Make me love LA.
January 5, 2012 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I've never liked LA, but I have a job opportunity there and I'm about to spend a week checking out the city. Tell me what you love about it and what I should see. More inside!

I've never really liked LA. I grew up outside of New York, then put in a few years in Brooklyn. I've lived in Seoul and Chicago, too. My favorite thing about a city is the walkability- the ability to walk and watch the city change under your feet. The shared experience of several million people cramming into subway cars and dealing with each other. Tiny basement rock clubs and weird bars. Etc. New York is eminently walkable, Seoul not so much, but it has comprehensive public transport.

I've spent about 10 days, on two trips, in LA and I kind of hated it. Public transportation is non-existent and confusing, walking anywhere gets you a weird look and even the downtown seem cramped, quiet and lonely.

But now I got a job offer and I'm thinking about moving there. I'll be in town for a week of meetings and I've got 3 or 4 days to kind of poke my nose around and fall in love with the place. What'd I miss? What should I see? Am I totally wrong here?
posted by GilloD to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Los Angeles isn't a city. Dorothy Parker: "It's 72 suburbs in search of a city." Burbank is not Orange County is not Encino, yet all of them can be described as being "in" Los Angeles, in one way or another.

Did you go to the beach? Venice, Santa Monica, the South Bay...
Did you go to Hollywood? Melrose, the Farmer's Market...
Did you go to the east side? Los Feliz, Silverlake...

All of those are things to see. But it's not "walkable," and never will be walkable, although some small, individual neighborhoods might be.

In other words ... you really, really need to try hard to sample the tasting menu.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:10 AM on January 5, 2012

It would help if you could tell what area of LA the job is likely to be in.

As CPB says, treating Los Angeles as one giant city will definitely lead to frustration, as transport between areas is terrible. But there are walkable cities within Los Angeles, and some even have reasonable public transport.

Don't be fooled into thinking that downtown is like other large city downtowns, where all the action is. Its fairly dead once all the office workers go home (although getting better in recent years).

So give us an idea where you might be looking to work, and we can suggest places you might want to live, or if you should just run for the hills.
posted by Joh at 9:14 AM on January 5, 2012

You should check out Hidden Los Angeles and these previous questions. Also, If you haven't already, put something up on IRL and get a meetup scheduled for when you're in town, the LA mefite crew is awesome.
posted by contraption at 9:17 AM on January 5, 2012

I don't live in LA but I love visiting. My friend and LA native Miss Lynnster often describes the area as a collection of villages. No need to get overwhelmed with all of them, just find your place among them.

It might be helpful to check out her website Hidden LA (and the associated Facebook group) to get a feel for some of the less obvious charms of Los Angeles.
posted by The Deej at 9:17 AM on January 5, 2012

I love questions like this! (Sorry for the overpowering enthusiasm).

I grew and went to school in Boston, lived in New York briefly, and I've lived in LA for nearly three years. Los Angeles is a difficult, vibrant, ugly, beautiful, inspiring, depressing, fun, frustrating place in which to live.

I think I read this on metafilter: if you took everything interesting in the world, mixed it up, and spat it out on a piece of concrete, you would have Los Angeles.

The lack of "walkability" is still a pain. I live in Echo Park, and I can walk around my neighborhood, but I drive many places. You'll get over it, though. And public transportation is good if you're using it in certain parts of town. I used to live in Koreatown and took the red line up to my job in Universal City, but I don't live near the subway anymore. I think it's interesting that you put "walkability" and "tiny basement bars and weird clubs" in the same paragraph. LA has the latter, in spades, but not the former.

You probably won't fall in love with the place in four days. LA has a tough, often unappealing exterior, but it's a city with a lot of substance and heart. If you move here, allow yourself some time to let it grow on you.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:25 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The job is sort of halfway between Culver City and Santa Monica. I'm open to living anywhere, but I like 'neigborhoods'. I don't need a super hip, Williamsburg-style thing, but a couple of coffee shops is always nice.

