Looking for a neighborhood in Los Angeles
March 24, 2015 1:30 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are considering a move to Los Angeles. I have gathered from previous questions and short visits that thinking of "Los Angeles" as one giant city is both overwhelming and not actually helpful in figuring out whether or not we would be happy there. Can you help us narrow down our thinking to specific neighborhoods that might be a good fit?

I have checked out some previous questions, but it's hard to tell what information is still up-to-date.

Ideally, we would like to live in a walkable neighborhood that is within easy commuting distance (either via transit or bike) to USC, where my partner has been offered a position. I will continue to do mostly freelance work from home, or from a few great coffee shops in our new neighborhood (this is where you come in...). It is important to us that we live in a neighborhood that has a grocery store, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. within walking distance. My partner has a driver's license, but I do not -- it would be ideal for us if we could do most of what we need to do (commute, grocery shop, some socializing) either on foot or by public transit, and to maybe use a car share service on the occasional weekend. (Are car share services a thing in LA like they are in the Northeast?)

To give some context, we currently live in Philadelphia (Cedar Park/West Philly), and really love it -- it's a city of tight neighborhoods with lots of great food, theaters, music venues, etc, and we don't drive anywhere on a regular basis. We like having green space in our neighborhood, shopping/working at our local food coop, and having independent and used book stores and record stores nearby. We enjoy taking short (and long) Amtrak trips to visit other cities, and we also travel by air quite a bit.

My partner's position in LA is only temporary (two years), so we're not thinking about long-term settling so much as a short-term adventure. We will definitely be renting. We are both 30 years old, no kids, one cat, and have never lived farther west than Chicago or Cleveland.
posted by CtrlAltDelete to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Los Feliz is my first instinct. It's walkable, close-ish to USC, and has literally everything you describe wanting, including Griffith Park. You'll pay for it, but that's true of any area with the qualities you're interested in, especially the walkability factor.
posted by incessant at 1:39 PM on March 24, 2015

Trying to keep you closer to the transit lines:

South Pasadena, if you're near the Metro station at Mission. Walkable, good public transit access and a short ride to USC-ish: Cute! You could go further north into Pasadena along the same train route, or further south and be in Highland Park, which is touted as the "new Silverlake" (hipster millenials and their precious stuff), but is still in transition (not all the OGs appreciate the gentrification).

The "Arts District" downtown. More and more services becoming available as the millenials cart in the precious.

You might look West along the Metro Subway (Wilshire into K-Town), although those neighborhoods don't seem to have benefited from the rail the way others have. Maybe that's due for a change?
posted by notyou at 1:53 PM on March 24, 2015

Living "close to USC" typically means that you are not living in a very nice place. If you can define that constraint a little better, it may help. If that constraint is tight, we are picking the best of the worst. If that constraint is loose, there are many more pleasant options.

The downtown scene in particular has made large strides in being a more pleasant residential place, I would see that as being an option. If you need the "indy" feel you are talking about Los Feliz, Echo Park, or Silver Lake but I wouldn't call any of those "close" or "walkable" to USC...
posted by milqman at 1:55 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also USC has several campuses that are not close to each other (http://www.usc.edu/admission/graduate/learn/campuses.html). Clarify which one your partner is at for better answers?
posted by holyrood at 1:57 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lot of the people i know at USC commute by train (or train + free shuttle from Union Station) from Pasadena. Living near downtown Pasadena will get to walking distance to the train, grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants etc. Zipcar does operate in Pasadena.
posted by kbuxton at 1:58 PM on March 24, 2015

A buddy of mine used to bike commute from Miracle Mile to USC. The transit backup would involve a bus (Purple Line extension won't be close to done if you're there only 2 years), but at least there's an express bus down Wilshire to the Expo line. Lots of great walkability around the Farmer's Market.
posted by hwyengr at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of commuting from Pasadena by train because Pasadena is a lovely, stately beautiful old community in Los Angeles. My son has expressed interest in attending USC and I would hands down explore the idea of putting him in a loft in downtown Los Angeles, preferably in a historic building, even an outlier, one that is maybe on the fringe of things. Downtown L.A. is happening now, with an abundance of urban professionals and new exciting restaurants, clubs and nightlife opening every week it seems. From downtown, you can hop a train at Grand Central to, well, Pasadena, Hollywood, and maybe even Santa Monica (it's coming…just not sure when). You can even catch buses to Las Vegas (imagine). Read a book, and presto, you're in Vegas. Or take the Pacific Surfliner train to all points in San Diego, including North County beach towns, or even Santa Barbara. Point being, the convenience and exciting renaissance of downtown Los Angeles can't be beat.
posted by zagyzebra at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2015

Los Feliz is no where near USC and has no rail station. By car you might pop on to the 5 and drive through DTLA to USC. Doesn't sound fun.

