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Buy a house in LA: Getting to know San Fernando

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We moved from West Adams to the Valley. Here’s what it’s been like living in the Mission City

Maclay Avenue.
Danielle Directo-Meston

When I tell people that I moved to San Fernando, the most common reply is, “Nice! So where exactly in the Valley?”

Though I grew up about 10 miles away in Tujunga, like many other Angelenos, my knowledge of the town extends to its namesake mission. Spanning just under 2.5 miles, and bordered by the 210, 118, 405, and 5 freeways, the incorporated city staked its claim as the San Fernando Valley’s first community when it was established in 1874. That was 77 years after Spain built Mission San Fernando Rey de España during its quest to colonize native people.

Incorporated in 1911, today the Mission City is home to a population of 24,564 (plus four newcomers!)—and it's the subject of this home buying series' grand finale, just in time for Curbed LA’s Valley Week.

Admittedly still in the honeymoon stage of suburban homeownership, we’re already happily accustomed to the relative lack of noise and light pollution. Save for the likely-unsanctioned Fourth of July fireworks spectaculars (a familiar sight in our old West Adams nabe and a fitting welcome to our new home), we fully appreciate the luxury of falling asleep in pitch-black darkness to the sounds of crickets.

We miss our old neighborhood’s daily fruit truck—the one that played “La Cucaracha” as it pulled up to our corner—but we take comfort in hearing the local ice cream truck that comes at 5 and 10 p.m., signaling its arrival with a doorbell-like ring.

As nature lovers and and enthusiasts of California history and architecture, we quickly fell in love with San Fernando’s quaint small-town atmosphere and its picturesque backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The historic López Adobe, which was built in 1883.
Via Lopez Adobe/Facebook

Here, well-manicured streets are lined with pre-WWI bungalows, Craftsmans (many with similar rock façades as ours), Spanish-style houses, California ranch homes, and the occasional Victorian, to name a few.

We’ve yet to explore the historic López Adobe and revisit the mission, stroll through the walking trails at Rudy Ortega Sr. Park, and take a 25-cent ride on the red trolley. But we’ve already found some new favorite eateries on nearby Maclay Avenue.

A post shared by -rOn- (@marley.rdf) on

The “old town”-like stretch was revitalized 15 years ago with the opening of Library Plaza, a mission-style development where bookworms can grab a mocha loca at House of Brews, deep-fried fish tacos at Papa Juan’s Baja Grill, or the people-pleasing pulled pork sandwich at Old-Fashioned Chiliburgers & Sandwiches.

The downtown boulevard also boasts a new trendy footwear and accessories boutique, a tasty tamale restaurant, and many more Mexican food spots that we can’t wait to try.

Our date night to-do list includes a visit to the San Fernando Brewery, which began pouring Valley-inspired beers about two years ago. In fact, a San Fernando-raised friend tells me it’s among the businesses that have given the town its up-and-coming vibe.

We’re also looking forward to seeing what’s next for San Fernando Boulevard’s street mall, where a vintage and consignment shop (which is next on my local retail therapy list) and the soon-to-open Truman House Tavern stand among a mix of quinceañera dress boutiques, Western wear shops, and discount stores.

Apparently, there are also up-in-the-air plans to transform the shuttered J.C. Penney—once the street’s anchor business—into a mixed-use development and low-income housing.

The vacant J.C. Penney building on San Fernando Road.

While I haven’t had a chance to catch up on the local government's agenda, one enthusiastic neighbor and longtime resident has already shared a CliffsNotes version of San Fernando City Council’s novela-like drama. Some may recall that time LA Weekly proclaimed it America’s “most scandal-ridden city government”—but what LA city boasts a spotless record?

Before I become the unintentional spokesperson for the city of San Fernando (hey, Curbed, where’s our dedicated neighborhood category?), I’d like to formally end this series with the above photo of what traffic used to look like in my new community:

A parked carriage and two men on horseback next to the San Fernando Mission on a road that will eventually be called El Camino Real. Apparently, this is what San Fernando used to call “traffic” in the early 1800s.
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

The next time my husband or I find ourselves complaining about the 405 (who in LA doesn’t?), we’ll remember how the parking gods have blessed us with our very own driveway—and that the AC deities have so far spared us from a mid-summer hardware malfunction. Aaah, the perks of Los Angeles homeownership.