10 Great Neighborhoods in Los Angeles
Dreaming of living in a high-rise condo overlooking a flashy beachside neighborhood? Or do you find living in a century-old Craftsman bungalow in a vibrant albeit slightly gritty urban neighborhood more your style? Or do you want to replicate your suburban childhood with a brand-new house in a safe, family-friendly community a short drive from the mall and playground? Well, you can find all this and more in Los Angeles. Explore the city's diverse regions:
California’s Venice has been known by many names, from “The Slum by the Sea” to “Bohemia-by-the-Beach” to the “Rollerskating Capital of the World,” but there are two unique aspects of the area that will always stand out: its canals, built by developer Abbott Kinney to resemble Italy’s, and the work of its boundary pushing designers and architects. The first thing people usually think of when you mention architecture in Venice is the Chiat-Day Building, aka the “Binoculars Building,” built by Frank O. Gehry and Associates and artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen for the giant advertising firm. It’s now the L.A.-area home of Google.
Dennis Hopper’s Former Home: Interior
The upper level of actor Dennis Hopper’s former residence, studio and gallery was intended for private use, with a bridge connecting the living room and kitchen with the bedroom suite. It was designed so natural light from the numerous skylights could illuminate both levels.
Bay Cities Garage: Interior
When Ray Eames died, she had her office at Venice's Bay Cities Garage dismantled and its contents packed up and bequeathed to the Library of Congress. The building is currently owned by design firm Keith Bright and Associates, which commissioned architect Frank Israel to re-envision the space.
Arnoldi Triplex: Interior
On the interior of the Arnoldi Triplex buildings – developed by artists Laddie Dill and Charles Arnoldi – structural elements were left exposed, following Frank Gehry’s belief that many buildings look their most interesting before they are finished. The interiors were left partially unfinished to allow the artists to personalize the space and to collaborate in the creation process.
The central core of Los Angeles features the oldest, most urban, dense and ethnically diverse neighborhoods of the city as well as an adjacent ring of vintage suburbs. These were the neighborhoods that were abandoned as the residents embraced the shiny new suburbs of the post-war years. But a renewed interest in city living has attracted newcomers who can see past some of the graffiti and grime to take advantage of walkable neighborhoods rich in culture, architecture and history.
Flagship Neighborhood: Hollywood
Only one major movie studio is left in Hollywood. Many of the talent agents and the companies that supported movie and film production, from set builders to camera companies, have moved out. But the void left behind by the entertainment industry's shrinking presence has been rapidly filled by a wave of restaurants, stores, nightclubs and residents.
Much of the new energy and activity is located in the flats, far below the Hollywood sign. Here, once-dangerous streets that had become better known for drug dealing than moviemaking, including the infamous Yucca Corridor, have been substantially cleaned up after years of efforts by residents and police. The opening of two subway stations has made it even easier to commute to jobs in downtown Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley.
Many residents leave Hollywood Boulevard to the tourists and club hoppers, preferring to head to Sunset Boulevard near Vine Street, where the landmark Cinerama Dome movie theater has become the hub of a cluster of new stores, including cavernous Amoeba Records, as well as hot new bars and restaurants.
Droves of star-struck tourists, however, still jam the nearby sidewalks, with their heads bowed as they look for familiar names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But if they look up, they might be able to peek into the windows of hundreds of new luxury lofts carved from Hollywood's vintage office buildings. These are the new stars of Hollywood.
The Neighbors: Young singles and boho couples and actors in all stages of success or denial who don't mind the hassles of urban life in return for easy access to jobs, culture and historical attractions
Also Consider: Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park
Flagship Neighborhood: Pasadena
In fast-forward, new-is-better Los Angeles, Pasadena stands out as taking pride in its past. This love of the old once earned this leafy city a reputation as being stodgy. Remember the jokes about the Little Old Lady from Pasadena? Well, Pasadena's love of history and tradition, including the annual Rose Parade, has paid off handsomely, attracting droves of new residents and visitors to restored shopping districts and old neighborhoods.
