Moving to LA: Where to live? What to expect?
May 4, 2011 9:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about moving to LA soon, but I've never actually been there. Where would someone like me live? What's it like to live in LA? General advice? Or should I move to SF?

I'm about to get out of graduate school with a degree in the sciences that I don't plan on using anytime soon. I want to devote some time to exploring vague creative ideas I have concerning writing, acting, and art. I've got minimal experience in any of this, but I figured I might as well give it a shot while I'm still young. So I'm soon going to move to a city and get a job waiting tables or something that will pay the bills while giving me time and flexibility to write or act or pursue enlightenment or whatever.

I've been thinking I'd move to SF because I'm familiar with it and its beautiful and interesting. But lately I've been wondering whether it would limit me because it might suck up my savings too quickly and I'm not sure if I could easily find a job that would pay the bills in SF while still allowing lots of free time. Also, I've been wondering if SF has too particular a "vibe" where less a variety of things are happening than in bigger cities.

So I started considering LA, because it seems like it'd be at least slightly cheaper than SF and would provide more freedom to invent myself. It seems friendlier to my situation. I've heard that you can do whatever you want in LA and no one really gives a shit. This is starting to sound appealing. Obviously, I need to visit there. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to live there.

Where does one live in LA? Where would you live if you wanted a cheap place but with lots of culture around? Where do the hipsters live?

How easy would it be to get a job to pay the bills?

What should I know about LA before I visit / move there?

How true are the unpleasant cliches about LA? Is it really disgustingly superficial? It it really over-polluted and ugly? Is the sprawl soul-crushing? Do you really spend most of your life in your car?

What are the advantages of living in LA?
posted by garuda to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
All of the worst things you've heard about L.A. are true. All of the best things you've heard about L.A. are also true. We're a city of almost 4 million people, a county of almost 10 million. You really, really need to visit.

Hipsters are currently living all over, but there are lots of them in Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park. They also live in Culver City, Atwater Village and Eagle Rock.

The economy sucks, but it's a big place so there are still more jobs in the aggregate than in other, smaller places.

You don't need a car, but it's easier to live with a car.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:30 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

We recently moved to LA, and we love it here so far. I'm not convinced it's significantly cheaper than SF would be, but I haven't recently compared (and we also didn't go looking for the cheapest housing available). I would strongly recommend visiting before making a decision, but I also think you really need to visit for a decent amount of time. I believe that LA often gives bad first impressions, if you don't have a feel for it, don't know where the good stuff is, etc. We had been visiting here for years (and have many friends here) before we made the move. I'm pretty sure that if we just came out for a weekend without having been here before, we would have been convinced that it's a horrible place we'd hate.

I won't give specific neighborhood recommendations, because what you're looking for isn't really what we were looking for, and I'm sure others with more experience will be along shortly. I will say that we don't spend most of our lives in our cars. Neither my wife nor I have to go on the freeway to get to work. In fact, we almost never use freeways here -- the only time we do is when we are going to Disneyland or to visit someone in the Valley. You just have to be careful about where you choose to live vs. where you work and where you're going to be spending most of your time. Of course, that's really hard to do when you don't know where you'll be working or what you'll be doing...
posted by sharding at 9:30 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you like SF a lot you might not be keen on LA. I love SF, am from Portland, Ore. and live in NYC now - and I would never advise anyone to move to LA unless they've stayed there and love it, I strongly dislike it because it lacks everything I love about NYC, Portland, SF, Paris, Copenhagen - the kind of cities I prefer.

As far as the cliches go, I've stayed there with good friends who live there and love it, and I still felt like my experience of the city (outside of their apartment or a restaurant or some other inside place) was polluted, horrible for pedestrians, and the worst part: public space and public transit are pariahs.
posted by jardinier at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do think it's probably true that if you love SF/Portland/etc., LA is probably not right for you. They are extremely different. I was born in Portland and have spent a lot of time in SF, and wouldn't really want to live in either. To each his own.
posted by sharding at 9:41 AM on May 4, 2011

I can only address a portion of your queries.

Yes, people generally tend to come across as superficial & aloof, but I find that context matters. When I take the time to talk to & get to know people, I typically find them warm & friendly. I think the pace here tends to invite the glossing by of others in our all-important goings on.

It's true that you can present yourself as WHATEVER here, & nobody will blink an eye. I really appreciate this facet of L.A. Want a completely anti-traditional wedding? Go ahead! Weird outfits? Hell, yes!

Traffic is my biggest complaint. Efficient public transportation only services specific areas, which may affect where you choose to live & work. Personally I would find it prohibitive to be without a car.

No, it's not all ugly & soul-crushing. There are tons of beautiful/charming/eclectic neighborhoods dispersed throughout the sprawl. For me, a big plus is having lots of gorgeous open spaces available for outdoor activities.
posted by PepperMax at 9:45 AM on May 4, 2011

Hi! I live in Silver Lake. There are indeed hipsters.

Is it really disgustingly superficial?
No. Come on. I mean there are rich people. Would you not move to NYC because you'd be in the same city as Wall Street brokers who only care about money? I mean, this is ridiculous. This is one of the biggest, most diverse cities in the world, and you can associate with any kind of people you like.

