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February 27, 2008 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Where in Los Angeles should we move?

This is the first of what I expect to be many moving-to-LA questions from me. My wife-to-be and I have bought the books and read the previous threads, but I'd like to get advice for our specific situation.

We're moving from New York City, so we're used to high rent prices (we currently pay 1400 for a shoebox). My fiancee will most likely be working at the studios, so easy access to them is nice. I'll be working from home, I hope. Things we would like in our area: movie theaters, a library, places to walk, a nice grocery store and maybe a nice selection of ethnic cusines.

Things that don't matter: bars, nightlife, "hipness," or anything to do with our nonexistant children.

Currently, we're most interested in looking at Burbank, so anyone who has lived there, your advice would be very welcome.
posted by Bookhouse to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I used to live in the Fairfax area and loved it. Cheap(ish) rents, beautiful neighborhood, access to shopping, close to everything. YMMV.
posted by Dizzy at 8:48 AM on February 27, 2008

Burbank is nice but gets hot (100+) in the summer. So you either need to be good with the heat or plan ahead for the AC bill (especially if you're working at home and will need it during the day).
posted by sharkfu at 9:17 AM on February 27, 2008

Can you elaborate a little bit on why you're looking up in the valley instead of in L.A.? Is rent your primary concern? I'd be happy to plug a couple neighborhoods here in Los Angeles but I'm unsure why you're looking at the valley and I've been up there like twice in 8 years so I'll be less than helpful for that area.
posted by Justinian at 9:17 AM on February 27, 2008

Have you visited Burbank? I mean really visited Burbank? It has absolutely none of the qualities you state you're interested in. OK, that's not true -- there's a Panda Express. You can walk on the side of the freeway, I guess. The movie theatres in Burbank do show movies, and sometimes you can actually make it past the mob (mob!) of teenagers texting outside. I'm sure there's a library somewhere around there -- or at least a gigantic Barnes and Noble.

But seriously, folks... Move here and then decide, or come and visit for a couple of weeks and sample absolutely every neighborhood, or get in a short-term rental and go from there. You offer absolutely no clues to who you are and where you might like to live, so it's hard to suggest. Where are you in New York? What do you like about it? Are you SUV-driving exec-types? Are you actors? Are you Brooklyn-ite creative people? Are you young? Are you old? Is keeping the commute time important, or is walkability of neighborhood important?

Fairfax is a great enclave that is dense and feels just a touch like New York, meaning you can walk out of your rather expensive apartment and get cheap or expensive food a block or two away. The Vermont/Hillhurst area of Los Feliz offers some of the same benefits, as well as being close to a subway stop, which is rad. Downtown is a chore to live in, I think. Venice and Santa Monica both have neighborhoods similar to what you're describing, as does North Hollywood. There's a lot around Hollywood and West Hollywood. Prices are rather all over the place in each of these places, but the further west you go, the higher things will be. You could probably find a nice one bedroom for $1400 in West Hollywood. For easy access to all the studios, Hollywood and West Hollywood probably fit the bill best -- you can reach Sony and Fox on the west, Universal, Disney, and Warners to the north, and Paramount next door.
posted by incessant at 9:22 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As an almost lifelong Angeleno, my advice would be to live as close to your wife's workplace as possible unless for some reason she really loves being stuck in traffic commuting! Burbank, Toluca Lake, Valley Village, North Hollywood are all near the studios and depending on where you are, you *may* be able to find a walkable neighborhood.

But walkable areas are few and far between. The tradeoff for walkability may mean an hour or more crawl on the freeway to and from work each day, depending on location.

Dizzy's suggestion of the Fairfax District is a good one if a walking neighborhood is a priority - I'm actually moving there next week, and for the first time in my life am considering ditching the car (I hate driving, hate it). But I wouldn't call the rents cheap(ish), and parking is a huge problem.

