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Getting around, and in and out of, Pasadena and LA.


Most students living on campus walk to school and nearby supermarkets. In general, it is safe to walk on and around campus after dark. However, over the years occasional accidents do happen, therefore always walk with confidence and with friends when possible. Emergency phones are located strategically throughout the campus and the Catalina Housing Complex and are activated by one button. Look for the blue phones with red buttons. In addition, Caltech Security (x4701) provides free escort services. Take advantage of this service. If you feel that you have been threatened or harassed on or near campus, it is important that you contact security immediately (x5000 for emergencies). If you sign up with the Caltech Walking Program you can get 3 free parking passes per month.


If you choose to ride a bicycle in Southern California, wear a helmet, as drivers are not careful to watch for cyclists. All bikes should be secured with a high-quality lock (such as a U-lock or chain lock. DO NOT get a cable lock), see for some suggestions. Be sure to secure both your frame and your rear wheel (N.B.: threading a U-lock through the rear frame triangle around the rim of the wheel will secure both).

You can register your bicycle with both Caltech Security ( and the Pasadena Fire Department. Registering your bike at Caltech gives you 3 free parking passes a month and a free taxi-ride home every three months in case of emergency (go over to Security at the Holliston parking lot if you need this). Otherwise, having your bike registered provides some legal proof of ownership should your bike be stolen and recovered (stranger things have happened...); otherwise, if your bike gets stolen you tend to be SOL.

A map of local bike routes may be obtained from the City of Pasadena ((626) 744-7254). Additional routing assistance can be found at And remember, a "Bike Lane" is not a guarantee of safety--always ride carefully, make sure you have good front and rear lights (you are legally required to have a front light if you're riding at night), and follow traffic laws. It is generally safer to ride on the street than on the sidewalk.

If you sign up with the Caltech Bicycle Program you can get 3 free parking passes per month.

Caltech has a bike shop with a good selection of tools where you can repair your own bike. They also host office hours (where volunteers will help you fix any bike problems you may have), host repair classes, and lead social rides. For details, check out the Caltech BikeLab webpage at

See the Caltech Bike Lab Guide to Bicycling for much more information.



801 E. Union Ave., Pasadena; (626) 795-0601 Offers services to members, which include emergency road service, discounts to attractions, free maps, tour books, campground directories, trip planning, passport photos, and traveler’s checks.

Automobile Insurance

All California drivers must carry a legal minimum insurance coverage of $15,000 per person for bodily injury up to $30,000 and $5,000 for property damage liability. Proof of insurance must be carried in the vehicle. People with out-of-state cars may be able to keep their out-of-state insurance. All drivers need additional insurance coverage when in Mexico. Be aware that the minimum coverage requirements are actually very low, so you may want to consider having more coverage. You can find more basic information about California insurance requirements as well as compare quotes at the following website: When shopping for auto insurance, be sure to let them know that you’re a scientist and/or advanced degree candidate. Most insurance companies offer discounts for people in this line of work! You may also receive discounts depending on your gender (unfair as it may seem), age, years of driving experience and driving record. If you’re an experienced driver preparing to move to California, keep in mind that you should be careful not to let your insurance coverage lapse as some companies note “years of consecutive coverage” rather than “years of driving experience.”

AAA 801 E. Union St., Pasadena; (626) 795-0601

California Casualty (800) 800-9410

Mercury Insurance (877) 263-7287

Binney, Chase, and van Horn 600 S Lake Ave Ste 306, Pasadena; (626) 792-7654

21st Century Insurance (800) 211-SAVE

On the Internet By doing a search on “cheap auto insurance” on the Internet, sometimes you can find really good deals. Just be aware that some of these companies can be phony.

Buying a New Car

Getting a new car is especially good around September, when the new model year arrives and dealers are anxious to get rid of older models. If you are interested in a new car, use the web to narrow down your choices, and then check out the cars in person and test drive the ones you like most. When you have chosen a car, use to find the invoice price, and whether there are currently any dealer incentives or rebates for it.

