So listen, I’m a pretty important guy, and thus I today spent some time talking to students of my alma mater, THE James Madison University, who are here for the Summer-long JMU in LA program. And naturally everyone who runs the program is all like, “Hey Geoff, you’re an award-wishing mediocre semi-talent who’ll probably wash out of the system in a year or two. Come tell these children about where to live in Los Angeles when you’re poor, since you were there once and are obviously headed back on a flaming helltrain.”
It would be helpful if the people who run the program were a little less…accurate.
But then I mentioned this Guide on Twitter, and a bunch of people for some reason think I’m trustworthy enough to be helpful in this realm (I’m not), so here is my overly-wordy attempt at being less-than-helpful. But first, a couple of ground rules:
1. This is my opinion and my opinion only. Like, just imagine every sentence ends with, “…in my opinion.” Take it all with a grain of salt. Also, if you’re an adult, you should already know that there are exceptions to every rule. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: I do NOT need to know about these exceptions. I already assume they exist, just like you should. So if something about this hurts your feelings…well, first of all, go see a therapist, but also I very totally don’t care.
2. This entire thing is based on a stock lifestyle: you’re recentlyish out of college, you want to work in the film/TV industry, you can find a job in which you make like $30K a year (give or take), you don’t mind living with roommates, you’re not a cunt, etc. If you make more money you’ll have more options and can adjust accordingly; if you make less you’ll have fewer options and will have to adjust accordingly. You should take that into account. This is one-sized fits most. It’s also streamlined to make it as easy as possible for you take an informed decision without getting overwhelmed.
SIDENOTE: I’m also assuming you have a car. If you don’t, learn about buses.
3. I’m starting to think there were only two ground rules, really. But there are two sentences here now anyway.
OK, we good with all of that? Good. Let’s get started.
If you’re not going to live in the Valley, you’re going to want to stay West of Downtown and north of Venice Blvd (though the neighborhoods right around Venice Blvd are some of the best, which I’ll get to in a second). Anything South tends to get murdery real fast. Same with East. If you can stay West of Highland, do so. Downtown is fun to visit but super overpriced and near lots of genuinely dangerous neighborhoods. You don’t want to live in a fucking loft anyway. It’s nowhere near as cool as it sounds.
It will be very tempting to move into Hollywood. It’s cheap, there’s a lot of shit around, and for fuck’s sake, it’s HOLLYWOOD. I get it. My advice, however, is this: stay out. You will TOTALLY be fine if you choose to live there (or can’t avoid it), but there are better neighborhoods in the same price range that are less of a 24-hour freak show caked in both literal filth and metafilth. I would also avoid the Christ out of North Hollywood, which has turned into an absolute shitshow the past five or so years.
IN THE VALLEY
Most of the neighborhoods are pretty safe here and you can definitely find affordable accommodations. I have many friends who live in the Valley. I like it FAR less than the Westside, but that’s just a personal thing. Just know that you’ll get annoyed having to go over the hill all the time for shit your cool friends do. Again, stay out of North Hollywood, but everything else is pretty decent – Studio City, Universal City, Van Nuys, Tarzana, Sherman Oaks, Valley Village, Toluca Lake…all pretty good. Burbank and Encino are cool too, but they’re a little far out. Unless you work at Disney or WB you will want to kill yourself being out that far. Same for Glendale. Don’t even bother with Glendale. They have precious few glens and not a single fucking dale. It’s a den of lies.
ON THE WESTSIDE
Everyone wants to live in West Hollywood. I quite adore it, but it’s becoming less and less cost-effective. Still, you can find some great places there and the neighborhood is terrific if you’re OK living in a brightly-colored rave. You will always have something to do. If you want to hang out around UCLA kids, Brentwood and Westwood are great, but astronomically overpriced. Beverly Hills is also overpriced, but just outside of Beverly Hills you’re technically in LA City where there are some great and affordable neighborhoods from Sunset all the way down to Venice between Highland and Beverly Glen. Sometimes they make up unofficial names for these neighborhoods, but I don’t know what any of them are, so you have those parameters to focus on instead.
I also highly, highly, highly recommend Culver City/Palms. Dirt cheap rent, lots of places to eat and drink, and everyone is pretty relaxed. Plus you’re close to Sony if that’s helpful. Almost moved there a couple years ago myself. Near that is a section of town generally referred to as “West LA” – basically from the 405 to Santa Monica. Same deal with that as Culver City. I love these areas.
The area that compromises Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Eagle Rock…it’s basically Brooklyn in LA: smarmy hipsters and restaurants and bars that take themselves WAY too fucking seriously. I HATE HATE HATE this part of town, and to boot it’s also all criminally overpriced. But some people absolutely LOVE it. If you’re into dudes in fedoras and other types of the worst people in the world, go for it. I will never visit you and will forget your name.
Santa Monica is great in pockets but it’s SUPER expensive. Venice has some cool up and coming-type stuff as far as places to hang out and things to do, but it’s still dirty hippies and crazy people most of the time. And it’s overpriced. And it occasionally has a really random gang problem. That makes it sound less safe than it is, but it’s fine. However, I’m a much bigger fan of Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey. Is it Rey or Ray? I’m too lazy to Google it right now.
Both Hermosa and Redondo Beaches are a *little* less expensive than Santa Monica and super awesome and very safe. They’re also catastrophically far from everything relevant except some of Marvel.
You cannot afford Malibu. If you can, you have no business reading my blog.
I’m sure I left a ton of stuff out on both accidental and purposeful levels, but this should be a solid intro to the areas of town you’ll want to be most familiar with first. If you need answers to more specific questions, leave comments and I’ll do my damndest to answer them. Also, if you don’t feel like reading any of the above, just consult this handy visual aid and you’ll be fine. It’s accurate as shit (thanks, Sarah Sprague).
One of my favorite places in Southern California. But if you work in the industry the commute every day is not worth it and I believe it’s way more expensive than that trouble is worth.
Addendum to #2: If you have a spouse and kids assume a $100K salary is equivalent to the $30K you make as a single person. You still live with people, except you have to drive them places. It could work if you’re managing your kid.
As to Pasadena, it is a bit pricey. But it’s close to Hollywood and Burbank via freeway. It’ faster to get to either of those (and even Westwood) by freeway from Pasadena than if you live in the thick of Hollywood.
Also Arcadia, just East of Pasadena, boasts over 700 massage parlors, if you’re into that kind of thing. And you can get relatively cheap housing in relatively decent neighborhoods. But it’s all relative. Adjust accordingly.
I agree! However, someone who moves their entire family to LA to pursue a career in the film industry with no real connections and makes it more than 3 months is a veritable unicorn, so I kind of glossed over it.
Thanks for the diagnonsis
Thanks for the diagnosis
Loved this post! Looking to head out that way in a couple months and these insights are much appreciated. Been to the Valley a couple times and I think it gets a bad rap. Intrigued by the Culver City/Palms tip. Any suggestions on the best way to FIND legit rental properties? The ol’ neighborhood scoop-the-loop? Westside Rentals? The ever-sketchy Craigslist? Thanks for the wisdom!
I have had a lot of success with Westside Rentals in the past, and a LOT of people use it. I also used Craigslist once with relative ease. I have heard good things about sites like roommates dot com and rent dot com (if those still exist – been a while). So there are a lot of options.