California has a pretty notorious reputation for having bad traffic, so I am wondering if it would be worth my time to rent a car when I visit there. If I stay within the LA area, is public transportation good enough for me to get by without renting a car? I would like to visit Hollywood as well, so will I be able to easily get around by public transportation? Or would I be better off to rent a car if I need to get around?
Rent the car!
Los Angeles is built for cars. It has some of the worst public transportation imaginable, ever since General Motors conspired to eliminate the city’s trolley system. Yes, there are buses and taxis, but you will find that buses take forever (and get stuck in the same traffic) and taxis are hard to find and expensive.
Only 11% of Los Angeles residents get to work by public transportation (compared to, say, New York with 54%).
There are plenty of cities where public transportation is an option (New York, Chicago, San Francisco) but LA is not one of them.
UPDATE 2015 Since I wrote this answer, the rise of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft has, for the first time, made it more reasonable to get around in Los Angeles without your own car. You may want to compare the cost of ride-sharing services vs. renting a car (and paying for parking) depending on how much you want get around. If you are going to a lot of different parts of the city, a rental car is likely to be cheaper, but if you’re staying mostly in one neighborhood and not moving around a lot, you may find ride-sharing services to be more affordable.