Everything near USC is, IDK, kinda dangerous? Not safely walkable.

DTLA is a pretty good bet for most of what you name, and you can and should do that. Most of The Arts District is not currently near easy rail transport, DTLA is sprawling in and of itself, so stay central DTLA. I say this as someone who actually takes buses and rail into different parts of DTLA on occasion - some destinations are easy, some require bus trips between sketchy areas you should not feel comfortable walking through, even though I've walked most of it without incident. I wouldn't make a habit of it, odds would not be in your favor due to poverty and drug abuse. Things in DTLA are are far apart sometimes, the physical area it inhabits is sprawling. So, be aware as you start to investigate the area.

Pasadena and South Pasadena are really awesome and I would live there if I did not live where I do (Hollywood.WeHo.) Check rail times, I imagine it is about 25 to 35 minutes. They have a robust arm of the rail system with many stops.

You can get to USC via a combo of bus and rail from my area of Hollywood/Weho in 45 minutes. Driving is not easy due to traffic and no direct traffic friendly routes, IMO, so I guestimate an hour in good traffic.

KoreaTown might work to public transport (15 to 25 min to USC) and walking neighborhood, but it is a bit dangerous.

The rail line that goes directly to USC (Expo Line) goes all the way from DTLA and travels along the West Side of LA, so conceivably, you could live close to the beach if you wanted. I only take the Expo from 7th & Metro (DTLA) to USC area, so you have to look at a map. The Expo Line of the West Side has been under construction for years. From Culver City on the West Side to USC by rail is about 30 min, or so.
posted by jbenben at 2:25 PM on March 24, 2015

I used to live in Los Feliz (or Los Feliz-ish, by the Vista Theater) and commute downtown on the Red Line from the Vermont/Sunset Station. I think you'd have to transfer to Silver to get to USC. For everyday life, my partner and I didn't really have to use a car- it's a very walkable neighborhood with plenty to do. To socialize, we usually drove elsewhere to meet friends, but it's easy enough to get a carshare or just take Lyft/Uber (better than driving if you're drinking, anyway, obviously).
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:33 PM on March 24, 2015

"Los Feliz is no where near USC and has no rail station. "

You don't know what the hell you're talking about. The Los Feliz rail station is at Sunset and Vermont (Red Line). My wife takes it pretty much every day to the USC Medical Campus.

To get to the main USC campus, you would take the Expo Line from 7th and Metro, which you can transfer to. The Expo Line extension means that you can live pretty far west now too, including neighborhoods like Culver and Palms, and still be an easy train ride to the main campus. We have a friend (another MeFite) that lives in Echo Park and bikes to main campus every day.

The biggest problem you're going to face on the east(ish) side is the lack of green space. West LA has relatively fewer cultural opportunities, and is more suburban.
posted by klangklangston at 3:14 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Los Feliz rail station is at Sunset and Vermont (Red Line). My wife takes it pretty much every day to the USC Medical Campus.

Technically I take the red line to Union Station, then the USC bus to work. USC runs buses from Union Station to two campuses regularly during the day, less regularly in the evening, and not at all between ~10 pm-5 am or weekends. If you work a regular schedule the buses are great. For nights/weekends you can take Metro buses from Union to either campus but these can be packed and irregular.

It is going to be hard to make friends while constrained to walking or transit for socializing. There are vast parts of the city that you just can't get to easily, or where transit is really scarce in evenings/weekends. I would recommend picking up cheap bikes, maybe.

For your requirements (grocery, restaurants, coffee, potentially people to meet in the 'hood, public transit to USC) I'd suggest Los Feliz, Highland Park near the Gold Line if you like being gentrifiers, downtown if you have lots of money and don't mind loud drunk people everywhere (it's 'happening' so it's like $2k to rent a loft now), South Pasadena near the Gold Line if you have lots of money and like a quiet surburban feeling area, Culver City or Palms near the Culver City Expo Line.

If you've visited, where have you had fun? Overlay that with a Metro map and see if you can make it work.
posted by holyrood at 3:57 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hey! I just moved to LA from Philly last summer.

Philly and LA are very different cities, so there's nothing quite like West Philly or any of the other neighborhoods. Silverlake, Echo Park and Highland Park do come close though. I landed in Los Feliz, which is a great neighborhood but lacks some of the rough around the edges charm the best neighborhoods in Philly have. South Pasadena is similar with a more small town feel. Both neighborhoods are very wealthy. Pasadena is ok but I personally wouldn't want to live there.

