move much faster than the regular lanes. The toll lanes run for about 10 miles – unfortunately not far enough, but these lanes usually save a lot of time. You must be a paying member of FasTrak to use these lanes – cash will not work. When you sign up for FasTrak, you are given a transponder which you put in your car and it is read by the machine as your zip through the Express Lane gate & debits your account every time you use the Express Lanes.
We are aware of only two freeways in the Los Angeles and Orange County metro areas that contain special car pool lanes for 3 or more occupants per vehicle. One is on the 10 Freeway heading towards downtown Los Angeles at certain times (no toll) and the other is one lane within the 91’s toll section.
Three people in your car allows you to travel for free or at a healthy discount (depending on peak travel hours).
The 91 toll section is part of Orange County’s fairly extensive toll road system. If you take the 241 south from the 91 you will notice that this toll road hits several more toll roads – there is also the 73 toll freeway located more towards the ocean part of Orange County. Southern & Central Orange County is the center of toll freeways, highways and roads in California.
At the border between the following counties: Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino the 91 passes through what is sometimes a traffic nightmare called the Santa Ana Canyon. This is where the 91 and the Santa Ana River pass through the Santa Ana Mountains.
More information about the Express Lanes and the 91 Freeway is here: www.91expresslanes.com and you can even watch a nice video about how the toll lanes will save you time! www.91expresslanes.com/virtdrive.html In addition you can look at a real time map of the 91 Freeway and adjoining freeways. Sections of the freeways are sectioned off by how many miles per hour the traffic is moving! (i.e. increments of 0-15mph, 15-30mph etc).
At a Glance
Common Name: Hollywood Freeway
Direction: West and East | North and South
Boundaries: Thousand Oaks-W, Downtown LA-S
Carpool Lanes: None in LA County
Year Founded: N/A
The 101 , (US-101) one of Los Angeles’ most famous freeways actually ends in downtown after going by Hollywood and Thai Town. It is called the Ventura Freeway north west of LA and then when it gets close to the downtown area it is called The Hollywood Freeway – as it pretty much bisects Hollywood and North
Hollywood. Also note the 170 extension freeway is also called the Hollywood Freeway. This very historic freeway is called El Camino Real or King’s Highway during the section between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.
It was originally built to connect the 21 California Missions. Note: there is No carpool lane on the 101 north of Los Angeles and as a result traffic at times can be terrible – throw in a few accidents near the 101/405 interchange and you have a disastrous commute.
The 101 forms the south end of the “San Fernando Square” – a square of major pavement that runs through the San Fernando Valley (the 118 on the north, the great 405 freeway on the East, the 101 on the south, and the 27 (Topanga Canyon Blvd) on the west side. (place mouse over colored text above for description).
Driving on the 101 south to the 5, you must be in the right lanes to get onto the 5. The connection freeway (technically) still the 101) from the 101 to the 5 continues as two lanes for about a mile and then drops you right onto the busy 5 south. This freeway runs up and down the west coast of the United States but the absolute end of the 101 is located where it meets the 5 near downtown Los Angeles.
One of the huge freeway interchanges in the Southland occurs at the 101 and the 110 – where there are four levels of freeways all coming together at one place! This is simply called the “Four-Level Interchange” and was the world’s first 4-level interchange. In fact within several miles of this interchange you can find a few of the most major LA freeways (the 10, the 5 & the 710).
Note: If you are driving south on the 101 and want to jump on the 110 South near downtown after you have exited the 101 (just past the Four-Level Interchange), there are two ways you can do this. For the more adventurous you have to immediately move over as far left as you can – this involves jumping across 5 or 6 lanes of traffic which because of the extremely short distance is difficult to do with or without crowded conditions. Fun times in downtown!
For those who would rather take their time or if traffic is totally backed up in this area like it often is, stay in the right lanes and follow the signs to Wilshire Blvd. There is an on-ramp back onto the 110 just before Wilshire Blvd so that you never actually leave the 110 Freeway. The total distance from the 2 freeway merge to the onramp just before Wilshire is about 1 mile.
Note: where Mulholland Drive merges into the 101 North at Cahuenga Pass there is a solid white line seperating the merge lanes from the main lanes of the 101 freeway. This solid white line extends nearly to the pass – indicating traffic cannot merge between the sets of lanes until this solid white line ends.
The 101 runs all the way up through Northern California, Oregon and Washington – at times reaching out and touching the coastline after running inland for many miles. The 101 hits the coast closest to Los Angeles just south of Santa Barbara and just north of Ventura. Here is a website which contains news, general info and photos covering all of Interstate 101: www.101cafe.net
At a Glance
Common Name: Century Freeway
Direction: West and East, 19 miles
Boundaries: El Segundo-W, Norwalk-E
Carpool Lanes: Yes, entire freeway
Year Founded: 1993
The 105 (I-105) called the Century Freeway is Los Angeles’ Airport’s “own freeway” although it runs west-east for about 20 miles and ends at the 605 Freeway near the city of Bellflower, which is well east of LAX (LA’s International Airport). While the 105 is a fairly short it crosses 4 major north south freeways and just misses hitting the 5 Freeway at its eastern terminus. The 105 starts right at LAX and as you come out of the airport you quickly jump on this freeway. The 105 helps create the amazing Judge Harry Pregerson 5-level freeway interchange in its swath east of the 405 at the 110 intersection.
