Which LA Neighborhood Should You Move To?
We break it down for you.
It’s a strange time to be looking for a new place to live, but thanks to the fact that rents around the city have fallen for the first time in a decade, it’s perhaps a better time to move now than ever. Looking for a new place to live in Los Angeles is both exciting and exhausting, and because we’ve got hundreds of neighborhoods in LA County, it can be more than a little daunting to pick one. Here we break down more than 20 of the most popular areas, highlighting the stuff you really care about (like landmarks, vibe, transportation, bars, restaurants, and what the burrito scene looks like) so you can pick the perfect one for you and all your cats. You’re welcome.
Atwater Village“This quiet town next to the LA River and the 5 Freeway has become an epicenter for independent shops. Offering gourmet food, specialty shopping, and artisan coffee & drinks, it’s one of the few neighborhoods in LA where small businesses rule and you get none of the corporate chains.... yet! Let’s hope it stays this way.”
-- Heidi Fu & Gonzalo Otarola, Owners, Black Elephant Coffee
Sites & Landmarks: Griffith Park is nearby, and the same goes for the LA River. The Tam O’Shanter, which opened in 1922, still stands proud and serves some of the best prime rib in LA.
If Atwater Village was personified, it would be your friend’s cool parents. It’s a little bit more removed from the party vibe of Silver Lake and Los Feliz, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get funky if you want to. It’s one of the few neighborhoods in LA where every single house looks notably different from the one next to it; imagine the Sunset District in San Francisco, with houses of different colors and design styles (some even with castle-like turrets) everywhere you look. Most residences were built during the 1920s so the architecture has more of a classic look.
As one of LA’s most diverse neighborhoods, Atwater Village makes for a fun multicultural playground. You’ll find family recipes at Viva Tacos Azteca (get lengua), delicious pupusas from El Buen Gusto, and even a tasty restaurant in the back of India Sweets & Spices, an Indian grocery store. Glendale Boulevard is loaded with great restaurants (Dune, Hail Mary Pizza, and Proof Bakery are pure magic), and bars (Looking at you, Club Tee Gee). You’ll find a similar lineup along Los Feliz, with Moon Room, The Roost, taco trucks, and of course, LA’s best restaurant: Del Taco. The coffee scene is kickin’ too -- at Black Elephant Coffee, they donate a portion of their proceeds to protecting wildlife (so if you’re going to drink coffee, you might as well be a good person while you do it).
Beverly Grove & Fairfax“Coming to LA as a New Yorker, Fairfax was always the go-to location and first stop. So when opening my first shop, I knew I had to keep it in the neighborhood.”
-- Paul James, Owner, Uncle Paulie’s
Sites & Landmarks: Beverly Grove takes its name from its location and its greatest landmark: The Grove: The sprawling outdoor mall has truly taken its place in the pantheon of LA tourism, alongside places like Santa Monica Beach and The Getty. Here you’ll find high-end shopping, restaurants, a movie theater, and even a Barnes & Noble (they still exist!!). Your favorite part of the Grove, though, will be the Farmers Market: an outdoor marketplace full of tasty food stalls and novelty shops (shoutout to the store that sells only hot sauce).
Beyond the mall, Beverly Grove melds into Fairfax. Also a food and drink haven, the sandwiches from Uncle Paulie’s, the neo-Indian fare from Badmaash, and the unbeatable bakery items from Canter’s all help make the neighborhood a destination for dining. Though many other big-deal restaurants and bars are closed for COVID, expect the area to quickly rise back to prominence when this is all over. Another major part of the area -- and believe it or not, quarantine life hasn’t killed this yet -- is its status as a major hypebeast hotbed. Are people still waiting in line for sneaker releases most every time you walk through? Yes. Yes they are.
Beverly Hills & Bel-Air“Beverly Hills and Bel-Air are considered the dining room and living room for the world’s most powerful players. Exclusive restaurants, top chefs, and unmatchable dining experiences are everywhere you look. While Beverly Hills is often the place to see and be seen, people go to Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air to feel as though they are on a private estate with protected exclusivity.”
-- Michael Treanor, Executive Chef, Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air
Sites & Landmarks: Take a winding drive through the canyons and you’ll see the area’s biggest landmarks: the houses. Perched at the top of mountains, homes around here can sell for preposterous amounts of money; it’s the unabashed 1%, and everything that comes with it.
