Random urge to move (again)
November 13, 2005 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Thinkingaboutmovingfilter: We're thinking about moving to LA, right now we're in suburban DC. We've done most of the usual research, but LA just seems SO different I'm sure there's stuff we haven't even thought of. For example, I keep wondering how much of a difference things like the increased number of poisonous things will actually make to daily life. Just how different will it be and why?

Different is not bad, I think we're pretty sick of almost everything about DC and the east coast generally. I'm also not too concerned about moving logistics, this will be my second major move in 2 years (from London). Nightlife and jobs also aren't too much of a concern, I think we have that covered. I know the traffic will be awful, I get the idea that living expenses will be about the same. We want somewhere culturally different, and our work kind-of limits where we can go. I've liked LA a lot on brief visits.

What I want to know about are the little details that don't necessarily occur to you about a place. Is LAX an awful airport to use? Will the smog make us sick? Is the average apartment much bigger or smaller than DC? (I'm not trying to get 100 questions in to one, just thinking of the kind of random thing that I have no idea about) Also, I've never lived somewhere that seemed as 'hostile' as southern California, is that a daily consideration? I drive most of the day, will I have to be worrying about snakes? or about our cats eating a black widow? or about fires? This probably seems stupid to you if you live in LA, but I grew up somewhere where practically nothing "natural" can kill you. What other random things we should be thinking about?
posted by crabintheocean to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Easterner transplanted to LA here. One important point that you touched on is traffic. Especially for someone from another place (and from London and DC), the generally poor state of mass transit will be an eye-opener. So, unless you're lucky enough to live close to your workplace, you will rely on your car, and on the roads.

You mention that you drive most of the day; is that part of your job? Do you know where you will be living and/or working? If you can fill in those blanks, we can better advise you.
posted by rob511 at 9:48 PM on November 13, 2005

LA is a big big city, so this is all neighborhood-dependent. I live in eastern LA, about 45 minutes from downtown (in light traffic), and we worry about fires and smog (although it's never made me sick). My friend lives on the coast, and he worries about mud-slides and traffic on the 405. Smog isn't really that big of a deal in LA - it's much worse in the central valley of California, IMO.

LAX is better than most of the other international airports I've been in - Logan, Heathrow, O'Hare - it's pretty modern and well-laid out. Traffic getting to terminal can be pretty nasty though - on the day before thanksgiving last year, it took me 1hr to get to within a mile from the freeway exit, 1hr to get from there to the terminal, and 45 minutes to get back home.
posted by muddgirl at 9:57 PM on November 13, 2005

Response by poster: I think we'd both be working out of the area near the World Trade Centre - she'd be in the office, I'd be driving all over the place (my job isn't regular locations or hours). We live in the sprawly part of Alexandria and only use our cars right now, and I think we're resigned to it staying that way. No real ideas about where to live, but our big mid-century apartment building is one of the main things keeping us in NoVa. You can probably tell that this move is still in the 'could we really do that?' stage!
posted by crabintheocean at 9:58 PM on November 13, 2005

I lived in San Diego for a long time and made frequent trips to LA. The big question is where in LA? When people say "LA" it can mean different things as really, LA is more a collection of suburban communities than a "city" like San Francisco, Chicago, NY, Boston, etc. The big zero for me is the daily fight with the freeways. A close second would be that the LA of even 20 years ago is gone, it has undergone a cultural transformation that would make it unrecognizable to people who haven't been lately. Frankly, illegal immigration has changed Los Angeles forever. I don't mean that in any kind of "racist" way, it's just a fact. More info on where you are looking in "LA" would help.

posted by Independent Scholarship at 9:58 PM on November 13, 2005

Well, you answered my question as I was writing. What part of LA do you plan to live?
posted by Independent Scholarship at 10:00 PM on November 13, 2005

No, you don't have to worry about snakes, unless you're in the mountains hiking. I haven't seen a snake the entire 17 years I've lived here. None of my animals have ever eaten a black widow spider, either. However, you have to be careful of owls and coyotes when it comes to small housepets. If your cats are inside cats, you have nothing to worry about. I've also only seen a coyote three times in my 17 years. The smog is, sadly, something your lungs will adjust to. Although the air quality is not the best, it has drastically improved in the last decade. LAX is not "awful" if you live near it. The awful part is getting to it. When I lived in Venice, it was an awesome airport. But, now that I live in Pasadena, I use Burbank. Admittedly, you can't fly anything but coach, but it's only a 20 minute drive as opposed to a 90 minute to 2 hour drive, and some days, in bad traffic, it can take 3-4 hours.