Like I said, I don't even know where to start looking when it comes to LA, so suggestions for young, interesting neighborhoods would be helpful. Up and coming areas. Affordable vers Expensive areas, etc.
posted by GilloD at 9:29 AM on January 5, 2012

I'm less familiar with the West Side, but if you can find an affordable place, try to find a place in Venice. Culver City isn't bad, but from what you've posted, I don't think you'll like it much. Venice is hip and interesting (and I think kind of expensive) but it's so far from my East Side world that I can't help you out much.

West Side LA Mefites - help GilloD out!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:33 AM on January 5, 2012

No one can make you love LA.

LA is just different. It will never be NYC; it will never be SFO. You have to accept that first. It may take time. Comparisons just aren't useful, because you're comparing apples to an entire fruit bowl. You will lead a different kind of life here.

I am an east-coaster at heart, a midwesterner by birth. I agree with every word of this. LA, for all its fantasy and facade, never lies to you. The deal is plain.

It's so different than, say, San Francisco, which has many of the things you value. In San Francisco, the explicit focus on green living, sustainability, diversity, food morality dominates the experience of, well, everything. You can't eat a meal without some guilt, or an expression of your awareness that you should be guilty, or that you understand the fine details of the current mode of sustainable ag and food woo - as a means of getting on top of it - there is a mode of living appropriate to San Francisco, and it is enforced with vigilance, via social contract. But, "Every mode of living is appropriate for L.A. You can do what you want. And I don't just mean that Los Angeles is some friendly bastion of cultural diversity and so we should celebrate it ". No, it is something else entirely.

I didn't understand that until I came back here. And I didn't understand the value of it, as someone who seeks to live a really different life, a life unsuitable for most.

I can't tell you about upcoming neighborhoods, public transport, or anything else that other people value. But I can offer you a few things that I really, really love about this city:

1. Seasons. You miss the change in seasons your first year. Your bones ache for fall or snow. But after a year or so, you come to feel the kind of calm and continuously building momentum that comes from great weather, every day of the year. I love snow, but snow is now a place I go and a thing I can choose, rather than an oppressive force every fall. You'll get off the plane at BUR and feel the warm air on your arms and the glare in your eyes, and you'll feel good. And when rain comes, it is special.

2. The food. You can get anything in LA, and often the hole-in-the-wall places have the most to offer. For me, it was hard to accept that the best things could come from a corner of a stripmall in Nowhere, LA County, but it's true - and sometimes I will go to great lengths to get another bowl of the best pho I've ever eaten, objectively speaking. And it will be, oh, $6. On my block, there is a taco truck with $1 tacos every night. They're delicious, smoky, and authentic. Every night. Try the cheap stuff.

3. Travel. You already have this, but it is cheap and cheerful to live in a major hub. I can get anywhere, fast.

4. The spaces behind spaces. This is hard to articulate. Driving around LA, you see mostly depressing suburbia, ugly apartments. But in those backyards are gardens, mother-in-law houses, art studios, great yawning fantasy barbecues, parties, little kingdoms built by dreamers. In LA, your environment will change slowly block-to-block, but you'll be transported if you so much as cross a fence into a backyard somewhere. LA will open up to you and you'll be surprised how intimate such a harsh place can be. Or the views you can get from the hillsides.

5. You will never, ever lack for variety, or goods, or supplies. In SFO, getting supplies often got me lectured - environmental concerns kept overshadowing the kind of things I wanted to do in life, which are a different kind of positive change. In LA you will only be lectured if you dont' get your wallet out fast enough. You can get anything. Surgery, rocket parts, cold war cameras... great tacos, great scotch, great music.

I realize you are looking for concrete suggestions, and this is mine. When you are in LA, have a little devil on your shoulder. Call him Fake if you like. When someone invites you over, or suggests doing something, go. Do things that are out of character, take too much time, or seem physically difficult. Go places that seem silly, meet people who seem out of your normal circles. But do them, because you will find things that surprise you, and they may be the grip you need to find your way in. Or the ammo you need to stay away.