It it really over-polluted and ugly?
The pollution was a '70s thing. It's fine unless you live way way inland. "Ugly" has always been one of the most baffling stereotypes. This is one of the most beautiful big cities in the world. You can literally drive ten minutes and be in the mountains. There's such much nature all around you it's unbelievable.

Is the sprawl soul-crushing?

I don't know, depends on your soul I guess.

Do you really spend most of your life in your car?
Depends on where you live and where you need to go. Neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Echo Park are certainly walkable.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:49 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I grew up and currently live about an hour north of LA. If I were picking a city to move to and wanted to live someplace where "you can do whatever you want ... and no one really gives a shit" I would choose SF in a heartbeat. That said, having lived in the outskirts of the Bay Area for a while before moving back down here, I'd have to say my view of LA has softened somewhat (a lot of that may just be seeing it through adult eyes,) though I still have a hard time thinking of it as a proper city.

It's a huge, huge place full of a wonderful variety of people and cultures, but getting from one side of town to the other can take 3 hours, so it's not precisely like living in a dense urban environment with all that stuff right at your fingertips. It's more like an endless procession of midsize towns crammed up against each other; there's a whole lot there, but access is difficult.

If you do come visit, definitely consider calling a meetup for the occasion, or timing your trip to coincide with one, the LA Metafilter crew is a great bunch of people.

What should I know about LA before I visit / move there?
Here's a good resource if you're planning a visit and want to see some of the more local stuff.

Is it really disgustingly superficial?
That seems to be the dominant culture, but not everyone you meet is going to be that way and you can avoid hanging out with those people if you want.

It it really over-polluted and ugly?
You can often see smog, but as for ugly that really depends on you. Do you think crumbling 50's modernism and sweeping, massive interchanges with freeways stacked 5 deep on top of one another are ugly? Some do, some don't.

Is the sprawl soul-crushing? Do you really spend most of your life in your car?
The sprawl is a major factor, and you will spend some time cursing traffic, especially if you're trying to take advantage of cultural opportunities around town with any frequency.
posted by contraption at 9:51 AM on May 4, 2011

Okay, I moved out to Southern California for grad school. I just (3-4 days ago) moved away. I actually lived in Riverside, about an hour east of LA proper. My experience is probably less relevant than people who lived there longer, but let me give you an outsider's take on the place:

"Where does one live in LA? Where would you live if you wanted a cheap place but with lots of culture around? Where do the hipsters live?" Places in LA that I thought were cool included: Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, Los Feliz, Echo Park. I don't know anything about cost of living (except that I know some grad students who managed to live there).

"How easy would it be to get a job to pay the bills?" Per the bureau of labor statistics, not easy. LA area unemployment is at 11.4%, vs. 9.2% for the rest of the US. Southern California was hit pretty hard by the real estate bubble. Southern California is not a good job market for unskilled labor right now.

"How true are the unpleasant cliches about LA? Is it really disgustingly superficial? It it really over-polluted and ugly? Is the sprawl soul-crushing? Do you really spend most of your life in your car?"

In my experience, the cliches are pretty true. The smog is a disgusting blanket that the commuters throw over the city most days of the year. If it has rained recently, the smog will disappear and you'll realize how beautiful the city of LA can be. But it only does this to taunt you. Don't trust it. Mostly, it's pretty gross.

Traffic was the bane of my existence in Southern Caifornia. Even in my pathetic little suburb, the traffic was a constant problem. I trained at a martial arts school about 40 minutes away, and I remember one rainy day when it took me 80 minutes to drive down to the JJ school, and 120 minutes to drive back. Sometimes traffic isn't bad, but when it's bad, it's BAD. Avoid rush hour like the plague, and you will probably be okay. However, I would semi-regularly run into traffic while driving to work before 6:00am.

And yes, sprawl is pretty bad.

Anyway, my girlfriend would tell you to take this with a grain of salt. I probably hate Southern California more than anyone else we know.

San Francisco is so much better than LA. If I got a job in SF I would take it in a heartbeat, and I honestly think that I would turn down a job offer from Southern California.

Why not visit both places, talk to people, and see what is the best fit for you?

Also, fuck the Dodgers and the Lakers.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 9:52 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the answers so far.

If you like SF a lot you might not be keen on LA.
I've loved SF on the dozens of visits that I've been there, but I've never lived there. Part of the reason for my indecision is that I've never actually lived in a real city. At this point, my taste on cities isn't nuanced enough.

There are tons of beautiful/charming/eclectic neighborhoods dispersed throughout the sprawl.
I'm curious to learn more about these neighborhoods. Got to visit, I know!
posted by garuda at 9:53 AM on May 4, 2011

I like the parts of LA near the water.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:56 AM on May 4, 2011

Not to sidetrack this discussion, but since this is the first I've heard of it and I'm new to the area, how do I get in the loop on LA MeFi meetups? Is there a schedule posted somewhere?
posted by sharding at 10:11 AM on May 4, 2011

I'm from LA. The answer to so many of your questions is..."it depends where you are."

One of the things that really stuck out to me after I left is that there's no core to the city--unlike NYC or Chicago, where Awesome Thing #1 is usually just a short trip from Awesome Thing #2, Awesome Thing #1 and #2 in LA are often in far-flung locations. But that being said, there's always something exciting going on.