This intersection as viewed from the 110 Freeway is truly a sight to see and is a must visit for any LA freeway buff. For reference a 5-level freeway interchange is one major mass of concrete with a bunch of raised levels; this interchange is the biggest one we know of, at least in California! It includes separate carpool lane connectors (HOV), metro tracks and the towering Harbor Transitway, a section of often raised pavement that is reserved for carpoolers as well as in specific locations, contains a separate lane for buses. The highest lane in this 5-level interchange is a carpool (HOV) lane which towers 130 feet above the ground!
This 5-level freeway looks the most impressive from the ground level. We’ve driven the uppermost Fastrack HOV several times and while tall and creating a vary long swath over this interchange its not quite as impressive as from the ground level. The Fastrack HOV lanes on the 105 East actually extend about one mile past the intersection with the 110 before this lanes reverts back to normal HOV.
Its also interesting to note when you are driving the 105 in either direction and you take the exit for the 405 Freeway South there is a mile plus stretch of “no mans freeway” – a two lane section that is the actual connector between these two freeways. A nice tunnel is also part of this connector experience when you drive West on the 105 and take the 405 South exit. These connectors are somewhat unusual because of their length – most freeway connector exits are much shorter in length.
This freeway is relatively new having only opened in 1993. Here is a bit of 105 Freeway trivia: the childhood home of which Southern California band was torn down because it sat in the path of this freeway? Answer: the child home of the Beach Boys was torn down in the mid 1980’s to make way for this freeway and today there is a historic monument in the shadow of one of the 105’s walls commemorating this spot. A great Los Angeles based movie which involves this freeway is Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. This movie was filmed on the 105 just prior to its opening.
At a Glance
Common Name: Harbor/Pasadena Freeway
Direction: North and South, 32 miles
Boundaries: Pasadena-N, San Pedro-S
Carpool Lanes: Only in approximately the middle
Year Founded: 1930’s as highway
The 110 (SR-110) called the Harbor Freeway or Pasadena Freeway (depending on which section you are referring to – north of the 10 is the Pasadena, south of the 10 is the Harbor) is the oldest freeway in Los Angeles, and California for that matter (parts of it date from 1940 as a freeway) and as a result north of downtown, some of the lane sections are quite narrow. It was not built to handle today’s traffic, car sizes or freeway speeds. In fact a number of entrances north of downtown along the 110 are stop signs! Since parts of this freeway are quite windy and people tend to drive it rather quickly this can make for extremely challenging freeway entrances. This freeway also goes by the names “110 Parkway” and the “Arroyo Seco” as Arroyo Seco in Spanish means “dry creek” and this freeway generally follows along a dry ravine north of downtown. Our license plate makes reference to the 105 freeway but this is one of our favorite LA freeways to drive – especially north of downtown with little traffic, or in the carpool lanes south of downtown.
If cities had freeway hearts, the 110 forms the heart of Los Angeles.
This freeway is synonymous with Los Angeles and is one of the freeways Los Angelenos love to “hate”. It also forms part of two of the most major masses of concrete in the southland, the interchange merely called the “Four Level Interchange” and a massive 5-level interchange where it meets the 105 freeway.
On the busiest sections of this freeway, almost 350,000 cars pass over its concrete daily. This freeway runs right next to downtown Los Angeles, passing Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park on its ride to Pasadena. On a clear day there are excellent views of downtown and when we drive people northbound towards downtown for the first time the windows roll down and they hang out with video cameras rolling! Yea, LA freeway driving doesn’t get any better than this! Want an intimate view of the 110 from downtown. Check out the steps from the Sixth Street overpass for intimate views of the 110 North. You walk right down to the edge of the freeway. For freeway lovers this is about as good as it gets – especially during rush hour.
The 110 north of downtown is quite windy with narrow lanes in places and if traffic is moving fast you have to really concentrate to stay in your lane. It then passes under the great 5 Freeway and starts to dwindle out as it becomes Arroyo Seco Blvd (Old route 66 – Get your “kicks on Route 66”) at which point it is no longer a freeway and you have to deal with stoplights. The 110 Freeway dies in Pasadena. Note that driving on the 110 south towards downtown the one lane exits for the 101 and the 5 Freeway come up very abruptly on your right hand side and if you are “flying” down this freeway towards downtown and want to make your exit onto one of these two freeways, use caution and slow down.
The photos below are of LA’s only 5 level freeway interchange. This particular one is where the 110 meets the 105 Freeway and is truly an impressive site to see in person. The Carpool lanes are built at the highest level on this interchange and from the top on a clear day there are excellent views overlooking the LA Basin. There is also a metro stop in the “middle” of all this concrete. We always slow down here on purpose (not because of heavy traffic which is common – we are always in the car pool lane) just to marvel at the massive concrete that surrounds the center of this intersection.