I've been here about 9 months now and have done quite well without a car. I do plan on buying one before the end of the summer though. Try to live near the gold or redline.
posted by AtoBtoA at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2015

I'm a huge fan of Echo Park. You can take the 200 down Alvarado to USC or take the 4's downtown and hop the Expo from there. Sunset is pretty walkable and you have the lake.

Los Feliz/Highland Park are nice, but you're gonna get farther away from USC. The area around USC is bad and I say this as someone who has lived in many bad neighborhoods in my life.

If you did want to do westside, Culver City/Palms isn't bad and has a downtown area. You'd have access to the 733 and the Expo Metro line, but rents can be a little nutty.

Koreatown is another option- Great public transport (Red/Purple Lines and plenty of buses. There are two that go down Vermont to USC), but literally do not even think you will ever, not ever, get a street parking spot. Ever. Period.

Feel free to e-mail me for more depth! I lived here for 2 years going to USC without a car, so this is in my wheelhouse.
posted by GilloD at 4:56 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I live in Downtown, and there's no local market (except for a very expensive gourmet place), and while I can walk to my local coffee shop/roaster and bakery, it's not picturesque. There's a new apartment development on Santa Fe, but you'd be hard pressed to bike to USC from it, as you'd cross two freeways.
Hancock Park is pricey, but walkable, and fairly easy to get to USC. South Pasadena, Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, but if you're up in the hills, you're not going to want to do a lot of grocery shopping on foot.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:03 PM on March 24, 2015

I live in downtown LA. It's an extremely convenient and fun neighborhood (Last Bookstore! Cole's! Art Walk! The Smell!) but you pay dearly for the privilege.

Los Feliz is very nice, as is Highland Park. Nthed for Koreatown or the Mid-City/Grove area for commutes to the USC area. I also recommend Palms or Culver City on the West Side, but keep in mind that commutes will be a bit longer.

As a fellow east coast expat (moved here from NY just over a year ago), here are four things I wish I knew earlier:

1. Don't pay for Westside Retals. I guarantee you someone you know in LA will have an active password for it.

2. Walkscore.com is one of the most helpful apartment hunting tools you can find here. Their scores aren't perfect by any means, but are one of the best metrics of whether you can do grocery shopping/hang out in a coffee shop/drop off dry cleaning within a quick walk of the house.

3. Public transportation in LA is a lot dicier than SEPTA or the MTA in NYC. The subways and light rail are fine (with the exception of late at night), but I've had a few occasions, especially on the east side, where bus rides became uncomfortable due to either severe overcrowding, long traffic, or mentally ill/violent passengers causing situations. YMMV; with that said, Lyft and Uber in LA are plentiful and awesome.

4. LA people are weird with hanging out after work. If your friends work in USC and live in Culver City, expect them to rush back to Culver City soon after work ends to beat the traffic. And forget getting them to come to Sherman Oaks for a weekend barbecue. Make sure you're living in a neighborhood with local folks you enjoy doing stuff with.

Hope that helps!
posted by huskerdont at 5:11 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I live in Mid-Wilshire/the Grove/Miracle Mile, having also just moved from Philadelphia in the last year. We picked this area specifically for its walkability, since I could not drive when we moved here. Loads of grocery stores, the Farmer's Market, and also several weekly farmer's markets; there are a lot of independent movie theaters and events around, and there are still a lot of smaller shops and boutiques. Many museums! Very walkable by LA standards-- not only are there grocery stores, there's a hardware store, a hospital, many dentists/doctors, drugstores, and two malls within walking distance. Several coffee shops with varying degrees of fancy coffee. A large number of restaurants within a fifteen or twenty minute walk. Several medium-sized parks with soccer fields or picnic areas. It is, however, nothing like West Philly, and I'm not sure there is a bookstore outside of a museum for a decent distance. USC is two buses away, which isn't bad, though not as convenient as areas on the Expo line. (I take buses sporadically and it's been okay. Maybe better than Septa buses for some routes; the Wilshire buses tend to be very, very crowded around rush hour/school hours. I honestly miss the R5, and that's not easy to say.) There are bikers in this area though there is also far too much traffic and not enough urban planning for pedestrians/bikes, so there are a lot of intersections that are frankly dangerous-- there are routes that avoid the worst of it and I do see bikers commuting every day.

Good luck with your search and with your move!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:34 PM on March 24, 2015

I live in Echo Park and work just north of the USC University Park Campus. Echo Park lacks a rail stop, but it has bus lines radiating out in every direction. Sadly still no zip cars in the neighborhood. The closest are at Union Station a mile or two away. I use lyft a lot more than I use zipcar. USC however is lousy with zipcars.

