Sell me on the City of Angels.
April 7, 2010 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Can you help sell me on Los Angeles?

I may be taking a job in LA doing work that I'm very excited about. However, I have some dim impressions of LA from a week-long visit in 2005.

Things I value in life:

1. Access to building materials, tools, and surplus.
...(I build a lot of stuff -- cameras, book scanners, and more)
2. Access to maker/thinker people.
...(I live in a vacuum now, would love to be connected)
3. Food - not fine dining.
...(I like to cook, I LOVE foreign foods from small, dirty restaurants)
4. Art/culture/music.
...(I am an artist and a musician and love love love aesthetic experiences)

Can you tell me if and how (and when) LA does these things well? What would someone like me just love about LA? What, in other words, makes LA great?

I live in a place where a car is required, so that's not a big deal. I will be living in company housing so that's not (too) bad. The gig is for a year only, so it's not forever.
posted by fake to Work & Money (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Information about Glendale, CA would also be most welcome.
posted by fake at 2:22 PM on April 7, 2010

Los Angeles does all these things well.

1) Fry's Electronics. For starters

2) Makers/thinkers: well, pretty much anyone in Hollywood "makes" and "thinks" about a lot of different things that go into the entertainment industry.

3) Mexican food trucks. In n out burger.

4) The Getty, Walt Disney Concert Hall, galleries in Venice and Santa Monica, etc.
posted by dfriedman at 2:23 PM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: On the surface, it looks like it's just a big slab of cement with crap strewn across it and piled up.

That was the impression that I got. I know about HiddenLA, --- what other resources can you help me find?

Also, I keep hearing that biking is suicide? I love my bike, and riding it everywhere.
posted by fake at 2:34 PM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: FWIW, my idea of surplus and electronics is more Murphy's than Fry's. Think University and Military surplus auctions rather than Apple Store or Best Buy.
posted by fake at 2:36 PM on April 7, 2010

as a first data point, it's mid to low 80's here today. I'm guessing that's a bit warmer than Fargo, ND which your profile indicates.

there are tons of amazing places to get materials for your projects. hardware stores, salvage yards, weird aerospace junk yards and loads of makers. my buddy peter, aka Mister Jalopy has his headquarters in Silverlake, which is a 10 minute drive at most from Glendale.

as for food, there are myriad places to explore. as an example there are 224 identified languages spoken in LA county. the cultures represented by these spoken languages often have their own amazing eating establishments scattered about, not to mention places that fuse different culture's foods.

In regard to art & music: There are show openings, museums events enough to swallow up every night of the week.

if you want to get a decent locals feel for LA from afar I would check out LAist (jinx TWF!) or perhaps try and find a copy of the Not For Tourists guide to LA. Be advised that there's always more to discover in this huge and sprawling metropolis, these suggestions are a mere starting point. I've been living in LA for 11 years and I'm always finding new awesome stuff to do/see/experience
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 2:48 PM on April 7, 2010

Question 1 isn't really my area of specialty, but downtown LA is known for being the place to get raw materials for basically everyanything you do. Combine that with the fact that we have several areas in outlying valleys where industrial production occurs, I'm sure it's not going to be impossible to find the supplies you want. You'll have Google, so I'm positive that you'll be fine.

Questions 2, 3, and 4 strike me as almost absurd because Los Angeles is basically one of the two most populous and culturally diverse locations in the country. Los Angeles has a population of nearly 4 million people--how could you NOT find "thinkers" or good food or a multitude of cultural experiences?!

In the few blocks' span from my office in Pasadena (neighbor to Glendale), here is a small sampling of what exists: an Afghan restaurant, an Italian one, a Mexican one, a Brazilian one, a Greek-Japanese hybrid one, lots of Mediterranean ones, lots of Japanese ones, some Indian ones, several authentic Chinese ones, one owned by J.Lo, a few regular grocery stores, 2-3 luxury grocery stores (Gelson's, Whole Foods, etc.), a Tiffany & Co., a Goodwill, a Salvation Army, some of the most well-known craftsman architecture in California, a few low-income housing projects, several independent coffee shops, a Starbucks, a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a Peet's Coffee, branches of every major bank, a senior center, a public library, a Target, an independent bookstore, at least 3 art museums (Norton Simon, Pacific Asia, and Pasadena Museum of California Art), and a freeway, among a thousand other various and sundry things that may be desired by several different sorts of people. Yes, you will be able to find pretty much all that you seek.
posted by so_gracefully at 2:57 PM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: Questions 2, 3, and 4 strike me as almost absurd because Los Angeles is basically one of the two most populous and culturally diverse locations in the country. Los Angeles has a population of nearly 4 million people--how could you NOT find "thinkers" or good food or a multitude of cultural experiences?!