Definitely set up a meetup while you are here. LA mefites are great.
posted by fake at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2012 [27 favorites]

LA is walkable, just not in the same areas that NY or Chicago is. You don't walk in LA to get to places, but instead to explore. Walk down one of the long boulevards and you'll catch things you will never, ever see when driving. Walk/hike in the mountains. There's tons of trails that are gorgeous in LA. Walk on the beach. Walking in LA is exploring.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:55 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Santa Monica is walkable, near the 3rd Street Promenade, and near Main Street. Venice is walkable near the boardwalk. Larchmont Village isn't really long enough to walk, but if you got yourself a place nearby, you could bike to it.

Because of the excellent weather, there are places that are bikable, even if they aren't really walkable, like West Hollywood.

There are just these tiny islands of walkability, and you can probably get a place within biking distance of them.

But yeah, LA is mostly not about walking. It's about driving.
posted by musofire at 10:13 AM on January 5, 2012

I don't live in Culver City but I have friends who do and they love it. There are many restaurants and art galleries, and it is conveniently located so that you can easily get to downtown or the beach or wherever in the city. It is also very walkable. It is also more affordable than Venice, which I love as well. Venice seems to have a stronger sense of community than many other areas of LA, but there is still some gang crime, and the places there tend to be pretty small. Parking in Venice can be a nightmare if you don't have parking included with your apartment.
posted by parkerposey at 10:41 AM on January 5, 2012

fake, that was beautiful. when i see you in person, i'm giving you a huge hug. and then maybe we can try to figure out what kind of scotch goes well with al pastor...

good coffee shops are starting to pop up everywhere, especially in the area that OP mentioned (b/w culver city and santa monica). i like royal/t a lot (it also doubles as an excellent performance venue)! in between the smell, low end theory, dub club, bootleg bar and royal/t, i am never in want of wonderful shared spaces with amazing live music.

LA is vast... the public transportation system will never be like BART or NYC's metro, but it is getting faster and more consistent.

one anecdote: despite a lifetime of living here, i had never been to abbot kinney (in santa monica) til a couple days ago and i loved it (except for the overpriced incense, but that's a professional matter)... the area had such a relaxed and different vibe compared to other parts of LA (esp. downtown, ktown... the more urban spots)

i love this city. i've spent long stretches of time in NYC, SD and SF and nothing makes me happier than LA's hidden vibrancy.
posted by raihan_ at 10:53 AM on January 5, 2012

I love Los Angeles. I mean, I hate Los Angeles, and I think a lot of here people feel the same way, sort of trapped in these oscillating feelings towards the city, depending on the weather, how much traffic they sat in that day, and what they ate for dinner.

You'll a few hours drive from snow and desert.

The food is amazing.

I've never found it easier to find "my people" in LA than anywhere else. People here don't really identify the city the same way as New Yorkers do. No one really says "Yeah, I'm an Angeleno," with the same sort of cultural pride - because really, which culture are you talking about anyway?

Drive down Slauson Ave. during the day, and keep it driving, even when it might start to look "scary," because buildings still have handpainted lettering and signs.

Visit Downtown Culver City - it's only about 8 years old. While you're there, wander into the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Visit Venice Beach during the day. It's both touristy and painfully authentic at the same time.

Eat at food trucks. And KBBQ and soju in K-Town. And Mexican food, wherever it looks good, and is cheap.

It's January 5th, and it's 78degrees and sunny.
posted by sawdustbear at 11:57 AM on January 5, 2012

I actually spent a few days in Culver in October and had a nice time. Good food, maybe a little quiet, but a nice area.

Bikeability in LA? I know I'm unlikely to find a pleasant bike lane anywhere, but is it generally possible to bike between locations or am I going to find impassable freeways making my life miserable?
posted by GilloD at 12:38 PM on January 5, 2012

First of all, peel off the blinders about public transportation. Here is a map of the bus and rail system in Los Angeles.

Something to also keep in mind--the Expo line will be opening sometime next year and it will be possible/easy to take light rail from Culver City to DTLA. Also in Culver City, you're not too far from the Ballona Creek bike path. Or the bike lanes on Venice Blvd.