There is a lot I like about living in Echo Park. Friday evening farmer's market. I get my bread from a panaderia or a Vietnamese bakery. There is a massive variety of cheap produce to be had at the asian grocery (A-1 Gocery Warehouse or whatever the fuck it's called). Or you can get slightly pricey farmer's market eggs and produce from Cookbook (along with fancy cheese and such). There is a bougie natural foods store. Woodcat Coffee is tasty, though omg so slow. Taco trucks galore. Sidwalk vendors selling bacon wrapped hotdogs to drunk people. People come here for the nightlife, but I find it easy enough to avoid those parts when I want to. I really do not miss having a car here at all.

I will, however, put in a plug for University Park North (the area north of USC along Hoover, south of the 10). The housing stock is old. There is charm. You are near the expo line and a bunch of bus routes. There is a nice little cluster of businesses around the intersection of Union and Hoover that are popping up (wine bar, coffee/juice bar, ramen, tea house) along with established businesses (carniceria, pupuseria, burger stand, 24th st theater, velaslavasay's panorama). Yes there is some crime, but this is a city. Also exciting--Figeuroa between 7th and King Blvd is due to get a major pedestrian and bike friendly makeover starting next year. It will have the city's first cycle tracks. It will make getting btw downtown and USC/Expo Park on foot or bike much more pleasant.

I ride my bike btw Echo Park and USC most weekdays. It takes me ~25 minutes. On a bad day the 200 bus takes me 50 minutes (it's a busy line, alvarado is a congested street) on a good day it takes me 30.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:43 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lots of votes here for east side places, but I think the right answer for you is Culver City. It's one light rail trip on the Expo Line to USC (about 20 minutes), whereas Echo Park, Los Feliz, Highland Park, South Pasadena and the like will either demand a bus trip that chugs along for 45+ minutes or two or three subway trips for a similar (or longer) commute. Downtown LA may be "happening" but the griminess is spread throughout, and a surprising amount of the Arts District is actually very far from rail lines, making it more of a place to visit for some new restaurant than somewhere to live. Unless you want to drop way too much money on a new loft and don't mind a concentration of homeless people.

In Culver, you'll want to live in walking distance to downtown Culver and the Culver City Expo Line station. There's a huge Trader Joes right there and other grocery stores in the vicinity, a bunch of hip-ish bars/restaurants/cafes/art galleries/whatever in downtown Culver. The feel of the residential areas of Culver City, outside of Downtown Culver, is very green and leafy and pleasant. Maybe a bit suburban. Also, if you do drive, it's right off the 10, so very easy to get straight to the beach or over to DTLA for your weekend outings.

And the Museum of Jurassic Technology is the coolest thing in all of Los Angeles.
posted by lewedswiver at 1:52 AM on March 25, 2015

I was ready to say Los Feliz or Pasadena because I love both of them so much. And you can take the train in from each. But I read lewedswiver's post, and by crackey, you do want Culver City. I think of Culver City as Westside and I think of Westside as far from USC. But, yeah, with the Expo Line, it's a straight shot in.

klangklangston: you can rebut the earlier post without being abusive.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:17 AM on March 25, 2015

You might consider Long Beach. Your partner could take the Blue Line to USC; there's a great arts / culture / nightlife scene and people are way friendlier and open than in the South Bay or up on the Westside. The downtown and surrounding areas are very walkable. You could live in one of the new high-rise condos, or in a turn of the century arts & crafts style house. Just like every neighborhood in LA, there are sketchy areas in Long Beach but there are great, quiet, family style neighborhoods too. Plus it's on the coast as opposed to being in the middle of traffic hell like some of the downtown neighborhoods.
posted by vignettist at 8:41 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

At the risk of being nitpicky--you can't take the blue line to USC as it runs much further east at that point. You can take it downtown to pico station and transfer to expo to head back. You could also take it to Grand/LATTC and transfer to a bus.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:48 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Lots of votes here for east side places, but I think the right answer for you is Culver City. "

Worth noting: Palms and West LA are right next to Culver City but have much, much cheaper rents. When we lived over there, we were about a block north of Venice (which IIRC was the boundary; there's a bit of weird gerrymandering) and that block saved us about $500 per month against a comparable place in Culver.

The knock on Culver/West LA is that it's great if everything you want to do is in Culver/West LA, but even getting to Santa Monica or Venice can be a bit of a chore, and going anywhere east is a huge pain in the ass (see my endless whinging years ago in LA meetup threads).

"klangklangston: you can rebut the earlier post without being abusive."