Incidentally, if you're at all interested in theater, the LA theater scene is exceptionally lively, and not just because of the TV/film industry.

Most of LA will not be cheaper than SF.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:13 AM on May 4, 2011

Best answer: LA is, compared to NYC of SF, a cultural wasteland. I can't stress this enough.

LA is a bit cheaper than SF.

Everyone else. Especially this... "and the worst part: public space and public transit are pariahs."

No one ever seems to work or be working very hard in LA, even if we are. I like that!

West Hollywood is beautiful. There are other nice parts. But generally, LA looks like an industrial wasteland, even in residential neighborhoods. I personally abhor this and find it depressing. YMMV.

The entire economy of LA relies on (usually grossly underpaid) illegal mexican immigrants. The poverty is heartbreaking and very depressing. If you move here, do everything you can to pay folks a living wage and avoid business and services that don't.

**You can have a great time partying here and adventuring through social circles, different pockets of interest. It's a rollercoaster. None of it is real, though.**

I think the car culture effects people's friendships and other relationships. Sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst.

You can do whatever you want here and no one gives a shit because no one cares about you. It's pretty unabashedly Me-Me-Me! in LA. At least we're honest about it!

The Eagles kinda nailed it with the last two lines of the song Hotel California.

You can check out here (intellectually, emotionally, etc.) but the weather is so perfect (we live in paradise in LA) you can't really bring yourself to leave.

LA sucks you in, despite yourself and your best intentions. If you are young and sassy you'll do OK and maybe even manage to move on to other adventures.

If you are at all unmotivated or easily distracted... Enter At Your Own Risk.

posted by jbenben at 10:15 AM on May 4, 2011

I was born in San Francisco, but have spent most of my life in L.A.

I would move back to SF only, and *only*, if I was independently wealthy. While it's a beautiful city and I still love visiting, it is not the city it once was. It has many things going for it - no need for a car, lots of good cheap ethnic food, diversity, free things to do, etc., but IMO the day-to-day is kind of brutal if you aren't really well off financially.

L.A. on the other hand - equally brutal, but in different ways. It's not really all that much cheaper in Los Angeles. Contrary to what others have said, I don't believe you can live here without a car - so, when you factor in a minimum of $1200 a month for rent, say $200-$300 a month for car payment, and $100 or so for car insurance, it adds up. I've tried getting by the bus/bike/pedestrian way and it just doesn't work. Buses are unreliable at best, and the streets (and most drivers) are not pedestrian- or bike-friendly.

As for "I've heard that you can do whatever you want in LA and no one really gives a shit." - I've got two opinions on this. First, you can do that anywhere. And second, if this means you worry about what others think of you - L.A. is just as conformist as anywhere else if you let what others think get to you.

Is it really disgustingly superficial?

Not if you don't care about that stuff.

It it really over-polluted and ugly?

Depends on where you live. And depends on what you consider over-polluted and ugly.

Is the sprawl soul-crushing?

If you have a long commute, yes. I live most of my life within a radius of five miles in any direction, and

Do you really spend most of your life in your car?

Again, depends on where you live. I can go for days without using my car, but I deliberately chose to live in a walking neighborhood near my workplace.
posted by chez shoes at 10:17 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the OP: Part of the reason for my indecision is that I've never actually lived in a real city. At this point, my taste on cities isn't nuanced enough.

LA is not a city, IMHO. It's a dense collection of suburban and urban sprawl.

(Disclaimer: I'm from NYC and I've lived and traveled all over the world. I'm stuck in LA now.)

If you are looking for a "City" experience, LA is not it. But we have other things...
posted by jbenben at 10:23 AM on May 4, 2011

Here's Los Angeles from my perspective, the good and the bad:

The Good
The people who say that Los Angeles is lacking in culture are wrong. The people who say that Los Angeles is lacking in public space are even more wrong.
Los Angeles contains the largest municipal park in the United States.
Los Angeles has more museums per capita than any other city on Earth.
Our theater scene is amazing. All those screenwriters and actors who are trying to break into the movies? A lot of them spend their time writing and acting for playhouses during the periods when they can't find work in Hollywood (which is most of the time).
Our public transportation system is great, but it is largely dependent on where you live. We cover too much area for our system to go everywhere. Having said that, I commute every day, and it's so, so much better than driving. If you can find work somewhere that's easy to reach by public transportation, you will be much happier in Los Angeles.
The hiking and camping nearby is on par with anywhere else in the country.
The food here is great, and I will gladly take the Pepsi challenge with any other city in America on that count.