Parts of Silver Lake are improving in terms of walkability, and it's a good central location. I did a lot of walking when I lived in South Pasadena, and absolutely loved living there - it could be an easy 134 Freeway commute to the studios. It's a city unto itself, which is great - 25,000 people with its own fire and police department, incredibly peaceful and safe, big on historic preservation, thus lots of cool old architecture. The downside of South Pas was the lack of ethnic food nearby, but it's an easy drive to the tons of Asian options available across the San Gabriel Valley. The same could be said for parts of Pasadena, which is a different, larger city.
posted by chez shoes at 9:28 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're going to follow Chez Shoes' advice it actually depends which studio she'll be working at. Disney, WB, and Universal are in the Valley, but Fox, Sony, & MGM or in the west side-- so Santa Monica, Brentwood, & Culver City would be more applicable to those studios.
posted by sharkfu at 9:32 AM on February 27, 2008

To add to what incessant said, Sony is in Culver City (plus a bunch of smaller post houses are on the westside), and the drive from Burbank is going to be pretty bad both ways. If you decide to live on the westside/venice, the drive out to the valley-based studios (Universal for example) usually isnt too bad in the morning, but can be from pretty bad to complete gridlock for the return home (esp. on thurs-fri). Mid city/Hollywood/Los Feliz really puts you within striking distance to all the studios, and there are a ton of restaurants and things to do there.
posted by Spurious Packets at 9:33 AM on February 27, 2008

Response by poster: We had read/heard from a few people that a lot of the worker bees in the industry lived in Burbank, and the books we've read didn't make it sound quite so hellish. We're not wedded to it at all (I considered not mentioning it in the question).
posted by Bookhouse at 9:33 AM on February 27, 2008

I've been traveling weekly down to Burbank for a little more than a month now. It looks like there's quite a few nice little neighborhoods all over the place. There was a 2 bedroom house with a shack out back with 1 & 1/2 bath in a nice neighborhood(near a school) for $700,000. If that gives you any idea of the market.

But for ethnic food(I need it!) and theaters there's "downtown" Burbank. I've found a nice breakfast greasy spoon, an Armenian joint that rivals some of the better Mediterranean places in Portland, OR(they can't beat the rice), A nice new sit-down Indian joint..and theres even a decent, somewhat upscale standard American fare restaurant. All of this starts at Olive and San Fernando and goes on for about 8 blocks. Then it's all mall and a huge AMC. Does Ralph's count as decent groceries?

You can't beat Burbank for being near the studios & post-prod houses.

Should I ever have to move there though..urhm, let's just say I've got some personal reservations about the L.A. basin in general.
posted by mnology at 9:37 AM on February 27, 2008

Burbank is pretty much mall culture - there is a library, and it's not an awful place, but from what I've seen it's heavy on chains and franchises and not much else.

And Spurious Packets is correct about the Westside studios - I totally forgot about that, as I worked on the Universal lot for many years and that's the area that came to mind. If she gets a job at Sony, Culver City might be a good place to live. It's changing pretty quickly and has a developing downtown that is definitely taking shape as a walking neighborhood.
posted by chez shoes at 9:37 AM on February 27, 2008

Nthing Fairfax district. I wish I'd lived there before moving in with my sweetie.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:46 AM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: If you have no problem living in a place that is terminally uncool but extremely livable (lots of restaurants and little local stores that have been around for ages, all within WALKING distance, which is almost unheard of in LA), and you also want a very short commute to work (crucial given our traffic nightmares, and also almost unheard of in LA), then the Valley is definitely for you!

Think of the Valley as being to Los Angeles what Queens and Brooklyn -- make that the old, un-hip Brooklyn -- are to New York. It's a bit of a hike to get there from the cool areas of town, but if you live there, you have a nice little neighborhood enclave and it can be friendly and convenient and just...nice. Seriously, my street looks like it's in the suburbs somewhere, with giant old trees and little car traffic and a neighbor kid's basketball hoop set up in the street, and our polling place is someone's converted garage in their backyard. But I can walk to the grocery store, the 7-11, the tailor's, the shoe repair, at least three coffee places (only one a Starbucks), the dry cleaners', some terrific restaurants, and a few cute boutiquey places, all within about a six block radius of my house. My daily commute to the building next to the NBC lot in Burbank (~7 miles away) was 20 minutes, or 15 off peak, with no freeway time at all. In LA, that's really really short.