Just for perspective, I've lived in North Dakota most of my life, in Fargo, which is one of the flattest, most racially homogeneous places on earth, on poverty-level wages for the last decade.

So while I did live in Russia for a year, my visits to major cities have all been brief/to give talks about my projects. So yes, I've seen NYC, Boston, Toronto, lived in Moscow, etc, but I really don't feel like I have a good sense of anything. It is heartening to hear what you have to say.
posted by fake at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2010

Biking in LA is not suicide. I rode my bike everywhere and there are plenty of side streets where you'll feel safe. And the weather is perfect for biking, like, 320+ days a year. Glorious. You can also throw your bike into your car and drive to the beach for a good ride.

Glendale is a nice place and there's lots of great Armenian food. It's also right by Griffith Park, where you can hike and bike and picnic and enjoy fantastic views of the city. Eagle Rock, Los Feliz and Silverlake are awesome and you'll find a lot of places to eat and think by yourself or with other hungry thinkers. If you like to cook, you'll find every possible ingredient you would ever need to make anything you can imagine in LA. And you want foreign food from small, dirty restaurants? Jackpot!
posted by HotPatatta at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2010

As Jonathan Gold can attest, LA is a great for hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants. There are upscale places of course, but as a foodie I think LA's great strength (over NYC at least) is the quality of their fresh ingredients, and a ton of tiny ethnic spots that are unpretentious and cheap.

Also, LA was recently named "one of the best cities for artists." There is a great art gallery scene here.

I ride my bike everywhere, every day. But then again, I live in Venice/Santa Monica, where that is easy and the norm. Where you choose to live in LA tends to make or break your experience, I've found.
posted by egeanin at 3:08 PM on April 7, 2010

I live in LA. You will be able to find these things here.

If you are looking for art and culture, you'll probably love this place, which is very close to Glendora. My wife and I both love it there.

Also, LA is definitely not all concrete. I live in a suburb of LA that reminds me of places of the midwest.

The problem for most people moving here, I would gather, is not what you can and can't find to do here. It's how long it takes to get to those places, and how physically disconnected you can initially feel from people and things by distance. But you do get used to it; and if you are coming from a large city already, it might not be an issue.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:16 PM on April 7, 2010

Sorry, you said Glendale, not Glendora. Good news is that Huntington Gardens is close to Glendale, too (about 10 miles).
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:20 PM on April 7, 2010

1. Access to building materials, tools, and surplus.

I lived in LA almost 20 years ago. I moved there from Utah, so the effect I'm about to describe might be less pronounced for you than it was for me, depending on where you're coming from, but after a few months, I realized that if something was for sale anywhere in the world, I could probably buy it in LA. Rare records, industrial tools, niche electronics, even illegal firearms (true story: I was offered what was from all appearances an actual UZI by a real character of a landlord in Huntington Park). I think this is less important than it used to be, since the Internet functions as a giant catalog you can also order just about anything from. But I'd be surprised if there's building materials, tools, and surplus you can't find in LA.

2. Access to maker/thinker people.

The sheer fact that the area is pushing 20 million people is going to mean there's probably any kind of people you want to associate with. Finding these other people means some work anywhere, but the fact that it's a destination for creative types means that you'll probably have a lot easier time. Also, again, the internet can help you.

3. Food - not fine dining.

If you allow for some driving (or pick the right place to live) the sheer profusion of places to eat is probably inexhaustible by one person. Dozens if not hundreds of nationalities are represented in the LA area, so there's all kinds of cuisine, too.

4. Art/culture/music.

All kinds of museums, world-class Universities, and a destination city for would-be creatives.

Don't let anybody kid you about the downsides: real estate is expensive (in some cases insanely expensive), the traffic and the that the sprawling metro area evolved around the automobile means that it takes work and planning not to simply end up trapped in the bubble of your automobile for a large portion of your day, some areas have real urban problems, some areas have real suburban problems, and yes, some people can be shallow and narcissistic. But if you're willing to work a bit at connecting with the people you're looking for and figuring out how to walk part of your day, I think it's a great place to live. I had a good time there and really like going back to visit.
posted by weston at 3:21 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't resist the opportunity to once again recommend my friend Miss Lynnster's website HiddenLA and especially the related Facebook fan page.