Elderly movie producers, your friend’s grandparents, Jed Clampett... they all live in Beverly Hills. If you’ve never been, it’s exactly how you’d picture it: lavish, rich, and clean. It’s the sort of place that reminds you that yes, some of the people who moved to LA to achieve success in TV, film, and music actually did. Is it an embarrassment of riches? Yes, absolutely. Is it also a living testament to the Los Angeles dream that makes us all work a little harder and hustle a little stronger? Yes, absolutely.
With top designers and luxury items galore, the legendary Rodeo Drive is where rich people go to do rich people things. But for all the glitz and glamour, the place is surprisingly neighborhoody. Coffee shops, locally-owned businesses, and -- in a world where we’re allowed to gather -- even legendary music venues.
For a long time, Beverly Hills was the epicenter of fine dining in Los Angeles. Downtown’s culinary explosion has lessened it a bit, but some of the most impressive dining experiences are still found around here: Fogo de Chão, which can only be described as the Disneyland of churrascaria, as well as Wolfgang Puck’s best restaurants (Cut, Spago, and the Hotel Bel-Air). Also in the game are Urasawa, Sasabune, and Ginza Onodera -- all life changing/wallet-busting omakase sushi experiences.
You can tell yourself you’ll resist the over-the-top trendiness of Urth Caffé, but you won’t, and the same goes for Aharon -- a charming coffee shop grinding some of the best beans around. Bibo Ergo Sum is a stunner, as well, with a secret(ish) entrance leading to a beautiful space full of no-joke cocktails.
Chinatown“Chinatown has always been a beacon of opportunity for Los Angeles. During these trying times Chinatown still has our back!”
-- Alvin Cailan, Chef/Owner, Amboy Quality Meats
Sites & Landmarks: The newly renovated LA Historic Park stretches throughout Chinatown, and in a world where people are allowed to go outside and gather in groups, it’s one of the best park experiences in the city, located right off the Metro Gold Line. Chinese art is everywhere, and in addition to the infamous Chinatown Gateway Monument, you’ll find lanterns and Chinese design all over the place. Along the edge, you’ll also find Philippe The Original, LA’s oldest restaurant famous for its French dip sandwiches.
One of the most significant neighborhood revivals of the past few years, Chinatown has begun to explode as of late. Back in the late ‘30s, Chinatown was a highly desirable spot for immigrants seeking to open new businesses. Though DTLA’s Union Station now occupies the original Chinatown area, its borders have moved and developed into what some people now refer to as “New Chinatown”.
Already known as a haven of dim sum legends (like Golden Dragon and Ocean Seafood Restaurant), the dining scene was expanding steadily beyond the classic spots including the arrival of Howlin' Ray’s (the Nashville hot chicken specialists are known to have a line that can reach four-hour wait times). Today, the food and drink scene is more serious than ever, boasting hard-to-snag reservations at David Chang’s Majordomo, beautiful cuts of meat from burger wizard Alvin Cailan at Amboy Quality Meats, and some of the best beer you can drink from Highland Park Brewery’s second tap room.
Culver City“There is a great energy in Culver City right now with a palpable feeling of growth. The Platform seems to be at the epicenter of much of it, with big tech companies, apartments, hotels, restaurants, retail and more all popping up within a half mile radius. It's all so accessible from almost anywhere in the city.”
-- Michael Williams, Executive Chef, Margot
Sites & Landmarks: In the ‘20s, Culver City was home to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making it one of the biggest studio areas in Los Angeles. Much of it still stands today, but has been incorporated into Sony and Columbia Pictures. A huge outdoor mall called Platform is the center of Culver City’s rise in popularity, featuring everything from a SoulCycle studio, to an art gallery, to a best-tortilla-in-the-city contender at Loqui.
Culver City is big and expansive, so for a long time it wasn’t exactly full of hip and trendy things, but like everywhere, that’s changed. A lot of Sony and Columbia employees have settled over here, trying to avoid what would otherwise be a hellish commute, though the Expo Line helps that out.
We have an extensive Culver City restaurant guide for you -- but probably the most notable thing about Culver City right now is Vespertine. Though you can’t dine inside the mind-bendingly designed building (which JGold compared to dining on Jupiter), chef Jordan Kahn has shifted to a takeout option, which is currently taking the form of a Japanese-style tasting menu. If you’re looking for something a little more tethered to Earth, Kahn’s other restaurant Destroyer is open across the street, and open for patio dining and takeout. The food is wonderful, not nearly as expensive as it should be, and no less mind-bending in presentation. For a socially distanced rooftop hang full of small plates and beautiful cocktails, give Margot a look.