Buying a Used Car

Getting a used car can be especially easy at university campuses around graduation time. Start by consulting to look at reviews and identify models you are interested in. Two other websites, craigslist, and autotrader are also excellent places to find used cars. The Recycler publishes a weekly magazine with photos of all vehicles it is selling. Do not buy a used car without having a mechanic you trust perform a thorough inspection of the car before you buy it. The seller has to pay for a smog test for the car, and the car must pass. You will need to pay for the registration of the car, which you can do at the DMV (or AAA if you’re a member).

Buying an Automobile


Dealer incentive: An amount of money that the manufacturer gives back to the dealer for selling a certain car. The dealer is not obligated to pass that saving on to the customer, but knowing that there is one is very useful at the time of negotiating.

Holdback: An amount of money that the dealer gets from the manufacturer for each car, destined to cover expenses of keeping the car in the dealership on display, etc. This amount is usually not up for negotiation by the customer unless you order a car and wait until it is delivered.

Invoice price: Essentially the marginal cost of each car to the dealer. Manufacturer rebate: An amount of money that the manufacturer gives back to the customer for buying a certain car.

MSRP: Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, also known as ‘sticker price’. You can usually pay less than MSRP, unless the car is in high demand and short supply.

Cars (excepting those imported from Europe) are a lot cheaper in the US than they are in some other regions of the world, so you may be able to afford a better one than you think. The first decision is whether to buy a new car or a used one. New cars start at around $9,000 MSRP. You can get a used car anywhere from a few hundred bucks upwards. The web has given you a tremendous advantage trying to buy either one, so the Technique online has links to a lot of good sites. Caltech has fleet pricing on many models - check the books in the Credit Union office (15-6, x6300) for more information.


The Thomas Guide, a map in book form, is indispensable for driving in LA. A combined LA/Orange County guidebook is available if you intend to travel often to Huntington Beach, Disneyland, Angel Stadium, or other Orange County attractions. The guide is well worth its hefty cover price (about $45), and can be bought at a discount from Target stores. AAA members may obtain free maps and other travel information (see the description below). If you have time to plan your trip in advance, log on,, or to print out the route to get to your destination. These services are very useful but are not always completely trustworthy in the “shortest” or “fastest” departments. Live traffic maps showing current freeway conditions can be found at Radio stations KNX 1070-AM and KFWB 980-AM have traffic reports every six minutes for the LA area. The freeways are often clogged during rush-hour times (5-9 a.m. and as early as 3-7 p.m.) and even at very odd times, so it is a good idea to listen to a traffic report before heading out (especially to the airport).

Obtaining a License

For those who already have a license, a California driver’s license can be obtained at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The closest DMV from Caltech is at 49 South Rosemead Boulevard, Pasadena (Colorado & Rosemead) General Information for the California DMV: (800) 777-0133 web: You can make an appointment to take the written test only on the DMV website, but be aware that the earliest appointment may be as long as six weeks away. You may need a passport or birth certificate in addition to your out-of-state license. The website also has additional information for new California residents, including the drivers manual and practice tests. The test takes some preparation as it is easy to fail even if you know how to drive. For new drivers If you’ve never had a driver’s license, you must pass the written test in order to get a learner’s permit before taking driving lessons. Steps to follow are outlined below:

1. Schedule an appointment for the written test:

The Pasadena Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office is pretty crowded, so it is advisable to schedule an appointment and to do so up to a month before you intend to take the test. The number for scheduling all appointments is 1-800-777-0133 (regular business hours only); written tests may be scheduled on the DMV website at: Details about the test, cost and required identification can be found at:

2. Select a driving school All driving schools offer free pickup and drop-off, and take you for the test when required at the same cost as a regular lesson. You may look at the yellow pages for more driving school listings but be warned that many of the cheaper schools do not advertise there. The DMV maintains a current listing of the licensing status of driving schools. This can be accessed at: California Driving School 1-800-522-5374 Pasadena Driving School 862 E. Villa St., Pasadena; (626) 440-9860 259 Sierra Madre Villa Ave. #101, Pasadena; (626) 440-1669 World Driving School 2692 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 683-3819