The 110 south of downtown has excellent carpool lanes for several miles in both the north and south direction north of the 405 Freeway. In fact there is a separate carpool lane freeway in the median section that contains 2 lanes totally isolated from the main freeway! The 110 North just South of downtown actually has one short section with 3 Express (Hov) lanes. This part of the 110 freeway is called the Harbor Transitway and it runs for 11 miles. This section of roadway is now toll only accessible; you need a transponder in your vehicle – visit https://www.metroexpresslanes.net for more information (Triple A discounts are given – transponders from other regions such as FasTrak in Northern California will work – but you will pay the same rates as solo drivers even if you are carpooling). These special lanes actually start on the 105 right before it crosses over the 110.
On Friday afternoon rush hour heading south – we have seen a good majority of this car pool lane fairly empty while traffic is stacked up 5 across in the normal lanes.
The Harbor Transitway rivals any of the prime carpool lanes in Orange County. This part of the freeway takes an additional step – there is even a bus lane for short sections. If you are heading north on the 110 towards downtown and are in the car pool lanes and you want to stay on the freeway, be sure to move back over to the right onto the main freeway (probably much more crowded than the 2 car pool lanes) as the car pool lanes end, rather than staying all the way to left which will quickly exit onto surface streets towards downtown. Want to see prime undeveloped real estate within minutes of downtown – check out the large median dirt strip on the northbound 110 near where it hits the 101.
On the 110 North the freeway gains more power at the 91 when it acquires 2 more lanes in its slog towards downtown.
Additionally, one of the disaster merges in LA is from the 110 north onto the 5 Freeway. This is a complete traffic meltdown at times during peak traffic periods from the 110 North to the 5 so as a result the left lanes can backup for a long ways and if cars try to ‘lane rip you‘ (a term coined by Dave referring to cars that merge in front of you at the last minute rather than waiting in the backup) close to where the one lane leaves the 110, often some drivers will honk vigorously in frustration.
The oldest freeway in Los Angeles has some modern technology currently found nowhere else in LA! Look for the blue “lane lights” (called Smart-stud, each “stud” in the pavement is composed of high-intensity LED lights) in the tunnel of the 110 North where the one or two lanes leaves for the 5 freeway. These lights can be turned off and on as needed. When the blue lights are on *only* the far left lane can be used to exit to the 5 freeway (this is to help prevent the “lane rips”). When the blue lights are off, either the far left or the 2nd lane from the left can exit to the 5 freeway. When driving, initially you will see one row of blue lights warning to get over if you need to, then there are two rows of blue lights and this means do not cross the lanes.
In this same section of the 110 N there are digital signs next to the permanent freeway signs which indicate if just one or two lanes can be used to exit onto the 5 North. There are three of these digital signs spaced out along this part of the freeway.
The 110 is well engrained in the cultural urbanity of Southern California. This freeway has its own radio station which broadcasts important updates and urgent matters – if you find yourself driving this freeway tune your AM radio to 1610. There is even a clothing line named after the 110! Check out www.110south.com But perhaps most fascinating of all is “The 110 Project”, an opera performed by the Los Angeles Opera about the story of several communities located along this freeway. The musical score was even inspired by freeway sounds. Nice!
At a Glance
Common Name: Ronald Reagan Freeway
Direction: West and East, 48 miles
Boundaries: Ventura-W, San Fernando-E at 210
Carpool Lanes: Yes, all of LA County
Year Founded: 1964-1979
The 118 (SR-118) is a fantastic freeway when its moving – which starts/ends at the 210 Freeway and runs east/west through Simi Valley and the huge San Fernando Valley. When compared to San Fernando Valley, Simi Valley is not nearly as developed. The 118 is named the Ronald Reagan Freeway and appropriately runs near the hillside home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. This freeway is the northern Anchor of the San Fernando Valley and the “San Fernando Square” (place mouse over colored text for description). It becomes the 23 as you head west and then runs south and connects up with the great 101 Freeway in Thousand Oaks.
Much of the western part of the 118 is 2 lanes however carpool lanes do start well before you head up the Santa Susana Pass into the San Fernando Valley (east bound – carpool is also available westbound). Speaking of this pass, the old road that crosses over the pass lies parallel to the fast moving 118 and when we have extra time driving in the east bound direction we will jump off on Topanga Canyon Blvd and wrap around to the old Santa Susana Road which heads back up the pass parallel to the 118.
There is an exit near the top of the pass if you are driving in the west bound direction. There are some great hikes here with views of both Simi and the San Fernando Valley as this pass forms the divide between these two major Los Angeles valleys. The pass also forms the county line between LA and Ventura counties; look for the Los Angeles city limits sign near the pass and if you are driving by fast, the string of digits indicating the city’s population will just be a blur!