The thing about LA being what you make of it/how you structure your life is true. You can live a boring entirely car dependent life if you want. It's really easy to get into that mindset and not even give other ways a try. Especially in parts of the westside where it can feel like you're surrounded by chain stores and single family homes. But downtown Culver City isn't so bad. People like Mar Vista too.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:41 PM on January 5, 2012

Also in Mar Vista: the Bikerowave bike co-op.

I bike all over the city and like it. Like most other US cities, though, some days are better than others. Once you learn the routes that work for you, it's easy, sometimes faster than the bus and definitely faster than traffic at rush hour.

I'll be honest though, you seem to be coming at this having already made up your mind about the city and if you move to LA expecting the crappy stereotypical version without looking for the other stuff, you're gonna end up living that way.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Santa Monica has good public transport (for LA anyway!), and has very walkable areas. There are plenty of apartments down at the northern beach end of Santa Monica, and you can walk to the promenade (shopping, walkable, but chain-store ish) or Montana (walkable, coffee shops, frou-frou and/or hippy shopping and very pretty) from there. I work in Santa Monica and have plenty of co-workers who live in that beachy apartment section of SaMo and love it. You can walk to palisades park or the beach too.

The other section of Santa Monica to look at is the Main Street/Abbot Kinney section. Again, walkable, shopping, LOTS of coffee shops (especially Intelligentsia which is great coffee and good people watching; you will get a good flavour of the neighborhood from people watching in there). You can walk to the beach from there too.

Culver City has a downtown that has been revitalised over the last few years, and is great for restaurants. The aforementioned Royal/T cafe is fun. Downtown CC is a bit less walkable than SaMo, and more restauranty than coffee shop-ish.

Venice might also be a good fit for you - it blends into the Main Street/Abbot Kinney area I described above, actually maybe Abbot Kinney is in Venice, I can't remember where the border is. Its going to be cheaper than SaMo in some areas (where crime might be an issue after dark).

Mar Vista/West LA is kind of between Santa Monica and Culver City, and there is plenty of cheap apartments there, but I think its mostly a bit dull and less walkable.

Westwood is further inland than where you might be working, but has a very vibrant, very walkable downtown area right next to UCLA, with lots of cheap eats, a few bars and coffee shops, and some great movie theaters.

Biking is increasingly popular on the Westside, and you will find Santa Monica is working very hard to be bike friendly. I think you can cycle to work if you are OK with sharing the road and being very aware of idiots in cars. I have co-workers who cycle from Westwood, Venice and West LA to Santa Monica every day.

LA is full of hidden treasures, as Fake so eloquently wrote above. You can find a good neighborhood and exist happily within that on a day to day basis. But its also worth getting into a car and exploring further afield to find all the interestingness LA has to offer. Drive up into the hills for hikes and views and all sorts of craziness. Go downtown, go to Koreatown, go to the San Gabriel Valley. Don't live in those places because the commute will drive you insane, but explore if you move here.
posted by Joh at 1:40 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was prepared to defend LA, but like sawdust bear, I hate LA--or wait, I love LA. All those things you mentioned about walking the streets and dealing with each other on subways, etc-that's what I love about New York too. It just doesn't exist here in the same way. You kind of have to work hard to love LA. You have to find your spots, love your neighborhood, love that thing you love to do, find your circle of friends, find your coffeeshop, be okay with driving 45 minutes for that taco you want to try, etc. The good: it's a big diverse city and you can find anything here. The bad: chances are, you will have to drive there. Your best bet is to load up your ipod and get to know some shortcuts.

I don't know you at all but I'll just give you some things I like:
KCRW - 89.9

Venice - I lived there for 10 years and it defininitely had that "neighborhood-y" feeling. I used to go to Abbott's Habit everyday on Abbot Kinney and say hello to all the regulars. Now they have Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney (fancier coffee). Delicious breakfast at Gjelina Take Away. Also on that street, my favorite shop with Japanese housewares, Tortoise. Venice seems to have gentrified but it still has its funky side. If you are here in May, I love the Venice Art Walk.

