Walkable neighborhood and non-terrible commute - possible in LA?
October 3, 2014 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Yet another entry in the "where should I live in LA" files: I got a job with an aerospace company in the El Segundo/Hawthorne area. I'm thinking about living in Palms. Will I hate my commute? Are there other places I should consider living?

So I've been hired by an aerospace company and will be working just south of the 105, not far from LAX. I'm trying to figure out where to live, and would like to be in a walkable neighborhood if possible. (I live near downtown Mountain View right now and love it, if that provides a useful reference for anyone.) I've done some poking around online and am liking the looks of Palms. It is not crazy expensive, looks nicely walkable (at least on walkscore.com), is quite dense and diverse per the LA Times Mapping LA site, and even has the Expo Line light rail coming to the neighborhood.

The only problem? I grew up in the Inland Empire, and went to school at USC, so I'm pretty familiar with Southern California traffic. I haven't driven regularly on this side of LA, but I've always heard that commuting on the 405 is a TERRIBLE idea. So...how bad is it, really? I've tried looking at the traffic on Google Maps during the times I might be driving, and it actually looks not terrible in the direction I'd be going - but is that accurate? Also, Google Maps doesn't show much in the way of any non-freeway routes - do they not exist, or do they not end up being any better? If anybody knows something Google doesn't, I'd be glad for advice!

Alternatively, I could find a different place to live - I was thinking particularly of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and/or Redondo Beach. They also look to have walkable areas. But they're more expensive than Palms, though I was able to find some apartment listings within my budget without much trouble, and they don't look as good in terms of public transit, although I will definitely have a car so that's not a dealbreaker. [Side question: the LA Public Library system for the city is pretty great - how does the county system, which serves the beach cities, measure up?] But if they'd provide a better commute situation, that could tip the scales for me. If you have an opinion on that, please weigh in!

Finally, are there any other neighborhoods or cities I should consider? I've heard good things about Santa Monica and Venice, but they don't solve my 405 problem. Is it worth looking in Hawthorne or El Segundo? Any other places I'm overlooking? Thanks MeFi!
posted by sigmagalator to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If I lived in Palms, I would take surface streets to that area you describe (which ones depends on address.)

Otherwise, Palms is just fine.
posted by jbenben at 7:24 PM on October 3, 2014

There's nothing uniquely bad about the 405, except maybe heading north past the airport or into Westwood. Sepulveda is also an option to get north/south in that area.

In general, live where you want to live. Happiness with a good neighborhood is more than worth an extra five minutes in the case. It comes down to what you like, of course, but the South Bay is *very* different from Palms or Venice. Almost 180 degrees opposite, actually: For L.A., it's extremely conservative politically, and younger people tend to be into the collegiate-style bar/beach scene.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:25 PM on October 3, 2014

I just google mapped a general idea of what that commute would be like (I did from my office in Culver City to LAX), and got 23 minutes. Granted the worst of rush hour is over, but yeah, sounds pretty civilized to me.

I've done Venice to El Segundo during rush hour and it's not really that bad.

El Segundo itself is pretty cute IMO (very white picket fence middle class bedroom community), but I don't know how walkable it is or whether it fits your lifestyle.

The South Bay beach cities might "feel" closer to El Segundo, even if the commutes are the same basic timeframe, and if you like that whole vibe, it could work well for you. I'm not that familiar, and TBH my understanding of that area is that it's all very 405-reliant, but it could work for you.
posted by Sara C. at 8:26 PM on October 3, 2014

I'll also add, regarding that 23 minute commute, that my commute to the East Side isn't all that much longer unless there's some kind of catastrophic accident. Living on the West Side will afford you the ability to spend that 23 minutes on fast-moving surface streets that were designed for commuting by car, as well as potentially the ability to rely on public transit more, but if you really have your heart set on another part of town, it probably wouldn't dramatically decrease your quality of life.
posted by Sara C. at 8:29 PM on October 3, 2014

Palms around Venice hits a lot of sweet spots, and you'll be going against traffic. (And echoing that I would take surface streets.) I live in Santa Monica; feel free to MeMail me if you have questions.

And welcome! There are a lot of meetups so let us know when you get here!
posted by Room 641-A at 9:05 PM on October 3, 2014

Jesus, man, just live in El Segundo.
It is not exactly hip and happenin but its lovely and getting increasingly walkable if you live near the downtown area. Main/Grand etc.
You should at least check it out. Be aware, the real El Segundo is WEST of Sepulveda. The big mall El Segundo is on the east side. There is no living there.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:28 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If cycling to work interests you, be aware that Imperial Highway has bike lanes starting at the beach bike path going east to Sepulveda. Thus you could live in Venice or Santa Monica and just ride down the bike path to Imperial Highway. From Mar Vista you could ride south through the neighborhood to the Ballona Creek bike path which meets up with the beach bike path.
posted by conrad53 at 7:27 AM on October 4, 2014

Ah. I just came back to mention that the Expo Line light rail line to Santa Monica is on schedule to finish next year which could expand your options greatly if you're interested in cycling from the pier to/from work. I'd look into Westchester, too, but stay away from LMU. (College students behaving like college students.)