Street parking is available in most cities in California. Look at the street signs for parking regulations. Generally, fire lanes and red zones are no parking at any time, yellow zones are for loading and unloading, green zones are limited time parking from 3 minutes to 15 minutes (or longer). Parking violations are cited and fined. If you get a citation on campus, and do not think you were at fault, go to Campus Security and Parking Services (200-63) to get a form to contest on-campus violations. Caltech has parking lots in which students can park with a paid parking permit. On Wilson, there are two 3-story parking structures east of the Catalina Housing Complex. There are other parking structures on Holliston Ave, between Del Mar and San Pasqual, and California Boulevard, next to the Brown Gym. There are also several surface lots on campus. In all parking lots and structures, parking spots with names painted are reserved for faculty and organizations. In order to park at Caltech without getting towed, you need to get a paid Caltech parking permit from the Parking Office. Registration may be done online or by completing a hard copy registration form and submitting the form to the Parking Office. Vistors are required to display a paid permit if their vehicle is parked on campus between the hours of 7am-5pm, Mon-Fri. (Please find the location of automated pay stations on page 6) More information about campus parking can be found at

Parking in Old Town Pasadena

Parking in Old Town can be very stressful, particularly on weekends and evenings. The two best options the parking structures, one on the corner of Green and Raymond (Schoolhouse Garage), and the other on the corner of Green and Delacey. Both are well situated for easy access to movies, restaurants and shops in Old Town. Both have very reasonable rates. The Paseo Colorado outdoor mall has its own underground structure.

Parking in Pasadena

Most street parking in Pasadena has a two-hour limit, with some exceptions (e.g. around Caltech on California Blvd., on Wilson Ave. and on Hill Ave.) Beyond the two hours on, you will have to move your car to a different block to avoid citations. Pasadena has an overnight parking ordinance, which prohibits parking on city streets between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. except by permit. Permits are available, for a fee, through Parking Services, 221 E Walnut St., suite 199. The city streets surrounding Caltech are subject to citation for this violation. The streets include Wilson Avenue, Del Mar Blvd., Hill Ave., California Blvd., and Catalina Ave. If you have more questions about parking in Pasadena, call (626) 744-6470 or check out the Pasadena webpage

Registering a Vehicle

If you declare California as your permanent residence, your car must be registered with the DMV within 20 days of arriving here. Your car must be smog checked before you can register it. Take your smog certification, out-of-state registration, title, and checkbook to a DMV office. Your car will also have to be present so that a DMV officer can verify the VIN. More information about vehicle registration and smog checks (including smog testing centers) can be found at


Motorcycles and mopeds are also common at Caltech. Motorcycles require a separate “Class 4” driver’s license to operate, whereas a standard license is adequate for moped use. For those interested in obtaining a motorcycle license, an introductory riding and safety course is available in Altadena, see

Public transportation

Below you will find some information on getting around LA without a car (which isn’t as easy as it should be!). For even more insider tips, see the Caltech Public Transit guide at NOTE THIS IS SLIGHTLY OUT OF DATE--WE'LL TRY TO GET A NEW VERSION UP SOON!

Los Angeles Metro has finally entered the 21st century with passes (TAP Cards) that you can simply load money on and use at will. Note that monthly passes on a TAP card are not good for the Pasadena ARTS buses, the Big Blue buses, or the Foothill Transit buses--you would need to purchase an EZ Transit Pass or Metrolink pass to get on all of them. Monthly Metro passes are available at the Caltech bookstore, but to get one you can simply recharge (or to get a student pass) you must go down to Union Station. Go to for information about getting a student pass.