At a Glance
Common Name: Ventura Freeway
Direction: West and East, 13 miles
Boundaries: N. Hollywood-W, Pasadena-E
Carpool Lanes: Yes, entire length
Year Founded: 1964
The 134 (SR-134) called the Ventura Freeway is an east/west artery that leaves the 101 and hits the 5 and then connects at the 210 “corner” where the 210 completely changes direction. This intersection is right where the north part of the 710 “defect” is situated (see 710 for more information about this freeway oddity).
The 134 is an extension of the Ventura Freeway, which is also the name for part of the 101. If you are driving from north of LA to Orange County or vice versa this is typically a faster freeway than using the 405 especially during rush hour. That’s not to say this freeway doesn’t get packed; it certainly does as it is one of the connectors between the huge San Fernando Valley over to the San Gabriel Valley and near Pasadena.
At almost its halfway point the 134 skirts the edge of Griffith Park and crosses the 5 Freeway. This interchange is called the Gene Autry Memorial Interchange as the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage is located nearby as well as the Los Angeles Zoo.
As far as freeway names go this freeway is located in a confusing area due to several freeway name overlaps. It is called the Ventura Freeway but so is part of the 101. It is also of the shortest freeways around. Carpool lanes run both directions. There are few freeways in the LA area that contain intersections with no access between each freeway. The 134 is one of them, at least in one direction. As you drive west there is no exit to get onto the 170 South. As a result take the exit for North 170 for about 1/2 of a mile, get off at Magnolia, go under the freeway and then get on the 170 South. Conversely, there is no interchange from the 101 North to the 134 East.
At a Glance
Common Name: Hollywood Freeway
Direction: North and South, 8 miles
Boundaries: San Fernando-N, Hollywood-S
Carpool Lanes: None
Year Founded: 1964
The 170 (SR-170) is one of the shortest freeways in the LA metropolitan region. It is similar in length to the also very short Glendale Freeway – Highway 2 but neither freeway is as short as the regions shortest which is the far western part of the Marina Freeway (SR-90 – only 2.25 miles. For you LA freeway buffs, this could be the winning answer to that trivia question! However understanding the naming system on the 170 freeway can be somewhat confusing. First of all this freeway is divided into 2 sections. The northern most section is entirely the 170 running from the 5 in the north down to the 101 in the south. However when it meets the 101 it joins and these two freeways are one in the same until technically the 170 Freeway ends at the junction of Santa Monica Blvd and the 101.
To further confuse the situation the part of the 170 that runs in tandem with the 101 are both called the Hollywood Freeway. The intersection of the 101, 170 and 134 freeways is simply called the “Hollywood Split”. See our definition section for more information on this term.
The 170 runs past its most notable landmarks when it has the power of the 101 Freeway to carry it along.
These landmarks include Hollywood itself, Universal Studios and the Hollywood Bowl. Drive by in the afternoon during the Academy Awards, look over to the side at Hollywood and see all the helicopters hovering. The northern part of the 170 runs past North Hollywood and what is one of the largest Thai Temples in the USA.
At a Glance
Common Name: Foothill Freeway
Direction: West and East, 86 miles
Boundaries: San Fernando-W, Redlands-E
Carpool Lanes: Yes, all of LA County
Year Founded: 1964, highway from the 1930’s
The 210 (I-210) called the Foothill Freeway is a very long freeway and winds through mountains, the foothills and urban settings. It passes exits to a variety of landmarks including the LA Arboretum, the Huntington Museum and old town Pasadena where the famous Rose Parade is held every year on nearby Colorado Blvd. Its name stems from the fact that almost its entire length is located at the base of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest. This freeway also runs nearly the original route of the original “freeway” into California–Route 66. As you drive anywhere on the 210 around Pasadena look to the north at the highest mountain – that is Mt. Wilson (elevation 5,710) which contains the Mt. Wilson Observatory as well as nearby “media center”, a part of the mountain home to a huge collection of antennas and other broadcasting equipment.
During winter and early spring days you may be treated to spectacular snow capped views of this and nearby mountains. The “drive to the sky” as we like to call it, Highway 2 leads off of the 210 Freeway at the town of La Canada Flintridge and eventually winds its way up towards the Mt. Wilson Observatory. This is a great road to “get away from it all” when you find yourself on the 210 with some extra time to kill and are ready to escape the incessant traffic.
Look for the Metro’s gold line running in the median of this freeway approximately between Pasadena to Arcadia.
The 210 jumps off of the 5 in the San Fernando Valley and is LA’s most northerly East West freeway. As you are driving south on the 5 this is truly the first greater metropolitan Los Angeles freeway you come to. Construction is finally finished on its most easterly section and it now connects up with the 10 & 30 freeways near San Bernardino. Look for the only West Coast Miller Beer brewing facility with its huge fermentation tanks just east of the 605 intersection. You might be treated to suds of beer overflowing some of the tanks and of course the smell of hops.
Due to the picturesque backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains located directly to the north of this freeway, the 210 has been used in a number of commercials, TV shows and movies including the Transformers.