The worst part of this city is it's traffic. It only gets worse every year. For that reason, many people pretty much stay within a 5 mile radius where the live and grocery shop and hang out and go to movies.

The best part of this city is there are some wonderful restaurants, and great neighborhoods. I always loved Venice. The shops on Abbot Kinney stay open late on weekends because there is a lot of neighborhood traffic to restaurants in the area. On Abbott Kinney are a number of good restaurants like Joe's, an excellent, highly rated restaurant, Capri, a great small restaurant with a great wine list, and good food. Abbot Pizza Company has some of the best pizza in the city. I lived at Hal's when my kitchen was being redone.

I loved that I could park my car in the garage and walk to anything I needed except a movie theater. By walk, I'm talking like a good twenty minutes through a residential area. It's not like NY, where it's across the street.

The weather at the water is great, you'll avoid the 90-110 degree heat that we have inland for a few months in the summer. It's usually 70-75 degrees there. The smog effect is less because the wind blows the smog off.

Avoid the area we call The Valley for heat and smog. All the smog settles there. I live in Pasadena now, and I hate the summers, but in the fall there's a real mountain air feeling. It's a beautiful place because it's dense with trees, and I can sit outside at night and hear crickets. Also, I just got in my car with three friends and we drove 45 minutes up into the mountains and had dinner at a little podunk restaurant tucked along the road.

The one thing LA has that people here don't even know about, are all these amazing hidden wildernesses. What many people don't realize is that a ten minute drive and a twenty minute hike in so many of these hills brings you to hidden waterfalls, and tucked away campgrounds, and beautiful, quiet, tree covered hiking paths. This was a big camping area from the 1800's to 1920's, and all those trails, and even historic old cabins remain hidden in hundreds of beautiful hiking paths.
posted by generic230 at 10:06 PM on November 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

I lived in LA 24 years and never saw a snake outside a zoo. Ditto for the black widow spiders. Fire is a danger if you live in the canyons (or if there's a riot). The smog is not so bad, less of a problem than in years past. And the weather is so beautiful - that you will really enjoy.

On the other hand, the traffic is brutal. I know it is bad, too, in Beltway land, but LA traffic is something else. You will "drive most of the day" - to me that would be very unpleasant in the unrelenting bumper-to-bumper traffic. It will be the highlight of your day if you get to shift into 3rd gear. You worry about the wildlife - worry instead about carjackings and drivers brandishing guns.

LAX is awful, but there are other options. Burbank, Long Beach, and John Wayne airports - all reasonable and lower stress.
posted by richg at 10:14 PM on November 13, 2005

OK, thanks for the feedback. I second generic's advice strongly: LA has some seriously good points, else why would people continue to flock there? Climate, "wilderness," good food, the ocean -- check, check, check, check. But this goodness will have to outweigh the drawbacks for you.

So could I ask for one more piece of info: what is it you've liked about LA, and that would make you want to move there?
posted by rob511 at 10:19 PM on November 13, 2005

you will be working near the world trade center? plan on an ugly commute no matter how you cut it. it's near the staples center in a part of town that... not too many people i know would be willing to live near.

also, are you sure you are talking about the world trade center in los angeles, and not the one in long beach?

LA's public transit is a nightmare, but MTA has a really good website that will help you figure out if it is an option.

my suggestion, if you work in downtown, is (if you're a yuppie) live in the valley and take the red line or (if you're more of a hipster type) live in west hollywood and still take the red line. some might advise west LA, but i've never been a fan.
posted by bryak at 11:36 PM on November 13, 2005

One thing to be aware of is Valley Fever, Coccidioidomycosis. This is a fungal infection native to the area; it lives as spores in the dust. Most people and animals fight it off without trouble, but if you or your pets have weakened immune systems, it's something to watch out for. Let your doctor and vet know you have just moved to the area. Symptoms are flu-like and treatment is available. It's especially common in years of drought or earthquakes.

