Believe it or not, where you live in LA is a really big deal.
No, not because people will judge you based on your location! (Although some people totally joke about 323 being a cooler area code than 818.)
But because LA is SO spread out. You want to live near the places you will be frequenting (like your job).
Oh, and the traffic. Yeah, that is real. Not an exaggeration. Basic rule of thumb: 8 miles will take you at least 30 minutes. Unless you’re driving at 4am.
Let me paint a picture for you: I’m currently working at Universal Studios. When I leave in the morning at 7:45am, I can get to the studio in 6 minutes. Yes, literally 6 minutes.
When I drive home at 6:30pm on Friday (the ultimate rush hour), it takes me ALMOST AN HOUR to get home.
So, you can see that where you live will have a huge impact on your daily life. Can you imagine how long it would take me to get home on Friday if I lived more than just a few miles away?!
Ideally, you want to live close to work. But so many of us never know where we will be working, especially when you’re brand new to LA and don’t have a job yet.
In that case, you can pick a neighborhood based on what is a good fit for you and your lifestyle, and/or where your friends live. With LA being so spread out, you may never see friends who live in a neighborhood that is “far” from you (I call it "LA far" because "far" has a different meaning in Los Angeles!). People rarely leave their bubbles, just because it can take forever to get places outside of those bubbles.
I know it can be super overwhelming to pick a neighborhood in a new city where you hardly know anything or anyone. So I’m going to break down the major neighborhoods for you here.
You can also download this free Neighborhood Cheat Sheet that will help you pick your 'hood. If you’re interested in working in the film industry, the Cheat Sheet includes a map of every major movie studio so you can see where you may be working, and pick a place that’s convenient.
Disclaimer: It always helps to see the neighborhood in person so you can make your own judgement. What feels safe to me, may not feel safe to you.
Hollywood is the most central location with easy access to freeways and lots of cool bars/restaurants. Tourists, and more tourists. Clubs. Bragging rights to say you really live in “Hollywood”. Just do a drive-by first because a few parts are a little shady.
HOLLYWOOD HILLS EAST
Hollywood Hills East is quieter than Hollywood. It is mostly residential, but just a few blocks from restaurants. Hang out in Franklin Village where you may run into Kristen Bell or Steven Tyler. Bragging rights to say you live in “The Hills” under the Hollywood sign.
Los Feliz is pretty much as east as you want to go. It’s a few minutes farther than Hollywood Hills East, more green than most places (home to the famous Griffith Park and Observatory), and has a really great strip of restaurants. It’s quiet and pretty safe. Can be a little pricey.
Ah, Silverlake. Home of the hipsters. Really great houses up in the hills. Awesome bars to hop to. Super close to Dodger Stadium. Intelligentsia Coffee. It still feels a bit like it’s “up and coming” even though it has already arrived. If you like your skinny jeans, this is the neighborhood for you.
WeHo, as we like to call it, is LA’s finest gayborhood. No easy freeway access, but if you live near any of the main streets (Santa Monica Blvd, Melrose Ave, Sunset Blvd), you can walk to many restaurants and bars. Unfortunately, prices have gone way up in this neighborhood. Just be prepared for higher rent prices here.
Downtown is the only part of LA that really looks like a “city”; tall buildings, walkable streets, plenty of Starbucks. Some parts are really cool with great little restaurants and sidewalk cafes, but other parts are still shady as hell. Downtown is known for its loft apartments, and it’s home to the Staples Center and Nokia Live. It’s also the central hub for public transportation like the subway.
MIRACLE MILE / MID WILTSHIRE
These are both the same to me, even though they aren’t! Whenever someone mentions one of these areas, I swear they use them interchangeably. It’s south, closer to West LA, near the Grove shopping. It’s pretty central in LA. It’s a decent place to live, just avoid Park La Brea apartments. So I’ve heard.
Ugh, Rossmore Avenue. SWOON! Hancock Park is a super nice area where the apartments are huge and beautiful and quite expensive. Yu may not be able to afford living here in your first year in LA, but driving down Rossmore to “ooo” and “ahh” is always free.
In case you're like "Ok, what is the deal with "the valley"??", let me fill you in. The valley is 5-10 degrees hotter than central LA, and more suburban, more families, and more affordable. If you're a 20-30 something, it's still a totally cool place to live, so don't be ashamed if it's more your speed! --- My first apt. was in the valley and I loved the safety and quiet (I know, I'm an old fart).
The good ol’ Sh’oaks. I wouldn’t recommend going any further in the valley than here, at least in the beginning. It’s a great suburban neighborhood that is close to Malibu, but it’s about 20+ minutes (40 in traffic) from all he Hollywood happenings. More affordable (as is the Valley, in general). Lots of families.
