Difference between revisions of "Los Angeles"
Revision as of 17:03, 13 January 2008
See also Los Angeles County for destinations in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
Even before O.J. drove the Bronco or "The Terminator" became governor, Frank Lloyd Wright said, "Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles."
The Los Angeles metro area has been a "boomtown" since the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1876, first attracting "the folks" from the Midwest with a blessedly warm and dry climate--and becoming a gateway to a remarkable diversity of immigration from throughout the Pacific Rim and Latin America.
L.A. is a sprawling megalopolis; one could start in one end of L.A. and drive for more than two hours without leaving the county's influence. The metro area includes smaller cities, such as Santa Monica, Burbank, Pasadena and Long Beach, which were founded around the end of the nineteenth century and retain distinct identities. Geographically, there is very little logic as to what is part of the city of L.A.; for example, Hollywood is not a separate city--it is part of the City of Los Angeles--but adjacent West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are not part of the city.
The city's primary newspaper is the Los Angeles Times. The free LA Weekly comes out on Thursdays and is a good source for concerts and other local information. Local areas may have their own free papers as well.
Los Angeles is a very diverse city with nearly half of its population being born outside the United States. Los Angeles has the third largest Mexican population in the world behind Mexico City and Guadalajara. In addition, Los Angeles is home to many other large immigrant populations such as Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Iranians, Armenians, Thai's, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Asian Indians, Koreans, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Jews, and Samoans. Los Angeles is a very immigrant friendly city, with many ethnic inclaves such as Chinatown, Filipinotown, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, Little Saigon, Thai Town, Little Persia, and Little India. Most parts of the city tend to be gay friendly, particularly in the Hollywood area.
English is the dominant language in Los Angeles. However, like much of California with a large Hispanic population, Spanish is very widely spoken in Los Angeles. In fact, Los Angeles has one of the largest Spanish speaking population's in the world, with street and store signs in certain parts of the city printed in both English and Spanish. With Los Angeles's large immigrant population, many other languages such as Tagalog, Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Korean, Hindi, and Vietnamese also widely spoken. Street signs in ethnic inclaves will often be printed in one of these languages. For example, street signs in Chinatown will be printed in English and Chinese.
The Los Angeles area is served by six major commercial airports and more than a dozen private airports.
Los Angeles International  (IATA: LAX) is the major gateway. The airport is huge, with nine terminals, and the only way to get from terminal to terminal (other than walking) is to use the free "A" shuttle buses that run in a loop between the terminals.
There are also two executive terminals for commercial, private and corporate aircraft, Mercury and Landmark. Both are served by air taxi and air charter firms such as Great Circle Aviation to LAX and going to other destinations such as San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Air charter firms have much shorter check-in times (closer to 10 minutes) with the departure time customized for each flight and set by the passengers for that trip, and no long security lines, but they often charge a premium for the time savings.
In L.A., an automobile is nearly essential, and connections to and from the airport are poor. There is no direct train service, although there are free shuttle buses to Aviation Station on the Metro Green Line, and half-hourly LAX FlyAway  shuttles to Union Station. Taxis to downtown L.A. cost $45 and take 30 minutes in good traffic, but can be far slower in rush hour. On your return to the airport, be sure to arrive two hours before your flight as queues for security are often notoriously long and time-consuming.
The others are Long Beach Airport (IATA: LGB), Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport (IATA: BUR),Orange County/John Wayne Airport (IATA: SNA) and far flung LA/Ontario Airport (IATA: ONT) east of L.A and LA/Palmdale Airport (IATA: PMD) to the north. Even though LAX is often cheapest, avoiding LAX will save a lot of hassle because the other airports are small and not as busy (especially Long Beach), but you will typically be farther away from your destination which will entail a lot of driving. However, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is much closer to the destinations in Los Angeles and if your able to get a flight to Burbank, take it!
Then again, going anywhere in L.A. is going to require a lot of driving. If you're going to Disneyland or any of the Orange County beaches (Laguna, Huntington, Newport), consider the Orange County/John Wayne Airport (IATA: SNA). For any of the airports, it is probably best to use the numerous buses and shuttles to get to and from the airport, if you are staying in the area. Locals do so to avoid dealing with the hassles and cost of parking.