The facebook page is very active with people eager to help one another enjoy LA.
posted by The Deej at 3:29 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

My impression of LA is a dauntingly hard shell surrounding delicious depths of epic awesomeness. Make contact with like-minded others, and you'll begin your wonderful plunge.
posted by Haruspex at 3:39 PM on April 7, 2010

LA is in the midst of a food truck golden age. will hook you right up.
posted by mullingitover at 3:42 PM on April 7, 2010

Moved here from Chicago. Lived here more than ten years now. I can tell you this: the weather is lovely, almost all the time. Everything that Chicago has, and LA lacks, is almost made up for by this one single fact.
posted by davejay at 3:50 PM on April 7, 2010

You didn't mention hiking, but I loved doing that when I lived in LA, and there's more than you might think.

Also, LA is gigantic. You will find anything and anyone you set out to look for.
posted by lex mercatoria at 4:14 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You want awesome electronic/mechanical/aerospace/anything surplus in the LA area? APEX Electronics. Just look at the pictures people have taken there! For other 'maker' type stuff, dorkbot socal is probably a decent jumping-off point.
posted by zsazsa at 4:14 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Taking classes at Machine Project would almost certainly get you in touch with makers. I have plenty of current and former coworkers who are of various maker stripes-- short filmmakers, Hackintosh builders, privatized-space geeks who want to make rockets, photographers with strobist rigs, etc. etc.-- and they don't seem to lack for social outlets.

Most of my coworkers-- I work in the Santa Monica area-- bike to work. No one has died yet, but you do have to be on your toes. People can and do road rage here.

You will love the food situation. South African pub? Got it. Lebanese? Got it. Several different varieties of Indian? Sri Lankan? We've got it. Japanese-Peruvian fusion food truck? Yup. Get over to the LA Chowhound boards at and rifle through the threads.

I dunno what your gig is, but if you are working in *ahem* CG feature animation in Glendale, your likely employer has *more* than enough things on-campus to keep you amused, too, and many of your coworkers are makers. (Many of them are my former coworkers.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:35 PM on April 7, 2010

heh davejay, that's one thing i have to remind myself when I keep thinking about moving to Chicago (from LA, having lived here all my life).

There's a little electronics shop near where I live called Torrance Electronics. I used to order other random parts from Mouser Electronics (based in Texas, I know, I love the internets!), and if I was free, I'd hit up the local TRW swapmeet on the last saturday of the month.

On preview, wow, APEX Electronics... that'd be one helluva field day.
posted by liquoredonlife at 4:53 PM on April 7, 2010

Allo fellow Nodak... I moved to LA from Grand Forks. I had misgivings about it, based on stereotypes etc, but I really wanted to go to the school I went to.

I absolutely love it here, and plan on staying in or around santa monica for the foreseeable future (ie I want to buy a house here). I don't have much to add beyond what others have already covered well, but the things you describe describe my interests very well.

As far as making/building things, you may want to search out some of that side of the burning man community here. That scene also has plenty of (not entirely unwarranted) negative stereotypes surrounding it, but I love the art/building/creation side of it. Not sure where else I'd have an excuse to turn a carpet dryer into a turret mounted snow blower.
posted by flaterik at 5:16 PM on April 7, 2010

Los Angeles is one of the great eating cities of the world. If you're willing to do a bit of research and a bit of driving, you will enjoy delicacies from around the globe that you would never even hear mentioned in most parts of the country. You will have to learn new vocabularies to describe the foods you eat. Yes, much of Los Angeles is a desolate concrete wasteland of ugly strip malls. But many of them are full of the best arepas and soondubu and pupusas and xiao long bao and bahn me and yakitori and birria you will find without racking up a hundred thousand frequent flyer miles. Greater Los Angeles is a Korean city, a Mexican city, a Chinese city, an Armenian city, an Indian city, a Vietnamese city - you get the idea. Take a look at this list to get an idea for some of the foods available in LA - it's a bit old, and many cuisines are missing, but it's a good place to start.

LA also has a very active music scene, with dozens of shows ranging from huge stadium concerts to a girl with a guitar in a coffee shop going on every night, in addition to the LA Philharmonic and so on. The small music venues offer a tremendous variety of acts, often with $20 or less ticket/cover charges - here are a few lists.
posted by unsub at 5:25 PM on April 7, 2010

Biking: I bike all over the place (night and day) and while there are some busy/fast streets you couldn't pay me to bike on, it's generally possible for me to find a route on bike-friendly streets. There are also things like bike co-ops and organizations that do social rides, if you're into that sort of thing. I've enjoyed the rides that C.I.C.L.E. organizes because they get me out of my usual routes and have some sort of educational component such as: a tour of community gardens, the ecology of the LA River.