As you drive the 210 East and reach the city of Pasadena, the far two right lanes are where you need to be if you want to continue on the 210 E at the 134 merge. At its eastern reaches, this state-of-the-art freeway becomes more old school and turns into three lanes just east of San Bernardino but then truly “wimps” out and becomes merely 2 lanes as it reaches the city of San Bernardino.
At a Glance
Common Name: San Diego Freeway
Direction: North and South, 72 miles
Boundaries: San Fernando-N, Irvine-S
Carpool Lanes: Entire length except section
N & S of the 10 and in Costa Mesa, Orange County
Year Founded: 1964
The Great 405 (I-405) called the San Diego Freeway (or alternatively we often refer to it as the MONSTER) is one of the main north south arteries for LA and is one of the most well known LA freeways. This is in fact, one of our favorite Los Angeles freeways, although to say any LA freeway is a “favorite”, especially this one, quickly invites argument from anyone who has to drive these freeways day in and day out or at night. In fact this is one of the most crowded freeways in the world and is the most crowded freeway in Los Angeles; as a result, traffic patterns can really vary. For example traffic may backup for a mile around a major intersection or boulevard and then streamline itself and move at the speed limit for a few minutes.
The northerly part of the 405 is in the San Fernando Valley off of the 5 and leads in a southerly direction until it meets back up with the 5 freeway just south of Irvine in Orange County. During busy hours the 405 dumps its many victims onto the 5 north, clogging the 5 for several miles. The 405 starts at the 5 southbound – of which there is a 3-lane exit (interestingly enough, no HOV lane for about the first mile). Note that because of the sharp angle that the 405 hits the 5 near the town of San Fernando, there is no exit for the 405 South on the 5 North.
The 405 crosses many of the areas’ well known east/west freeways.
It is a major artery between the San Fernando Valley area, the City of Los Angeles and the southern cities including Long Beach and the Orange County area.
A nice view from where you can appreciate the power of this freeway is from the outside walkway on the “north” building at the Getty Center. From here you look straight down on the 405 and see it winding through the Sepulvada Pass area. It is like an angry river constantly roaring but never overflowing its banks. Looking for another excellent viewing location of the 405? Look no further than outside on the second floor of the Howard-Hughes-Promenade shopping complex about 3 miles north of 105 Freeway.
Traffic on this monster of a road can be bad regardless of the time of day or night. After driving the 405 and leaving Los Angeles it is always a major shock and an adrenaline “come down” to be on “small” 2 or 3 lane freeways.
On the southern part of the 405 just before it crosses over the 55 freeway you can jump on the 73 which is a nice time saver if you are driving down to southern Orange County or to San Diego. After a few miles the 73 becomes a toll road and is toll almost until you reach the 5 Freeway. The 73 opened for traffic only in the last few years and it is a nice clean freeway. Driving south bound on the 405, you would also take the 73 to the 55 if you want to visit Newport Beach.
Note that if you are driving north on the 405 from Orange County, the carpool lane ends between the 105 and the 10 freeway junctions. Recent construction has extended the carpool lane in both directions for a few miles & has slightly helped traffic flow. Plans are also in the works to ensure that the last remaining non carpool section of the 405 is built with carpool lanes so that this entire freeway will have carpool lanes on both sides.
The 405 North merge with the 101 is now 2 lanes and at times has somewhat helped ease what used to be horrific congestion. Once you actually merge onto the 101 the 2 merging lanes are kept separate from the rest of the freeway for about 1/2 a mile to help with traffic flow. Another interesting freeway intersection is 405 North to the 22 East. Rather than having a freeway merge ramp you actually exit at Cyprus Ave – stop at a stoplight and then continue through to the actual 22 freeway onramp. Wierd!
On a bike ride in Orange County one fine spring day, we stopped on an overpass (next to University Ave) directly above the center divider in the middle of the 405 Freeway. It was incredible the feeling of power and energy that came from this swath below us with cars racing by at 80+ mph. On such a clear warm day, after a year of good rain the grass was green all around us and snow covered the highest of the San Gabriel’s in the distance. This is 405 Freeway watching at its best!
Between where the 405 crosses the 118 and the 101 look for the large Budweiser plant on the west side of the freeway. Want to see the 405 featured in a short action comedy, appropriately titled “405, The Movie”, visit: www.405themovie.com/Home.asp
Please note: the 405 has finished undergoing a number of major construction and widening projects – most notably near the “hump” that is Sepulvada Pass and at the Sunset and Wilshire Blvd Intersections.
This was an intense construction project in one of the most crowded parts of Los Angeles. During rush hour, there was so much traffic backed up on surface streets that humans replaced traffic lights – and traffic was hand guided through intersections. Here is an example of the type of congestion in this area – around 5pm on a weekday we waited 30 minutes to inch along about 1/3 of a mile – on side streets and then on Sunset Blvd. One could go nuts during certain times of the day, just trying to get between Sunset Blvd and Wilshire Blvd – site of much major construction. With construction finished, traffic on this section of the 405 is as bad as ever!