Private pilots will prefer smaller general aviation airports such as Santa Monica (ICAO: KSMO), Van Nuys (ICAO: KVNY), Hawthorne or one of the dozens of other small airports in the area. LAX does not cater to small general aviation; Burbank (ICAO: KBUR) does but is high traffic; Long Beach (ICAO: KLGB) does but has a very complicated runway system and high traffic. Much of Los Angeles is Class Bravo or other controlled airspace, but due to the number of airports and the generally good weather Los Angeles makes a fantastic flying destination. Private pilots should also be prepared for flight delays when flying to LAX (including IFR ground holds} or delays in arrival or departure sequencing with busy jet traffic, and should consider alternatives such as Hawthorne (10 mi from LAX) as an option to leave an airplane and catch an airline flight.
The main Amtrak  station is at Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St. next to the Hollywood (US-101) freeway in downtown Los Angeles. The train station also has a Metro Red Line subway station (platforms in station's basement) and Metro Gold Line light rail station (on platforms 1 and 2, parallel to the Amtrak and Metrolink trains), while local city buses stop at various locations around the terminal, including some in the MTA (Patsaouras) bus plaza at the east portal of the station. The train station is patrolled by private security staff and people lingering too long in the seats may be asked to show a ticket. Taxis are available at the west exit and the station is within short walking distance to the Civic Center and Olvera Street. Chinatown and Little Tokyo are also nearby.
Union Station is spectacular (opened 1939), but there are several stops within the County that may be better located to your destination. L.A. is big, make sure you get the right stop. Unfortunately, while Union Station has the best bus and light rail options it may be far from other landmarks. Burbank Amtrak Station is next to the Burbank airport where options include Metrolink, bus and rental cars at the Air Terminal.
Metrolink trains are significantly less expensive than Amtrak; for example, LA to Oceanside $12.50 Metrolink, $19 Amtrak; the Metrolink trains run less frequently; some routes are shared where a ticket allows you to ride either train.
The Greyhound  terminal is at 1716 East 7th Street, near I-10 along South Alameda Avenue, in the heart of the city's vast, notorious skid-row district. This is a very dangerous part of the city, filled with drug addicts and other mentally unstable people; one should use the greatest caution here even within the bus station. From the Greyhound station, take a taxi or Metro Bus #60 to get downtown.
Fortunately, other terminals are in far safer areas and have better access to public transportation. From the north, the North Hollywood station is located at 11239 Magnolia Boulevard, one-quarter mile south of the Metro Red Line North Hollywood station. The Hollywood station, at 1715 North Cahuenga Boulevard, is one-quarter mile west of the Metro Red Line Hollywood/Vine station.
Of note for passengers coming from the east is the El Monte station, at 3501 North Santa Anita Avenue. The station also houses an M.T.A. and Foothill Transit bus station, and frequent express bus service to Downtown Los Angeles is available upstairs. The El Monte station also houses a substation of the local county sheriff. Also, from the east, the Pasadena Greyhound station, located one-quarter mile west of the Lake Avenue Metro Gold Line station, is an option.
From the south, Greyhound passengers should use the East Los Angeles station, located at 1241 South Soto Street, or the Compton Station, located at 305 North Tamarind Avenue. The East Los Angeles station has multiple lines operating to downtown nearby, while the Compton station is across the street from a Metro Blue Line station.
Megabus  stops outside of Union Station between the Amtrak terminal building and the Metropolitan Water District building. Buses travel to and from San Diego, Las Vegas, San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco. Fares start at just $1 when ordered well in advance.
Los Angeles' massive sprawl and dysfunctional public transportation makes getting around rather painful, especially during weekends when service can be more erratic. The only rational way of getting around is to rent a car, in which case you'll get a crash course in the complex freeway system and, if you're "lucky", a taste of the notorious traffic jams.