And here's a recent question from someone moving here for a job in the marina that covers some of the same ground.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:50 AM on October 4, 2014

I'd say Santa Monica too if you want walkable, good libraries and access to the Expo line coming next year. It's very bikeable and walkable. To get from Santa Monica to El Segundo, you'd go down Lincoln Blvd or the beach route--which can be kind of beastly but to me, better than freeway traffic. I don't love that area of Palms that is linked in your question. It is walkable for many things but to me, Venice Blvd/Overland are busy ugly big streets so if you have a choice, I'd look elsewhere. The question is--what kind vibe do you want? Manhattan and Hermosa would be good too if you want a laid-back young/bar scene kind of town. It does feel far from downtown LA if you want to be venturing in that direction on weekends. Another possibility for you would be downtown Culver City if you want to be closer to the middle of the city and downtown. Your commute could still be streets. In any case, all of the towns mentioned you could avoid the 405 and easily get there by streets. Memail me if you have questions.
posted by biscuits at 9:03 AM on October 4, 2014

To contribute to one small part of your questions - I find the traffic feature of google maps to be very accurate. I often use it to plan my routes around LA and the estimated times are right-on, and accidents are reflected almost immediately. It's smart that you're checking your potential commute this way.
posted by le_salvo at 3:46 PM on October 4, 2014

Answering the side question: when I lived in LA (County) I had a LA County public library card and it was very functional, with the caveat that you will have to likely order books to come into your library. The particular branch library I lived closest to was very small, but I would almost always be able to find the book I was looking for in the system and have it delivered to my branch library.
posted by andrewesque at 1:03 PM on October 5, 2014

Response by poster: Following up, now that I've actually gotten a place! Not going to mark a best answer, because I found pretty much all of the responses helpful. But here are my notes:

- Things I could have mentioned in my original question, which I sort of wish I had because they ended up being relevant to my decision: I have family still living in the Inland Empire, which made proximity to the 10 a plus. I'm also a queer girl, and although I don't expect (or particularly want) my existence to center around West Hollywood, it still seems like maybe there'd be more going on for me socially on the Westside than the South Bay? Feels like there may be a follow-up AskMe coming on...

- I did not mention cycling either in my original question, but I'm glad people brought it up! I have entertained the idea of biking to work but never quite pulled the trigger on it. It did not really end up swaying me one way or the other, but it was good to consider.

- Turns out most of my coworkers live in the South Bay beach cities - but the bar/beach vibe that several people mentioned is not quite what I'm after.

- I thought briefly about Silver Lake/Echo Park, which a couple people brought up! I've heard that's kind of the cool and hip area, but it seemed a bit too far from work. I do have one coworker who lives up that way and says it's not too bad for her to get to work in the morning, about 30 minutes, but it can take an hour to get home at night. I'm pretty set on keeping it under 30 minutes each way, so that wouldn't work for me, but I can see it being a compromise someone else might be willing to make.

- I got temporarily put up in corporate housing in Marina del Rey near Venice Beach and it was nice and walkable - rainydayfilms was right on with that. It also sent me along most of the commute I was concerned about in my initial question, and confirmed that Google Maps is right (and so is lesalvo) - it's really not that bad, even during rush hour. The 405 gets a little sticky but rarely stops moving (slightly worse in the evenings than the mornings) and is MILES better than the opposing direction looks. Surface streets are kind of a toss-up for me - sometimes they go better than the freeway, but they definitely do have plenty of cars, and if you get stuck on the wrong stoplight cycle or something they can be annoying.

- I went and looked in El Segundo, and it is actually really cute around that Main/Grand area! Unfortunately, I didn't seem to be able to find very many apartment listings right near downtown there. If I was looking to share a house I might have had more luck. Also it seems like you'd constantly have LAX jet noise in the background, though it's at a low enough level that I imagine you'd be able to tune it out quite quickly.

- Once I got to Palms and saw it in person, I saw what people mean about it not necessarily feeling particularly walkable. There are things within walking distance, but it's not always very pleasant to get there, as biscuits mentioned with the big ugly busy streets. Plus a lot of the restaurants and such are in little strip malls, so it doesn't feel like you can just sort of stroll around and survey your options.

- Santa Monica has a really great feel and in some ways was the best match for what I was after, but it ended up being pretty pricey in the really best-looking locations. I could have made it work, but moving from the Bay Area, I was really looking forward to saving at least a little on rent.

- In the end, I did end up in Palms - but in the northeast corner, just across Venice from downtown Culver City, which just feels more walkable in the ways that most of Palms does not. And I'm kind of excited about the chance to see some plays or movies at the theaters! My rent also feels excitingly low to me, although like I said, I just moved from the Bay Area so my sense of that is all out of proportion. (I also looked at a couple apartments actually in Culver City - there were a lot fewer than in Palms, and they tended to run slightly higher in rent, but they were in quiet areas with a pleasant walk to downtown and would have been nice too.) Plus, I get to use the Expo Line right now - I've already taken it to the Central Library downtown, and it takes longer than it would to drive, but I get to sit and read on the trip, and I don't have to worry about parking!

So I'm pretty happy with where I ended up! Like I said, I found just about everybody's perspective useful and (as far as I can tell) accurate, so if anybody comes across this question later with similar geography but different priorities, I think they could use the answers here to help sort through what's right for them. Nice work, MeFi!
posted by sigmagalator at 11:35 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a meet-up this weekend right in your neck of the woods, and another one already planned for December in DTLA. Welcome to L.A.!
posted by Room 641-A at 9:46 PM on November 17, 2014

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