Downtown“Housing some of the best restaurants, world-class entertainment, a thriving fashion scene, and plenty of Insta-worthy street art, DTLA has grown to become the heart of Los Angeles.”
-- Kinya Claiborne, founder of Style & Society magazine
Sites & Landmarks: How much time do you have? You can’t walk five feet through DTLA without seeing a notable site or landmark. The Bradbury Building alone was built in 1893, and many of the buildings you’ll see stretching up above you are a solid 100 years old. Between Angel’s Flight, Grand Central Market, Bunker Hill, and everything else you can see, this is one of those places that feels instantly familiar -- you’ve seen everything here in a movie at least 10 times.
Downtown Los Angeles is arguably the neighborhood experiencing the most significant renaissance. After a period of stagnation and decreasing population following WWII, Downtown’s “Skid Row” neighborhood became synonymous with urban decline. Thanks in large part to legislation passed in 1999, residential development saw an upswing and an area formerly dominated by empty spaces and warehouses regained enough population to draw restaurants and retail businesses back into the fold. That trend continues to this day, despite rising prices. On global pandemic-free days, everywhere you look, people are walking; commuting, hopping in and out of the Metro station, grabbing a happy hour beer, or walking their dog. Downtown LA has received nearly the same reaction from every East Coaster that’s visited: “... are we still in LA?”
The eastern section of DTLA is called the Arts District, and as more and more new spots open around there, it’s hard to deny it may be the “coolest” area of LA. From neighborhoody spots like Here & Now and Everson Royce Bar (get the biscuits) to Bavel (which very well may be the best restaurant in Los Angeles), to the booming arts and design community, the Arts District is impossibly hip and impossibly hard not to fall in love with.
Some of our most decorated chefs have opened restaurants in beautifully designed spaces here (like Spring, Redbird, Shibumi, and Q). Something less beautifully designed, but no doubt the prize of the Los Angeles dining scene: Grand Central Market. Inside, you’ll find an excellent mix of generations-old food stalls next to brand modern projects like Sari Sari Store. Little Tokyo, a section of Downtown, is exactly what it sounds like: a Japanese food mecca. Popular options include Marugame Monz, Daikokuya, and Kula. Robata, ramen, udon, sushi... you name it, Little Tokyo has it.
Echo Park“Echo Park has changed so much since we signed our lease seven years ago… the recent past has been a challenge, but we remain optimistic, quixotically so that Echo Park will be a place of opportunity for everybody.”
-- Jaime Turrey, chef/owner, Ostrich Farm
Sites & Landmarks: Just southeast of Silver Lake sits Echo Park, a neighborhood built around its namesake lake. (Couples flock to said lake to rent pedal boats, it’s actually one of the best date spots in LA.)
Echo Park is hipster-y -- almost as much as Silver Lake, in fact -- but it’s also fun as hell and lush with history, easy-going people, and a ton of great stuff to eat and drink. And to top it off, it’s still not as expensive as it should be (yet).
Restaurants, bars, and cafes flourish on Sunset Blvd, stretching all the way to the edge of Chinatown and DTLA; Guisado’s is doing it big with slow-cooked tacos, Button Mash is doing it even bigger with a bar/arcade full of excellent craft beer and Asian small plates, and Ostrich Farm has kept it simple with new American plates that define a major part of the neighborhood’s cooking. Mohawk Bend is another excellent hang, a big gastropub with one of the best beer lists in town (they generally have Pliny on tap); beer lovers will split their time there with Sunset Beer Co, while wine lovers can head across the street to Bar Bandini. Coffee nuts will set up their second home in Woodcat, Eightfold, Triniti, or any of the other craft coffee spots along Sunset Boulevard. Echo Park is fun as hell.
There’s a huge Cuban presence in Echo Park, too; tons of Cuban immigrants and refugees settled here after Castro overthrew Batista in the ‘60s, and the influence of that influx can be seen in landmarks like José Martí Square, and the annual “Presencia Cubana” heritage festival. There are also Cuban bakeries (chief among them Cuscatleca), sandwich shops, and cafes everywhere you look.
Frogtown (Elysian Valley)“Elysian Valley, also known as Frogtown, is a magical mix of kind-hearted neighbors, artists, manufacturers, innovators, and small businesses alike. You can’t help but feel like you’re somewhere different and special when you’re here.”