The L.A. bus system  is extensive but takes a little bit to learn. The website www.mta.net or 1-800-COMMUTE are the best way to plan trips in advance. Once you have the hang of it - you can get anywhere during the day. If you have a bike - you can get anywhere within an hour and without the headache and stress. Many Angelenos rely on the bus as their primary mode of transportation. Within the central area (from Downtown to the coast, below Sunset Blvd and above Interstate 10) the buses are frequent and ubiquitous enough to get around without a schedule. If possible the best busses to take are the Rapids. They have fewer stops and cut through the traffic well. The best routes for getting across town (east-west) are the #2 Local or #302 Limited on Sunset Blvd, the #4 Local, #304 Limited, or #704 Rapid on Santa Monica Boulevard, the #20 Local, #720 Rapid, or #920 Rapid Express on Wilshire Boulevard, and the #33 Local or #333 Limited on Venice Boulevard. Some travelers recommend checking night schedules; bus service (but not rail service) runs 24 hours but many routes change and have extremely reduced frequency in the late hours. However, schedules have little resemblance to the actual frequency or times when the buses run. Fares are currently $1.25 per boarding (no transfers) or $5 for a day pass (also good on Metro Rail); you can buy both from any Metro Rail station or Metro bus driver. Bring a street map in case an MTA bus changes its route to make up for lost time (an unfortunately frequent and unpredictable occurrence).
The Metro Rail subway and light rail system has grown considerably over the past 15 years and is increasingly useful in getting around. A single trip fare good for one direction on one line costs $1.25 and can be purchased from the vending machines at the stations. Alternatively, you can avail of a $5/day pass (good until 3AM the next day), a $17/week pass or $62/month pass which allows unlimited access. The day pass can be purchased through the vending machines or the buses, while passes for longer durations can be obtained from Metro Customer Centers scattered around the city or on the MTA website. Be aware that the Metro Rail system stops at 1AM and starts again at 4AM.
Rail lines were designed with ward-level politics in mind, rather than transportation needs, and the route structure is rather bizarre. Many popular tourist destinations require multiple transfers, and often involving buses. For example, a twenty-five mile trip from Pasadena to LAX airport involves travel on four lines and a shuttle bus and takes well over two hours. A pending U-shaped extension to the Gold Line will make it possible to make a six-mile trip from Sierra Madre to East LA in 75 minutes, about the same as it would take to walk.
For other routes subway and light rail can be a good option with travel from North Hollywood to Long Beach possible in about 45 minutes. Additionally, despite its shortfalls, public transportation is often preferable to the gridlock that occurs on LA-area streets and highways. Several of the lines are mechanically unreliable and bus service is often used to cover parts of the route when the trains are not working. Locals recommend that you verify that the trains are running *before* buying for your ticket.
The rail is operated by the same agency as the bus system, so their maps include the rail lines. The fare structure is also the same as for the bus system. The Metro works on a 'trust' system: you buy your tickets from machines, then get on and ride... no turnstiles, no barriers. However, do not even think about entering the system without a valid ticket or pass; Metro police are part of the L.A. Sheriff's Department who randomly check for valid tickets on the trains or platforms, and the penalty for not being able to show a valid ticket is $250 and up to 48 hours of community service. If you ride several times chances are you will be asked to show your ticket at least once. Be careful - if your trip involves more than one line, you have to either buy separate tickets for each line or use the Day Pass.
The Metro Rail system is composed of 2 subway lines and 3 light rail lines:
Also often included in the Metro Rail system:
Attractions that are easily reached via the rail system include: Universal Studios and Universal CityWalk, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Mann's Chinese Theater and Hollywood/Highland Plaza, Thai Town, Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory (via a brief bus transfer on Vermont), Koreatown, the Wiltern Theater, Westlake, Downtown (including the Financial District, Disney Hall, City Hall, Broadway, Union Station, Olvera Street, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the Convention Center, and the Staples Center), Old Town Pasadena, the Watts Towers, LAX (via a free shuttle bus at Aviation Station), downtown Long Beach, and, via a frequent shuttle bus from downtown Long Beach, the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Distinct from the Metro is the Metrolink commuter railroad system, whose city terminus is Union Station. This commuter rail system reaches as far as Ventura, Lancaster, San Bernardino, and Oceanside (northern San Diego County), but has several severe limitations for the visitor — notably, most lines are shut down on weekends, and stops service to the suburbs very early in the evenings during the week, although very limited Amtrak services run on the Orange County and Ventura County lines even when regular Metrolink trains don't. Last but not least, your Metro Day Pass isn't valid on Metrolink, so you'll need to buy separate tickets, which aren't cheap: a one-way from Union Station to Anaheim will set you back $6.75, although return and weekend discounts are available. Like the Metro Rail, the Metrolink uses the honor system where no barriers are required to enter the system, and random inspections to ensure that every passenger is in possession of a valid ticket are conducted often. You can use cash or credit card to purchase tickets.