Speaking of earthquakes, yes, Los Angeles has them. Be prepared, be educated on procedure, and then after your first one, you'll probably go, "What? Is THAT all?"

Rattlesnakes are rare except in very wild areas. Black widows like to live in woodsheds and old barns and such but you don't find them in the city much. Depending on where you move, just ask your neighbors about local wildlife; unless you're going to go live on a ranch or something, you'll probably never see any wildlife other than seagulls and cockroaches.

LA life is fast, glittering, and a bit harsh. Everything, everyone, seems to be a bit 'amped'. It can be exciting; it can be exhausting. I was born and raised in SoCal but now after years in the mellow Pacific Northwest, I can barely stand to go back there; it's like bathing in static. But many people cannot imagine living anywhere else; it is their love and life. Good luck and best wishes, I hope it works out well for you.
posted by Rubber Soul at 12:09 AM on November 14, 2005

One day in LA, I picked up my TV Guide off the sofa. A black spider came out, and I disabled it to look. Sure enough, red hour-glass on the belly. Oops. This was just over the border from South Pasadena. Pity. The air there was incredible. Somehow, that side of Arroyo Seco was much cooler than the opposite side. In winter, I could smell snow from the mountains.

Last time I lived in SoCal, I was in Huntington Beach, down in Orange County. Contrary to what I've read, I did not encounter teaming masses of rabid right wingers. I wasn't looking for them, either, and it was before their rise to prominence. (1996). It was beautiful there.

I also lived in Long Beach, and liked that. It only gets hot there when the Santa Anna winds blow (wind blowing out to sea). This was before the rail system was built. The commute to downtown LA was doable. I doubt it still is though.

My cat had no problems going out in South Pasadena. Only problem was a little burr that got stuck in a tender place. Being a very clever cat (Best Cat Ever), she made sure I became aware of her problem. The vet removed it, I was too afraid I'd hurt her.

Back in the late 80's, I really hated LA over all. It was the people. It used to be said that LA was 10 million images, searching for personality. Perhaps that has changed in ways other than the number of images. My opinion is colored as a Gay man.
posted by Goofyy at 2:20 AM on November 14, 2005

I have lived on both coasts and have lived in L.A. for five years this time around. To address your specific questions: I don't think LAX is that horrible, but I fly out of only a handful of terminals. If you're going to fly America West or Southwest, use Burbank instead. They share a terminal at LAX and it's not really conducive to anything resembling order or logic.

The traffic sucks, sure. Public transportation is lacking with few exceptions; for example, if I were to take the bus/train from my home just outside downtown to my former office near LAX, it would take one bus, three trains, and two+ hours. Keep that in mind when looking for a place to live.

If you're going to live anywhere near downtown (for example, if you're going to work near the WTC that's by the Staples Center, not in Long Beach, as mentioned above), you can live in one of the many loft buildings that are being built in and around downtown. I'm not really a fan of gentrification, but if you're concerned with that sort of thing, some parts of downtown and nearby environs are being renovated at a pretty fast pace and are not as dangerous as people think.

As you may have noticed, I can ramble on about this topic for many, many paragraphs, so if you want to discuss the pros and cons, etc., my e-mail address is in my profile.
posted by bedhead at 3:24 AM on November 14, 2005

I was raised in DC, and in the late 80s fell in love with the idea of moving to LA. I finally did in the winter of 1990. When I first got there it was way cool. I lived near the beach (Playa del Rey) and went to the ocean every day. But LA and I never meshed. The people I would meet were either "Industry" types (read: Hollywood) and wouldn't give the time of day to anyone who couldn't advance their career, or they lived in Riverside (or anywhere) and it would take a lot of planning just to get together. The joke was that everything in LA was 45 minutes from everything else. I imagine that number has gone up. The traffic sucked, and even commuting between the beach communities I lived in (Playa del Rey, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, El Segundo) and Santa Monica or Westwood for work would take a lot of time and stress. In short I was miserable and missed things about the east coast (like changing seasons). By the time I left 4 or so years later I hadn't been to the beach in years (other than for Coastal Cleanup Day).