The city's ethnically and racially diverse neighborhoods north of the 210 Freeway are home to block after block of Craftsman bungalows in different stages of renovation -- or dilapidation. Meanwhile, south of the 210 Freeway, newcomers in search of a more urban lifestyle are settling in thousands of new condominiums and apartments that have been built or are planned for Pasadena's downtown, Playhouse District and Old Pasadena. This new housing, located a short walk from stores, museums, markets, theaters and a light-rail line, have infused the city with young singles as well as affluent retirees.
A perfect place to watch new and old residents side-by-side is the Pasadena City College Flea Market, held the first Sunday of every month. It's a favorite spot to pick up a vintage lamp for that new bungalow or condo.
The Neighbors: A mix of young couples, singles, as well as affluent retirees who are active in civic affairs and attracted to the city's culture, history and clean surroundings.
From Long Beach on the south to Whittier on the north, this stretch of Los Angeles offers simple suburban living in communities that came of age in the post-war era. It's a popular and practical area for households whose breadwinners head off to work in different directions, with one spouse driving east to downtown Los Angeles and the other headed west to the office parks of Orange County.
Flagship Neighborhood: Cerritos
When the city was formed in the late 1950s, its original name was the "City of Dairy Valley," a good name for a town where the population of cows outnumbered people by nearly 10 to 1. But the dairies and cows have been crowded out by neat and tidy housing tracts, a regional mall, a well-regarded performing arts center, a huge public library (more than 300,000 volumes) and sculpture garden. About 10 years after it was founded, the City of Dairy Valley was renamed Cerritos in honor of a large Spanish-era rancho.
The city's dramatic and flashy cultural centers (the library is wrapped in a skin of shimmering metal) seem a bit out of place in this conventionally suburban setting. A largely middle class and ethnically diverse population, more than half Asian, reside in the mostly contemporary-styled homes set around cul-du-sacs. Its proximity to the Los Angeles Orange line and immediate access to three freeways make Cerritos a convenient location for households whose wage earners have to drive off into separate counties for work. As far as traffic goes, locals try to avoid Bloomfield Avenue, a north-south route popular with commuters trying to cut through the area.
The Neighbors: An ethnically and racially mixed population of mostly middle-class and conservative families attracted to highly rated schools and efficient city services
Also Consider: Artesia, Cypress, Lakewood
Flagship Neighborhood: Whittier
Whittier was founded more than a century ago as a Quaker colony of "fair minded" individuals who wanted to start a new life in the California sunshine. Today, this middle-class suburb with nearly 90,000 people is more diverse, with growing numbers of upwardly mobile Latino families joining the old-line Whittier residents whose grandparents remember the arrival of the first car in town.
Residents can choose to live a conventional suburban life in the 1950s- and 1960s-era homes of East Whittier or the Whittier Hills. Or, they can join the historically minded in the city's three historic districts located near the north end of town. Here, in Uptown Whittier, the community's commercial and social hub, a wide variety of residents descend on Greenleaf Avenue for a weekly Farmers Market on Friday mornings and a Wednesday night Family Fair (held from March through October) featuring live music, food and crafts.
At the corner of Greenleaf and Philadelphia Street, strollers will come across the imposing former First National Bank building, where the town's most famous resident, President Richard M. Nixon, started his law practice (a replica of that office can be found nearby at the Whittier Historical Museum). If you are hungry for more than history, walk across the street to Rocky Cola Cafe, a 1950s-style diner outlined in red neon that locals favor for late-night snacks and cherry soda.
The Neighbors: An ethnically diverse mix of middle-class families as well as students and staff from Whittier College
Also Consider: La Habra Heights, La Mirada, Montebello
VALLEYS & FOOTHILLS
"Inland" is the term television weather forecasters use for the broad section of Los Angeles miles away from the beach and coastal basin. The hills and flatlands of the San Fernando, San Gabriel, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys are where many middle-class Angelenos live in lesser-known but more affordable and livable neighborhoods.
