10 Best Neighborhoods in L.A.

Rachel B. Levin
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In Los Angeles’s urban sprawl, location is everything. Since the notorious traffic can make traversing the city a chore, it’s best to choose a neighborhood that’s close to your job and the amenities you enjoy the most. Plus, the part of town you live in practically defines your identity here.

The Westside attracts a mix of beach lovers, tech industry workers, and health-conscious types, with a dash of movie-star glamour. The Eastside pulls in an even more diverse crowd of indie filmmakers and musicians, outdoorsy urbanites, and both singles and families on a budget. Just north of the central city, the San Fernando Valley’s choicest neighborhoods promise suburban utopia, while the recent revival of Downtown has made L.A.’s historic core an exciting place to experience urban living.

These 10 neighborhoods stand out for being complete “cities within the city” with their own distinctive characters. Organized roughly West to East, they each offer a true neighborhood feel within the vast megalopolis.

Venice

Credit: Michael Locke

The Renaissance Building clown, designed by artist Jonathan Borofsky, has become a Venice landmark. Credit: Michael Locke

Since tech companies like Google and Snapchat have moved in, this quirky beach town has become the (increasingly expensive) epicenter of Silicon Beach, a digital hub. Charming cottages are giving way to ultra-modern new homes; Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the main drag, boasts world-class shopping and dining. But the famous beachfront boardwalk and canals modeled after Venice, Italy, remain full of character.

Santa Monica

Credit: Michael Locke

Santa Monica City Hall. Credit: Michael Locke

With the Metro Expo Line arriving in Santa Monica in early 2016, this quintessential L.A. beach city is undergoing an eco-urban renaissance. The walkable downtown boasts the lively Third Street Promenade pedestrian district. While the beach and the pier remain busy tourist stops, the quiet residential streets attract everyone from celebrities to surfers to ordinary families. Renters: aim for a rent-controlled building.

Culver City

Credit: Michael Locke

The Kirk Douglas Theatre operates as a performing arts center and playhouse. It was built in 1947. Credit: Michael Locke

A fantastic area for families, Culver City has served as the backdrop for many film and television productions due to its small-town-USA charm. Its leafy streets lined with mid-century homes were developed in the shadow of historic film studios. Today, Culver City has become known as a foodie and design destination with gourmet restaurants and a gallery district.

Hancock Park

Credit: Michael Locke

This apartment building has been home to William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies and Clara Bow, among others. Credit: Michael Locke

With its stunning 1920s mansions, bungalows, and duplexes, Hancock Park is a lush oasis in the middle of the city. The neighborhood is anchored by Larchmont Village, a quaint street with distinctive cafes and boutiques where you’ll likely run into celebrity residents at the weekly farmers market. Despite the proximity to Paramount Studios and the Hollywood elite, the vibe is unpretentious.

Toluca Lake

Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake. Credit: Michael Locke

Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake is an example of the Googie style of architecture, elevating the drive-in coffee shop and Las Vegas casino to a high level of art. Credit: Michael Locke

This sweet little community just over the hill from Hollywood is a residential dream. There’s a feel of nostalgia with ranch-style homes and a classic Bob’s Big Boy diner still intact from the 1950s. Newer arrivals including lofts and trendy eateries on Riverside Drive blend in seamlessly. This is sleepy, suburban Valley living with close proximity to the city action.

Silver Lake

Credit: Michael Locke

Silver Lake Reservoir. Credit: Michael Locke

Silver Lake is the ultimate haven for hipsters and hip moms alike. As gentrification of this enclave has marched forward, vegan restaurants have replaced taco stands, trendy boutiques have occupied former corner stores, and the area’s iconic mid-century modern homes have risen considerably in value. The neighborhood’s rolling hills and sparkling reservoir make for a lovely and laidback natural setting.

Echo Park

Credit: Michael Locke

Echo Park Lake is home to the city’s annual Pan-Asian Lotus Festival. Credit: Michael Locke

Those looking for the artsy cool of Silver Lake without the hefty price tag should consider next-door neighbor Echo Park. The once seedy area has been spruced up considerably. Echo Park Lake, with its pretty lotus beds, had a recent facelift. Many homes in the hilly residential streets boast stunning views of Downtown. Walk to Sunset Boulevard for indie bookstores, music venues, and organic markets.

South Park

Credit: Michael Locke

Bradbury Building. Credit: Michael Locke

If you want the excitement of Downtown but with ample creature comforts, then the South Park neighborhood might be your best bet. A rash of apartment/condo construction and the arrival of a massive Whole Foods has made this corner of the city’s core residential-friendly. Downtown attractions including the Staples Center, the L.A. Live entertainment complex, and fabulous restaurants.

Highland Park

Credit: Michael Locke

Highland Park Masonic Temple. Credit: Michael Locke

Highland Park is having its moment in the spotlight: a wave of artsy types have transformed a once downtrodden and gang-ridden hamlet into L.A.’s hippest zip code. Because it’s in transition, Highland Park’s housing—a mix of apartments and Craftsman homes—is still more affordable than other neighborhoods on this list. Head to York Boulevard for trendy bars, cafes, boutiques, and art galleries.

Pasadena

Credit: Michael Locke

South Pasadena High School. Credit: Michael Locke

Situated to the northeast of Downtown at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena is a bit removed from the hectic pace of L.A. You’re more likely to spot Caltech professors and Jet Propulsion Lab scientists than Hollywood celebrities in Old Town, Pasadena’s vibrant shopping and dining district. Craftsman-era architecture and old-growth trees make Pasadena a truly beautiful place to call home.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 21, 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Rachel B. Levin

Rachel B. Levin is the Los Angeles Local Expert for Travel+Leisure magazine's online guide and the Los Angeles Editor at Clean Plates, a guide to healthy and sustainable restaurants. Her freelance writing about food, dance, performing arts, travel, and other cultural topics also appears in the Los Angeles Times, Time Out, and Narratively, among other publications.
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