Taxis and Rideshares

Taxis are not the cheapest option for traveling in LA as places are always far apart. They are, however, especially useful for those who like to party! For the Pasadena area, you can call:

  • City Cab: (626) 584-1000 or (626) 796-8294
  • People’s Taxi: (800) 505-2227
  • Yellow Cab: (800) 750-4400
  • Uber
  • Lyft
  • What else?

Local airports


The Burbank-Pasadena-Glendale airport is situated in Burbank, and it is the closest airport to Pasadena. It is relatively easy to reach by freeway, and it’s a convenient alternative to LAX for domestic flights. Southwest Airlines flies in and out of Burbank, making this a quick, easy, inexpensive option for short flights to places such as Las Vegas, Portland or the Bay Area.

John Wayne Airport (Santa Ana, Orange County)

John Wayne Airport in Orange County is generally the least convenient option for Caltech students, due to the fact that it’s quite a long drive on chronically congested freeways. It is an option, however, if you’re desperate for a flight or if you find a really good deal. Allow a very minimum of one hour to get there, and leave even more time if any part of your drive will occur even close to rush hour. By public transit, expect at least 3 hours (bring a book...).


The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the major airport serving the area. All international flights and most national flights land there. It is located at the west end of the 105 Freeway, about 27 miles from Caltech. By car (via the 110 and 105 freeways) it takes about 35-45 minutes to get there. Traffic, however (especially during morning or afternoon rush hours: 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and 3 p.m.-6 p.m.) might prolong the ride to well over an hour!

If you choose to take public transit, you can take the Gold Line to Union Station and then take the LAX FlyAway bus ($7 one way, the latter of which generally departs every half-hour (check the schedule) and takes approximately 30-50 minutes to get to LAX. There are also other options like taking the 485 down and getting on another bus, getting down to the Green Line station by bus or Blue Line. Note that the Green Line does not take you all the way to the terminal; instead there's a shuttle to cover the last leg of the journey. You have the lobbying efforts of the shuttle industry to thank for that.

Long beach

Long Beach airport is definitely farther away from Pasadena, but is still normally within 1 hour’s drive. Long Beach is also less hectic than LAX and is served by many of the less expensive airlines.


Ontario Airport, located a few miles west of the intersection between the 10 and 15 freeways is also an alternative to LAX for domestic flights. It’s about the same distance from Pasadena, but the ride on the 10 freeway can be very tedious, so you should allow at least an hour to get there. The upside to the Ontario airport is that the terminal is less hectic than LAX, and the lines are sometimes much shorter. Jet Blue flies to the East Coast from Ontario, and you can often catch inexpensive, overnight flights from there.

Shuttles and ride sharing

Information on shuttles to local airports is listed under the page For New Students. There is a free shuttle that runs between Caltech campus and JPL. You can catch it in the traffic circle on the north side of California across from the Keith Spalding building. The schedule is posted in the Caltech directory. Parking & Commuter References coordinates the Institute’s ridesharing efforts. Employees and students who carpool or vanpool can receive preferred parking and/or subsidies. Parking & Commuter Services is located at 515 S. Wilson, on the second floor above the Credit Union.

Bus and Rail Services beyond LA

Although driving is often the most convenient way to travel beyond LA, especially if you have companions, traffic in and out of the area can be brutal on evenings and weekends. There are means of public ground transportation that will get you in and out of LA, namely Metrolink, Amtrak and Greyhound.

Amtrak, (800) USA-RAIL

Amtrak is a rail system that operates throughout the U.S. In southern California, Amtrak runs from San Diego to San Francisco along the scenic coastline. The Pacific Surfliner route from San Luis Obispo to San Diego and the Coastal Starlight route from Seattle to Los Angeles offer beautiful views along the ride and a great way to enjoy the California coast. Do note, however, that the trip from Seattle to Los Angeles takes about 40 hours! The rides are reasonably priced. A one-way trip to Santa Barbara or San Diego runs around $20-30. If you are planning to tour around California or the U.S. via Amtrak, check out their California Rail Pass and North America Rail Pass. At times, they have special offers such as “first passenger full fare, second passenger half fare, third passenger for free”. Call or visit the website for special offers and more information. The closest stations to Caltech are Union Station (800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles) and 400 W. Cerritos Ave. in Glendale (no tickets sales at this station). Tickets can be purchased online or over the phone.