I recommend Studio City (really, the name says it all, yes?) or Sherman Oaks, particularly if you can find a place in either neighborhood close to Ventura Blvd., which is the Valley's main commercial street. Second choice is to live close to Moorpark, which is another commercial street that runs parallel to Ventura. Also, the closer you stick to the Hollywood Hills -- Ventura and Moorpark run right at the base of the Hills -- the cooler and breezier it is in the summer. Encino is very nice too, one neighborhood past Sherman Oaks, but too pricey.

Toluca Lake (which is a small old neighborhood near Burbank) and Burbank proper would kinda fit the bill for you, too, but they can be a bit sleepy, are much less walkable IMHO, and can get very hot in the summer; of the two, Toluca Lake is the better choice. Be careful with North Hollywood; it's gentrifying, but they still have a serious homeless problem. Avoid northwestern Van Nuys or Panarama City; I'm sorry to say that there's a little gang activity there, though it seems to have calmed down some lately.

Again, the Valley is kind of like old un-hip Brooklyn or Queens: know your neighborhoods, because they can change quite a bit from one to the next.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:52 AM on February 27, 2008

I have family that live in Burbank. One of them works at Sony in Culver City and I can vouch that the commute is as horrible as described above. And Burbank is I'd say try subletting someplace until you know where exactly your wife will be working, and then figure out where to settle. And yes, Fairfax is great. But not cheap.
posted by ambrosia at 9:53 AM on February 27, 2008

2 weird things about LA that are different from other places I've lived:
1. Living in a more suburban area (Pasadena, Burbank, etc.) and therefore paying less rent for a larger house, living in a chain-store-mall-wilderness, but having a 1-2 hour commute each way to work, is seen as providing a "better quality of life" than living closer to work, paying more rent for a smaller place, and living in a neighborhood with tiny stores, restaurants, etc. I make the opposite value judgement, but YMMV.

2. The concept of "walkability" is really skewed. Walking more than 15 minutes in order to get somewhere is a terrible, terrible burden (walking for a hour for exercise is totally OK though). Because of this mindset, LA guidebooks say I can't get from my house in West LA to Culver City by foot, but I find the 25-minute walk not so bad at all.

Therefore, come and visit, or get a short-term rental before committing to buying/renting long-term.
posted by holyrood at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2008

Assuming your wife is working at the Burbank studios, I'll cast another vote for Toluca Lake/Studio City/North Hollywood (but only certain parts). I moved up to Toluca Lake in October and love it -- we rent a house that's incredibly nice and way cheaper than we'd get in a comparable neighborhood in L.A. proper. Good restaurants, nice places to walk the dog, weekend farmer's market, easy access to things like Arclight cinemas (best movie theaters on the planet!), Hollywood Bowl, etc.
posted by scody at 10:43 AM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: If you're not wedded to Burbank (and thank god you're not), I'd suggest following the good advice of others in this thread and checking out the Fairfax/West Hollywood area. Great little neighborhoods, extremely walkable, lots of good grocery stores and GREAT restaurants and shops.

Asparagirl makes a good cases for the Valley but I'd urge you to consider living in L.A. proper. The valley is certainly not the bland terminally uncool cultural wasteland that snobs joke about but neither is it quite the same as living in the basin. Take a trip and walk around the Fairfax district, particularly around Melrose and then check out a few places up in the valley. I think you'll find that there is a real, noticeable difference. I'd much rather pay a little more and live down here. You will have a somewhat longer commute to Burbank than from some of the areas north of the hills but the tradeoffs are definitely worth it in my opinion.

Again, if you're really mostly concerned with cultural stuff (libraries etc), great restaurants, several different choices for high end or organic grocery stores, the best theaters, and wonderfully walkable neighborhoods with lots of cool places to explore I don't think you can beat the area surrounding Fairfax between Santa Monica Boulevard in the north and, I guess, Wilshire or so in the south.

The weather is also way, WAY better in the LA basin as far as I'm concerned. I simply cannot tolerate 100+ degree weather and it gets hot up in the valley. Really hot. Really, really hot.

Seriously, come check out Fairfax district. I think you'll like how it shapes up compared to the valley.