Studio City is definitely the hippest part of the valley. If you want to be in the valley, I would suggest here. It has a younger vibe with some cool restaurants/bars, but still a suburban feel if the “city” scares you. Because it’s the “cool” part of the valley, it tends to be more expensive.
NoHo is the artsy part of the valley. Many people move here for their first place because it is super close to Hollywood (check that free Neighborhood Cheat Sheet to see what I’m talking about), and the rent is much cheaper than most other hoods. But you want to do a drive-by. Half of Noho is awesome, but the other half, you probably shouldn’t walk alone at night.
Burbank is closest to Hollywood, being the very first exit off the 101. It houses big studios like Warner Bros. and Disney (studio map included in that free Neighborhood Cheat Sheet). It’s family oriented, less expensive rent, and very safe. You can even check out Porn Star Karaoke on Tuesday nights at Sardo’s. Like real porn stars. Singing karaoke. (I swear it's still a safe area :))
My first apartment in LA was in Glendale. Glendale is another suburban part of the valley that is pretty safe. Even though I no longer live in Glendale, I still go there all the time for shopping (great mall and free parking), and the Americana at Brand (which is a less touristy version of The Grove—pretty outdoor shopping).
A note about the valley: Many families work in the “city” and live in the valley. So rush hour traffic has everyone driving out of the valley in the morning, and into the valley in the evening. Any time in between is not bad at all, but just keep that in mind if you’re planning on working in the city.
Beverly Hills is exactly what you think it would be. Gated communities, highly manicured greens, outrageous real estate. Not the best spot for a first place; not only because of the expense, but also because of the traffic. Getting in and out of the 90201 can be a nightmare.
Westwood is where UCLA lives. The residents are mostly undergraduate and graduate level college students. It’s close-isn to the beach, but sort of far from everywhere else. And Diddy Riese is so delicious! You pick your cookie, you pick your ice cream, and BAM! You have a sandwich made in Heaven. Westwood is a really nice place to live, just keep in mind you may be surrounded by college students.
West LA is kind of a strange place because it's in between everything with not a ton happening right inside. But it has affordable apartments, and is relatively safe. Plus, it's not far from other neighborhoods where there is a lot going on, so it's still a great place to live. It's as close to the beach as you'll get without actually living at the beach.
If you get a job at Sony Studios (did I mention that free Neighborhood Cheat Sheet has a map of all the studios??!), live here! Or if you want to be near the beach but not actually at the beach. Culver City has an awesome “Downtown” area with restaurants and bars and a movie theater. It’s a little rough around the edges but it’s up-and-coming. The last time I was there, it was filled with late 20-somethings, early 30-somethings.
I love Santa Monica. It is a beautiful beach town. You’ve got the famous Santa Monica Pier and the Third Street Promenade. That being said, it can get QUITE congested. Good luck finding parking near the pier. Tourists flock to Santa Monica, but the locals seem to know where to go. SM is definitely on the expensive end. Some 1 bedrooms are as high as $3,000.
Venice is right next to Santa Monica, and yet has a very different feel. It is more laid back, more artsy (really amazing First Fridays art walk on the first Friday of every month), and sometimes a little sketchy. Venice makes me think of Muscle Beach and skaters and a few loose cannons. :-P Silicon Beach is creeping in to Venice now (some tech companies from San Francisco), so some of the apartments are really pricey.
MANHATTAN BEACH / REDONDO / HERMOSA
These 3 beaches are very close to each other, and a great place to live if you want to live at the beach. They are laid back, beautiful, total beach towns. Full of young, active, 20 to 30-somethings.
Redondo has a more suburban feel, Hermosa is a little fratty, and Manhattan is slightly more upper class with young families. There also may be a few cougars lurking around Manhattan Beach, so beware. These beaches are also much further from central LA. If you live that far down, you won’t leave very often.
Wow. I’m pooped. That was a lot. If you’re reading all the way down here, you deserve a freakin award! Oh, hey, like that free Neighborhood Cheat Sheet :).
I know it can still feel overwhelming, but just remember that your first place doesn’t have to be permanent. Some apartments will allow a 6-month lease. Even if you sign a year long lease, you will be surprised at how quickly one year passes. Once you are living in LA, you’ll get a better feel for all of the neighborhoods and you can pick a new one that feels right fit you’re not loving your first one.
There are some neighborhoods that I left out of this article (like Pasadena, Woodland Hills, etc.) because I don’t recommend them as your very first location. It’s good to be somewhat central your first year so that you can easily participate in events and meet new people.
If you have questions about anything, feel free to comment below!