Greyhound, (626) 792-5116

Greyhound offers another means of long-distance transportation. They serve pretty much everywhere in North America. Multiple-day passes are available for various regions in the U.S. and Canada. Their prices are a bit lower than Amtrak, but it often takes even longer to get from point A to point B. A one-way ticket to San Diego or Santa Barbara is about $15. For $20, you can get a Student Advantage card that will save you 15% on walk-up fares. For walk-up fares, you get a discount if you purchase the tickets at least 7 days in advance. Sometimes they also have discounts on companion fares. Call or check out their website for recent promotion offers. The closest station is located at 645 E Walnut St, Pasadena (626-792-5116).


Metrolink is a premier regional rail system, including commuter and other passenger services, linking the communities of Ventura County, Antelope Valley, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange County. The closest Metrolink stations are at the intersection of Lake Ave and the 210 and Del Mar station. Visit the website for more information.

Car Rental

If you need to rent a car while on Caltech business, check out Caltech’s agreements with Hertz, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. You may be covered by Caltech’s insurance and receive discounted prices. Before choosing a rental car, be aware of the possible traps including mileage limitations and insurance. If you have your own car insurance, you may not need theirs; if you charge your rental to certain credit cards, the card will cover you. Check with your card provider before renting. Be aware that service people at the rental locations may not know what kind of coverage you have or need.

Avis 570 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena; (626) 449-6122 or (800) 331-1212

BestWay 1150 E Colorado Blvd, (626) 564-1111

Budget 750 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena; (626) 449-0266

Enterprise 1890 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 405-0900

Hertz 2738 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 578-0443 or (800) 654-3131

Travel Planning

Travelling on Caltech Business

If you will be traveling on Caltech business, see the Caltech Travel Services website. They have all the information you need for planning your trip when Caltech is paying. You should also check with your option secretary to find out how your option regularly works out travel reimbursements.

General Travel Planning

For personal travel, getting a cheap airline ticket requires some planning and a bit of luck. The peak travel seasons are summer (June to August) and around Thanksgiving (generally the last full week of November) and Christmas (December 15 to January 5). The peak travel days are weekends and holidays. Avoid the peak times if possible. Another factor that influences the price of your ticket is your flexibility on your travel schedule. If you are willing to make some sacrifices, you may be rewarded with a cheaper ticket.


There are numerous websites that compare airfare and accommodations. A few examples for flights are:

Student universe[1]: Cheap student flights, hotels, groups & other travel discounts

Kayak[2]: Cheap flights, hotels, travel deals.

ITA software: matrix[3]: Advanced search tool to compare airfare

Some additional notes about booking online travel: Buying the cheapest flights often means that your ticket is either non-changeable/non-refundable or changeable only at an exorbitant fee. Some of the good, discount airlines such as Southwest (, Jet Blue ( are not generally listed on any of these services, so check them separately. Once you find a flight on one of these services, check the same flight on your chosen airline’s website, sometimes you’ll get a better time or seat for the same price.

Examples for accommodations are:[4][5]

It is always useful to check your choice of accommodation with a customer review website like Yelp [6]. Until you’re familiar with a travel site, be sure to read the fine print and restrictions on all travel reservations (for instance, note that most of these sites will charge you for your entire hotel stay at the time of booking and may keep more than one night’s room rate if you cancel or change your reservation).


Zipcar is an easy and affordable rental car option if you don't own a car, but still wants to have easy acces to a car. Zipcar has multiple locations on the Caltech campus. After acquiring a zip car membership, one can simply rent a car by the day or even by the hour. Zipcar offers discounted memberships for Caltech students, which makes this an excellent service for students that don't own a car.

See for more details.