(If you like sushi come get some at Matsuhisa on La Cienega just north of Wilshire. I don't think you can beat it for the price. )
posted by Justinian at 10:45 AM on February 27, 2008

The rule of thumb is that you are 30 minutes from almost every other place. The further out in the suburbs you are means you will have to share the freeways with more people trying to get into the city.

Places you might want to consider are Eagle Rock, Glendale, Atwater Village, Echo Park, and Highland Park. These are very central areas. Some are getting "hip" and expensive now but they are good for young families. At $1400, you will be able to find a very spacious place.

When I had to hustle to all the studios doing my script doctoring gigs, I had an easy time from Silverlake and taking the 101 freeway. It's a car culture society out there so if you are near a freeway, everything is golden.

I wouldn't even bother looking for a place that has things nearby to walk to. No one walks in LA. Seriously. They all drive to places to walk around in. If it's that important, you can also look into Pasadena.

Good luck in LA!
posted by cazoo at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2008

Um, not all the studios are in the valley. It also depends what you mean by "studio." What does your wife do? Does she have a job lined up already? If it's not a steady network administrative-type job, your wife could end up working in Santa Monica, or Culver, or Hollywood -- or wherever.

I've lived in several different neighborhoods in LA, and worked all over the place. The most central location that fits your needs is Silver Lake -- you can take surface streets anywhere (even the west side), and you're near all the appropriate freeways. The beach is 12 minutes away on the 10 (if you drive fast, early on SUnday morning -- and you should). Every neighborhood in LA is full of ethnic food - you just have to look for it. But living in Silver Lake will give you freeway-free access to Downtown, Hollywood, WeHo, etc., and that's a bounty, food-wise.

South Pas is lovely, but you'll never leave town. (The only freeway out is the 110, which is a little slice of Hell.) It's also hot as a mofo in the summer. If you have kids, it's worth the expense of living there, but otherwise, no. If you want the Mayberry vibe but with younger people and more fun stuff, look at Eagle Rock, which is literally and figuratively Silver Lake north: 5 minutes up the 2 freeway, and with all the cool of SL but without the Hummers, fake tans, and giant dogs that have infected that neighborhood since real estate prices exploded.

NB: If you've got money, just move to Santa Monica and be done with it. You'll be very, very happy there.

(Oh, and -- Welcome! I'm an ex NYC-er, and I love it here.)
posted by turducken at 10:56 AM on February 27, 2008

I should probably mention that before I moved to the Valley two years ago, I lived in...the Fairfax district!

But Justinian, I see your Matsuhiza and raise you a Katsu-ya. Two, in fact. Neener, neener.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:59 PM on February 27, 2008

If you or your wife are working at sony, I'd strongly recommend the Palms area. I'm walking distance to the grocery store, movie theater, dry cleaners, and tons of restaurants. Also, I'm walking distance to Sony Studios.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:15 PM on February 27, 2008

The area that mnology talks about in his second paragraph is actually pretty nice. There's an AMC movie theater, many places to eat, and a Metrolink station in walking distance, and it's the kind of place you would want to walk in; the streets aren't wide highway smog-factories, but narrow with storefronts all around. It's the kind of place you might bump into friends and neighbors. Yeah, it's not perfect but this is LA, and walkable is few and far between. Also, I'm a public transit nut, so being near the Metrolink is a big plus for me. It will connect you to Union Station, and from there, Socal is your oyster. You can get on another Metrolink train (if you're an Angels fan, the Anaheim station is in the Angels Stadium parking lot, and Metrolink goes to many other places), or transfer to the MTA Red Line (Hollywood, Downtown, or connection to downtown Long Beach) or the Gold Line (old town Pasadena).
posted by malapropist at 2:28 PM on February 27, 2008

I live in West LA, Pico/LaCienega area...I commute to Glendale daily...I'm opposite the commute, most people are coming from that area into LA, it takes me 30 minutes on surface streets. This area is Little Israel, there is a nice kosher supermarket just a couple of blocks from here, easy access to the freeways when needed...great chinese and thai and bakeries. Its called Beverly Hills Adjacent also.