Flagship Neighborhood: Claremont
Commuter rail passengers arriving in Claremont can be forgiven if they think they have traveled to a Midwestern college town instead of a suburb 30 miles east of Los Angeles. One block from the station lies Claremont's squeaky-clean downtown, called The Village, where residents greet each other while grabbing coffee, getting their hair done or shopping for gifts. Walk further into town, down shady streets lined with graceful old homes and welcoming porches, and you will arrive on the historic grounds of the Claremont Colleges, which first opened in 1887.
The campus dominates the town and its cultural life, giving Claremont a distinct identity from the strip malls and suburban housing tracts that surround the city. The extension of the 210 Freeway through the northern end of the community and the opening of a new Village-adjacent cinema, shopping center and townhomes have made Claremont more attractive to younger residents. Claremonters celebrate the arrival of the cooler fall months by heading to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, the state's largest native plant garden. Here a large collection of manzanitas, a family of hardy shrubs that cover the hills and mountains, bloom from November through March.
The Neighbors: Traditional and upper-middle-class soccer moms, dads and kids; and a large group of progressive and liberal residents attracted to college town life
Also Consider: Glendora, La Verne, Monrovia
Flagship Neighborhood: Valencia
Valencia's biggest cultural attraction used to be the Six Flags Amusement Park (locals still call it by its original name, Magic Mountain). But a new downtown, built from scratch next to the Valencia Town Center mall, has created a new, grown-up alternative to the theme park. A commuter rail line has made this 40-year-old, master-planned community a more convenient place to live.
But don't drive 35 miles north of Los Angeles expecting to find a hip, 24-hour city. Valencia, part of the larger and equally young City of Santa Clarita, remains solidly geared for families, which take advantage of top-notch public schools, active church groups and paseos, miles of landscaped walkways and bikeways that weave through separate neighborhoods. Everyone here touts the city's low crime rate as a major draw.
Young singles and couples without kids, however, might feel a bit left out, often driving more than 20 miles south to the San Fernando Valley and even deeper into Los Angeles for more urban pleasures. But that getaway can become a problem since the only major highway into and out of town, Interstate 5, can easily become clogged with traffic. As an alternative, locals suggest taking the Old Road, which parallels the interstate, and then San Fernando Road to get you into Los Angeles for a dose of city life.
The Neighbors: Young, conservative middle-class families in search of all the comforts and conveniences of suburbia
Also Consider: Stevenson Ranch, Newhall
Flagship Neighborhood: Sherman Oaks
Two signs only a five-minute drive apart give you an example of the extremes found in this San Fernando Valley suburb. One, posted on the door to a Mexican fast-food restaurant on bustling Ventura Boulevard, warns that photographing and asking autographs of frequent celebrity patrons is forbidden. The other, mounted near the entrance of a secluded trail high up in the hills, warned of recent mountain lion sightings.
Seclusion and sophistication are some of the attractions of Sherman Oaks, home of the mall of Valley Girl fame. Of course, that mall has been turned inside out like the rest of the Valley, now more urban, dense and ethnically diverse than when Moon Unit Zappa uttered her first "Omigod!" more than 20 years ago.
It's a place of modest ranch-style homes in the flats, south of Ventura Boulevard, complete with decorative wagon wheels and Z-shutters, and increasingly larger and striking contemporary homes high in the hills north of the boulevard.
Ventura Boulevard, if you have not already guessed, serves as the main street and dividing line between the more expensive and affordable sections of Sherman Oaks. Block after block of boutiques, tattoo parlors, coffeehouses, restaurants and strip malls line both sides of the traffic-choked street. But come mid-October, the busy boulevard is blocked off for the annual Sherman Oaks Street Fair, giving everyone the opportunity to explore both sides of the boulevard.
The Neighbors: Upper middle-class couples and their families who want to be near the studios of the Valley or job centers on the Westside, a short but often congested drive through the canyons of the Hollywood Hills
Also Consider: Encino, Studio City, Toluca Lake
This corner of Los Angeles bordered by the Santa Monica Mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west includes the area's most expensive and glamorous neighborhoods. The Westside is home to A-list communities like Bel Air, Santa Monica and Malibu and major attractions such as the Getty Center, UCLA and Rodeo Drive.