And while I could easily blame my dislike of the town on the fact that I lived there during one of its darkest periods (Bush I recession, OJ, Rodney King beating, race riots, gang fighting, fires, flooding, Northridge earthquake), I just didn't feel I was LA material.

Speaking of earthquakes, if you haven't experienced one, here is my take...

When I first got to LA I didn't understand why natives freaked out when a little rolling earthquake would occur. I'd be at a bar and the floor would move and I'd be saying "cool! It's like surfing!" and all these other people who be looking for a place to cover. When the '94 quake hit at 4:31 am I was literally thrown from my bed, the house shook for what felt like an eternity, car alarms were going off everywhere and dogs were barking. It was scary, and I was in Redondo Beach, not Northridge or Santa Monica. My building my office in Santa Monica was in was closed for a long time and we couldn't get in to get our stuff. When I was first allowed in, I saw a huge chunk of wall sitting on my chair, where it landed after apparently slamming into my computer. The company I was working for was involved in helping people identify sources of money for recovery and so I had to drive around Northridge assessing damage on behalf of the city. Wow.

On the east coast one can prepare for hurricanes or even tornados to some extent. But there is no way to prepare for an earthquake and no way to prepare for how it will affect you.

It may be 72 degrees most of the time, but I assure you it isn't all sunshine and rose bowls. As soon as I could scrounge the money to leave, I high-tailed it back to DC.

Well, at least until I got sick of DC again and moved to Vermont. :)

Good luck with your decision.
posted by terrapin at 6:27 AM on November 14, 2005

my suggestion, if you work in downtown, is (if you're a yuppie) live in the valley and take the red line or (if you're more of a hipster type) live in west hollywood and still take the red line. some might advise west LA, but i've never been a fan.

If you work in downtown, I wouldn't live in the valley or westside, they're too far, and the Valley weather and smog is trully dangerous. I suggest Pasadena, where I live now. It's really quite pretty, and has a great old town area, nice restaurants, and as I mentioned before, LOTS of trees. It's a 30-40 minute commute to downtown on the 110. OR, the Metro gets there in 28 minutes, it's clean and easy enough to use that my 72 year old mother took it every day when she had jury duty.

Another great neighborhood is Silver Lake. It, again, is only about 30 minutes by car from downtown. Silver Lake has a lot of artist/bohemian types, a fantastic cheese shop, a great Mexican retsurant and nearby art house movie theaters.

Then there's Los Feliz, a little bit fancier, a few more trees, and again 30 minutes to downtown. It's near the fantastic Griffith Park, and some very good restaurants.

The problem with West Hollywood is, it's far from the freeways and this often makes it harder to get to and from places. This has been my experience at least. Like, when I lived in Venice, it was a 35 minute commute to Burbank (about 25 miles) or, 45 minutes to West Hollywood via streets (15 miles). It's a great area, just hard to get to.

Lastly, you could live dowtown. There are some areas that are really coming up, there is an amazing other world there. Little cultural and ethnic pockets. I have a few friends who have moved there in the last few years. I don't know much about where the good places to live are, but if you want to know, you can email me and I will find out.
posted by generic230 at 8:26 AM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: And herre's a contrasting opinion -- I Love LA! And I moved there from DC in '87. Unfortunately, now I live in NoCal, and I miss SoCal, would like to move back, visit whenever I can.

Here's a comment about things poisonous: mosquitoes. You're leaving 'em behind. Only insect problem I had was with fleas, when I had an indoor-outdoor cat, living at the beach. Hardly any insects in SoCal, compared with back east.

Earthquakes can be a problem (and I was there for Northridge '94) but I far prefer trading that risk with driving on ice in DC winters.

As for driving, yes, traffic's bad, depending on where you go, but it's hellish in DC also. In both places, they key to pleasant living is getting a place as close to the job as possible. And I find way more options in California, there's something about DC housing market that's awfully locked up. Oh and in DC, the year lease is mandatory -- not so in California. Many apartment situations start off month-to-month (hard to believe, but true). One more thing about commuting -- many people in LA wouldn't dream of taking the bus (just like in DC) but an MTA bus on the whole is a much nicer ride than a shuddering, under-maintained Metrobus.