In order to fully experience LA, you need to bring or rent a private car. Really. Few attractions are easily served by rail or bus. Traffic is busy by US standards, but visitors used to driving in most of the world will not find it especially bad, and if you want to experience L.A., you need to get a car. Some of the most interesting parts of town are nearly impossible to reach via public transportation. For example, if you want to visit Malibu, any beach cities other than Santa Monica and Venice, the Korean Friendship Bell (with views of the port), the Chinese communities in the San Gabriel Valley, or any part of Orange County, you are strongly advised to travel by car. There are also many spectacular natural areas surrounding the L.A. metropolitan area that you can only reach by car. See the article about Driving in Los Angeles County for more information. If you are mostly going to be between the ocean and downtown, drive on arterial streets such as Wilshire Blvd. and Sunset Blvd. to get around instead of the freeways. This not a way of avoiding traffic but a way to see more of the city's sights and lessen the chance of getting lost by taking the wrong exits on the freeway.
If you are going to be driving around, make sure you have access to extensive street and freeway maps, a Thomas Bros Guide (a large spiral-bound street atlas), AAA offers good free maps to members from any state, or a car with an onboard navigation system. (One map in particular from AAA that even locals find useful is a pocket guide to the area's extensive freeway system.)
The freeways in L.A. can be confusing and overwhelming, and typically the speed of the freeway during the non-rush hours is much higher (75 to 85mph) than the speed limit (65mph). Los Angelinos and southern Californians in general are used to cruising at speeds of 80mph or more if no police officer is in obvious sight. L.A. in particular, being plagued by traffic jams, follows a general rule of "floor it to capacity" which means, one must drive as fast as allowed by current traffic conditions. (Of course, this is an ideology, not a suggestion.) For this, freeways will usually be packed and yet cars will be moving at high speeds virtually inches away from other. This behavior, of course, can lead to multiple-vehicle chain reaction car crashes when a driver leading the race finds himself braking abruptly. Drivers not familiar with the area, including visitors from Mexico, who are not used to high speed city highways tend to forget this and find themselves in the way of drivers who just want to reach their destination as soon as possible.
If you have two or more people in your vehicle, regardless of your purpose, you may use the "Carpool Only" lanes (some require 3 people, but these will be clearly marked). There's also lots of construction work going around since the beginning of 2004 (especially late at night), so watch out for that too. Listening to a radio station is helpful for any long trip through L.A. since most stations regularly disseminate traffic information during the daylight hours. KNX 1070 AM and KFWB 980 AM are the most frequent and cover the metropolitan area, including Orange and Ventura counties and the Inland Empire. Note that freeways are sometimes broadcast by the segment name (i.e. Santa Monica Freeway) in addition to their route number (I-10). Proper freeway names can also change depending on these segments (I-10, for example, contains both the Santa Monica and San Bernardino Freeways.) Be wary of certain interchanges, especially the East L.A. Interchange and the loops in Downtown L.A. Although these are well signed, they can still be confusing. When receiving directions or traffic reports, keep in mind that both locals and traffic reports will refer to highway numbers with the definitive article (e.g. "the 10" instead of "I-10").
Although L.A.'s traffic jams are legendary, the freeway grid provides for an effective movement of traffic and a variety of alternatives. Be sure to have an alternative route planned out in advance; many freeways run parallel to each other and serve as viable alternatives, especially in long-distance trips! Traffic accident reports on the radio will give the name of the freeway interchange or cross-street. Traffic is often so far away that you won't be affected even on the same freeway and direction. If possible, use a passenger as your navigator. You may also check SigAlert for current traffic information before your trip. If you are traveling more than 10 or 15 miles on the freeway network, ask a local for the best route at that time of day.
Want to stay in shape during your visit to LA? The city offers more options than perhaps anywhere in the world. Yoga? Yes. Pilates? Yes. Great gyms? Yes. Spinning? Yes. Tai Chi? Yes. If it exists as an exercise then yes. Most gyms offer more mainstream versions of some or all of the above - or most types of Yoga studios can easily be found.
LA has great opportunities for seeing live pro sports.
