Picking a neighborhood in Los Angeles should really hinge on where you work, as commute times can make or break your quality of life. But in increasingly expensive Los Angeles, selecting a community can be fraught with tough decisions.
Central neighborhoods near major job centers don’t come cheap. But buying or renting in a place that seems affordable to you, especially if you’re not in it for the long haul, could lead to another Angeleno’s displacement. And, for the fortunate few with the flexibility and budget to choose, the options might seem endless, as Los Angeles County sprawls for 4,751 square miles.
But there are some locales where you might feel good about buying or renting in 2020, either because the housing supply is growing, the prices are somewhat reasonable but the risk of gentrification is relatively low, or the transportation options are abundant. In these neighborhoods, you’ll find pockets of the city that are pleasantly walkable, close to nature, humming with culture, and filled with the diversity that makes LA the best place in the entire U.S. to live.
The draw: Big-city energy with everything at your fingertips
Similar neighborhoods: Koreatown; Downtown LA’s Historic Core
Getting Around: Super walkable; two Red Line stations; major bus routes
Thanks to a wave of development, Hollywood has returned to its film industry roots as a prominent jobs center, mostly catering to major entertainment outlets, such as Netflix and Viacom, but also to startups and smaller companies that occupy coworking spaces, including WeWork, Second Home, and NeueHouse. The neighborhood has grown denser and taller along the way, and it has recently added thousands of new apartments.
Luxury high-rises have sprouted up along Vine Street. A sprawling courtyard complex speckled with cacti and tropical plants opened last year in the thick of the action on Hollywood Boulevard. And the addition of high-design hotels like Mama Shelter and the Dream Hotel and glamorous restaurants like Gwen and Paley keep nightlife exciting.
But it’s not all shiny and new. Renters can still find studios and one-bedrooms from $1,500 to $2,125 in midcentury dingbats, and some old haunts—Musso and Frank’s, the Frolic Room, and the Hollywood Roosevelt—still thrive. For lovers of all things urban, Hollywood has it all: a Trader Joe’s, old movie houses and comfortable contemporary cinemas, dive bars and fancy rooftop bars, and a boulevard that teems with people night and day.
The draw: Location, location, location—and charming architecture
Similar neighborhoods: West Adams; Fairfax
Getting Around: A car is helpful, but the Purple Line is on the way
The name is a dead give-away: Neighborhoods don’t get more central than Mid-City. As traffic rises to insanity-inducing levels, you’ll want to be able to move about Los Angeles with some ease—or risk never seeing your friends again. By LA standards, it’s fairly easy to get around by car, but there are driving alternatives: buses travel down the major boulevards of Venice, Pico, and Washington; the bike-friendly Ballona Creek Trail picks up nearby; and the Purple Line subway will have a station at Wilshire and La Brea.
From Mid-City, it’s relatively easy to get across much of Los Angeles, including to the clogged Westside. You can reach the museums on Miracle Mile; the restaurants, bars, and shops in Culver City; the trails in Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Park; and the major venues in Downtown LA. But there are reasons to stay in the neighborhood too.
The homes showcase a range of styles; well-maintained century-old apartment buildings, blocks of cute Spanish-style duplexes, and bungalows for less than $1 million—much lower than you’ll find a few blocks north. When you’re ready to explore, don’t miss Little Ethiopia, Gish Bac, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Leo’s Tacos Truck, and the Underground Museum, which hosts some of the best art exhibits in LA, along with free public events, from yoga classes and sound baths to pop-up grocery stores.
The draw: Comparatively low real estate prices; Chinese food; small-town atmosphere
Similar neighborhoods: Pasadena; Arcadia
Getting Around: Check out the low-priced municipal bus system
Priced out of Pasadena? Look to Alhambra, a relatively affordable option in the San Gabriel Valley for those seeking a more suburban lifestyle that’s becoming harder (though not impossible) to find. Little cottages and bungalows book-ended by yards routinely come up for sale priced from $599,000 to $700,000, and it’s relatively easy to get around. Traffic can get backed up on Alhambra’s major streets during rush hour, but navigating through the city is fairly straightforward. Metro runs a route through the city that connects to the Gold Line, and there’s also a low-priced municipal bus system that serves the downtown area.
Affordability and access aren’t the only draws. The homey, walkable downtown area offers a host of restaurants, coffee shops, two tap rooms, and a movie theater all along a palm tree-lined stretch of Main Street. There you’ll find an Applebee’s and other suburban staples, but the city also boasts a wealth of exceptional Chinese food; use the tea-smoked pork ribs and green onion pancakes to entice your friends in LA proper to visit. From Alhambra, it’s also easy to get to hiking trails in Angeles National Forest and to Downtown LA, which is just a few miles to the west.
