Los Angeles/Anaheim sports travel guide
Our city guides are meant to showcase the best of a metropolitan area from the perspective of a sports fan visiting to watch a game or two. Here’s our guide to the best of Los Angeles sports travel.
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These same adjectives can be applied to the sports venues that dot the landscape of Southern California, or the Southland, as locals call it. There are quite a few of them and each brings its own distinct attributes, from quaint (Dodger Stadium) to futuristic (Staples Center) to historic (the L.A. Coliseum and Rose Bowl) to, well, suburban (Angel Stadium and Honda Center). And yes, they are all worth seeing, but would the author of a site about sports travel tell you any differently?
The Southland’s sheer size often demands that you have a car to navigate it, and in some respects that makes it a daunting place to visit for tourists — there just isn’t enough time to see everything, and some of the places on folks’ lists seem too far-flung to reach.
Planning and familiarity with the geography, of course, can mitigate a lot of those factors, and hopefully that’s where this sports travel guide to Los Angeles comes in. Los Angeles is where we live and where we grew up, so we hope we can help you plan the perfect sports travel vacation to Southern California. Just don’t blame us for all the traffic you’re bound to get stuck in, please.
For more on Los Angeles, check out 100+ Things To Do In L.A. | The Ultimate Bucket List on travel blog The Atlas Heart.
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The landscape: Where to watch sports in Los Angeles/Anaheim
The Los Angeles market, quite famously, did not have an NFL team for two decades, but that changed in 2016 with the return of the Rams to the city they called home for nearly 50 years and, just a year later, the relocation of the Chargers from San Diego.
The NFL’s renewed presence rounds out a sports scene that includes two teams to root for in every other professional sport, and boasts a strong college sports scene thanks to USC, UCLA and several other schools with strong Division I teams in different sports.
And the pro sports landscape has changed even further with the birth of Los Angeles FC, an MLS expansion franchise that began play in 2018 in the new Banc of California Stadium next to the Coliseum. Meanwhile, SoFi Stadium, the new football palace in Inglewood for the Rams and Chargers, will be ready by the fall of 2020.
• Angel Stadium of Anaheim: Home of the Angels. Located at State College Boulevard and Orangewood Avenue in southeast Anaheim.
• Banc of California Stadium: Home of Los Angeles FC. Located in Exposition Park next to the Coliseum.
• Dignity Health Sports Park: Home of the Galaxy. Located in the suburb of Carson, about 15 miles south of downtown L.A.
• Dodger Stadium: Home of the Dodgers. Located just north of downtown Los Angeles in what is known as Chavez Ravine.
• Honda Center: Home of the Ducks. Located at Katella and Douglas avenues in southeast Anaheim.
• Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: Home of USC football. Located in Exposition Park, across the street from the USC campus and three miles south of Staples Center.
• Pauley Pavilion: Home of UCLA basketball. Located on the UCLA campus in Westwood, about seven miles west of downtown L.A.
• Rose Bowl: Home of UCLA football and the Rose Bowl Game. Located in Pasadena, about 10 miles north of downtown L.A.
• SoFi Stadium: Home of the Rams and Chargers beginning with the 2020 season. Located at 1000 S. Prairie Avenue in the suburb of Inglewood.
• Staples Center: Home of the Clippers, Kings, Lakers and WNBA’s Sparks. Located at Figueroa and 11th streets in the South Park section of downtown L.A.
The strategies: Arriving and getting around Los Angeles/Anaheim
The majority of people flying into the Los Angeles area do so via Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), situated along the Pacific coast some 15 miles (by car) from downtown. LAX is huge and has service to just about every major city by every major airline, but the airport itself can be excruciatingly painful to navigate, particularly around the cramped Terminal 1 that houses Southwest gates.
Alternatives for fliers include Bob Hope Airport in Burbank (BUR), Long Beach Airport (LGB) and John Wayne Airport in Orange County (SNA). Bob Hope and John Wayne are popular alternatives for those flying Southwest, while Long Beach is a hub for JetBlue.
Amtrak service is available into L.A.’s Union Station, on the north edge of downtown, with service to and from the Bay Area, San Diego and Arizona (and points beyond, depending on the route).
For drivers on the old-fashioned road trip, Interstates 5 and 10 run through the heart of the city, and Interstate 15 passes through the Inland Empire about 50 miles east of downtown L.A. as it runs between Las Vegas and San Diego.
Where to stay
The possibilities for lodging on a Los Angeles sports travel vacation are truly endless, and the convenience of different locales depends on the event(s) you plan on attending, so this is where studying a map of the area can be helpful. Note, though, that most brand-name hotels near major tourist attractions in SoCal tend to be on the expensive side, routinely trending toward $200 a night. A few venue-specific suggestions:
• For Staples Center, Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum, downtown L.A. has a large selection of hotels, with several more planned or currently being built in the immediate proximity of the arena as the city works to make the South Park area an emerging destination for visitors and residents alike.
Also convenient by car is Pasadena, with its thriving Old Town shopping/restaurant district and proximity to the Rose Bowl. Hollywood is a desirable option (and accessible to downtown by the Metro Red Line — more on that later) for those with a bigger budget.