At a Glance
Common Name: San Gabriel River Freeway
Direction: North and South, 27 miles
Boundaries: Irwindale-N, Seal Beach-S
Carpool Lanes: All south of the 10 intersection
Year Founded: 1964, highway from the 1940’s
The 605 (I-605) called the San Gabriel Freeway starts almost right at the 405 Freeway, not far from Long Beach and ends slightly north of the 210 Freeway in the town of Duarte. Note that there is no car pool lane north of where the 605 intersects with the 10. During commute hours we’ve seen the carpool lane fill up pretty well (south of the 10) but its definitely still a faster option then the regular lanes. The freeway is appropriately named as it sits near a plethora of similar named items from the city of San Gabriel to the San Gabriel River which parallels much of this freeway. In the northern section you can see a bunch of dry riverbed and other river cobble off to one side.
One large obstacle stops this freeway from continuing in its north easterly direction and that is the large San Gabriel Mountains which tower above its northern section. As you reach the end in the north this freeway splits into a Y – where you can head either east or west on the 210 Freeway. As you drive the 605 North it is the two left lanes that merge to the 210 West and the two right lanes that lead to the 210 East.
Just before you reach this Y you will see a bunch of whitish rock stacked up on the east side of the road. This forms one of the borders of the Santa Fe Dam recreation area. When moving the 605 is a very fast north-south freeway.
NOTE: In mid 2015 a new overpass is being constructed from the 605 South to the 10 East. This is going to be a huge improvement over the terrible immediate merge that you have to make after exiting the freeway and crossing three lanes of traffic to reach the one lane the leads to the 10 East. This new overpass will be in the “sky” and bypass all the current merges.
At a Glance
Common Name: Long Beach Freeway
Direction: North and South, 23 miles
Boundaries: Alhambra-N, Long Beach-S
Carpool Lanes: None
Year Founded: 1964, highway from the 1930’s
The 710 (I-710) called the Long Beach Freeway is appropriately named as it starts right next to Long Beach. The 710 could also be called the “La River Freeway” as it, without deviation, follows the course of the LA River throughout most of its length until just before the 5 Freeway where the 710 and the LA River split directions. Along with the 110 Freeway the 710 helps feed the entire Port Complex area which includes Long Beach Harbor and the Port of Los Angeles, which are *major* International shipping destinations for the West Coast of the USA. As a result, this is a very “industrial” freeway – when you get close to Long Beach you will see many trucks on this freeway and if you are driving a car you may be the minority vehicle on this freeway. Even in the late hours of the day one side of this freeway may be stop and go traffic with trucks piled up next to each other.
As the 710 nears the Long Beach Harbor the freeway veers off in three directions with each of the smaller branches extending to the water. The main branch of the 710 ends near the famous Queen Mary ship. The 710 and the 110 are considered “feeder” freeways (place mouse over colored text for description) as many supplies from around the world reach the harbors here and are fed into the Southland and elsewhere beginning on these two freeways.
This is a freeway that has an unusual section in the northern part of its reaches. We call it the “710 Freeway Defect” and yes its annoying when you are driving south bound on the 5 and there is no connector to the 710 Freeway northbound. For more information about this “gap”, visit: www.710gap.com
A small approximately 1 mile stub of this freeway has actually been built which connects to the 134 and 210 freeways. This is about 3.5 miles north of where the other part of the 710 ends just north of the 10 Freeway. So there is about 3.5 miles of surface streets and residential communities lying in the path of the two ends of this freeway! Plans are still in the works to somehow complete this missing link to join both parts of this freeway. This short stub of the 710, if not completed will remain the “great urban artifact” as John Dutton says in his essay, “The Life And Death of Great American Freeways: the 710 case study“.
The greater LA area encompasses a huge area – and spans several large valleys. Both Los Angeles and Orange County maintain excellent Transportation Authority websites.
The Los Angeles County Department of Transportation: www.ladottransit.com
— Also visit: www.metro.net and Metro Link: www.metrolinktrains.com
Surface Road Real Time Conditions: http://trafficinfo.lacity.org
The Orange County Transportation Authority: www.octa.net
More information about Orange County’s toll roads is found here: www.thetollroads.com including instructions for what to do if you *miss* paying the toll!
Caltrans also maintains a number of live traffic camera’s in select locations on Los Angeles & Orange County freeways. Visit: www.video.dot.ca.gov. In addition they provide lookups of real time freeway conditions here: www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi
The best AM Radio station for traffic updates every 10 minutes on the “5’s in the Los Angeles area is the all news format, KNX AM 1070. This is a powerful AM station – for example at night from Oahu, Hawaii, 2000+ miles from Los Angeles we have been able to hear KNX coming in on our cheap rental car radio. Visit: www.knx1070.com and click on the traffic link.
The website, Interstate Guide is an invaluable resource for additional freeway specific information. Besides Dave’s personal knowledge and first hand experience with LA Freeways, Interstate Guide in part was used for additional research. Visit www.interstate-guide.com for more information. Additionally this next site has a 3-digit freeway lookup guide on the left side of the page; there is lots of good historical information about not only LA freeways but US freeways in general. www.kurumi.com/roads/3di/index.html.