Telling someone who doesn't think Los Feliz has a train station that they don't know what the hell they're talking about isn't abusive, it's telling them that they don't know what the hell they're talking about and implying that they shouldn't give flatly wrong answers to someone looking to AskMe for help.

"At the risk of being nitpicky--you can't take the blue line to USC as it runs much further east at that point. You can take it downtown to pico station and transfer to expo to head back. You could also take it to Grand/LATTC and transfer to a bus."

Yeah, not main campus at least. A friend of a friend works for USC at a building a couple blocks from the LATTC and takes the train up from Long Beach. If the OP came back and told us where they were working, we could give better info.
posted by klangklangston at 12:27 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all SO MUCH for your thoughts. I have been reading them and sharing them with my partner, and you don't know how useful you have been. Culver City and Echo Park look like strong contenders.

If I could append one more question: how do you think the neighborhoods with closer proximity to the ocean would compare to the many listed above? The commute to University Park would be longer, but we might be willing to make the trade for proximity to the water and more scenic surroundings. Are the busses to the Expo Line reliable? Also, is it folly to think the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica might be open by the end of 2015?

(PS - The Museum of Jurassic Technology is AMAZING. It probably ties with the ocean as my favorite thing I've seen in my very limited time in L.A.)
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 1:46 PM on March 26, 2015

FOR THE OP, obvs I was wrong that Los Feliz does not have a rail station, but if you look at the map, the Vermont/Sunset station is at the absolute border of Los Feliz - on a dicey few blocks I personally would not feel good walking at night. It only gets OK after Hollywood Blvd and Vermont, sorta.

I'm not sure why the hate about my original answer, because Vermont & Sunset is not walkable from most of Los Feliz, especially if you look at any map.
posted by jbenben at 12:16 AM on March 27, 2015

For the OP: Sunset and Vermont is where the giant hospital complexes are (Kaiser and Children's Hospital), and while arguably on the edge of Los Feliz as a neighborhood, the rail station is well lit, easily accessible and surrounded by the 24-hour surveillance and security of Kaiser. While some people may not feel that it is a safe spot, it is essentially as safe or safer than any other train station in the city, as well as the rest of Los Feliz. Perhaps the person having trepidation is thinking of the Santa Monica and Vermont station, which is indeed a bit hairier, though still fairly safe.

As to it not being walkable from most of Los Feliz, one might note that the center of the Los Feliz village is at Franklin and Vermont, which is half a mile from the Sunset and Vermont station. As you say that you don't have cars and walk frequently in your neighborhood, I have worked under the assumption that you would be willing to walk half a mile, perhaps even a mile or two. Perhaps some of the confusion is that a good 70 percent of the neighborhood of Los Feliz is south of the street Los Feliz — the neighborhood north of Los Feliz rapidly becomes very wealthy (it's where Angelina Jolie lives) and is often lumped in with the Griffith Park neighborhood.

Also for the OP: This highlights a general problem of using AskMe for answers about Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a city with broad surface gloss, then a lot of hidden nooks and peculiarities beneath that. That means that often people who live in one part of the city assume that they know all about another part of the city largely because they've driven around it once or twice, and those people are found in ample supply on AskMe, giving answers that make it clear that they don't know what the hell they're talking about. For example, you might find people giving you advice about Los Feliz despite not knowing where it is or what's actually there. I've lived other places, and none of them seem to have the proportion of AskMe blithe misinformation that Los Angeles does. Because of this, you're encouraged to do some research on your own — for example, you might want to use Google Maps with traffic during times you'll likely be driving, to get a rough idea of the time it would take you to get from Santa Monica to University Park (and add another half hour for good measure), or use the Los Angeles Times crime map to assess how safe neighborhoods actually are. If you'd like help finding any of those resources, feel free to reach out to me.
posted by klangklangston at 6:16 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would assume nothing about the expo line extension openining on time. Last I read, there might be a delay due to construction of a maintenance building and/or delay in rail car manufacturing.

Having lived car-free on the westside (West LA) and now in Echo Park, there is no comparison between the two for me. I have plenty of natural beauty around me in the form of mountains (off in the distance) and parks (Elyisan Park, Echo Park Lake, Vista Hermosa Park, Glendale Narrows/LA River). The neighborhood was designed for walkability (our hills have stairways because obvs you'd need to get down to the streetcar). Westside stuff developed during in a more autocentric era. I did not enjoy being a pedestrian on the westside, it definitely colored my initial impressions of Los Angeles.

Look at a metro map and you will see rail lines essentially radiate out from downtown. Think about whether you want to live on the end of one of those spokes or closer to the center.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

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