• In Anaheim, the so-called Platinum Triangle includes many hotels near Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center, but also a couple miles away from Angel Stadium and Honda Center. Commuter-type hotels and motels can be found throughout the neighboring cities and near John Wayne Airport.
• Santa Monica is convenient (as long as it’s not rush hour, anyway) to the UCLA campus, and is also home to a popular pier and a bustling shopping district in the Third Street Promenade.
• The area surrounding LAX has plenty of brand-name hotels at more reasonable rates compared to the tourist-heavy areas, but be ready for a 20-30 minute drive downtown even during the best of times traffic-wise. It is convenient to Carson and Dignity Health Sports Park, about 10 miles away.
Did we mention you’ll need a car? They don’t call the Southland the “land of the automobile” for nothing. Rental car deals are plentiful from most airport-based outlets, and a handy map (or GPS system) is an L.A. visitor’s best friend. Check out our map above for help pinpointing the spots you’ll want to visit most during your trip.
Believe it or not, though, there are options for the car-phobic — and yes, even if your reason for visiting Los Angeles is sports travel, too. L.A. has spent the last 30 years piecing together a viable light rail system, and today the Metro can get you to a lot of spots worth visiting — and is still expanding.
Downtown, naturally, is the hub, with every line in the system converging at either Union Station or 7th Street/MetroCenter. Staples Center is accessible via the Pico stop on the Expo and Blue lines; the Coliseum can be reached from the Expo Park/USC and Expo/Vermont stations on the Expo Line; and the Rose Bowl is a healthy walk (more than a mile) from the Memorial Park stop on the Gold Line.
Parking is notoriously difficult in L.A. proper, with precious few spots available for free. It is usually plentiful at all of the area’s sports venues, but sometimes there are caveats. For example, much of the general parking at the Rose Bowl is on the nearby Brookside Golf Course — that is, literally ON the course.
Many locals have their “secrets” for saving money on parking at certain venues, but a lot of times that involves parking on the lawns of nearby residences or in office towers’ parking structures, and if you’re uninitiated and try that route, you may find yourself actually paying more to stash your car in a sketchier situation.
Generally, expect $15 and up for venue-operated lots at all of L.A.’s stadiums, including the ones in Anaheim. There are usually cheaper options, ie. street parking downtown a few blocks away from Staples Center and the office complexes west of Angel Stadium, but look closely at the signs before you get seduced by the flag-waving attendant.
The highlights: Points of interest in Los Angeles/Anaheim
Even if your reason for coming to Los Angeles is sports travel, the region has so much more to offer. With a metropolis this huge, there are simply too many attractions to list here. We’ll go with some of the more popular selections here:
Work on your tan
Never seen the ocean? Well then, at least grabbing a glimpse of the Pacific is a must while you’re in SoCal. There are multiple options for doing so, from famous beaches (Malibu, Venice, Newport) to popular piers (Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach). If you’re into surfing, you’re most likely to find people catching a wave at Huntington Beach in Orange County.
Eat, and eat, and eat
L.A. boasts its share of famous restaurants, as well as those local fans frequent regularly on their way to and from games. Here are just a few of the best-known spots, none of which will break your budget:
• Phillippe’s the Original (1001 N. Alameda St., near Union Station): The purported originator of the French Dip sandwich and a popular stop for Dodgers fans.
• Tommy’s (2575 Beverly Blvd.; other locations): An iconic L.A.-area hamburger and hot dog stand, known for putting its chili on everything.
• Pink’s Hot Dogs (709 N. La Brea Ave.).: A stand serving specialty hot dogs, known especially for its popularity among celebrities.
• Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles (5006 W. Pico Blvd.; other locations in Pasadena and Hollywood): L.A.’s take on soul food, also popular among the celebrity set.
L.A. also gave birth to the food truck craze, and just about every ethnic cuisine has a strong representation somewhere in the Southland. If you’d rather stay close to the venues, Staples Center benefits greatly from the L.A. Live entertainment complex across the street, which has a number of eateries and bars for pregame and postgame entertainment.
The many amusement parks in SoCal beckon for most tourists — there’s Disneyland, Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm. One-day passes can be expensive depending on the park and the season (approaching and even beyond $100 for an adult) but talk to a few locals and chances are they’ll know a way to get discounted tickets. Pulling out your AAA card, if you’ve got one, is a good way to start.
L.A.’s thriving entertainment scene presents a myriad of options for the sports fan looking for a way to spend spare time. Endless movie premieres, TV show tapings and concerts are just some of the choices. If your interest in venues ranges past sports, the Hollywood Bowl ranks as one of the city’s most iconic structures. For those whose tastes run more classical, see what’s going on at the Music Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, both downtown.
The local colleges boast strong athletic programs, and frequently one will enjoy a breakthrough season in basketball, baseball or another sport. Among the schools in the area: Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.
Minor-league baseball is thriving in the desert suburbs that surround L.A., with Class-A California League teams in Rancho Cucamonga, Lake Elsinore, San Bernardino and Lancaster.