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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.