Koreatown: Wi Spa (open 24 hours!), Genwa,
Dan Sung Sa (dive bar with awesome korean ribs)

Downtown: Grand Central Market, the Bradbury building, Little Tokyo, Wurstkuche followed by the Pie Hole, The Edison

Walking the secret stairs of LA

Even though I love all the city things to do, I'm a beach person so if I were you, I'd rent a bike and ride the beach bike path along Venice and Santa Monica. If you're interested in Santa Monica, it has an active biking community that is working with city planners to make biking more city friendly and accessible. Many city events have bike valet parking, there's a new bike center at the Santa Monica Place there are more plans coming into place in the next couple of years along with the extension of the rail line. Culver City rail opens this year and the extension to Santa Monica is set to finish in 2015.
posted by biscuits at 2:33 PM on January 5, 2012

I moved to LA (actually, the San Fernando Valley, 20 miles north of downtown) over seven years ago from the San Francisco area; promised myself that I'd move back after my one-year lease had expired. But then I found that Los Angeles sort of grows on you...much like a fungus (har har).

It took the full year, but once I decided to take LA as it was, peace was made. Everything I want to go to seems to be 25 miles away. There is accessible culture here, ethnic neighborhoods (you just have to drive to them), good food, ocean, mountains, desert. I'm working in the downtown area now for the first time, and am commuting by far, so good. Looking forward to exploring my work neighborhood (Little Tokyo/Arts) a little deeper.
posted by DandyRandy at 2:42 PM on January 5, 2012

Despite the lack of dedicated bike lanes, I find L.A. to be a very bike friendly place to be. Drivers seem used to bikes zipping about on the roads. One must be wary about small municipality cops, however, like Culver City or Santa Monica PD. They occasionally have to make a show about being tough on traffic violators. I pass through residential Culver City regularly, and last week, the cops insisted that I make a complete foot-on-the-ground stop at every stop sign. Could have been worse, though... they were ticketing almost every motor vehicle driver that went the route.

The Culver city/Venice/Palms/Mar Vista/Santa Monica area is fairly pleasant place, easy to get around. The Venice Blvd corridor is full of all kinds of interesting stuff.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2012

I don't live in LA but many of my friends do. I am a former NYCer and current Chicagoan. I have never ever had a driver's license. That said, I like LA. The public transit is actually pretty good, and most Angelenos I know have never taken it, because they are told it's awful and it's scary and horrible. it's scary & horrible if you are frightened by non-white people going to work. It is definitely cleaner and more orderly than NYC's transit. The only downside is that it's mostly buses and they are subject to the same traffic as cars. My feeling being an NYC'er is that the traffic is similar to Manhattan's in some places, and less in others but people won't go certain places b/c of the traffic in LA whereas NYCers wouldn't dream of that as an excuse. :)

I've had non-car friends who've lived in Venice, West LA (Wilshire & Fairfax), and near UCLA. I am not suggesting you shouldn't have a car, but I am suggesting it isn't impossible to use transit, which, for someone who's lived where you have, might provide some comfort!
posted by jennybento at 6:25 PM on January 5, 2012

Public transport is okay on the westside, thanks to the Big Blue Bus and the Culver City Green Bus, and many of my friends bike their way around all the time -- but having a car will make your life here about 1000x easier, it's true.

Also 1000x better: commuting east in the morning and westward in the evening, so I'd highly recommend living in neighborhoods like Mar Vista/West LA/Venice/Santa Monica, depending on how big your housing budget is.

Walk around the Rustic Canyon Steps, cross PCH (on foot!) to dip your toes in the ocean, and take a stroll down the Santa Monica pier, and try not to feel too awesome!

But I really just want to second mandymanwasregistered when she warns:

if you move to LA expecting the crappy stereotypical version without looking for the other stuff, you're gonna end up living that way.

That would be a real pity, because I can guarantee you that LA has much, much more to offer.
posted by estherbester at 9:07 PM on January 5, 2012

I think Joh is closest on neighborhoods (I live in Palms, just north of Culver City and east of Santa Monica - not walkable, not cute, you'd hate it). You might want to look at the Ocean Park area. Venice, imo, is a bit too dangerous. But if you're a guy, it might be ok.