I haven't spent a huge amount of time in Burbank, but I do love that they have a several block area that is full of little shops and restaraunts and bookstores, its called the downtown district and its absolutely walkable. BUT if your wife ends up having to head to a soundstage in Culver or Santa Monica she'll be miserable. I'd look at the Westside area if she's got a production job and might have to be on location.
posted by legotech at 2:37 PM on February 27, 2008

Moved here from the midwest 5 years ago. If you can find a place in Los Feliz/Silver Lake you'll be in heaven. You'll be near all of the freeways (and, depending on work, you'll rarely have to take the freeway) and restaurants/errands/shopping/everything is within a mile or two away. I work downtown and it takes me 10-15 minutes to get to work in the morning. Just a straight shot down Sunset Blvd. No traffic.

Los Angeles is crazy and wonderful. Unless you work around Burbank, I highly suggest checking out east Hollywood. Ahh, friendly folks and delicious dining.
posted by pea_shoot at 5:09 PM on February 27, 2008

another vote for Matsuhisa. go live in some alley near the back of the restaurant if you can. you'll save money to invest in tasty sushi and kobe beef juicyness.
posted by matteo at 6:23 PM on February 27, 2008

Shout out for Glendale! Only place I've lived in LA where there aren't bars on the windows and I left my patio door open for a couple of months before I noticed the cold draft... decent walking neighborhood, between Pasadena and Burbank, easy avoid rush hours 20 min commute to downtown area. After a while, local shops will just chop off taxes and stuff, $21.35... gimme a $20. Nice downtown walkabout area, close to Pasadena and Burbank on either side. Still need to learn some Armenian, but a really nice place.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:59 PM on February 27, 2008

Yeah, Glendale is awesome because they also have a Zankou chicken.
posted by cazoo at 8:32 PM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: I live and have lived for 5 years in this Hollywood/Fairfax/Melrose/West Hollywood area that everyone loves so much and I have a different point of view. I like it, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) This is a pointless conversation unless you know exactly where your wife will be working. If she's going to work at all the studios, it's a crapshoot because they are in several areas.

2) This area has fairly lousy freeway access. The areas that are closer to the freeways are way suckier than anything in the valley.

3) The area, except for a small sliver of it, is totally cut-off from the network of light-rail/commuter trains that can make LA somewhat bearable from a traffic point of view.

4) It's not any more walkable than any other place I've lived in LA or any other city that had neighborhoods. You can walk to some things, you drive to others.

5) It has a crazy amount of noise because of the helicopters going to Cedars. It has other quality-of-life issues as well. On the plus side, many of the units are rent-controlled.

6) The libraries are not great. However, the LA Library system will send your requested books to whatever branch you want, so I just pick them up there, I don't spend any real time there.

7) I think you'd be looking at $1600 absolute min for a 1-Bed. 2-Bed are running $2000 and more.

Burbank is really nice, and has a higher % of own vs rent, etc. It has some great strips of commercial streets that are better than most strips in Fairfax. I love Burbank because it has a 50's-googie flavor in a lot of the commercial areas. Burbank is a good compromise between city and suburb, in my opinion.

The people I know in LA who are happiest with their community seem to live in either Pasadena or South Pasadena, or Culver City. Culver City is very walkable, has good freeway access, and is getting light rail next year. This is huge, the light rail thing. Pasadena is also it's own city with it's own services (my friends who live there love this).

One of the LA blogs has a series on neighborhoods, which my husband and I have found really helpful as we look for our next neighborhood. Here is the post on Burbank, and I'm sure you can find more on other neighborhoods.

If you are going to rent, sign up with WestSide rentals. Craigslist is good, but WestSide rentals has dominated the rental listing market in LA since 1999.

Good movie theaters are the Arclight Hollywood and in the Valley. Once you go Arclight, you never go back.

Feel free to e-mail me if you want any other info, pictures, what have you.
posted by Mozzie at 10:05 AM on February 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! We obviously don't have all the information we need to make a decision (the spouse has several interviews and may freelance, so we can't pick based on that yet). Next step is to visit.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:03 PM on February 28, 2008

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