The Bad
The pollution is every bit as bad as you've heard. I don't notice it much except when I'm up in the mountains, at which point I can look down and see it like a blanket over the city.
The homeless are fucking everywhere. We have a nice climate and a fairly tolerant population, combined with crappy mental health services, so we are swimming in homeless people. Expect to step over someone passed out on the sidewalk or be shouted at by some guy who is clearly in need of medication at least a few times a week.
The traffic is a bear, but as I mentioned earlier, if you can take public transportation to work, it becomes much less of an issue.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:40 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up in southeast LA and moved to NYC three years ago. After living there for two years, I'm back in LA with a new perspctive on the city. In all honesty, there are many aspects of LA that absolutely blow. I mean, it's not hard to get yourself to hate this city; if you're looking for negatives, they're easy to find. I think LA grew on me once I realized how fucking amazing the weather is. After living in NYC and seeing how often the weather didn't cooperate with my plans, I started appreciating what I had back in LA. Imagine a world where you are almost never impeded by weather conditions. Want to go on a bike ride in January while the suckers on the East Coast and in Midwest are buried in snow and freezing rain? No problem! So that's the beauty of life in LA, as far as I'm concerned--and that's no small thing.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:43 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

So some things in SF's favor that haven't been brought up yet--we have a pretty decent underground theatre scene. You won't make any money as as actor/artist/whatever, but from what I can tell from my tech theatre friends, there's definitely a community. I'm sure LA also has underground theatre, but I'm not familiar with LA or its scene(s) at all.

SF is pretty damn expensive, but if you have roommates and don't eat at foodie-type places all the time/shop at Whole Foods or Rainbow/do everything organic/drink expensive booze, it's doable. But do budget.

Oh, and I'd say we definitely are a city, but a smallish, unique one. In fact, we call it THE City. (Not San Fran, and for the love of the FSM, not Frisco. Just The City.) But we are a city of micro-climates and micro-neighborhoods. It's part of our charm, though.
posted by smirkette at 10:43 AM on May 4, 2011

PS I'm living a 5-minute bike ride from the beach now and it's made a huge difference in terms of my happiness level. There are so many different options in LA when it comes to neighborhoods, geography, weather, cuisine, entertainment, and the type of "scene" you'll find.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:51 AM on May 4, 2011

The best place to live in LA is very close to your workplace. It cuts down on the expense of gas, car maintenance, and the soul-grinding spans of time you spend in traffic. If you can cut commuting entirely out of your life's equation and walk to work, LA is a fantastic place to live.
posted by mullingitover at 10:51 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Having lived in both places, I just want to throw in my own two cents.

LA: I think someone above me nailed it when they said all the best things and all the worst things you've heard about LA are true. I seriously did get asked to be in adult movies when I was just waiting at a bus stop. (No, I was not wearing lucite heels.) But I also got to see film premieres at the Hammer. Yes, you need a car. I didn't have one and it was exceedingly difficult. You can find art and culture and music and theater and smog and fake tans and purse dogs. While I found things to like in LA (and I'm a die hard shopper and foodie), I never really loved it.

SF: On the other hand, I love San Francisco. I don't think it is more expensive than LA, especially if you have someone to live with. There's good cheap food, most importantly to me, there's a culture here I love. You can be whatever you want, do whatever you want, and find whatever you need here. This is true of LA, if you look hard enough. I just think it's easier here. In your original post, you seemed concerned that SF is sort of a one trick pony, and I heartily disagree, unless that one trick is having something for everyone. Downside: the weather here is sucky more often than I would like. I'm a big fan of constant sunshine and 80 degree weather.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:00 AM on May 4, 2011

I'm an oddball, insofar as I also visited L.A. for approximately three days and loved it. But I had a dedicated tour guide who had a vested interest in my settling down here, so I was exposed only to the very best. I imagine any number of L.A. MeFites would do the same for you. We have an awesome crew down here.

Los Angeles is AMAZING for "vague creative ideas." There is a thriving underground art scene which is very welcoming to new blood. If you're the hipstery sort, you'll love the CalArts-focused indie art scene on the Eastside. If your tastes in art run towards the stereotypically Californian "Burning Man" sort, you'll find Venice and the Westside more to your liking. Even among the larger institutions, we have awesome things like LACMA, REDCAT, the Hammer, MOMA, etc.

Please ignore any bullshit about people being superficial. L.A. is the ultimate confirmation bias city. If all you want to see are bejeweled blondes carrying small dogs in purses, that's easy to find. It's also easy to find great outdoorsy terrain, unpretentious bars, inspiring art, friendly and social people, etc. I agree with your assessment that SF is "beautiful and interesting", but I reject the notion that SF has an advantage in any objective cultural sense. (And I say that as a booster of L.A., not as a dismissal of SF.)

My controversial take on the L.A./SF divide is that people up north are just as creative/expressive as those in the Southland, but there are more opportunities to make a bona fide career out of it down here. I know a lot of people doing really cool things up there, but I know a lot more people down here who have made it their sole source of sustainability. San Francisco is a bit more, shall I say, bohemian in its artistic pursuits, whereas people in L.A. tend to be go-getters, or at least more "right place/right time" types. But to an extent, you have to be a good talker and be able to walk between many different "scenes."

Moneywise, I don't think L.A. is any cheaper than SF, and the job market here suuuuuuuuuuuucks. I've heard it said (weasel words) that the labor statistics figure skews low, and that unemployment may be several % higher "on the ground." But in any case, it's not a terrific place to go looking for work.

I'm afraid I have to come down on the side of needing a car, especially if you want to get away from the city environs. It's anything but ugly here. You can have desert, mountains, ocean, and snow within two hours of the place, but getting there on a whim without one's own transportation can be a real pain in the ass. I am an L.A. cyclist, but I will be the first to say you need nerves of steel and the ability to ride VERY defensively.

