Moving to West LA - help me tolerate it...
January 21, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Moving to LA and need recommendations for neighborhoods I won't detest.

I recently finished grad school and have landed a swank new job in West LA (where Santa Monica Blvd hits the 405). I'm very excited to start working again, but have never been a big fan of LA.* I need advice on finding a neighborhood I'll enjoy living in. I've been told that I should live close to the office to avoid getting stuck in LA's infamous traffic and have thus far been researching West LA for apartments.

Over the last few years I've spent a lot of time in Washington, DC and China and cringe at the idea of setting up shop in a white-washed yuppie neighborhood full of surgically enhanced people with bleached teeth. I need diversity, some kind of urban environment, to be able to walk to bar/restaurants/cafes, museums, and worldly people. That said, I'd love to be near the beach and start surfing again! Any thoughts on Santa Monica? Venice Beach? HELP!!!

* I went to undergrad in San Diego and spent a part of my childhood in Orange County - I'll not go into my feelings about either one of these places here...
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I love Venice. The only reason I don't live there is because it's not in a great location for me. But it is for you. I'd check it out.

I live in WeHo. It's within walking distance of pretty much everything you've listed. It does take about 30-45 minutes to get from there to the 405, though.

My friends in Santa Monica love the beach accessibility, but they do have trouble finding stuff to do, and often end up over here.

Have you thought about Culver City? That'd get you all the things you've listed.
posted by world b free at 3:23 PM on January 21, 2011

Well, you're going to be limited by where you work, unless you'd like to partake of our wonderful LA commutes. Second, LA does not do urban environment with tons of restaurants/bars/cafes/museums within walking distance. It does that in small doses in isolated islands. With those caveats, your best bet is Venice Beach. Santa Monica itself is not bad, assuming you can get an apartment, though it's a touch thin on the diversity front. Marina Del Rey, is nearby, but probably a bit ritzy. Further out, my favorite - Hollywood, starting immediately east of West Hollywood (which is where I'm at), where you have diversity, and comparatively speaking a lot (for LA) of urban type infrastructure of restaurants, bars, clubs, museums and stuff to do - perhaps not all of it strictly within walking distance, but close enough. Silver Lake is further out, but starting to be too much of a commute IMHO for Santa Monica. Mid-Wilshire and Westwood is not really diverse quite frankly, but has a kind of minimum urban infrastructure and and has a good deal of student population (UCLA). That's all I got.
posted by VikingSword at 3:29 PM on January 21, 2011

It really depends on your budget--Santa Monica is great but incredibly expensive and because of many rent-controlled places, has a low inventory of available rentals. Are you looking to rent or own?

I worked in Santa Monica but lived in Mar Vista in an apartment on Barrington that was part of a row of cookie cutter two story buildings that had been post-war married student housing for UCLA. They were large and comfortable, but certainly not swank. Very diverse population of families, recent immigrants and singles like me. There were shopping areas within walking distance (looks like a Whole Foods has gone in nearby) and the Third street mall area in Santa Monica was a short bike ride away. Some say Mar Vista doesn't have a great rep--but I found it safe and comfortable and affordable.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:32 PM on January 21, 2011

Here's a great map of the westside neighborhoods.

I'd say Santa Monica is probably a little too quiet and suburban for your requirements.

Venice might be a good fit-- a little younger, a little more artsy, a little less family-oriented, consequently a little grungier. I'm guessing there's slightly higher crime in Venice than Santa Monica, but I don't know if that's backed up by hard data.

You could also look at Westwood Village. Because of UCLA, there are many cafes and shops in walking distance, also the Geffen Playhouse and the Armand Hammer Museum. Downside: slightly higher rents geared towards students accruing loan debt.
posted by sharkfu at 3:39 PM on January 21, 2011

If you can afford it, Manhattan Beach.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:59 PM on January 21, 2011

I have a friend who lives near Montana and 10th street. It's a beautiful neighborhood, you can walk to cafes and restaurants, and it's close to where you'll be working. It's also possible to walk to the beach from there (though definitely not with a surfboard, it's perhaps a half hour walk).