-- Lauren Lemos, co-owner of Wax Paper
Sites & Landmarks: Frogtown is built along the LA River, which is a thing, and the bike path that races alongside makes it one of the bikeable and walkable areas of Los Angeles.
Named (incorrectly) for the amount of toads that could be seen hopping around the area prior to the 1970s, the area has undergone more significant gentrification than other neighborhoods, but still maintains a very strong locals-only energy. People know each other in Frogtown; if you live here, you’re part of a real community.
The warehouse-heavy neighborhood is just waiting for development; La Colombe Coffee has an LA flagship location in one, and Frogtown Brewery (a fun mom & pop beer operation) also operates out of a warehouse. No matter what you do in Frogtown, make sure your first stop is Wax Paper, a tiny shipping container serving some of the best sandwiches you will eat anywhere. Nearby, you can have a beer while you get your bike fixed at Spoke Bicycle Cafe, or end up at Salazar for arguably the best Paloma in LA, and some tacos served on tasty homemade tortillas. We love you, Frogtown.
Glendale“Once an epicenter of everything Armenian, Glendale is now adapting to gentrification. That said, the amount of great Middle Eastern food around here is almost overwhelming.”
-- Armen Martirosyan, Mini Kabob
Sites & Landmarks: Do you like the Grove? Surprise! Glendale has one too. The Americana Center is the Grove’s smaller, much less intense cousin. A few years ago, the most exciting thing at the Americana was Urban Outfitters. Today, you can choose between restaurant openings from places like Bacari, Din Tai Fung, Katsuya, and The Tsujita.
Sometime in the last few years, Glendale’s dining scene grew to include new businesses beyond those owned by its Armenian and Middle Eastern residents. Because of this, Glendale is a prime example of the gentrification that persists throughout LA; as more and more old-school Glendale businesses close, new ones spring up. Nishi-ya, for example, is a top-of-its-class omakase experience, and Brick & Flour serves up fantastic Mexican food with artisanal flour tortillas, but neither of them opened before 2005.
Despite the decline of old Glendale businesses, top-notch Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food is still available in the area. In fact, it’s still everywhere you look. Check out Raffi’s, Carousel, Skaf’s, and countless others. At Mini Kabob, a family-run operation serves elite-level grilled meats despite being literally the smallest restaurant in Los Angeles. You won’t eat better Armenian food anywhere in the city -- maybe not even in California. Hell, maybe not even in the country.
Highland Park, Eagle Rock, & Northeast LA“First things first for all the transplants, know your history: It's HLP, not HP. (The latter is and forever reserved for Huntington Park.) Lastly, I love Highland Park so goddamn much. Where else am I always walking distance to true ceviche Sinaloense, SGV-imported dumplings, and some of the best hazy IPAs in all of LA?”
-- Javier Cabral, Editor, L.A. Taco
Sites & Landmarks: There aren’t many tourist attractions in Northeast LA, and that’s exactly the way they like it -- save for Eagle Rock’s eponymous eagle-shaped rock, the 50+ year old San Antonio Winery, and Glassell Park’s Glasselland sign.
Highland Park is hundreds of years old, officially incorporated into Los Angeles back in the 1780s, and because of this rich history, there aren’t many other places in LA where you’ll see such a special mix of old and new. The area’s demographic has been largely Latino since the ‘60s, and you’ll find longtime Highland Park families running barbershops, food trucks, bakeries, and many others.
You can truly feel the history of the neighborhood when you walk through Highland Park—but like the rest of LA, no area’s immune to change forever. Rents were climbing for residents and businesses alike, and despite public outcry many old-school, Latin-owned businesses have been priced out in favor of trendy places to eat and drink, especially along York Boulevard & Figueroa Street.
With change comes the bad along with the good: Highland Park Brewery is arguably the best brewery in LA, and the sandwiches from Jeff’s Table are some of the best you can find. Highland Park Bowl recently underwent a $2,000,000 renovation, and is by far the best-looking place to bowl in LA (apologies to Spare Room). The craft cocktails and wood-fired pizzas are only the icing on the cake.
The rest of NELA is a sprawling landscape full of restaurants, bars, Occidental college students, and hikers (the nearby Verdugo Mountains are beautiful). If you’re into farmers markets, Highland Park and Eagle Rock have two of the best. Put Parsnip and Casa Bianca Pizza Pie in heavy rotation too, while you’re at it.