Private Universities and Colleges
Los Angeles has a well-known, diverse and unique shopping traditions and destinations. Strip malls and shopping malls will dominate your shopping trip as they are nearly inescapable in many of your destinations. For example, the Hollywood & Highland mall is a popular meeting point for those gazing at the Walk of Fame and Mann's Chinese Theater. Other malls you may bump into are the Grove (next to the Farmer's Market) and the Beverly Center, which is quite unlike other shopping malls as it is multilevel with a nice view of Los Angeles from its food court patio.
Lacking any significant public square, Los Angeles funnels its commercial life onto its streets. Among the most popular street is Larchmont Blvd. which caters to the wealthy elite of Hancock Park with one-of-a-kind boutiques. Melrose Avenue, especially in the West Hollywood portion, one-ups Larchmont Blvd. with celebrity presence.
Broadway in Downtown will take you out of the comforts of overly manicured shopping centers and drop you onto its chaos. With merchandise geared towards the city's millions of Latinos, twenty dollars would probably get you a new wardrobe. You will also find pirated DVD's and CD's. You can find a lot of brand name merchandise at discounted prices. Broadway once was the city's premier boulevard and looking up above the gritty flea markets and you would see the opulent theaters that defined luxury in early 20th-century Los Angeles.
Celebrities are no different from everyone else although they do have more money to spend and would tend to avoid the masses when it comes to shopping. Fred Segal in West Hollywood and Santa Monica is a prime destination for stars. Due to its association with notorious starlets such as Lindsay Lohan, Kitson on Robertson has attracted celebrity attention.
Downtown is the destination for some focused retail therapy. Want flowers? Why there's a Flower District in Downtown! Jewelry? Fashion? Seafood? Toys? Yep, there are entire districts in Downtown dedicated to these particular products. You can buy art in Gallery Row up and down Main Street or see artists at work in the Artist District. They are located mostly just east of the towering Financial District. Beware though as they exist along with the notorious Skid Row.
No matter what music you're into, Los Angeles will feature artists to your taste. Visit the Rock Venues on Sunset Blvd. Jazz Clubs in Hollywood. etc. As the second capital of hip-hop culture Los Angeles has hundreds of records stores scattered around the area. Also, though vinyl has disappeared from the shelfs of regular record stores, many stores still sell used and new vinyl. Amoeba Music in Hollywood is without a doubt the best in the city.
The Los Angeles area is one of the best places in the country for food - you can find just about anything you can imagine somewhere within its loose borders. From traditional American diner culture (try Mel's Drive-In in West Hollywood) to the new wave of organic cafes, to inexpensive taco trucks, and swanky eateries with breath-taking food, there are no shortage of options.
Los Angeles abounds with inexpensive, authentic food that represents the culinary traditions of L.A.'s many immigrant communities. You have to be willing to do a little legwork, go to neighborhoods you might not otherwise go to and often deal with charmless florescent-lit storefronts in strip malls, but your reward is hype-free, authentic cuisine from around the world served up at bargain prices. It's also the birthplace of the drive-thru and numerous chains clog the roadsides - In 'n Out Burger is a good place to sample a "traditional" fast food burger.
The cultural diversity of Los Angeles is an evident influence on the local vegetarian food restaurant industry. Where else but L.A. can you find strictly vegan and vegetarian dining, be it Chinese, Ethiopian, Mexican, Thai, American, Indian, International Fusion, Vegan Macrobiotic, and Raw Gourmet restaurants among others.
There are several different supermarket chains of varying quality - for something different (and cheap) try Trader Joe's, a reputable grocery store with multiple locations (the original is in Pasadena), selling many organic products with no preservatives. They normally give out great samples to the public and sell their acclaimed Charles Shaw wine, also known as "Two Buck Chuck." Whole Foods is another market with multiple locations and a favorite among the health conscious -- but also a little pricey. Their salad bar is fully stocked, they have huge fresh burritos, sushi, hot dishes ready to go, and a comprehensive selections of pre-made, delicious salads. This is a great place to buy food for a picnic!
LA visitors and locals alike have the opportunity to indulge in a selection of specially priced three-course menus from a wide variety of LA’s best restaurants during dineLA Restaurant Week. It takes place over a two-week time period (January 27 – February 1 and February 3 – February 8).