However, it is expensive and very white. Depending on your price range and who you want to live near, it might be worth checking out.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:02 PM on January 21, 2011

Oops, forgot to mention that the area I'm describing is in Santa Monica.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:03 PM on January 21, 2011

I live in East Hollywood/Los Feliz (don't have time to find a bunch of links, but you seem like you know where to look) which is Thai Town/Little Armenia, has cool stuff going on and is pretty walkable, diverse, and urban. I used to commute to almost exactly where you're talking about (for me it was Wilshire Blvd at the 405). It took me 45 mins to an hour at rush hour and as little as 25 mins at off times, and I had the added bonus that I could take the 101 to the 405 if it looked clear on Google Maps.

It kind-of-sucked, but it wasn't unbearable, I hated it less than my old Alexandria to DC commute. So while in your shoes (if I had the money) I'd probably take a look at Venice first, as far east as me is possible and might be ok.
posted by crabintheocean at 4:04 PM on January 21, 2011

I loved living in Santa Monica Canyon, a funky neighborhood with its own beach and a few restaurants that's an easy commute to your office via San Vicente and convenient to Santa Monica. And if you can't afford Manhattan Beach but you like it, try Playa del Rey where you can also live a few blocks from the water which cheaper and closer to your office; not as edgy as Venice nor as sterile as Marina del Rey.
posted by carmicha at 4:05 PM on January 21, 2011

You want to live in Venice. Everything else is either too far away (and far from coast line), or too white-washed -- and that includes Santa Monica. Venice is even relatively whitewashed. Around downtown Culver City is one other possible alternative. Westwood is infested with undergrads, frats, over-priced rentals, and crap parking.
posted by drpynchon at 4:20 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I work in Santa Monica and I live a few miles away in West LA, right between Santa Monica and Palms areas. Santa Monica itself can be a bit pretentious. It used to be lower-income before people came in and were like "omg we can jack up beachfront property!" so now it's being filled with richer white people. There is still a bit of a homeless problem.

Venice is cool, but has that artsy/hipster/boho feeling at times and can be sketchy at times but it's on the way up. It's obviously the more eccentric of the beach cities.

You seem like you may like Culver City. It has a bit more of a suburban yet city feeling, with plenty of stuff to do and rather close to Santa Monica. There's also Redondo Beach but it's a bit further away. I would dare not bother with the 405 at all. West Hollywood is cool but even street traffic during high traffic times can be annoying. Westwood isn't too bad but infamously expensive for the area (and close to Beverly Hills).

Good luck on your search, hopefully you can have a few days to check out the respective neighborhoods to make your own decision.
posted by xtine at 4:25 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in WeHo. I disagree that it is 45 min from here to where Santa Monica BLVD meets the 405, even in really bad traffic. You can do it in 15/25 minutes, it's about 30/35 minutes in sucky traffic. There are better roads than SMB to travel. Get good with roads and traffic flow and you will be sweet!

That said, the 405 is generally a parking lot. Avoid.

For living, certain small sections of all these neighborhoods maybe might meet your requirements... Culver City, The Palms, Venice, Mar Vista, and Santa Monica all work. So does Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades. I would live in Pacific Palisades if I didn't need to be downtown so much.

I find most of the west side ratty and sterile. There are small parts of West Hollywood I won't move to for the same reason.

The best way to find an apartment is to drive down streets you like and take down phone numbers. The second best way is West Side Rentals. Note that sterile looking buildings sometimes have beautiful apartments inside, and vice versa. So in a way, you really have to go on vibe and instinct.

You seem to know this, but do try to live someplace near where you want to socialize.
posted by jbenben at 4:31 PM on January 21, 2011

I'm in Playa del Rey.

Close to LAX
Close to beach (10-15 minute walk)
Bike path access (I used to ride to my office in Santa Monica)
Fairly laid back neighborhood with minimal douchiness
Stays cooler in the summer
Some decent restaurants in the area
More reasonable rents than Venice, Mar Vista, Santa Monica
People are pretty nice
If you are a beach bum type, Redondo, Manhattan, and Hermosa (and surfing) are just a few minutes south by car; they also have nicer walking areas (though parking can be an issue)

Not a lot of interesting things to walk to unless you are near Lincoln Blvd.
Street parking is a pain, especially with weekly street cleaning
Mostly large apartment blocks without a lot of charm
If you take the 405 to work you could have a 30-45 minute commute some days
The noise of aircraft bothers some; I don't even hear them any more
posted by Pachycerianthus at 4:35 PM on January 21, 2011

I'd love to be near the beach and start surfing again!

West Side beaches' waves generally suck compared with Orange County's (although you don't want to commute from down there). Also note the beach is kinda far from residential Santa Monica (it's up on that bluff, and you've gotta traverse PCH). Since you want diversity, Manhattan Beach is out (at 98%, the whitest community in LA). Im afraid that leaves you with Venice.
posted by Rash at 4:38 PM on January 21, 2011

FWIW, I'm currently in the process of finding an apartment on the Westside, and I find Westside Rentals to suck big time. However, my desires and requirements sound a bit different from yours, so maybe it'll be more helpful to you... (Because of the difference in goals, listing off my top areas probably wouldn't be productive here.)
posted by sharding at 5:34 PM on January 21, 2011

Another FWIW, having access to WSR is never a bad thing, but yeah it's gotten a lot harder over the past few years to really use the service to good effect.

What does work well is using the google maps real estate overlay. It trawls WSR and Craigslist and a bunch of other sites (of varying credibility), and lets you see the results mapped out to the hood you desire.
posted by carsonb at 5:43 PM on January 21, 2011

Best answer: Padmapper is also sometimes useful (and sometimes infuriating).
posted by sharding at 5:49 PM on January 21, 2011

First things first - everything you have heard about the commute is absolutely true. I spent a year working in Santa Monica and living in L.A. (Wilshire and Fairfax) and on a good day, the drive home was an hour. Usually closer to an hour and a half, to go 15 miles.

Now I live in Santa Monica and love it. On the other hand, I pretty much *hate* West L.A.

A friend and I were just discussing this - there's a different feeling on the west side of the 405 (and the closer you get to the beach) than east of the 405. I think the lower rents of points east of the freeway attract more of the aspiring actress/model/whatever surgically-enhanced types; Santa Monica seems to attract more educated professionals. As someone previously mentioned, SM might be a little *too* sedate for some, but I think it's pretty perfect - I can walk to just about anything I need. And it's nothing like Orange County or San Diego, at least in my experience.

Santa Monica has gentrified a lot but for the most part, I don't find it pretentious at all - I find that there are a lot more of the surgically-enhanced types (or wannabes) in West L.A., Brentwood, and the Palisades than in Santa Monica proper. Of course, SM has its downsides - ridiculously high rents in comparison to points east, mainly - but I can't imagine living anywhere else.

As for surfing - it's a bit of a drive but my surfing friends head to Malibu, north of Zuma, which is where I also prefer beachgoing - the beaches at Santa Monica are too dirty, too crowded.

I've also lived in Venice, and while I didn't hate it, I wouldn't live there again unless I could live on the canals - which these days costs even more than Santa Monica. Rents in other parts of Venice aren't a whole lot lower than in SM, there's not much more to do, and Venice has gentrified too - it's not an especially counter-cultural place any more, except for the local color that is the boardwalk. And you can experience that without living there.

Check Craigslist and local realtors (there's one on Wilshire and 22nd near the Whole Foods market) for SM rental listings - you might turn something up on Westside Rentals, but generally I've found it to be a waste of money. Also drive/walk around looking for signs - there are still a lot of old-school landlords in Santa Monica.
posted by chez shoes at 6:38 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going to second everything chez shoes said.

I live near the beach and can walk everywhere. While I avoid the Third Street Promenade during peak times I love having the option of going to the movies (or on the ferris wheel!) at a moment's notice. There are also lots of bars and restaurants that are open late if that's you're thing, and with the movie theaters and tourists walking around it's pretty lively for the beach area.

I'm thinking the Ocean Park* neighborhood might be a good fit for you. You're right near the beach and bike path plus it's right on the Venice border, with Downtown SM and the scene on Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice within biking (and even walking) distance. There are lots of shops and cafes on Main Street, but except the the bars it doesn't really stay open that late. It has a real small-town feel I've never experienced anywhere else in L.A.

One weird thing I'll mention about Venice vs. Santa Monica is the homeless factor. Santa Monica may be the Home of the Homeless, but I'm never hassled here. The homeless in Venice are much more aggressive about panhandling and such.

Here's a commuting tip if you end up in Santa Monica: You can take Broadway all the way to Bundy (it turns into Ohio when you get to the L.A. border) and have a relatively calm drive for that 2/3 of your route.

Oh, and try to stay away from the SM/Venice neighborhoods right around the airport. The noise and soot are unbearable on a daily basis.

*The Ocean Park borders are OP to the north, Marine to the south, and west of Lincoln.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:18 PM on January 21, 2011

To clarify, I was referring to Santa Monica Airport, not LAX.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:21 PM on January 21, 2011

What kind of diversity ate you looking for? Racial diversity? Cultural? Economic?

IMHO, the more expensive the area, the less diversity there is. Brentwood and Palisades, mentioned upthread, are about the least diverse areas in west LA I can think of. Unless you're thinking of age diversity, there's plenty of old white rich people mixed in with the 30-something white rich people.

Anyway, Venice is an interesting neighborhood, and pretty far from the San Diego/OC conservative areas you are probably thinking of. I work in Santa Monica and think it's pretty nice, but still not sure about "diverse". Basically if you're looking at rent prices, to be brutally honest the lower the rent then the more diverse the neighborhood. I have friends who live just on the west LA/Santa Monica border, and that's a pretty diverse neighborhood, quite a large Latino population. Culver city definitely has diversity, but I'm not up on which areas are which.

I definitely agree that you should value commute time. I have a 45 minute commute each way, and it's destroying my soul. Live close to work!
posted by Joh at 8:54 PM on January 21, 2011

Joh: I definitely agree that you should value commute time. I have a 45 minute commute each way, and it's destroying my soul. Live close to work"

And that 45 minutes could easily cover less than 10 miles.

Oh, I just thought of the southwest corner of Mar Vista, off of Venice Blvd. It borders Venice to the west and is a clear shot (with a bike lane on Venice Blvd.) to the beach, and is really convenient to other parts of town. There are even some pretty decent side streets to get you to and from work. It's nondescript as a neighborhood, but definitely diverse and not without amenities. You'd have to drive to Venice/SM/Culver City/etc. for some action, but it would be pretty painless. It might also be the least expensive option in the area.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:57 PM on January 21, 2011

South of Wilshire Blvd, West of Overland Ave, North of Jefferson Blvd. If you want to have a sane commute, you'll want to live within these boundaries.

There are dozens of neighborhoods of all types to be found in this area. Venice can be a really cool place to live. There are a few distinct neighborhoods there. West of Abbot Kinney is best, IMO, but most expensive. And places tend to be teeeny. Between Abbot Kinney and Lincoln Blvd lies perhaps the most diverse neighborhood left in Venice, Oakwood, but also quickly gentrifying. Still a large presence of gang activity in that area, though not as bad as it was even 10 years ago. Good walkability to interesting stuff along Abbot Kinney Bl on to Santa Monica's Main St and the beach. The southern part of Oakwood is very gentrified, but very desirable, relatively quiet area. East of Lincoln on to Mar Vista area is decent but gets further away from walkable cool stuff.

Similarly, Santa Monica has some distinct neighborhoods. All along Main St is generally pretty desirable, close to stuff. Ocean Park is quieter, but also nice, further from stuff. Pico neighborhood is probably most diverse in the city. The flight path of SM airport is all pretty nice residential, the folks there do no end of complaining about the noise, but it doesn't seem to affect the housing prices there in the least.

Neighborhoods adjoining major arteries like Wilshire, Santa Monica Blvd, Pico, Venice Blvd, Washington Blvd, tend to have good walkability to stuff. Small shops, occasional markets, service businesses, etc. The area around your job is full of stuff like this, apt buildings, arty movie theaters, Little Tokyo, and some decent neighborhoods.

Nowhere on the Westside is what I would call "cheap". Housing starts out pricey, and goes up. The least expensive in the boundaries I mention may be along the Venice Blvd corridor east of Lincoln Blvd. Tons of apt housing, close to almost nothing swanky, but interesting neighborhoods regardless with their own character.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:31 AM on January 22, 2011

Links to the rental classifieds in a couple of local papers:

The Argonaut, which covers the southwestern areas mentioned above, and the Santa Monica Daily Press.

And congratulations on the new job :)
posted by Room 641-A at 8:13 AM on January 22, 2011

I would vote for Koreatown, which may be the most urban environment in Los Angeles. Then take the 720 bus to work. It's admittedly can be a long bus ride, but you wouldn't be driving. Depending on where you live and work exactly, you may even be able to not have a car.
posted by realpseudonym at 9:24 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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