Food: If you're into "foreign foods from small, dirty restaurants," I would recommend you start reading through the Jonathan Gold reviews at the LA Weekly. And expand your idea of a restaurant to things like the aforementioned trucks along with tables set up on the sidewalk with a propane tank as heat source.

Art/culture/music: There is a wide variety of stuff--I've been to classy gallery shows with nice wine and snacks, free music shows in the courtyard of the Hammer Museum, minimalist music shows where you sit on the floor drinking Tecate and feeling like you might be torturing your friend you brought along, all ages/b.y.o type places where every show is 5 bucks.

Glendale: has a large Armenian population and you will find all sorts of mediterranean food delights around there. I've heard the hiking trails near the Brand Library are pretty sweet, though I've never been. Glendale also has big-ass suburban-y stuff like two giant malls right freaking next to each other.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:45 PM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are amazing, thanks for all the great answers, and I'm interested in more.

Chances are, I'll be among you next month, and I would love to take part in a meetup.
posted by fake at 6:17 PM on April 7, 2010

Re bicycling: Commuting by bicycle has one major upside which is you get to pass all the cars waiting at red lights in rush hour traffic and beat them to your destination and one major downside which is sucking in all the fumes from those cars.

As for riding during non-rush hour it's great, especially at night when cars are at a minimum and it's the perfect temperature for physical activity not too hot or too cold. Also if you're into group rides check this out.

It's great that you're ok with using a car, it makes living here much better because there's lots of cool stuff that's really all over the place. Just don't try to go anywhere on Friday afternoon if you can avoid it. Seriously.
posted by 12%juicepulp at 6:29 PM on April 7, 2010

1, 2: Hackerspaces—there are a bunch here.
3: There are more hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants in on Pico than in all of the Midwest. There are enough that not only can you find Oaxacan moles made excellently, you can have favorite places to get green Oaxacan mole.
4: Yeah, on the east side. Even still, a bit less DIY and a bit more up-it's-own-ass than most places, but since there's just so goddamn much, plenty of it is good.
posted by klangklangston at 6:33 PM on April 7, 2010

3. Food - not fine dining.
...(I like to cook, I LOVE foreign foods from small, dirty restaurants)

You'll enjoy the Central Market.
posted by toxic at 6:52 PM on April 7, 2010

On biking: I've only biked regularly in two cities, Chicago and LA. I find no difference. Ride down Western in Chicago at a certain part, people will try to kill you. Ride west on Sunset out toward Westwood in LA, people will try to kill you.

It is true that people register some lack of comfort driving next to bikes, but I find that makes them overcautious more than anything. Lots of people from other cities hew to bike lanes and are very intimidated by LA streets without bike lanes, but the fact remains that you can bike vehicularly without a problem. A lack of bike lines doesn't necessarily mean anything. And rush hour is safer because everyone is going stop and go at ten or twenty.

A bit of advice: if you can geographically limit the scope of your daily life . . . work, grocery, bars and restaurants, you should. It makes life easier. And then, when you hop in your car and head out to Artesia on the weekend for a million different awesome Indian and Vietnamese dishes in strip malls, or to the ocean, or to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, or to thrift stores in the South Bay, the minor traffic doesn't bother you that much.

I would add not only that a lot of different types of food are here, but also that variation within those groups is unlike what you will find in other cities. The reason? There is enough of everyone here to support a market for the regional obscurities that people hold dear from their home countries. So for example: people have commented on taco trucks. Yes, there are lots. But beyond that, you will find mariscos trucks, you will find trucks that sell only food from Jalisco, or Oaxaca, or Yucatan, or D.F. You won't find that anywhere like you find it in Los Angeles.

I could go on and on about how dynamic and good of a city Los Angeles is. People from every other city constantly shit talk Los Angeles, but it is either because they do not know anything about it, or they have class and race issues that they don't want to cop to. We have our problems, but some things you can't say about Los Angeles are (1) everyone has plastic surgery, (2) everyone is shallow, (3) it's a "car culture" in ways that, say, every other city but New York or maybe Portland isn't. Those are fundamentally untrue. The west side brings those factors out in spades, yes, but if that gets to you, don't go to the west side. There's a lot more city than that.
posted by kensington314 at 7:51 PM on April 7, 2010

Glendale is a bit away from the central zone of L.A. If you are living in company housing then I guess you don't have a choice. On the other hand if you do have a choice, I would recommend living closer in and commuting out to Glendale for work. A good place to live would be Silverlake/Echo Park, because so many of your interests will be fulfilled in that area, from ethnic dining to art & music to maker events at Machine Project. Frankly, Silverlake and Echo Park are destination areas with their own type of trendiness, but if you are only in L.A. for a year you should live where the action is. You don't sound like you are into the Hollywood club scene, but more the alternative music/art/food thing. That's in East Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, Mount Washington and Koreatown.

