If I tried to fully describe Los Angeles to you, we'd be here all day; it's just too vast. Whatever you think LA is, you're right— it's that and much more. More than boobs, Botox and bottle service, we have a multi-cultural population, a diverse landscape and a thriving arts community. And traffic...lots of traffic. Still interested? Okay, okay, I'll break it down for you.
The Westside: Santa Monica, Brentwood and Venice
Types of Rentals: Lots of houses and smaller apartment buildings. These areas are neighborhood-y with wide sidewalks and tree-lined streets. They're perfect for families. If you're solo, try to rent a guest house, as they're extremely coveted here.
Known For: The quintessential California vibe. Everyone who comes to LA expects exactly what the Westside has: the beach, blue skies, palm tree-lined streets and pedestrians carrying yoga mats.
Don't Miss: The Venice Canals — a beautiful waterway that winds in and around the homes in this neighborhood (just like that other famous Venice). In the summer, my favorite activity of all time is the Twilight Dance Series, an outdoor concert held every Thursday on the Santa Monica Pier. It doesn't really matter who's playing because any excuse to picnic on the beach as the sun sets is reason enough.
Transit: A bike is your best friend on the west side because things are just too spread out to walk. Public transit is minimal, so for longer trips, you'll need a car.
Similar: Marina Del Rey, Mar Vista
As little as a decade ago, some Angelinos rarely ventured east of La Brea, but these days, downtown is experiencing quite a renaissance. This area is blowin' up in the best way possible with hip restaurants and bars, a growing arts scene, and new housing opportunities
Types of Rentals: Lofts and high-rise condos. Some refurbished buildings retain plenty of history and architectural interest, while others are new and modern. Many buildings are packed with amenities like pools, gyms and concierges, if you don't mind paying for those perks.
Known For: Its rich history and recent revival.
Don't Miss: The Central Library. This grand 1926 building epitomizes the culture and diversity of LA by retaining its original architecture and murals and also constantly adding new installations and galleries. Oh, and they also have books! Just down the road, the Angel's Flight Railway originally opened in 1901 and still uses the same two rail cars to carry passengers up steep Hill Street. It's a short but really fun ride and costs only 50 cents.
Transit: Downtown has the most comprehensive subway system of any neighborhood, which, in the public-transit void that is LA, is a nice perk. It's especially handy if you live elsewhere and want to take advantage of the burgeoning downtown scene sans traffic and parking headaches.
Similar: Westlake, Boyle Heights
The Valley: Sherman Oaks, Studio City and Burbank
Types of Rentals: Lots of single-family homes and some apartments, as well as newer condo buildings. And MCM enthusiasts take note — the valley has some of the best mid-century architecture this side of Palm Springs.
Known For: Suburban living. The valley offers lower rents and a more convenient lifestyle. Things are closer and there's plenty of parking (miracle!) and more space overall.
Don't Miss: The sushi. I know it sounds weird, but the Valley has some of the best sushi in town. Don't be fooled by the strip mall locations; Ventura Boulevard is where it's at (raw-fish wise). Try Asanebo or Toshi.
Transit: Besides little pockets that are walkable, the Valley is pretty spread out so again, you'll need a car to get most places.
Similar: Glendale, North Hollywood
The Eastside: Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park
The Eastside tends to appeal to a younger, hipper and more diverse crowd, which also means an eclectic mix of art, music, food and fun. The vibe is way more Banksy than Botox.
Types of Rentals: Mostly small to mid-size apartment buildings and single-family homes (especially in the hills), with plenty of original architecture from the 1920's and mid-century construction (sometimes updated, sometimes more run-down).
Known For: Ahh... those infamous hipsters. I would never generalize, but let's just say that the best place to find a raw, vegan meal and a fringe vest is in Silver Lake.
Don't Miss: Griffith Park's miles of hiking trails and its crown jewel, the Griffith Observatory. It has the best views in the city. Also in this area is the coolest movie theater in LA, The Vista.
Transit: These individual neighborhoods are extremely walkable due to the many shops and restaurants, but to hop from one to another, you'll need wheels. Biking is possible but difficult on the hill-heavy Eastside, so, if you have strong legs, go for it; otherwise, you'll need to drive. The Metro (red line) does pass near Los Feliz Village at its Sunset and Vermont stop.
Similar: Atwater Village, Franklin Village
It may be the most famous city in the world, but Hollywood is not exactly as glamorous as its reputation. After decades of being seriously sketchy, there's recently been a huge effort to clean it up. It's now a mix of tourist attractions, nightlife and industry events.
Types of Rentals: A mix of older and newer apartment buildings, some lofts and, in the Hollywood Hills, larger houses with amazing views.
Known For: The movies! Although much of the day-to-day movie business is done elsewhere, Hollywood is still the symbol of the industry. That can be fun, but if you actually plan to reside there, make sure you're okay with 24/7 tourists.
Don't Miss: It wouldn't be an LA summer without a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The outdoor amphitheater has been an LA institution for decades and has hosted some of the most famous bands in the world.
Transit: Driving and parking in Hollywood is always a pain, so either accept it or avoid it if you can (especially at night). The Metro (red line) has a few Hollywood stops and, unlike in most of LA, it's easy to hail a cab.
Similar: West Hollywood — for those of you who are about to protest that West Hollywood is nothing like Hollywood, you're right. But for the purpose of renting, they are quite similar. West Hollywood has the same mixture of older buildings and newer developments. Socially, it's extremely gay-friendly and even regularly flies rainbow flags along Santa Monica Boulevard to show LGBT pride.
Another cool little pocket in a sea of urban sprawl, downtown Culver City is a triangle of streets filled with hip restaurants, bars and shops.
Types of Rentals: Small to mid-size apartment buildings and modest single-family homes.
Known For: Reasonable rents and a burgeoning gallery scene.
Don't Miss: The Museum of Jurassic Technology, a mix of quirky, fun and macabre all at once. Don't ask, just go.
Transit: The new Metro Expo line is a light rail system connecting Culver City to the downtown subway lines already in place. Bravo!
Similar: Palms, West LA
Apartment Hunting: Good ol' Craigslist is a great choice, but we also have Westside Rentals, a subscription service which is like Craigslist's more organized cousin. Westside listings are usually clearer and tend to be more reputable, so for a nominal fee, you don't waste time on empty leads.
Getting Around: If you plan to travel outside your neighborhood, you're probably going to need a car. It's a shame that LA doesn't have a better system of public transit, but hopefully it's coming someday. The subway is handy if you're going to a few specific areas (take it to the Staples Center to save yourself a huge hassle there), but its reach is limited. There are buses of course, but I'll admit that I've never taken one, so I have no business giving advice there. We do have great weather, so biking year-round is feasible, and Vespas are also popular for tooling around town.
Stuff to do: Check out LA Weekly for ideas, especially their "Best Of" awards for ratings of the latest and greatest.
Obviously, I've barely scratched the surface of what LA has to offer, so throw in your two cents— where's the best place to live in LA?
(Images: 1.Shutterstock 2.Lizz Rantz 3.Shutterstock 4. Jennifer Hunter 5. Jennifer Hunter)
Originally published 3.12.13 - JL