And LAX is fine, much easier to handle than BWI.

posted by Rash at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2005

LA was one of the least natually hostile places I've ever been. The weather is perfect, never saw a snake, and there are no mosquitos.

If you're worried about culture shock, consider Pasadena. It's suburban without being soulless and there is easy access to down on the Gold Line.
posted by 4easypayments at 9:16 AM on November 14, 2005

And by "down", I mean "downtown".
posted by 4easypayments at 9:16 AM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: I'm an LA native that went to college back east and now live back in LA.

Here are the concerns for quality of life:

1) Traffic
2) Housing cost/location
3) Schools

My number one bit of advice is to live close to where you work. Traffic is a mind killer in LA. If you are working downtown, you DO NOT want to live on the Westside. The 10 Freeway commute is the THE WORST in all of LA.

If you can stay withing a 15 minute drive of work, you will have less stress and more free time. Considering a 1 hour commute in LA is insanity. If you are working downtown, perhaps Silverlake.

Housing - Get what you can afford in a place you enjoy walking around. Right now, house prices are sky high, so renting is better. Prices should be comparable to DC.

Schools - If you see kids in the next 5 years, try to live in a 'good school' area now. Waiting until kids are ready for school and are even pregnant will leave you lesser prepared for when schools are of primary concern.

Your questions:

LAX - A good airport, easy access.

Smog - If you have asthma, you will notice the bad days in summer. Otherwise, no.

Average apartment size - From what I've seen visiting my brother in DC, you get the same size, but newer construction.

Snakes & black widows - You won't see these ever.

Fires - Unless you live in the hills or the far suburbs, you won't deal with them at all.

Good things about LA:

1) No winter/snow
2) Best weather in the US
3) Easy access to surf & skiing
4) Easy access to hiking and other wilderness
5) Every type of restaurant possible
6) The Arclight
7) Overall friendly attitude (compared to East Coast gruff)
8) Did I mention no winter/snow

Bad things about LA:
1) Traffic
2) Traffic
3) Traffic
4) Lack of a pro football team
posted by Argyle at 9:55 AM on November 14, 2005

And I might add, the reason "LA seems SO different" is conditioning by East Coast media bias -- they have this weird need to slam LA (wacky Lotus-landers, etc). After a few weeks out here, you'll wonder what all that fuss was about.

But regarding asthma and smog, well -- I didn't have asthma when I arrived. When I left, I did. It hasn't gone away.

posted by Rash at 10:24 AM on November 14, 2005

Oh, and if you rent get used to the fact that most apartments do not have refrigerators (or sometimes stoves, etc) and you will need to buy one yourself. Obviously this means there is a large market for used appliances.

I have to disagree with #7 on Argyles list. Most people I met were either distant or plastic. When I would tell coworkers I had a conversation with my neighbors (and I worked in the nonprofit world) they would usually reply "You know your neigbors?" as if it was the most foreign thing in the world.

Oh, and I am sure crabintheocean is aware of all the great restaurants in DC, and you can take the Metro to get to them and not have to drive 45 minutes ;)

I met a lot of wonderful people there, but I truely believe there are east coast types of people, and west coast types and I am apparently an east coast type. YMMV.
posted by terrapin at 10:30 AM on November 14, 2005

I moved from Laurel MD, to LA, and I worked in the building directly across the walking bridge from the World Trade Center (BP Plaza).

As others have said, the culture is extremely different. Lifestyle is faster and much, much more expensive. There are few trees and it's kind of amazing how much concrete is everywhere. Unless you live way out in the toolies, you can expect to live on top of a lot of other people. Population density in LA is incredible. When we moved to Denver we went through culture shock seeing actual open space.

LA is the kind of place that you either love or hate. We left at the first opportunity (after about six years), but I have friends there who wouldn't consider living anywhere else.