I came to L.A. with absolutely no expectation that I'd like it. I had the typical East Coast disdain for L.A. with absolutely no basis other than inherited bias. I never considered living here until the moment I did. But now, in terms of creativity, climate, diversity of people and landscape, opportunity, and general life motivation, there's nowhere in America I'd rather be. Come visit us!
posted by mykescipark at 11:02 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Where would you live if you wanted a cheap place but with lots of culture around? Where do the hipsters live?

Hmmm. I'd say those things don't really exist together in the same space. If you are coming from any part of the country other than SF, Seattle, or NYC, you are probably going to experience horrific sticker shock at the cost of living -- particularly rent. And if you are coming here in order to have a low-commitment job and do art, you're going to be making very little money. That means, in my opinion, do not live where the hipsters live. Hipsters in L.A. are not living like Charles Bukowski -- most of them are living a very expensive lifestyle financed by their parents or credit cards.

If you're single and don't mind roommates, you can, I think, get by in the wallet-death triangle of Silverlake, Los Feliz, Echo Park. But is that really the best use of your money? You're going to need a car anyway, so I'd recommend living someplace a little grittier and driving into Silverlake when you absolutely have to have a beer in a place decorated with pinatas, or whatever the current fad is. How much grittier depends on your grit-tolerance level. I live in Cypress Park at the foot of Mt. Washington. It's a little blue-collar and a lot of the houses are kind of run-down, but no more so than in Echo Park, and it's full of families, so the neighborhood is kind of quiet. It's just across the 5 from Elysian Park and a quick drive to Silverlake/Loz Feliz, Griffith Park, Eagle Rock, and Pasadena.

You might also consider Hollywood, which is trafficky but full of stuff to do and cheaper than the above-mentioned places.

And if you're really determined to spend a lot of money on rent, can I suggest something on the other side of the city: why not live in Venice? Venice is:

- Cool, both in temperature and in attitude.
- Funky.
- Right on the beach.
- Completely bikeable/walkable. (When I lived there I rarely got in my car more than once a week. You don't really even need a car.)
- When taken as a block with Santa Monica, chock full of things to do. And Santa Monica is an easy bike ride from anywhere in Venice.

(Caveat: Venice also still has some streetcorner drug dealers. But they're very polite.)

Good luck! L.A. is awesome and terrible and frustrating and awesome. Nthing the thing someone said about how all the best and worst things you've heard are true, except the pollution -- it's really only bad during the summer, and much less awful than it was in the 80s.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Although mullingitover's advice is also excellent: cut your commute. Since you don't have a particular job in mind, though, you could always pick where to live and then find a job close by.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 11:34 AM on May 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone! This is a really interesting conversation.

You're going to need a car anyway, so I'd recommend living someplace a little grittier a little grittier and driving into Silverlake when you absolutely have to have a beer in a place decorated with pinatas, or whatever the current fad is.
I think you're onto something here.

My controversial take on the L.A./SF divide is that people up north are just as creative/expressive as those in the Southland, but there are more opportunities to make a bona fide career out of it down here. I know a lot of people doing really cool things up there, but I know a lot more people down here who have made it their sole source of sustainability. San Francisco is a bit more, shall I say, bohemian in its artistic pursuits, whereas people in L.A. tend to be go-getters, or at least more "right place/right time" types.
I think this might be what is driving me to consider LA right now, among other things. I'm curious to hear what others think about this.
posted by garuda at 11:44 AM on May 4, 2011

Traffic in the Bay Area can be just as bad as traffic in LA.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up and continue to live in LA. Really, the biggest thing is that Los Angeles by itself is super decentralized. So there is no central hub, and it's a sprawl of sooooo many different types of neighborhoods. Ten people could have completely different experiences of LA depending on where they live and what they do. It's really that different.

Given that, I would say that LA has one of the best cultures in the country. It's incredibly diverse and you could probably find whatever you want, really. The difficult part, is that you really have to spend time to look for it. So if you are a go-getter, have the drive/motivation/energy to seek out fun stuff, you will literally never run out of things to do.
If you are lazy and just expect culture to fall in your lap, you're going to be sorely disappointed. But you don't seem that type.

The best and the worst is true about LA.
Traffic? Oh lord yes.
But if you live close to your work or the areas in which you are interested in, it's not that much of a problem.
Superficial people?
Of course. However, there are some of the nicest coolest people here too.
Personally, never bothered me. But I live near a beach city. Honestly, the worst of it is in the inland (like Riverside, where I went to school for 5 years). It's been a LOT better since 20-30 years ago, and slowly improving. Unless you are really sensitive to it, it's not that big of a deal.

Honestly, the wealth is in the culture. Name any sort of ethnic food you want to try/eat. You got it. Nature? Yep. Recreational activities? Of course. Any sort of weird subhobby, there's probably an activity or interest group for it. Music??? OH YES!! I love the fact that there are venues and events for sooo many types of music. LA is always an essential stop for any musician, big medium or small, and there is a healthy local scene as well. Art scene? Definitely.

It's INCREDIBLY easy to find negatives and blame the city for your own shortcomings, so there are so many jaded, bitter, and cynical people. But there are so, so, so many good things about it that if you seek it out you will find it. LA is LA. It's not a SF or NYC, so it's moot to compare it to that.
posted by xtine at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

The World Famous: "To help you understand Los Angeles, I give the following description . . ."