The Hollywoods“West Hollywood is synonymous with pride---and proud we are. Proud to be a vibrant, welcoming community with people from all different backgrounds. It is a town where everyone comes together to celebrate life with great food, drink, and nightlife.”
-- Sabel Braganza, Executive Chef, EP & LP
Sites & Landmarks: Let’s be real: no matter where you live, you already know the sites and landmarks that make Hollywood famous. The Sign, the Walk of Fame, The Chinese Theater… the list truly goes on and on. Hollywood is right up there next to Times Square as perhaps the most recognized place in the country.
Over 100 years ago, Hollywood was incorporated as an LA municipality, and ever since the name alone has held a more loaded meaning than most other places on Earth. “Hollywood” is so much more than a neighborhood; it’s an entire industry. It’s a concept, and it’s a feeling, and it’s a conundrum. Hollywood can be exactly what you think it is, but it can also be so much more. Yes, it’s Grauman’s and the El Capitan and way too many bad nightclubs, but it’s also the physical manifestation of everybody who has ever chased a dream in the entertainment industry.
No matter how obnoxious and touristy Hollywood gets, somehow it manages to keep that old magic, the spark that began back with the first studio in 1912. Because of this, East Hollywood, West Hollywood, and (regular) Hollywood have distinctly different vibes. West Hollywood is LA’s LGBTQ capital, so you’ll find some of the liveliest party-areas around, whereas East Hollywood is a lot more relaxed and low-key (with a combination of the two in the middle).
The area is gigantic, and speckled from end to end with great food. Rosaliné is a marvel, so head there in a hurry for some of the best Peruvian food of your life. The newly refreshed menu at EP & LP is great as well, and the food tastes even better when you’re looking down at the city from their rooftop bar. The truth is, just name a cuisine, and you’ll find somewhere excellent to eat it in Hollywood. Mind-blowing Lebanese and Armenian food? Hit Marouch. Next-level French cuisine? Go for celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Petit Trois. There’s a limitless bounty of food and drink around here (and our full Hollywood restaurant guide goes into greater detail).
Above all, though, Hollywood is famous for being the capital of the entertainment industry. It’s not hyperbole; this is where most of your favorite stories go down, and it has been for over 100 years. There are studios everywhere—including Netflix and Paramount—and chances are, whatever building you’re looking at has a team of people working in film or TV...which makes for equal parts celebrity spotting, and the world’s worst traffic.
Koreatown“Central location, accessibility, vivid nightlife... they all contribute to Koreatown becoming a big Restaurant City. While the neighborhood adheres to its namesake and remains the mecca for Korean food, it's also becoming a place where you can find great restaurants of any cuisine.”
-- Jeffry Undiarto, Iki Ramen
Sites & Landmarks: You’ve probably seen The Prince restaurant in your favorite movie or show— it’s been around since the ‘40s. The Wiltern, right on the corner of Wilshire & Western (get the name now?), is one of our best music venues. Your favorite band has definitely played there.
Korean immigrants began to settle and open businesses here in the ‘60s, taking advantage of the inexpensive real estate. What probably cemented Koreatown as its own tight-knit community though, were the LA Riots -- residents famously claimed they felt ignored throughout, which created a “let’s stick together” kind of vibe, and it’s been that way ever since. Today the neighborhood has the largest Korean population outside of Korea itself, and is packed to the gills with cheap dive bars (god bless HMS Bounty), karaoke, and an absurd number of restaurants. David Chang himself even called it one of the most exciting places to eat in the entire country.
For essential Korean BBQ, you’ve got Park’s BBQ, Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong, and Soowon Galbi (and 500 others); for elite bibimbap, you’ll want to hit Mapo Kkak Doo Gee. Of course, there’s more to eat in Koreatown than just Korean food -- Cassell’s Hamburgers and Iki Ramen are proof of that, serving one of our favorite old-school burgers in town. Finish it all up with a cocktail experience not so different from an omakase sushi meal at the Normandie Club.
In the pre-COVID days it was also a nightlife epicenter. K-town karaoke bars, we’re still rooting for your return. Add to all this K-town’s extremely central location, and what you end up with is a truly wonderful neighborhood. Good luck finding a parking spot, though.
Los Feliz“Los Feliz is such a chill and walkable neighborhood that I actually enjoy going on 'strolls' here on a regular basis. There are lots of charming, independently owned restaurants, shops and bars, where people actually know your name; and cute dogs at every corner, a bonus for dog-crazy people like me.”
