The Neighborhood Guide to Silver Lake

published May 2, 2018
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(Image credit: Teal Thomsen)

I’m a Southern California native who never meant to live in Los Angeles. I’ve now lived here twice—interrupted by a three-year stint in New York City.

I’m asked about New York versus Los Angeles often enough that I now have a canned reply: I had a deep love affair with New York City, but Los Angeles and I are friends.

Over the last three years, that friendship has grown and deepened to (what I hope is) a mutual affection, and this is largely due to my neighborhood: Silver Lake. When I moved back to Los Angeles, nearly all of my friends had left the city, and my neighborhood became my most reliable companion.

Silver Lake reminds me a lot of the East Village, where I lived in New York. It has gentrified, but hasn’t lost all of its grit. It is overrun with millennial creatives (like myself), but is also home to families and residents like my mom’s artist friends who have been living here for decades. To outsiders, the neighborhood is viewed as “hip,” even though there are trendier neighborhoods that young people are flocking to (i.e. Highland Park).

Silver Lake also has a rich history: It was the home to Disney’s first studio; one of the first gay rights protests happened in front of the Black Cat; and Laurel and Hardy filmed a now lost-to-the-world film on what we know as the Music Box Steps.

But what appeals to me most about Silver Lake is the community. Nearly all of my needs are met within a 10 minute walk, and during that walk, I’m likely to bump into someone I know. I’m greeted by name at a local pet store, a coffee shop, and by instructors at my yoga studio. I not only know my neighbors, but I’m friends with them. In a city stereotyped for car culture and the shallow film industry, I never expected to find community. But in Silver Lake, but I did.

(Image credit: Bridget Pizzo)

A Local’s Guide to Silver Lake

Describe the neighborhood in three words: The Creative Neighborhood

Median rents (studio, one bedroom, two bedroom): $1,396 / $1,799 / $2,359, according to Rentcafe

Median house price: $1,089,000, according to Zillow

Walkability score: 77/100, according to Redfin. I personally walk most places in the neighborhood and only drive around three days per week. The bus is incredibly convenient, and I only have to walk 15 minutes to the Vermont/Santa Monica Metro station.

Average commute/traffic report: About 30 minutes, according to The WNYC team.

Best local bookstore: Sadly, you have to go to Skylight Books in Los Feliz, Alias in Atwater, or Stories in Echo Park to find a good local bookshop. But there’s always the Silver Lake Library.

Best place to get coffee: Silver Lake doesn’t want for coffee shops; it seems as if a new one opens weekly. But easily my favorite spot is Dinosaur Coffee. It has excellent coffee, fantastic baristas, creative craft sodas, and Maury’s Bagels on Saturday mornings. However, if you are breezing down Sunset and want a quick pick-me-up cup, pop into Scout. They don’t have seating, but they brew a good cup of coffee (from Heart beans) and serve a mean sandwich.

Best bar for when you want to be alone: Black Cat is a reliable spot to meet friends, but it’s also a perfect place to get a beer and read a book. On weeknights, Jay’s Bar is also great place to grab a solo beer (and their fries!) and read a book or chat with the bartenders. Jay’s also often has Turner Classic Movies playing on their two TVs.

Best free cultural thing to take part of: The Silver Lake Farmers Market is a fun spot to peruse on Saturday mornings or Tuesday afternoons. There are maps to take a self-guided tour of the painted stairs of Silver Lake, or you could take a stroll around the Silver Lake Reservoir. Outdoor movies (the Silver Lake Picture Show) screen at the Sunset Triangle Plaza.

Best avocado toast: Forget avocado toast, get ricotta toast at Sqirl. (But if you want avocado toast, you can get a nice takeaway slice from Scout. And though I haven’t tried it, Roo Coffee, a new shop in Sunset Triangle Plaza, has an interesting looking avocado toast, plus seating.)

Best street for finding a birthday gift: There are a series of boutiques and vintage shops along Sunset heading south towards Echo Park. Begin with Mohawk General Store at Sanborn and Sunset. Fair warning: These shops can be a bit pricey.

Hidden gem: If you want to buy something truly special and made in Los Angeles, veer slightly off the beaten path to the strip mall at Fountain and Sunset and into the Los Angeles County Store. You’ll find beautiful jewelry, cool prints, candles, chocolate and more. The shop owner also hosts artists showings, trunk shows, live music, art workshops and even pet adoption days!

Best spot for an Instagram: The go-to spot in Silver Lake was the Elliott Smith wall (the mural where Autumn DeWilde took the photo of Smith that became the cover of “Figure 8“). Only part of that wall survives now. A now-defunct bar called Bar Angeles cut into it and turned part of the mural into their indoor decor. And while we don’t suggest trespassing, you’ll often see people taking photos in front of the old Bates Motel building, which was painted completely white in 2015 as a public art installation called “Projection” by the French artist Vincent Lamouroux. You can also spot people taking photos in front of Stella’s vine-covered walls, or in front of the “Things Will Be Fine” neon sign in Dinosaur Coffee.

Overrated spot: The Friend. Instead, if you’re looking to dance, go to The Satellite on Silver Lake Blvd. In terms of food, Malo is way too overpriced for Mexican food in a city that delivers a mean cheap taco on every corner.

Underrated spot: Blossom. It offers a comforting bowl of pho at affordable prices for takeout and delivery. It’s busy, but never packed, and houses a pretty bar area downstairs. If you’re looking for Chinese food, head to Fat Dragon. For Thai, go to Same Same. And make sure to hit up Hache for a filling burger.

Favorite outdoor lounge spot: Cafecito Organico has good coffee and an even better patio. If you’re just looking to chill at a park, have a picnic on a grassy spot adjacent to the Reservoir, or relax at Bellevue Park.

Best date spot: If you want to wow your date with the food, head to Alimento, but make sure to get a reservation in advance (and ask to sit inside if you can). For date-night drinks, Edendale has a great patio, good food if you want to shift drinks to dinner, and a photo booth!

Best alone spot: The back counter at Dinosaur with a newspaper on a weekend afternoon. Walking through the hills with good music or a podcast. Weeknights at the bar at Melody or Blossom. At home with takeout from Fat Dragon.

Best place for a workout: One Down Dog! Great yoga community with a wide variety of classes, from chill meditation to butt-busting boot camp-like classes. For a free workout, you can always run around the Reservoir, or use the outdoor gym at Bellevue Park.

Best place take an out-of-towner: Wolfdown or Cliff’s Edge are for the adventurous out-of-towner. They’re pretty and serve good food that’s meant to be shared. Order and try a lot! They also have outdoor seating, so everyone can marvel at how beautiful the weather is. For a picky out-of-towner wary of foodie culture, get a steak at Stella and maybe a celebrity sighting.

Best brunch: Depends on what you’re looking for. Bottomless mimosa? BarBrix. Stellar food (that everyone talks about), plus a long line (that everyone complains about)? Sqirl (pro tip: Go instead on a weekday). Solid brunch and a beautiful patio? Cliff’s Edge. Diner food, plus a scene? Millie’s Cafe (but expect a crowd). A fusion of French and Mexican food you didn’t know you needed? Trois Familia.

Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking: Silver Lake is not known for its abundance of parking—even locals have a hard time getting a spot by their apartments. I’ve driven around for over an hour on a Friday night trying to get a spot. Look for metered spots on Sunset, or drive deeper into the residential streets. But always make sure to check street signs, as some residential streets are permit-only on weekends. (f you are looking to move to Silver Lake, find an apartment building with parking, see if your street is permitted, or start taking public transportation—you’ll thank me later.