I think that's the best description of LA that I've ever read. It's exactly right.

I grew up in Pasadena, which I love. It's big enough that you never have to leave it (i.e., just about any job you might be interested in can be found there), it's right up against the mountains (which, somewhat paradoxically, means it experiences more smog than the lowlands) so you can quickly escape to the sage and yucca covered foothills, and it's close enough to downtown that getting there means only moderate traffic hell. Even in Pasadena, though, it'd be tough without a car.

Not much in the way of hipsters in Pasadena, I'd say, but there are plenty of good bars. I see above that Venice was mentioned, but rather later in the thread than I would have expected. Venice (especially along Abbot Kinney Blvd) is neck deep in hipsters.
posted by lex mercatoria at 12:04 PM on May 4, 2011

I lived in L.A. from the age of 5 to 50, and can throw out some specific advice:

Live near where you work. The commuter traffic is awful. Find a job (the hard part, especially now) then find a place near it. Also, I had good luck living "upstream" from my job, where my drive went opposite to the main flow of traffic; one of my joys was driving 55 and laughing at the people going the other way driving 5. But the difference has become much less in recent years.

Areas? Depends on your taste; it's extremely varied. I never spent much time in the 'hipster Mecca' of Silverlake/LosFeliz/EchoPark, but have been very comfortable in parts of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena. Want to get close to the beach? South Bay (south of the Airport to the Peninsula); some hidden enclaves of niceness as far inland as Torrance (pleasant memory: volunteering to help decorate Torrance's Rose Parade float). Lived a mile inland from Venice (on Venice Blvd.) and it was cool, but that was 30-freaking-years ago. I have a love/hate relationship with The San Fernando Valley (grew up a mile from the Galleria referred to in "Valley Girl" before it was built).

I generally had more luck in areas that are not part of the City of Los Angeles, but YMMV, widely (Read up on Bell, CA). And the best neighborhoods seemed to be close to a public library (if there are any left by now). If you're within 5 miles of a Fry's Electronics, you're not too bad off.

Creative career-wise, I "broke into" local radio TWICE there (and it's the #2 radio market), my L.A. address seemed to help me sell freelance writing (even when I never visited the offices of my markets) and I used my accounting and mainframe-era-computer skills to get temp work at a couple Hollywood institutions (but if you're willing to work at non-glamorous places, you'll get a lot more temp work - at least I used to - it's obviously worse now).
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:12 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a third generation Angelena. I have a different perspective, as I have only ever lived in L.A. (and one year in the Middle East).

Some people are terribly superficial. Personally, I find it is usually people with something to prove.

The smog is not fun. On a day like today it does hang over downtown and it can be kinda ugly. Having said that, the 70's was about 1000 times worse and the city has SO much less pollution than it used to.

There are homeless, however, I actually find more in SF than LA if that makes any difference to you.

There is community here. Atwater Village is amazing - it's in the middle of everything and the new Atwater Crossing is awesome. I bought in Burbank a couple of years ago and I tend to frequent the mom and pop shops in the town, people know me, greet me like a friend even if they don't know my name. If you're nice to people, they're generally nice back to you. Echo Park, Silverlake and Eagle Rock are also amazing. I wouldn't rule out South Pasadena either if you have a car. Don't live near the 405. In my opinion, it's just rife with frustration.

As for assholes, sure, you might get some underfed, oversized sunglass wearing hungover chick who think she belongs in front of you in line at Whole Foods, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

There is amazing hiking here (Griffith, Santa Monica, Fryman, etc.)

You can have food from Ethiopia, Brazil, Germany, Singapore and France all in one day with barely any driving.

There are a billion festivals, from the Poppy Festival to the Lotus Festival with dragon boat races, to the Cinco de Mayo party at Olvera St. to Lunar New Year in Chinatown and Nisei festival in Little Tokyo to the Grilled Cheese Invitational (just passed!) and the Concourse de Elegance - I know I'm missing some good ones. I love festivals (obv). Everyone is welcome and people are super friendly, IMHO.

Traffic is, indeed a total beast. As someone upthread said, live near your work. It's essential to your sanity.

I love this city. A lot. Feel free to PM me if you need more specific info.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:17 PM on May 4, 2011

First, I don't buy the "if you love SF you won't love LA". I love both, and I just moved from SF to LA (on my own initiative -- I've also lived in LA in the past). They are different, but they're both awesome.

LA is way more diverse than SF. Not in like a racial sense (both are diverse there), but in a cultural and political sense. LA is much larger (if you live and work in the city of SF, you're talking about a fairly small population -- the Bay Area is big but many City dwellers don't get outside SF much).

The job market sucks in both _unless_ you're in tech/software -- which is actually reasonably good in both, although SF area will obviously have more options (but good programmers are in demand in LA too!). The "creative" job market I would tend to think is better in LA -- but I have no experience with that.

I live in a walkable area of LA (really!). There are a ton of restaurants, stores, etc within a few blocks of me (northern Fairfax, near Melrose -- basically the southern end of Hollywood). I do have a commute, but that's because I wanted to live in central LA while work is elsewhere (but flexible hours make my commute reasonable).

Silverlake is indeed a good place to check out for a slightly cheaper, creative vibe. It's not cheap in an absolute sense, but it's probably cheaper than similar areas in SF (Mission).