Flagship Neighborhood: Culver City
Culver City has long been home to major movie studios, but the industry's glamour had never rubbed off on this suburb, which had long been overshadowed by the more flashy Westside neighborhoods to the north. That's been changing, however, as its central location; a downtown revival; and the arrival of cutting-edge firms in media, design and high-tech have taken over old Culver City warehouses and factories.
Hot new restaurants, wine bars, movie theaters and performances at the Kirk Douglas Theater bring huge crowds to the once-deserted downtown near Culver and Washington boulevards. Yet, for all the posh new nightspots, most of Culver City remains dominated by quiet neighborhoods of modest ranch-style homes and condos set on tree-lined streets. Residents rave as much about its central location, almost midway between job centers in downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica, as they do about the new nightlife.
For quieter times, residents head over to Culver City Park, a hidden, hilltop gem with ballparks and walking trails.
The Neighbors: Middle-class couples and singles who work in pricey Santa Monica or Century City
Also Consider: Mar Vista, Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights
Flagship Neighborhood: Pacific Palisades
Surfboards hang from the walls of a neighborhood insurance office and Gidget, the original beach babe, hails from this community high on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. But Pacific Palisades, like the rest of the Westside, has become an affluent enclave with million-dollar, ranch-style houses and even far more expensive hillside estates.
While many here can afford to live in nearby Malibu and Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades appeals to them with a more conservative, small town-like atmosphere. Many can walk to the shops and restaurants of The Village, where residents like to point to their dentist's office, bank, post office and barbershop all on the same street. Dogs and kids rule here: You can get your hair cut at The Palisades Barbershop with Fido at your feet and no one will say anything. A cluster of public and private schools suddenly chokes the narrow streets with expensive cars and SUVs during the morning and late afternoon as moms, dads and nannies drop off or pick up the kids.
While the beach beckons below the bluffs, many Palisades residents prefer to find refuge in the Santa Monica Mountains, where taking a short hike through Temescal Canyon Park leads to a natural waterfall. It's best to go early before the day heats up.
The Neighbors: Affluent executives and lawyers in the entertainment and other industries who can pay a premium to live near the coast and a traditional neighborhood setting
Also Consider: Santa Monica Canyon, Brentwood
The southwest section of Los Angeles is home to a swath of middle and upper middle class communities that are close to or on the beach. They are generally not as flashy or as well known as Santa Monica or Malibu to the north but they are popular with many executives and tech types working in the nearby aerospace industry and, increasingly, entertainment people commuting to the Westside.
Flagship Neighborhood: Manhattan Beach
Crowds of fishermen still cast their lines over the sides of the Manhattan Beach pier to catch mackerel and perch. Nearby, grunts can still be heard as sun-baked volleyball players leap from the sand to spike the ball over the nets. But the Manhattan Beach of modest beach cottages and dark watering holes is pretty much a thing of the past. This town along Santa Monica Bay is now more like its big city namesake back East: sleek, urban and expensive.
Large and dramatic new homes pop up from the walk-streets of the Sand Section, the neighborhoods closest to the sand and beach; the Hill Section, the most exclusive part of town where residents can still enjoy ocean views; and the Tree Section, where bigger houses are more appealing to families. Million-dollar homes are not uncommon here. Even formerly anonymous commercial areas east of Sepulveda Boulevard have attained a more glamorous status thanks to the opening of new film and production studios, bringing a touch of Hollywood to the beach.
For all the changes, Manhattan Beach still retains the charms of a beach town. In August, the town regains some of its old flavor when volleyball pros from around the world hit the beach for a nationally-televised volleyball tournament.
The Neighbors: Politically conservative executives, affluent couples and families looking for a safe beachside community, highly rated public schools in the state and upscale shops
Also Consider: Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach