Getting to Staples Center from the Westside: A travel diary

The first transit leg on my trip downtown. Photo by Carter Rubin/Metro.

On Tuesday night, I “went Metro” from the Westside to catch the L.A. Kings showdown against the Detroit Red Wings at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. First, an important point: The Kings authoritatively won 5 to 2 to keep their playoff hopes alive.

As many of you likely know, getting to downtown L.A. for an early evening event from the Westside can be supremely challenging and downright nerve-wracking because of traffic. The eastbound Santa Monica Freeway — the main drain for all those workers leaving the Westside — is usually stop-and-go from mid-afternoon until well past 7 p.m. on most weekdays.

As of this moment, there is no Metro Rail and Metrolink service west of downtown, although the Expo Line to Culver City is coming soon (more on that below). In the meantime, however, there are a variety of bus lines operated by Metro and others that provide options other than driving.

Depending on where on the Westside you’re coming from, you’ve got the 720 Rapid on Wilshire, the 733 Rapid on Venice, the 704 Rapid along Santa Monica, the Big Blue Bus Rapid 7 along Pico Boulevard to the Wilshire/Western Purple Line station — to name a few. Metro’s trip planner and Google Transit are useful online tools. Or, if you have any specific questions about the best route for you, I’d be happy to field them in the comments section.

With that in mind, here’s how I did it…

Leaving from the Public Affairs Building at the north end of UCLA, I had a couple of transit options to downtown. One would be to take the Metro 2 Local bus which travels along Sunset Boulevard, before the latter turns into Cesar Chavez Boulevard east of Figueroa. The pros: It’s a one-seat-ride (no transfers) and minimizes walking. Cons: It’s not the fastest way from A to B, thanks to Sunset Boulevard’s somewhat circuitous route to downtown via Hollywood and the more frequent local stops.

Since it was a nice day, I opted instead for a little more walking in exchange for an overall speedier and direct route. My stroll took me about 20 minutes to walk a little over a mile down to Wilshire and Westwood from the north end of UCLA, though I could have opted for a UCLA shuttle or one of several Big Blue Bus routes. In exchange, I earned a bit of sorely needed exercise and a chance to catch up on some phone calls.

As I reached Wilshire Boulevard, I spotted a 720 Rapid idling across the street from my stop. Alas, it would get its green light, pick up passengers and pull away before I got across the street. NextBus told me, however, that the next 720 would arrive in about six minutes, and it was right on the money.

Transit Itinerary: Westwood to Staples Center
Transfer & Waiting Time Travel Time
Walking N/A 20 (productive) minutes
720 Rapid 6 minutes 35 minutes
Purple Line 4 minutes 8 minutes
Blue Line 2 minutes 1.5 minutes
Walking N/A 2 minutes
Totals 12 minutes 66.5 minutes

Once on board, I purchased a day pass for $5, which the driver added to my TAP card. As we cruised eastbound along Wilshire, I gazed out the window, listened to music and caught up on my Twitter feed — a welcome distraction — as opposed to giving my right foot a workout in traffic on Wilshire.

I alighted — that’s transit-talk for “hopped off” — at Western to transfer to the Purple Line. If I were playing the odds, I might have been better off staying on the 720, given that Purple Line trains were departing Wilshire/Western Station every 12 minutes at that time of day; the speed advantage of the subway would be undercut by the extra transfer and waiting time. But I was lucky and there was a train waiting for me at the platform and we pulled away just after I entered.

The subway covered the three miles from Koreatown to 7th Street and Flower in just eight minutes. From there I walked upstairs to the Blue Line platform — once again, there was a train waiting — and rode south for one stop to Pico Station, which is just two blocks from Staples Center’s front door.

Just as I arrived at Pico Station -- two blocks from Staples Center -- an Expo Line test train (right) pulled up. Photo by Carter Rubin/Metro.

It took me just shy of 60 minutes to travel roughly 12 miles from Wilshire and Westwood to Staples Center’s entrance. That’s not hugely fast, but probably not hugely slower than it would be to make that same trip in a car via the 10 Freeway, not to mention the walk to the arena from the cheap-o parking lots I would use.

After the game, I was able to hitch a ride home from my dad. But if I had taken transit, I probably would have opted for the 20 Local or the 33 Local on the way back — and NextBus would have told me when to head for the stop.

While everyone’s preferences differ, I really value the time I have on transit to relax, catch up with friends via social media, listen to music — all the things you definitely shouldn’t be doing while piloting a vehicle. As Metro expands and improves, I think more Angelenos will catch onto that fact.

This will be especially true after the Expo Line opens — giving some Westside neighborhoods transit service that many times of the day will be considerably faster than driving downtown. The Expo Line will also have ample parking at the Culver City and La Cienega stations, providing a car-to-train option for those headed downtown. Expo will also stop at the Staples-adjacent Pico Station.

And of course the Westside Subway Extension will also make a huge difference, putting more neighborhoods near rail service, when that line opens.

So, readers, what’s your experience taking transit across town to catch an evening event? Any tips or tricks for finding a good alternative to driving through traffic?