Personally I think there's more to do culturally in LA, but that probably depends on your tastes.

(Also, someone mentioned "The homeless are fucking everywhere." as a bad point for LA -- it's much worse in SF)
posted by wildcrdj at 12:36 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Trust me, you can live in LA on the cheap.

First thing, if you want to go car-free, I cannot emphasize how much you will appreciate living near a red line (subway) stop. The gold line is ok, but the red line runs from downtown through westlake to ktown to hollywood to the valley. Omg how great life is when you don't have to drive/park in those places!

The really poor hipsters tend to share houses. speicus used to live in a big house in Silver Lake with 10 rooms. I can assure you his rent was well below $1200/mo. Other neighborhoods to check out: East Hollywood, Koreatown, Highland Park. Keep in mind that these will be a bit more gritty than Silver Lake/Los Feliz, but I've never felt unsafe. You will learn what your local gang's tags look like, though. Currently I'm in La Mirada Locos territory! Atwater Village and Eagle Rock are nice, but I wouldn't live in either place without a car due to the lack of subway/light rail.

Biking in this part of the city doesn't have to be scary once you learn the side street routes. I make this offer to any mefite who is stressed about biking in LA: I will help figure out a non-scary route. In most cases it can be done. And I've gotta say, I'm happier person when I travel that way.

Personally I am not a fan of the westside. I lived there for 5 years and didn't really fall in love with the city until I moved to first Echo Park and now East Hollywood/Silver Lake. Basically before I would drive to this part of the city (hollywood/central/downtown) to do stuff, now I live here and can walk/bike/take public transportation. And I go to Griffith Park a lot more than I ever went to the ocean.

The pollution is not as bad as it used to be. It is worse near the routes heavily traveled by trucks headed to the ports. The day after it rains you will be amazed at how clear the sky is.

I moved here from NYC and they are just two different places. People here are no more or less superficial than they were on the east coast. They're not any more or less flaky either. It's just in NYC people attribute their flakiness to "work". I think SF is a nice place to visit, but it starts to feel like a monoculture. The scale is so much smaller there. LA is so big and diverse that I've yet to get that same feeling. I'm not in the arts, but the people I know who are say they feel less entrenched in artistic boundaries. Anyone who says there is no culture here reveals much more about themselves than LA.

Have I mentioned the taco trucks?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:48 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I want to devote some time to exploring vague creative ideas I have concerning writing, acting, and art

Do you have a lot of money saved up? Not to throw cold water on you, but every year, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people move her to do these things. (Or at least writing and acting.) There are many very talented people who simply never get to do the things they moved here to do.

Show biz is a business of relationships. People hire those they know--not the prettiest, not the smartest, not the most talented. If you have trouble meeting people, you will be lonely and stifled here.

I love LA--it's got everything. I don't find traffic all that daunting, but I don't work a 9 to 5 job. I live downtown, which is hip enough, but I drive for groceries, cleaners, etc. I like to drive.

Low-level subsistence jobs are hard to get because there are lots of people willing to work for less than you are. But, there are lots of ways to make money, if you're enterprising. This is not a place where people just wander up to you and bingo! you're discovered/hired/made.

LA is a place where people don't seem ambitious and driven but they are--they're working but it doesn't look like work. (Contrast NY, where people brag about not having leisure time.)
posted by Ideefixe at 1:20 PM on May 4, 2011

LA is, compared to NYC of SF, a cultural wasteland.

Depends on the culture. Can't speak for NYC but if you're into movie culture, LA has way more opportunities than SF. Can't tell you how many times I've read an interesting film review only to discover it's only opening that weekend in NYC or LA. The next week, maybe it'll open in SF. Maybe. Or maybe never.
posted by Rash at 1:31 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and on the cultural wasteland thing--I think that NYC has more "approved" culture, meaning you can find a lecture series on Tarantino or John Ford or whatever films or a symposia etc. and here in LA, you can meet someone who actually worked on those films. I think culture tends to be more first-hand here.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:49 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thought more about the "culture" aspect of LA vs SF. I think you have to break it down a bit:

Local music / live music: both are good, but LA wins on sheer volume (by a huge margin).
Museums: LA wins on volume, again. Both have good options, but the small size of SF is its problem here.
Theater: SF wins. LA has it, but it's more "popular" in SF and more visible.
Galleries/etc: not really sure.
Film: I think this is obvious.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:21 PM on May 4, 2011

I lived in L.A. (Sherman Oaks, specifically) for six years. My background: grew up in rural New England, went to school in a city in upstate New York.

Is it really disgustingly superficial?

To address one stereotype with another, I think this depends on how involved you are in the entertainment industry. I worked in special effects for a little over a year and did encounter a great many people who were superficial and/or always working an angle. (But I also encountered a lot of nice people with a passion for what they do.. unfortunately in most cases they're not the ones who wind up running things.)

It it really over-polluted and ugly?

Over-polluted? You bet. When you watch an old episode of Adam-12, CHiPs, or any show that filmed in L.A. and see that awful brownish haze on the horizon, that's really what it looks like. The sky clears up for a little while after a heavy rain pulls all the pollution to the ground, but generally it's smoggy. Mrs. usonian and I left L.A. by car and our first night out of the city we stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was amazed to realize that the Flagstaff air was so clean by comparison that I could smell my bottled water.