The draw: Beach access; slower pace; convenient to Retro Row and downtown Long Beach
Similar neighborhoods: Santa Monica’s Ocean Park; Long Beach’s Belmont Heights
Getting Around: Ditch your car—you can get around easily on foot or bike
As Los Angeles slowly scrambles to overcome a housing shortage and grapples with different visions for how it might accommodate future growth, it should look to Alamitos Beach. The Long Beach neighborhood does multi-family beautifully. It’s populated with small two- and three-story apartment buildings (like the pink Spanish Colonial Revival apartments featured in La La Land), bungalow courts, and the occasional quaint Craftsman, making it a model for how LA could embrace density without forsaking its traditionally low-slung character. The prices are reasonable too. It’s possible to find beach-adjacent condos listed for less than $400,000.
Long Beach is a large, independent city that feels distinct—but not terribly far removed—from LA’s crowded, more tightly packed beach towns. Alamitos Beach hugs the coast and is lined with tree-studded streets. It’s packed with local businesses and restaurants, and at its northeastern edge is Retro Row—a fun strip of vintage stores, boutiques, and a small movie theater. Last year, the city narrowed traffic lanes on Broadway, the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor, to make room for protected bike lanes that tie the neighborhood to the city’s booming downtown. And Metro’s Blue Line—which travels to Downtown LA—has two stations within biking distance.
The draw: Laid-back living a short subway ride to Downtown
Similar neighborhoods: Burbank; Glendale
Getting Around: Orange Line; Red Line; cyclists love the Chandler Bike Path
Life feels a little slower in the Valley, but things are picking up in North Hollywood. While much of the region was built in the postwar period, largely around the automobile, North Hollywood is served by public transit that makes getting to the city center much easier. There’s the wildly successful Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (with a dedicated lane separate from car traffic, buses travel faster) and the Red Line subway. Plus, a second BRT—that would connect North Hollywood to Pasadena in 2024—is in the works.
The Orange and Red lines also drop off and pick up at a major Metro hub that is poised for a game-changing makeover in the years to come. A 15-acre development named District NoHo would envelop the station, adding high-rises, open space, restaurants, and a walkable plaza. Construction is slated to start in 2021. Much closer on the horizon is NoHo West, another major mixed-use development that’s rising along the 170 freeway. It will have 642 apartments, at least 50 dining and shopping options, a Trader Joe’s, a gym, and a movie theater. The commercial component is on track to open this summer.
The blend of urban (transit lines, a walkable arts district, mixed-use developments) and suburban (single-family neighborhoods, strip malls, easy parking, and major chain stores such as Target and Home Depot) makes North Hollywood a convenient choice.
The draw: Beach access; a quaint downtown; small-town charm
Similar neighborhoods: San Pedro
Getting Around: The new Crenshaw Line connects you to more action
This small seaside South Bay town that abuts LAX was built by Standard Oil (today known as Chevron), but its future will not be so dependent on the automobile. Metro’s Crenshaw Line, an 8.5-mile train line, is slated to open this year, and for the first time, El Segundo residents will be able to travel by train directly to South LA, making easier connections to the Westside and into the heart of Los Angeles.
For now, Metro’s C (Green) Line has three stops in El Segundo—Mariposa, El Segundo, and Douglas stations. The C Line links up to the Blue Line to get downtown and will connect to the future Crenshaw Line and LAX. Bus service in the neighborhood is provided by a handful of Metro routes and two routes on Beach Cities Transit. The city also operates a free shuttle at lunchtime that connects “the business side” of El Segundo to the eateries in the downtown area. The 105 and 405 freeways intersect just outside the city’s northeast border.
Affectionately called “Mayberry by the sea,” the town is anchored by a sweet downtown that’s home to the landmark venue the Old Town Music Hall. Nearby, city officials are pushing a plan to make the old industrial district known as Smoky Hollow, where a coffee roaster, distillery, and small media companies have opened, into a walkable “incubator district” for creative and technology businesses.
The best part? If you want a relatively affordable single-family home by the beach, you’ll find blocks of ranch-style houses with white-picket fences in spitting distance of the Pacific with prices in the range of $750,000 to $1.2 million.
The draw: The antithesis to Hollywood
Similar neighborhoods: Altadena
Getting Around: Learn to love the Metro’s 90 line
Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. And in LA, you actually can—and still stay within city boundaries. This bedroom community is part of the city of Los Angeles but is tucked up against the San Gabriel Mountains in the San Fernando Valley, with many homes set among rolling hills. Like much of Los Angeles, Tujunga was mostly farmland, in this case orchards and vineyards, before it was carved up into residential tracts.
But while the rest of Los Angeles buzzes, Tujunga has managed to remain untouched for much of its recent history and maintains a rustic air, with some streets devoid of sidewalks. Along with Alhambra, it’s one of the last places left within commuting distance of Downtown LA where it’s possible to find a family-sized home with yard space for less than $700,000.
It’s also not that far away—20 miles from downtown, but the commute by car isn’t terrible, especially if you can avoid using the 210 Freeway, the main north-to-south arterial, during rush hour. Metro’s 90 Line is clutch: It runs all the way from Downtown LA’s South Park neighborhood and through Northeast LA.