Benny Chan has photographed LA Freeways from the air – some of his photography are displayed here: http://yeinjee.com/2009/benny-chan-aerial-los-angeles-traffic/
Lastly, this site contains a plethora of Southland freeway information as well as photos: www.scvresources.com/highways/la_highways
LA Freeways in Movies
Considering Los Angeles is home to the major motion picture industry it is not surprising that a number of LA freeways have been featured in movies. These are just a select few in which LA freeways make appearances.
Hangover III (2013)
The Soloist (2009)
Crossing Over (2009)
Training Day (2001)
Falling Down (1993)
L.A. Story (1991)
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
SigAlert is a great resource for updated traffic condition on all major freeways in the Southland. Dots on a map indicate current driving speeds including regular and carpool lanes. Accidents and road debris have their own symbols and particular descriptions. www.sigalert.com This website updates within mere minutes of when freeway problems first occur. Sweet!
As Loudon Wainwright III sings, “We came out here to dump all our dreams – Of making it big but we’re stuck in a sig alert nightmare – That’s just how it seems”.
Popular LA Streets
The following well known city streets have been popularized in movies, songs or Television. Because of this these streets are Icons for the Southland; they are larger than life. These streets are very wide, often called Boulevards and they run for miles. Typically they can be very crowded and there are usually many stoplights.
Hollywood Boulevard is the primary street through the heart of Hollywood – not to be confused with Hollywood Way in Burbank to the north although this shouldn’t be a source of confusion for most visitors due to general unawareness that Hollywood Way even exists. Hollywood Boulevard is a wide street chock full of famous landmarks, buildings, movie history and during much of the day – lots of traffic. The famous Hollywood and Vine intersection is well-known due to its long affiliation with radio and movie related businesses. This boulevard has been featured in a number of television shows and movies – including in Pretty Women with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.
The underground Red Line Metro serves several stops up and down Hollywood Boulevard including one of our favorites, the Hollywood and Vine stop in which thousands of old movie reels line the ceilings. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a popular attraction – stars are outlined in a gold color and are embedded in the sidewalks, each star contains a celebrities’ name. The touristy part of Hollywood Boulevard can be insanely crowded especially during special events such as movie premiers and yes there are a number of exclusive parties that take place here. A fair amount of tourist buses (especially the double decker ones), stop in central Hollywood. The Dolby Theatre and huge shopping complex, home to the Academy Awards is just down from the famous Chinese Theatre (which is a functioning movie theatre).
The star handprints in the open air courtyard in front of this theatre are immensely popular. Hollywood Blvd also runs through several interesting neighborhoods, specifically Thai Town and Little Armenia.
Hollywood Blvd actually becomes a small residential street in the hills past Laurel Canyon Blvd on its western end.
Melrose Avenue is synonymous with shopping, fashion, television and the movie industry. A number of well-known fashion houses are located along this street including Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren.
Melrose has a heady start, finding its beginnings in the west (not far from Santa Monica Boulevard) surrounded by the elite communities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. It then runs east all the way to the 101 Freeway where it runs under this famous freeway and ends just east of the 101 at North Hoover Street. The western part of this avenue contains some very eclectic boutique clothing and apparel shops. It is best to explore this area by walking. There is good shopping and people watching!
The 1990’s television soap opera Melrose Place was named after a part of this street close to where it starts in the west. In addition the movie Melrose Place is a story of young adults living near Melrose Ave in West Hollywood.
Also of interest; Paramount Studios is the only major Hollywood studio still located in Hollywood proper and it is situated along Melrose. Tours can be arranged here by advance notice.
Have you ever eaten at a Johnny Rockets? The original restaurant of this 50’s style franchise was founded along the middle part of Melrose Ave.
Mulholland Drive is well worth driving especially when it’s a clear day over LA and perhaps you want a respite from the craziness of the 405 or 101 freeways. A drive here affords one excellent views. As REM lead man Michael Stipe sings in the song Electrolite, “If I ever want to fly. Mulholland Drive. I am alive”.
Nothing could be truer – this is the inspirational drive to the sky over LA. Take Mulholland off of the 405 Freeway from the Skirball Center. You will wind up on the top of the ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains and Hollywood Hills overlooking the entire San Fernando Valley in one direction and then over into Los Angeles and west toward the ocean.
Photo: Spectacularly clear day overlooking part of San Fernando Valley
This is a scenic drive and is a 100% change of pace once you leave the congested freeways. There are several lookouts from the top with parking and hiking trails for the outdoor urban enthusiast. You will have views looking down onto very fancy mansions. In fact the surrounding real estate is among the most expensive and exclusive in the world and a number of famous celebrities live within close proximity of Mulholland Drive.