-- Jean Trinh, journalist
Sites & Landmarks: Because of the smallish size of Los Feliz, if you live here, chances are high that the Greek Theater is a relatively walkable distance. Sure it requires a bit of a hike, but if you’re leaving a show, trust us, you won’t want to be in a car. And right next to it, at the top of Griffith Park? Yep, you’ve got the Griffith Observatory.
However you choose to pronounce it, there’s little to dislike about Los Feliz. Alright, the parking is admittedly not great, but Los Feliz has a strong shot at the title of Best LA Neighborhood -- and it’s one of our favorite places to spend a weekend. Hillhurst and Vermont Avenues make up most of the hustle and bustle, lined from top to bottom with shops, restaurants, and bars. Griffith Park, one of LA’s ultimate landmarks, is probably the area’s defining treasure (it’s one of the largest parks in the country, even bigger than Central Park). Griffith Jenkins Griffith acquired the land in the late 1880s and turned it into an ostrich farm, which is a sentence that sounds fully made up, but is indeed true.
It’s hard to go wrong in the eating and drinking department around here; grab some cheap-as-hell/delicious-as-hell fish tacos from Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, an Italian sandwich from the family-run Rocco’s Deli, or some $1 oysters at Messhall on Tuesdays. The crown jewel of Los Feliz, though, might just be Kismet, a Mediterranean grand slam (not to mention their sister restaurant next door, Kismet Rotisserie).
Los Feliz includes Thai Town as well, which is exactly what it sounds like: an area that’s home to much of LA’s Thai population, and consequently a Thai food haven. Most residents have a favorite spot picked out, generally describing them as “the one in the corner of the strip mall.” Sapp Coffee Shop is a cash-only institution with rock-solid jade noodles. You really can’t go wrong anywhere, but we love Ruen Pair, Thai Patio, and probably the best of all, Jitlada.
Pasadena & The San Gabriel Valley“Pasadena is a low-key family raising place full of dogs and moms. It’s the kind of place where if you throw a house party the cops will come, but nothing bad will happen.”
-- Ariana Basseri, comedian & dry-cleaning heiress
Sites & Landmarks: The Bruins play at the Rose Bowl making it a UCLA hotbed, and if you’re as big a fan of Back to the Future as the author of this article, you’ll be pleased to know that the Gamble House, aka Doc Brown’s house, aka one of LA’s coolest attractions, is here, too.
Pasadena is the biggest section of the San Gabriel Valley, a vibrant community full of families, restaurants, and -- ever since JPL was built in the 1930s -- rocket scientists. Old Town Pasadena is actually the opposite of what it sounds like, as a lot of it is brand new. Colorado Boulevard is home to the bulk of Pasadena’s shopping, dining, and drinking. Ramen Tatsunoya draws a huge crowd and 800 Degrees Pizzeria keeps the dream of chains-with-great-food alive. We’re in love with Union and Osawa, which means you probably will be too.
The rest of the San Gabriel Valley is an entirely different experience. You simply cannot say you’ve eaten Chinese or Sichuan food in LA until you’ve done some damage in the SGV—there’s a good spot every five steps. Chengdu Taste, Sichuan Impression, and Lunasia are all places you should be marking down regardless of what neighborhood you live in, but don’t sleep on other cuisines—A Ri Rang Tofu House has the best tofu stew outside of Koreatown. You won’t eat like this in many other places in LA... or anywhere, really.
Santa Monica & Venice“The Westside defies LA’s car-centric stigma by offering easily walkable and bikeable neighborhoods with plenty of excellent dining, drinking, entertainment, and shopping options. Spend enough time strolling around either hood, and you’re bound to start recognizing faces and striking up conversations with strangers -- a rarity in a city as big as LA.”
-- Danny Jensen, writer and regular Thrillist contributor
Sites & Landmarks: Look west. See that? That’s the Pacific Ocean. Yeah, we like it too. We’re very famous for it.
The west side beachfront neighborhoods of Santa Monica and Venice have become some of the richest areas in the city, and probably what most out of towners picture when they think of LA. Sure, Venice is full of weed “doctors” and lame kids trying to make skate videos, but it’s also full of White Men Can’t Jump-style pickup games, the quaint stretch of shops and galleries on Abbot Kinney, and some of the most exciting restaurants and bars. Case in point, Evan Funke’s Felix: one of our picks for 2017’s best restaurants in the entire country (with Funke himself named LA’s best chef of 2017). It’s pricey, so if you’re inclined to go the opposite direction, there’s always for a cheap lunch at Hinano Cafe (Jim Morrison’s favorite haunt), a dive bar serving what a lot of people consider to be one of the best burgers in town.