I think ugly depends on where you're coming from, and your reaction to sprawl... I was fascinated by all of the Googie architecture that's still around (there's precious little of that in New England) but my lasting impression of the city is one of unending miles of strip malls, apartment buildings, and tiny ranch houses on postage stamp lots.

Is the sprawl soul-crushing?

As someone who grew up in a place with lots of undeveloped space, woods, hills, and actual villages, I absolutely found it soul-crushing. L.A. has public spaces, but unless you're fortunate enough to live right next to one of them you're looking at a 20 minute drive or 45 minute bus ride to get to one. We lived within walking distance of the Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks War Memorial Park, but it was always so crowded that it foiled our attempts to go out and enjoy a quiet green space. We went hiking in Fryman canyon once, but even there you can't escape glimpses of the back yards of the rich people living in the hills.

Do you really spend most of your life in your car?

It depends on where you live, and where you work. When I worked in Valencia, I had an easy 1/2 hour commute each way because I was going against the ungodly traffic. When I worked in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, it sure felt like I spent my life in the car. I'd often wind up staying at work until 7:00 at night, not because I was working but because I could either spend that extra time hanging out and playing Quake with coworkers, or sitting in traffic. When I worked in Encino and Van Nuys, I had a blissfully short 10 minute commute.

What are the advantages of living in LA?

* The quality and variety of the food (except for pizza, which was almost universally disappointing. Shout out to Lamonica's!).
* The diversity of cultures, and small business supporting those cultures; one thing I miss is the sheer variety of highly specialized shops, either catering to a particular culture, or particular industry.
* The postwar architecture (what's left of it.)
* We never really took advantage of it, but it's true that you can be skiing in the mountains one day and on the beach the next.
* The weather, if that's your thing.

On balance I disliked L.A. more than I liked it, but I have a lot of good memories from our time there and am glad we tried it; it's hard to really appreciate what you're used to if you never try something different.
posted by usonian at 3:00 PM on May 4, 2011

I think this depends on how involved you are in the entertainment industry.

This. In any discussion of LA vs x, the field you work in is very important! Do you work in The Industry? Then yes, most of the people you'll be surrounded by will be beautiful, superficial, flakey, etc. But not everyone in LA works in that Industry. I spent my seven LA years in IT and found the people I worked with to be like people anywhere else.
posted by Rash at 4:08 PM on May 4, 2011

Ha, yes I had forgotten about The Industry vs everyone else. Even though I live basically in Hollywood, I'm in the tech industry instead, so my interaction with that world is limited to random people I meet rather than being the majority of my social scene.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:30 PM on May 4, 2011

Then yes, most of the people you'll be surrounded by will be beautiful, superficial, flakey

This is BS. Utter and complete BS.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:41 PM on May 4, 2011

I know this question is mostly about LA, but since you mentioned SF, I thought I'd drop my two cents in.

While you can life in San Francisco proper, there are tons of places to live elsewhere in the bay area that will give you the city experience and still be able to use public transportation to get to SF. You might look into the east bay cities such as Berkeley, some parts of Oakland, Albany, EL Cerrito, Richmond annex and Emeryville. On the SF side there's Daly City & Pacifica.

Or, if you still want the Bay vibe, but not so much the price, you might even consider the South Bay/San Jose area. It's got a really good music and visual arts culture and the people are a bit easier to get on with compared with some of the SF folks.
posted by bionic.junkie at 12:21 AM on May 5, 2011

If you live anywhere close to a hip/walkable/vaguely artistic neighborhood make sure you have an on-site parking space. Even if you don't have a car. (Because your friends will and so will you eventually.)

oneswellfoop: "Find a job (the hard part, especially now) then find a place near it.

This is what I always want to say in these L.A.-relocation questions but don't because of how impractical it sounds. But really, this.

Where You Want To Live(Sprawl + Traffic + ~11% Unemployment) = Possible-To-Probable Soul-crushing Commute.

oneswellfoop (again): Lived a mile inland from Venice (on Venice Blvd.) and it was cool, but that was 30-freaking-years ago.

Six years ago I also lived on Venice Blvd. in the Mar Vista area and this neighborhood is becoming my standard response to Where in L.A. should I live? It's still relatively affordable, relatively safe, relatively close to different parts of town via car, and has relatively decent access to public transportation. You get the advantage of the cleaner air and cooler temperatures of the Westside with easy access to some areas mentioned already, like Venice, Santa Monica, and Culver City.

oneswellfoop (last time): (grew up a mile from the Galleria referred to in "Valley Girl" before it was built).

(grew up a mile from the Beverly Center referred to in "Less Than Zero" before it was built!)

usonian: "Over-polluted? You bet. When you watch an old episode of Adam-12...

To be fair, comparing the post-catalytic converter air quality of today to the air quality of Adam-12 is a little like comparing the LAPD of today to, well, the LAPD of Adam-12. In the 70s we had "Smog Days" when we weren't allowed outside during recess, so to me it doesn't seem that bad. That said, I live at the beach and think the rest of the city stinks to high heaven.

But yeah, at least come visit!
posted by Room 641-A at 12:43 AM on May 5, 2011

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