For the “back door” into Hollywood take Laurel Canyon Boulevard off of Mulholland Drive, otherwise continue down to the Cahuenga Pass where Mulholland Drive comes out not far from the Hollywood Bowl & the 101 Freeway. If you continue on Mulholland past the turnoff for Laurel Canyon you will come to the Universal Studios Overlook. Parking here is on the side of the road and on a clear day affords one excellent views into “the valley”. Pick out the freeway below, the Bob Hope airport in the distance and the studio lots of Universal Studios.
Before you start heading down the ridge to the 101 be sure to stop at the Hollywood Bowl overlook. On a clear day you can easily look out over the entire Los Angeles basin and pick out landmarks all the way across including downtown, which looks like you can reach out and grab it! There are great views of the 101 from here as well. That prominent house perched on the other side of Mulholland from the overlook spot was built by basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain and is now owned by Director Ron Howard.
Mulholland Drive has also been featured in a movie by the same name.
Santa Monica Boulevard is part of State Route 2 and is a major Los Angeles Boulevard. State Route 2 takes on many forms and names and runs through both urban and natural settings. It starts in the city of Santa Monica as Santa Monica Blvd near the beach and runs all the way through Los Angeles to the 101 Freeway where it ends its run as Santa Monica Blvd. It then continues as part of the 101 for a few miles becoming Alvarardo Blvd and then Glendale Blvd before it resumes its easterly path as the short Glendale Freeway between about the 5 and the 210 freeways. What was Santa Monica Boulevard then runs for many miles north east of Los Angeles until it hits state route 138 not far from Victorville. This is truly the sea to sky road as from the ocean near Santa Monica it leads all the way through city streets to the Angeles Forest past Mt. Wilson and into the San Bernardino Mountains.
There are many stop lights on Santa Monica Blvd and it can take over an hour to drive from Santa Monica to the 101 freeway. This street is one of the major thoroughfares through the communities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.
Because its orientation changes slightly between the 405 and the 101 freeways many of the major boulevards in this part of Los Angeles either cross or come very close to touching Santa Monica Boulevard. One of its busiest intersections is near the 405 freeway when it crosses Wilshire Boulevard. Many unique shopping districts are also located along its edges. It is interesting to note sometimes how many lanes are on LA freeway exits onto boulevards. This is a major Boulevard and an example of an exit that turns into 5 lanes before reaching the boulevard is the northbound exit off of the 405 to Santa Monica Boulevard.
Sunset Boulevard is one of Los Angeles’s most recognized streets – it has been popularized in song, television and in movies including a movie from 1950 of the same name. With a name like this, it certainly runs in an east/west direction and in the evening you can see the sun setting over Sunset Blvd. It is one of Los Angeles’ icon streets. It is a fairly long boulevard starting just south of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades where it leaves PCH (Highway 1) and heads east all the way to downtown Los Angeles.
During normal traffic it will take at least an hour to drive from the coast to the 101 Freeway. However note that this boulevard is one of the most crowded in Los Angeles and AC/DC’s 1979 song, “Highway to Hell” should be this roads’ theme song. The western part of Sunset is very windy and runs through some very swank posh neighborhoods. Not to be outdone by the residential luxury of its western arm, the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood is a 1.5 mile area that is best known for its cutting edge night time entertainment as well as attracting well dressed beautiful people. This area is also California’s largest gay community outside of the Castro in San Francisco.
Sunset Boulevard runs past notable sites including UCLA, Hollywood High School, the headquarters of the Directors Guild of America and several well known nightclubs including The Viper Room. The historic “theatre district” which features a number of blocks of live theatre houses is also along Sunset.
The residential areas above the Sunset Strip contain some of the most exclusive and secluded homes in Los Angeles (not to mention stunning views on clear days and yes there are clear days over Los Angeles!). Sunset also runs next to the fancy Bel Air district, behind UCLA and close to the entrance of the Playboy Mansion.
Wilshire Boulevard is one of the largest and most well known of the LA Boulevards. It is named after Henry Wilshire a farmer, real estate developer and gold miner. What is now part of Wilshire used to run through his grain fields in merely the 1890’s. If only he could see it now! It runs all the way from Santa Monica, crosses under the 405 Freeway near Westwood and UCLA (can be extremely congested in this area) and then runs past Beverly Hills. It continues east and heads through Korea Town before turning south and ending right in downtown Los Angeles.
Parts of the Wilshire swath contain some of the most densely packed urban areas in all of Los Angeles. The part of Wilshire where it crosses under the 405 near the Los Angeles National Cemetery is especially often jammed with traffic.
Other prominent features along this popular strip are Rodeo Drive, the Petersen Automotive Museum, La Brea Tar Pits and the LA County Museum of Modern Art. About halfway down Wilshire is the famed stretch called “Miracle Mile” indicated by signs on both sides of about a mile of roadway.
This part of the boulevard was originally developed for the automobile with what were new innovations at the time including oversize street signs, dedicated left hand turn lanes and the first timed traffic lights in the United States. This was a prominent area in Los Angeles and is still an extremely affluent part of town.
Definitions – General Freeway Terminology
Definitions Los Angeles
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