Participating restaurants include Patina, Grace, Crustacean, 3 on Fourth, Twin Palms, Dakota Steakhouse, Ciudad, Zucca, Vert and Katsuya. The two dining levels are Deluxe ($15/lunch and $25/dinner) and Premier ($22/lunch and $34/dinner).
Coffee & Tea
The hotel bars are generally considered by Angelenos to be the best places to have drinks.
It's hard to summarize the plethora of hotel options in L.A. From some of the most opulent (and expensive) hotels in the world to budget hostels to apartment-hotel crash pads, there's something for everyone. Deciding where to stay will have a lot to do with what areas you plan on visiting, and how you're going to get there. As usual in Southern California, a car opens up a world of options, but be sure to check the parking arrangement at your accommodations before you arrive.
Hollywood is probably the most popular option for those wanting to sight-see and chase their image of that world. Downtown has long been popular with the business crowd but is rapidly receiving a makeover with hotels like The Standard bringing a hipper crowd. Beverly Hills has some of the nicest hotels in the city, expect the prices to reflect its reputation. Sun and sand seekers can head to Santa Monica or Venice, while those just in town for a day or two might consider staying on the Westside near LAX airport. Pasadena to the northeast of LA is a peaceful and leafy city and a good alternative.
It is possible to get a prepaid sim-card account, but they aren't cheap. The main providers are:
Internet cafes are spread around town and most easily found in heavily touristed spots such as Hollywood Blvd and Melrose Ave.
Travel within certain parts of the city at night should be conducted with caution and only in groups. In downtown Los Angeles, even men should not walk around alone at night. Most areas are safe in the daytime, but traveling in groups is still a prudent precaution. Do not make yourself out to be an obvious tourist, as you may unknowingly be setting yourself up as a target. (For example, don't stare upwards at the skyscrapers as though you've never seen one before.)
Certain areas near Downtown, such as Skid Row (which is where the Greyhound station is located), Exposition Park, and South Central are dangerous regardless of the time of day and should be avoided altogether if possible. Even the police hesitate to go into these areas unless in great force. Though some cities, such as Detroit, St. Louis, and Atlanta have higher listed crime rates per-capita than Los Angeles, these numbers can be deceiving because the numbers in L.A. are often skewed because of nicer neighborhoods such as Bel Air, Rancho Palos Verdes, and Westwood that offset the numbers for the more dangerous neighborhoods. If South Central was counted as an independent city, it would have the highest crime and murder rate of any city in America. Neighboring Compton, an independent city, currently ranks as the 4th most dangerous.
As a general rule, stay out of the area bounded by Interstate 10 on the north, Interstate 405 on the west, Interstate 710 on the east, and State Highway 91 on the south.
If traveling in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, the neighborhood areas of Pacoima, North Hollywood, Panorama City, and Canoga Park can be dangerous to venture into after dusk.
East Los Angeles can also be dangerous in certain areas as well.
Public transportation in LA is not cosmopolitan
Unlike most other major cities in the US and Europe, the middle class uses cars; public transportation is used primarily by the poor. The poor, of course, do not travel much, so they don't understand what it is like to be a tourist. If they appear rude, it is just because they are not used to people from other countries or even other US states.
As in some other major American cities, it is unwise to stare at or look directly into the eyes of other passengers on public transportation. This guideline applies especially to tourists from rural America or other countries, as the dress or appearance of many Angelenos may be quite different from what visitors are used to. Many locals may interpret a stranger's stare to be offensive and/or a personal threat.
Street gangs (such as the Bloods and Crips) generally confine themselves to certain areas and should be of little concern to the typical traveler, who is unlikely to venture into the areas where the gangs are. They generally don't bother you if you don't bother them. Gangs will usually identify their territory with graffiti markings, thus it is best practice to remain in high visibility on major throughfares or freeways when in areas with high graffiti.
Most homeless individuals are harmless; they will likely only ask you for money and if you refuse, they will simply go on to the next person.
In the unlikely (although not as unlikely as in the rest of the country) event of a major earthquake, duck and cover and stay where you are during the shaking, then go outside once the shaking stops. Buildings and other structures are unlikely to collapse. Your largest threats come from breaking windows and falling objects such as ceiling tiles and bookshelves. Try to get under a table, desk, or doorjam to reduce your exposure to these threats. You are more likely to be injured if you try to run during the shaking. Remember, there is never any warning signs of an impending earthquake.