15 replies

  1. “So, readers, what’s your experience taking transit across town to catch an evening event? Any tips or tricks for finding a good alternative to driving through traffic?”

    Yeah, it’s called lane-splitting between the traffic jams on the I-10 with a motorcycle at 80 MPH. I’ve seen an increase in this as gas prices rise and some begin switching from cars to two-wheelers instead of public transit.

  2. I have done this similar trip a couple of times and I have opted for a slightly different approach. I have taken the Metro 2 Local from the north side of the UCLA campus and got off on Sunset/Vine. From there I walked to the Hollywood/Vine Redline Station to 7th/Metro and walked the rest of the way to Staples. That always seems to work for me.

    • Gilby,

      I’ve gone that same route — except getting of the Metro 2 Local at Highland — too on a trip to Union Station. My favorite part was walking by Hollywood High and hearing the student band covering Led Zeppelin. It was one of those great little moments you can only get when experiencing the city on two feet.

      Carter Rubin
      Contributor, The Source

  3. When was the last time I didn’t use NextBus to travel? That system makes it so easy to know the best routes. Other than that, CAN’T WAIT FOR EXPO.

  4. Another route to the West side is the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus #10 Rapid — which goes from downtown across from Union Station (among other stops) via the 10 Freeway to Pico@Bundy and then on to other stops ending in Santa Monica. Since this Metro Duo lives on opposite sides of LA (Pasadena and Palms) the Gold line to Union Station and the #10 Rapid to Pico/Bundy has been well used. A downside to the #10 is that it is aimed at the work commute so stops running around 8pm.
    The Metro Rapid 728 along Olympic is good too but doesn’t use the freeway.
    We can hardly wait for the Expo Line.
    Later running times on light rail/subway would also be wonderful — the Cinderella curfew makes us feel like we’re back in high school when mom made us be home by midnight!

  5. Hans,
    Did you mean there is no freeway express from Mid-CITY to downtown? Washington/Fairfax is Mid-City territory. Mid-TOWN is served by Metro Red Line Beverly Blvd. Station for rapid service to downtown, which took the place of the old Hollywood Fwy Express service buses.

  6. Hans Laetz on
    you are confuising METRO 534 which does end at washington and faiirfax
    however LADOT (COMMUTER express -no relation to metro
    does start in westwood -and goes downtown LA
    its mostly a reverse peak hour bus for metrolink riders
    as for Santa Monica rapid 7 at western.wilshire
    the stop is far side on wilshire[cross western] [same stop as the local 20 stops]
    you will see blue rapid sign there
    plus you can get inter-agency transfer for 35cents which is
    good on the rapid 7

  7. I live in the Bay Area (EastBay) and found Carter’s trip interesting. Several years ago we took the Purple/720 twenty to LACMAfrom downtown. Quite impressed w/ ease of travel and inexpensive day pass. Next trip did the same to Getty Center, about 1hr time. Best for return trip is remain on 720 to downtown. Can’t wait to see the subway extended and Expo line open. Just never understand how we get to Fairfax so fast but walk to Farmer’s Mkt & back w/o seeing the 780 or local until almost to destination. Anyway, the walk is always enjoyable and healthy. While we have BART for good distance travel, often multiple systems are necessary which can add up fast. I enjoy the more comprehensive system of the MTA for one price.

  8. Hands down, the fastest Santa Monica to Staples service is Big Blue Bus Route 10, even though this bus plods up Santa Monica Blvd to Bundy, then gets stuck at ther Bundy/Olympic morass.

    The 534 express terminates too often at Washington/Fairfax. It used to go to Union Station all the time. Incredibly, there is no freeway express from Midtown to downtown.

    Route R7? What a joke. Try finding the Route R7 bus stop at the purple line’s Wiltern terminus. Not one freaking sign. The only BBB sign outside the station is for the END of the “express” — not the beginning. Tap cards and day passes? Not good on the BBB. Apparently, Metro’s subway people thinks the sun sets at Western Avenue.

    And do not get me started in the $1 billion Expo Line sitting there unused while MTA and the construction authority try to figure out how to operate a “why” switch. Heads should roll. Metro really shoots itself in the foot on these problems.

  9. I often just walk the four blocks from Metro Center to Staples, especially after 6:45 when it drops to every 10 minute headway. The northwest entrance is usually the least crowded to get in as well. Afterwards I’ll walk to the Red Line instead of waiting for Blue.

  10. Hi, I’m about to come to LA from Australia and wondered what you meant exactly by “there is no Metro Rail and Metrolink service west of downtown” since I’ll be wanting to get to Staples Centre from Hollywood. More I should know?

    • Hi Jane;

      We meant no service to the Westside. From Hollyood take the Metro Red Line subway to 7th/Metro. You can either transfer there to the Blue Line for the short ride to the Pico station or walk to Staples — it’s a 10- to 15-minute stroll.

      Have a great trip!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • Thanks for the tip, Erik. Somehow that one hadn’t been on my radar.


      Carter Rubin
      Contributor, The Source