In Santa Monica, it’s equally as packed with chaos and beauty. The SaMo restaurant landscape is full of city-defining restaurants like Cassia and Rustic Canyon, as well as smaller gems like Cha Cha Chicken. Families both local and vacationing flock to the beach each day to take advantage of the movie-esque Santa Monica sunshine. You’ll find some of the nicest hotels down here too, (like the Viceroy and the newer Santa Monica Proper) just a few blocks from goofy restaurants like Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern (where you can get a Bloody Mary garnished with bacon, blue cheese, shrimp, pepperoni, jack cheese, pepperoncini, and a jalapeño deviled egg... yeah.).
The weather’s at least 10 degrees cooler. The beach is at your fingertips. Why wouldn’t you want to live here, you ask? Well, thanks to the ocean and the exploding tech scene, the rent is very high, and (maybe even worse) you’d have to take the 10 any time you wanted to go to the Eastside. Now you understand the conundrum.
Silver Lake“Silver Lake doesn’t have a lot of the negative parts of LA people hate. We don’t have the same traffic, we don’t have the same parking problems, and we have green spaces. It feels like a calm pocket tucked away from the rest of the city with some of the best restaurants you’ll ever find. We’re very far from the ocean, but we’ll live.”
-- Natalie B. Compton, journalist
Sites & Landmarks: The reservoir, for starters, remains one of the most popular places to jog, and any Laurel & Hardy fan knows the 133-step stairs from The Music Box.
It’s easy to write Silver Lake off as annoying due to the overabundance of textbook hipsters, but there’s no denying the excellence this neighborhood has to offer. The food in particular, is off the charts. Night + Market Song is a perfect example, a tiny/funky space exploding with inventive takes on Thai street food. The Taiwanese small plates at Pine & Crane are unreal, while just down the road you can pop into Freedman’s, an exciting Jewish deli serving elevated versions of the classics you love. You’ll find a legendary family-run Cuban cafe (Café Tropical) right next to a popular ramen shop (Silverlake Ramen), all just a short walk from flower shops and community theaters.
Though it feels like Sunset Boulevard is the most prominent area of Silver Lake, that’s not actually the case; there’s still Silver Lake Boulevard, a winding stretch that plays host to Mediterranean gems like Botanica, the Silver Lake Dog Park, and everybody’s favorite place to run, the Silver Lake Reservoir. Almost as trendy as running around the reservoir is hanging out at one of Silver Lake’s many coffee shops; Dinosaur is a local favorite (double points for the rockstar food trucks that park outside).
The South Bay"The South Bay manages to maintain the sleepy beach town vibe while seamlessly providing unforgettable dining experiences along the coast. A closer look inland will not disappoint those in search of endless hidden, family owned restaurants spanning from Brazil, Thai, Italian and everything in between."
-- Mikey Segerstrom, Chef De Cuisine, Little Sister
Sites & Landmarks: The Queen Mary, a retired ship that plays host to tons of events every year, might be the South Bay’s biggest claim to fame (you’ll want to find an excuse to watch fireworks there), but don’t discount the beaches. The sunsets are absolutely bonkers.
The entire South Bay area has a pretty universal pros and cons list, so we’re grouping it all together for the purposes of this guide. Pro: You’re near the beach. Con: You’re far from everything else in LA. Pro: You’re really close to Orange County. Con: You’re really close to Orange County. Admittedly, distance from LA isn’t the biggest deal, as you can take the train all the way from Long Beach to DTLA.
Places like Hermosa, Redondo, and Manhattan Beach are beautiful. Beachside dining and drinking is plentiful (check out Love & Salt, Manhattan Beach Post, Little Sister, and Baran’s 2239), and the sunsets are completely ridiculous. More inland areas like Torrance and Carson are, well, not as beautiful, but no more lacking in character. Torrance is also home to some of LA’s best breweries -- Smog City, Monkish, and Strand to name a few. And the South Bay sushi scene, with places like Nozomi and Chitose? Forget about it.
Long Beach is probably the most LAish spot in the South Bay. Rooftop hangouts like BO-beau give off a DTLA feel, and institutions like Gus’s Fried Chicken have secondary locations down here. We love Lola’s, too; a homey Mexican restaurant, with homemade salsas to write home about.
