In Los ANgeles "normal" people drive. Only old people, weirdos and handicapped people or the one with disabilities take the bus! I was among them, in the sense that I did not have a car so I had to rely on public transportation means and I really felt awkward when on those buses, it seemed to me like being in a "madhouse"! They are quiet efficient though and usually punctual
While in LA, I had no choice but to take the bus everywhere I went. This was a wonderful discovery. It was so cheap and easy! People were friendly and I wasn't bothered by LA's traffic.
I also learned that a day pass is $3 but with "appropriate id", it is only $1.50. I never found out what exactly they meant by appropriate id, but with a flash of my driver's license, which is out of state, I was able to pay $1.50.
The main bus station for Los Angeles is downtown, far from connecting local service or metro - and in a horrible neighborhood. The skid row station is a travellers worst nightmare. If you plan to arrive in Los Angeles by bus, make sure to request that you arrive in "Hollywood". This terminal is less than two years old, clean, efficient, and in a far superior hood. Furthermore, the Hollywood/Vine Subway Station is a quick four block walk down Hollywood Blvd. Sharky's, across the street, has great organic fresh-mex food.
They say that you need a car to get around L.A. That's not entirely true. L.A. has a fine public transportation system and you can go to many tourist attractions either by bus or by light rail train.
If you already have your itinerary, you can go to the travel planner at www.mta.net (Metropolitan Transportation Authority's web site). Enter your starting and ending addresses (and some other information) and the travel planner will give you directions on when and where to go, what bus to take, how much to pay, and whether to take a transfer. The web site will also tell you where you can buy tokens or passes. Who knows? With the above information, you may decide to rent a car after all. :-)
From Downtown L.A., you can reach the following destinations by taking one ride: Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, Beverly Center, Hollywood Blvd., Universal Studios, Long Beach, etc.
Day passes costing $3 are now available. You can get them when you board any MTA bus or at any MTA ticket dispenser. With a day pass, you can ride MTA's buses and trains for the whole day. You may still have to add a quarter or two, however, if you take MTA's longer routes like the route going to Disneyland.
We found that there was a huge variety of day trips to choose from and the one that we chose covered pretty much all the high lights of LA in one day. It was great to be picked up and dropped off at our hotel and although we had a hire car we would never have been game to tackle the freeways into LA or to know where we were going so the bus tour provided us with a safe trip. We organised it from home (Australia) and when we got to Anaheim we went to the Anaheim Tourism Centre and booked the Day and time we wanted to go. The people at the centre were really nice and couldn't help us enough. Most hotels have booking facilities at or near their front desks for even more convienience but we found the Tourism Centre had so much to choose from and an excellent service!
It's ideal to have a car- but if you must, all the places I've described can be reached via one bus line (santa monica blvd-from the beach to hollywood line 304) or the red line subway from hollywood to downtown and points in-between.
Having a car is best but if you don't have one, the public system will do. Most buses and trains will take you where you need to go. For further afield like Disneyland there are Amtrak special deal that include transportation and park admission.