If you imagine the (say) mile along the coast starting at Marina del Rey on the south and heading north, it kind of goes like this in terms of neighborhoods:

MDR: beachy/boaty/sporty/crowded/upscale. Lots of high rise (and low rise) condos and apartments, looks/feels like a suburb, not as much walking, more family oriented, not a party area.

Venice beach/Washington: funky/rundown/beachy/hippie/touristy. You've been there I'm sure, or seen pictures. A little more gang presence than is desirable, unfortunately, since it has a really relaxed, happy feel.

Abbot Kinney (AK road between Pacific and Venice): funky/beachy/moving upscale/trendy/more expensive. You'll pass aging hippies with surfboards strapped to their bikes, and also trendy young singles wearing and driving the latest.

Ocean Park (Main street between say Strand and Rose): lively/funky (but less so)/nicer/young/trendy/crowded. Has some very nice restaurants, brunch spots, bars, thrift shops, upscale shops, a place you can go to drink wine and paint, etc. Much walking goes on here (since parking is a hassle -- otherwise people would probably drive! We love to drive here.)

Santa Monica (skipping north to the area North of Wilshire, South of San Vincente, and West of 10th or so): beachy/nicer/more expensive/young.

It kind of depends which type of mix appeals to you; this is kind of a continuous corridor of coolness that you'd probably like, so you can dial up or down on the "rundown" or "hippie" or "tourist" factors by moving just a few blocks either way.

When you move inland on the west side, the pockets of coolness (or whatever you want to call it) get smaller and further apart, but affordable housing gets more plentiful. Most people I know live among the acres of nondescript buildings and drive to the cool areas when they want to hang out.

You don't mention anything sporty/outdoorsy in your question, except for bike riding, but LA really has some great opportunities for water sports -- scuba, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, rollerblading on the boardwalk, yoga or fitness classes on the beach, beach volleyball leagues, rowing, sailing, etc etc etc. Just rent a bike or some rollerblades in Venice while you're here and ride to Sunset Blvd and back early in the morning on the boardwalk - you'll get a good idea for what living "the beach lifestyle" is like. It's pretty nice, I keep finding myself doing more of these sorts of things, even though I would never go just sit on the beach.
posted by bluesky78987 at 9:56 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on the job offer! My favorite LA activity is to rent a bike at the Santa Monica pier and then bike to Hermosa Beach along the South Bay Bike Path. It's awesome and you'll get to see all sorts of cool neighborhoods along the way including Venice and Manhattan Beach. For a fun side-trip, ride over to the Venice canals as you go through Venice.
posted by JuliaKM at 10:49 AM on January 6, 2012

Thanks for this amazing link, fake.

The post you linked to brilliantly argues not only why somebody like me* would not be happy in LA:
Literally no one cares, is the answer. No one cares. You're alone in the world.
L.A. is explicit about that.
If you can't handle a huge landscape made entirely from concrete, interspersed with 24-hour drugstores stocked with medications you don't need, then don't move there.
It's you and a bunch of parking lots.
but also why another person might want to live there:
In L.A. you can grow Fabio hair and go to the Arclight and not be embarrassed by yourself. Every mode of living is appropriate for L.A. You can do what you want.
* (whose depressive tendencies and innate cynicism/disillusioned romanticism don't need any encouragement)
posted by virago at 4:22 PM on January 6, 2012

I loved LA! I am not in love with it's car culture, but whatever. I think the trick this time was to kind of stay in one place and get to know as opposed to trying to bounce around the city, which is a nightmare. Once the Expo Line opens, I'll be in heaven.

Biking is way easy! Since LA is a weird collection of suburbs stitched together by major avenues, it's easy to kind of pick your way through the peaceful 'burbs and stay off the main roads, many of which actually have big bike lanes that, unlike New York, are not just free parking for jerks.

Also, it is an absolute wonder to be able to get drunk in January, stumble out the door in shirtsleeves, down a couple beef tongue tacos and get back home in one piece.

So, I dunno. I hate that I cant just walk it, but I found my zen. New York is weird because big parts of it are essentially for rich folks only and I didn't get that in LA. I understand that it's there, of course, but it felt spread out. Not so concentrated.
posted by GilloD at 12:00 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

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