The Valley & Burbank"Since moving Scratch|Bar & Kitchen to Encino in 2015, Margarita and I have enjoyed watching many great new restaurants open nearby over the years. Having grown up in the Valley, this is our home, and we love the diverse community, sprawling landscape, rich history and friendly families and neighbors."
-- Phillip Frankland Lee, Chef/Owner, Scratch Restaurants
Sites & Landmarks: The Valley is very suburban, so landmarks are limited, though CBS Radford (the studio where they shot Seinfeld) might get some people juiced up. The real landmarks of the Valley are the tiny, blink-and-you-miss-them restaurants in the corners of its numerous strip malls. You might now recognize many of them from the Netflix series, Cobra Kai.
Strip malls define the LA food scene. It might sound weird to an outsider, but any local knows top-tier restaurants are found in strip malls in seemingly endless numbers—and perhaps nowhere in the city is this more prevalent than the San Fernando Valley. Valley strip malls are home to a ton of sushi bars that could compete with Tokyo itself—Go’s Mart, for example, is a tiny, uninviting spot that features fish imported directly from the Tsukiji Fish Market, and Phillip Frankland Lee’s chef-driven omakase experience Sushi|Bar (on the top floor of a two-story strip mall) might be the best sushi experience in Los Angeles. Some of the best Syrian food you’ll ever have will be in a strip mall at Kobee Factory. There’s a place in Van Nuys called Cemitas Don Adrian serving up some unreal Pueblan sandwiches right in the corner of, yep, a strip mall. There are a million options. Luckily, we’ve already laid out the best SFV restaurants for you right here.
The Valley wasn’t “cool” for a long time, and while it’s not the burgeoning hotspot that, say, DTLA is, it’s still changing every day. North Hollywood might be the most exciting part, especially where Lankershim and Magnolia meet. The rows of bars, restaurants, and community theaters create a special atmosphere; people actually walk around.
Burbank is a different story. Sort of a “Hollywood Pt. 2,” it’s home to editing houses, color correction facilities, and a slew of studios (including Warner Bros, Nickelodeon, and Disney). The neighborhood’s packed with landmarks, and you can even visit the oldest Bob’s Big Boy in existence. Burbank was also once the home of Skunk Works -- Lockheed Martin’s infamous, top-secret weapons development program -- but that’s one piece of Burbank history you won’t find well preserved.
Unlike most of the gentrification the rest of the Valley has seen, it doesn’t feel like Burbank has made much of an attempt to change into a trendy hotspot. At the family-run Pinocchio Restaurant they’ve been doing things the same way since the '60s; same deal at Giamela’s, a sandwich shop you will fall in love with. Sure, the “downtown” area’s a bit more bustling, but instead of celebrity chef-owned restaurants, the area is full of family-oriented stuff like movie theaters, shopping malls, and chains. Welcome to the ‘burbs.
Westwood, Brentwood, & Sawtelle“The Brentwood neighborhood remains a community environment with loyal residents, families and local businesses. Businesses welcome the flow of customers, and al fresco dining has become a part of the renewed energy of Brentwood.”
-- Sam Nazarian, founder, SBE
Sites & Landmarks: Westwood is best known as the home of UCLA. There’s not much time in Westwood’s history that isn’t tied to the prolific university—it was founded less than 10 years after Westwood’s development from a 3,000 acre ranch into a hotspot for new houses. Today, student life dominates the area, and it’s unwise to wear any sort of USC or Trojan gear around here—the rivalry is very real. It’s also home of Westwood Village Memorial Park, one of our most beautiful cemeteries (and the resting place of famous people like Marilyn Monroe and Rodney Dangerfield).
The neighboring Brentwood has a distinctly more mature vibe, mostly full of families and people with a fair share of disposable income. Pizzana (which Jonathan Gold once compared to the best pizzeria in the entire world) operates here, as well as a number of other killer high-end restaurants and lounges, like S Bar and Katsuya. It’s not quite Bel-Air, but these are upscale neighborhoods.
Just south of where Westwood and Brentwood meet is Sawtelle, an area full of excellent Japanese food that somehow gets robbed of credit thanks to the existence of Little Tokyo. The appropriately named Killer Noodle, from the wizards behind The Tsujita, specializes in insanely spicy ramen. Is it enough to outweigh the insane traffic, especially if you’re anyone other than a UCLA student? Maybe not.