As far as commuting, I lived in five different areas and my easiest commutes were from Pasadena (I lived right by the 110 freeway, it took me 12 minutes to get to work) and from West LA (I lived by the Bundy exit on the 10 freeway). The way I made my commute bearable was by getting to work between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. though. Otherwise you're in for a treat. I also found a lot of fast sidestreet work arounds to freeway traffic so it is possible (and if you end up moving there and need tips on shortcuts to that area of downtown you can email me).
posted by Kimberly at 10:42 AM on November 14, 2005

Oh yeah ... and if you will be driving around a lot, living near a freeway is key (and not all that hard to do). If you don't, getting to the freeway can take as long as your entire trip down the freeway.
posted by Kimberly at 10:44 AM on November 14, 2005

If you take the advice given here, and wind up in Pasadena (or across the Arroyo, in Highland Park) commuting downtown on the the 110 freeway, it'ill give you the willies -- too-tight curves, sudden exit ramps, etc. This is because it was the first-ever freeway, built before experience was gained -- like the GW Parkway, it was designed for much slower traffic than we have nowadays.

A word about the people. A lot of LA people work in The Industry (that would be movies, TV, music -- show business). These fit the stereotype Kimberly's describing, and don't understand (or even acknowledge) folks who work elsewhere. But great numbers of people in the Southland are NOT associated with The Industry -- seek them out, and avoid Industry types (or better yet, laugh at and pity them, once you learn to recognize the breed).
posted by Rash at 10:58 AM on November 14, 2005

My friend, being afraid of beasties in LA is like not wanting to go to Australia because there are crocodiles somewhere. I promise that you are getting worked up over nothing, unless you routinely walk in remote areas and stick your hand down holes in the ground. Anything that can possibly hurt you 1) does not live in the city and 2) will do anything in its power to avoid you.

Earthquakes are scary. But when you consider the number of people they affect (tens of millions at once) versus the number of people who actually get hurt or killed, you won't be so afraid. Your chances of getting hurt are very, very low.

In fact, you have a much greater chance of having a car accident or slipping on an icy sidewalk (in DC) than you do of being hurt by any of these exotic threats.

LA has it's own unique character, to be sure, but not any more so than any other city. There are always rude people, friendly people, weirdos, etc. Just remember that it's a collection of neighborhoods, and where you choose to live will make a difference. If you can, get a month-month lease and spend some time getting acquainted with the place before you decide to settle down. As in any city, there are places which are absolutely delightful.

The smog literally makes me ill, because I have asthma. There is much less of it the closer you are to the coast. For me, the worst problem is the endless miles of ugly strip malls, parking lots, etc. It just sucks the life out of me.

Sitting in traffic is part of the lifestyle. You find ways around it sometimes, talk on the phone, listen to audio books, or whatever you can do to keep from going crazy.

If you are an urban type, and are still considering the idea of moving, why don't you try living in a place that is more your style, like San Francisco or Seattle? Maybe a better fit.

Whatever you do, best of luck to you.
posted by shifafa at 11:14 AM on November 14, 2005

A big problem with Californians in general is their dislike of immigrants, and I can understand -- things were great Before, but it's all gone to shit because so many of You People From Elsewhere moved here! It can be a hard nut to crack, getting friendly with the natives -- ideally, the hard-core been-here-for-generations types would be forced to live Elsewhere for a while, so they'd learn what a great deal they get here (and to free up space for the rest of us).
posted by Rash at 11:18 AM on November 14, 2005

The one thing LA has that people here don't even know about, are all these amazing hidden wildernesses. What many people don't realize is that a ten minute drive and a twenty minute hike in so many of these hills brings you to hidden waterfalls, and tucked away campgrounds, and beautiful, quiet, tree covered hiking paths.

generic320, please elaborate! If not publicly, my email's in the profile. I don't live in LA anymore, but I love to look for exactly those kinds of places when I return to visit.
posted by weston at 1:15 PM on November 14, 2005

There is one poison to keep firmly in mind: oleander. This handsome flowering pink or white bush grows everywhere in LA, and is quite deadly when consumed. I have a friend whose family became very ill after cooking food over oleander twigs while camping. As a native, I got the lecture at age 4, and am regularly amazed to realize that newcomers have no idea that it's a danger.
posted by Scram at 1:30 PM on November 14, 2005

A big problem with Californians in general is their dislike of immigrants

That's ridiculous. California has a major funding crisis trying to fund social services for illegal immigrantion. It's not a mere problem with hospitality toward immigrants.
posted by Independent Scholarship at 11:03 AM on November 15, 2005

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