I'm glad to see that several people have mentioned cycling as an alternative to driving. Cycling is really starting to take off in L.A. plus there is a cool social element in organized events like the Wolfpack rides.
posted by conrad53 at 8:30 PM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, honestly, I'm not at all sure where the company housing is, or even how far it is from the place I'll be working. (I get to ask those questions tomorrow). But I get the sense that the housing is in Glendale.

I think I can opt out of it if I need to or find a much better place later in the year.
posted by fake at 9:00 PM on April 7, 2010

I live in LA and I love it SO HARD.

1. Access to building materials, tools, and surplus.
...(I build a lot of stuff -- cameras, book scanners, and more)

I am currently building a book scanner, too! There are plenty of home supply stores, plus the Habitat for Humanity surplus store, which is WAY CHEAP. Lots of camera-y stuff here.

Think of it this way: Hollywood is RIGHT HERE. They build tons of shit for movies. That shit has to come from somewhere, ultimately, around here, even if it had to come from somewhere else first.

2. Access to maker/thinker people.
...(I live in a vacuum now, would love to be connected)

There's more of those kinds of people here than anywhere else I've ever lived (Houston, D.C., even Austin). You go to a Starbucks here and you'll see someone editing a high-production music video on their laptop. People are always talking about whatever they've written or are writing. No joke.

Again: Hollywood. Right here. Tons of creative types of all stripes.

3. Food - not fine dining.
...(I like to cook, I LOVE foreign foods from small, dirty restaurants)

Other people have covered this really well, so I'll just reiterate: you'll LOVE it here.

4. Art/culture/music.
...(I am an artist and a musician and love love love aesthetic experiences)

You will love it here, wow. If a band ever does a tour, they try to come to LA. There's plenty of classical performances. There are comedy shows of all kinds, plays of all kinds. There are all kinds of venues for performances. There are tons of museums, art or otherwise, and small art galleries here are EXCELLENT. I would go so far as to say that LA might be the most saturated with that sort of thing than any other city, though it's possible New York might beat it. But it's a big deal here.
posted by Nattie at 9:03 PM on April 7, 2010

By the way, I think Glendale is a WONDERFUL place to live and you shouldn't opt out of it. It's nice because you don't want the traffic commuting in and out from somewhere else. Plus Glendale is quite close to where I live -- it's just a few exits on the freeway from Burbank, and I've walked to Glendale before -- and I LOVE Burbank because it's easy to get to everything cool in LA from there. In fact when we do move again, we'll probably move to Glendale.

LA is only ugly and concrete-y if you live near downtown. The greater LA area, especially the smaller cities north of it like Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Arcadia, etc, is beautiful. It's possible that more of the stuff you like may be closer to downtown, but realistically you're going to go exploring those places on the weekends when you can actually spend some time there, not on most weeknights. I guarantee if you live in Glendale you'll have plenty of nearby places to explore on the weeknights anyway.

Also worth considering, and I wish I could find the cite for this, but quality of life is heavily influenced by commuting times. I don't think it's at all worth it to endure the traffic back and forth from downtown -- and trust me, it is MADDENING -- 5 days out of 7, rather than on 2 days out of 7 when the traffic isn't even as bad.
posted by Nattie at 9:32 PM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: I am currently building a book scanner, too!

Are you a member of my forum?

Can hardly believe the raw excellence of the answers in this thread. I'm sold.
posted by fake at 9:39 PM on April 7, 2010

Hey! Watchit Nattie! Downtown LA is my old home. Concrete has its charms, at least to an urbanist like me. Go watch Repo Man, that was my era of living downtown, much of it was filmed around or in front of my old loft. Oh there are a ton of great places in downtown, like the garment district, produce district, loft district, financial district, Skid Row, toy district, Little Tokyo, Bunker Hill, etc.

I always tell people, LA isn't a city, it's a vast collection of unique places with long commutes in-between, and a lot of places you DO NOT want to stop en route. If you go to just the right place, you can find anything that exists in the entire world.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:44 PM on April 7, 2010

« Older How to build an easy-to-use database for...   |   Which US states have state history classes? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.