I live in a charming but worn 1940s garden apartment in East Hollywood, a diverse neighborhood that encompasses Thai Town and Little Armenia, touching bustling Hollywood to the west and Los Feliz to the east. There’s a subway station minutes away and Griffith Park is just up the hill. There’s a dentist, a family-owned deli, and a yoga studio on my block. It’s not a perfect neighborhood—discarded desks and old mattresses line the sidewalks, and Western Avenue has a long way to go before it’s an inviting place to walk—but it’s close.
Finding the perfect neighborhood is a delicate balance. It’s like putting a puzzle together, and it’s complicated by the soaring cost of housing. But even if you have the means to afford to live wherever you want, every neighborhood has its trade-offs. Below are some of the most important things to take into consideration before putting down roots in Los Angeles.
First, know LA’s regions.
Los Angeles is made up of more than a half dozen regions, and each of those regions contains many, many smaller neighborhoods and cities. There’s the Westside, Central Los Angeles, Northeast LA, San Fernando Valley (aka the Valley), the San Gabriel Valley, South Los Angeles, the South Bay, the Verdugos, and the Eastside.
There are others, but these are the predominant regions known informally as LA. They have their own distinct culture, terrain, and even, in some cases, weather. The boundaries are up for debate, but this map from the Los Angeles Times is solid.
Second, know the neighborhoods.
This is more difficult than memorizing the regions, because there are a lot—at least 472 according to this map, which is inarguably the most accurate (but still not comprehensive) map on the internet.
It’s important—for both your sanity and the health of the environment—to pick a ’hood that’s close to where you work.
Or close to your main hobbies. Do not fool yourself. You will not live a breezy life in Echo Park while working in Manhattan Beach. Unless you have a forgiving schedule, you will probably not surf every morning if you live in Glendale.
There’s no definitive figure for how close you should get, but a good rule is around 5 miles. Anything over that and your commute is bound to take more than 30 minutes.
Do you want to be near public transit?
You can pretty much always find a bus route, no matter where you live, but buses in LA can be slow and unreliable. LA’s other public transportation options—the subway and light rail—are more efficient. Living near one will make navigating LA much easier. But those lines and stations are fewer and farther between.
This official rail map from LA’s transit agency, Metro, should be your guiding light. The map also shows bus-rapid transit and rail lines that are under construction now, including the Crenshaw Line, which is scheduled to open this year.
Do you want to live near the beach or trails?
LA can be a nature lover’s dream. Tapping into that is especially easy if you pick a neighborhood near the hills, canyons, mountains, or water.
If getting fresh air is at the top of your priority list, winnow your search to Atwater Village, which hugs the LA River; Pasadena and Altadena, which are at the base of the steep San Gabriel Mountains; or Los Feliz, which is nestled the bottom of the sprawling Griffith Park. Consider any beach city. Target Culver City, because it’s adjacent to beautiful Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area; Echo Park, which is close to hilly Elysian Park; and Topanga Canyon, Pacific Palisades, and Santa Monica, all of which offer convenient access to the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains.
If triple digit heat is your hell, stay clear of the Valley.
Without ocean breezes to cool it down, the Valley swelters in the summer. The mercury regularly climbs more than 10 degrees higher there than in other parts of LA. (In July, the hottest day at LAX was 87 degrees—compared to 100 degrees at Burbank Airport).
But if you relish steamy summer days and nights, the Valley has good things going for it: delicious but cheap eats, cool museums, diversity, a wildly successful bus line, and more transit projects in the pipeline. Plus, its known among locals as a region where you can get more square footage for your buck. That extra space will come in handy when you need to build a swimming pool to cool off.
Do you thrive in a buzzing, big city?
For tall buildings packed tightly together, bustling sidewalks, and an active night life, consider Hollywood, Koreatown, and Downtown Los Angeles, namely South Park, the Financial District, and Historic Core. These neighborhoods are also some of the most transit-friendly and most walkable in LA.
What are the most walkable neighborhoods?
Most LA neighborhoods (the Hollywood Hills not included) are at least semi-walkable; you’ll usually find a liquor store, a fruit vendor, and a taco cart in close proximity, no matter where you live. According to WalkScore, some of the most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods include MacArthur Park, Fairfax, Palms, Long Beach, and Sawtelle.
Are you looking for a slower pace?
Somewhere where parking is more plentiful, where you might get to know the names of everyone on your block, where there’s an abundance of single-family homes? Long Beach, San Pedro, and much of the Valley will be your best bets—but note that getting into more central parts of Los Angeles will trickier coming from those places.
Only select cities have rent control.
The main advantage of rent control is that annual rent increases are limited by the city. But there are only a handful of places in greater LA with rent control: the communities of unincorporated Los Angeles County and the cities of Los Angeles, Culver City, Inglewood, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. That means plenty of other LA cities do not.
Do you want to live in a “hip” neighborhood?
One with craft beer, art galleries, high-end boutiques, stylish coffee shops, and “youth culture”? It’s hard to keep up, but the New York Times takes a crack at it every now and again. The newspaper’s latest obsessions? Highland Park, Abbot Kinney, and Koreatown.
Where can you get a good deal?
That’s relative based on how much you’re able or willing to pay. A good reference point is the median cost of a home ($638,000) and the median cost of rent ($1,369 for a one bedroom) in LA County. Apartment List tracks price per square foot by neighborhood, and our website publishes weekly round-ups of apartments and homes on the market at a certain price point. But if you’re still debating whether you should even move to LA, the answer is maybe.