State Of The Suburbs
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State Of The Suburbs
Los Angeles
Lean into the sprawl in one of these
five towns
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At Thrillist, we love big cities, but we also recognize the appeal of smaller towns with the same mix of great food, nightlife, and culture – plus a lower cost of living. That’s why we’ve partnered with the National Association of Realtors® on a content series highlighting the best suburbs of nine major cities, perfect for young urbanites who may be looking to buy a home. And when it’s time to start house hunting, check out HouseLogic.com, from NAR, for buying and selling advice to help you navigate loan options, bidding wars, and everything else it takes to close the deal. Dream home, here you come.
Living in LA means conflicting feelings over your love for being in the middle of California’s most populated city vs. your frustration with how little space your paycheck gets you. Sure, the never-ending palm trees, carnitas tacos, and sunny January days might have gotten you through the initial years of apartment living, but investing in your own SoCal utopia outside the city, where you’re able to stretch out in an actual backyard, starts to sound better the more time you log on the 405.

“[Los Angeles] is a booming metropolis,“ says Pat “Ziggy” Zicarelli, an LA real estate agent and Realtor® -- a member of the National Association of Realtors®. “But it’s also a city where millennials just want to be in reach of it. They want to find a place where they can work and play within an hour’s distance from the city and not have to sit in the LA hiccup: traffic.”

This metro area is unique in that it’s a sprawling collection of suburbs where you can escape central LA but still be technically within city limits. Now, we’re not suggesting the average millennial house-hunter can put a down-payment on a bungalow in the Hills or become neighbors with celebrities in Brentwood, but there are more affordable areas that are just as lively (and also won’t blow up your commute). These five suburbs offer a home that fits everyone’s own pursuit of SoCal fun.
Major league sports & family attractions
You don’t have to fork out insane rent in downtown LA to experience the best of SoCal sports. We’re talking about living in the city that inspired Angels in the Outfield (and, of course, the home of Disneyland) -- as long as you’re willing to head further south to Orange County for more space and a little more sunshine. “With all the new housing coming in, young people are continuing to move here,” says Charles Harris, senior VP of marketing at Visit Anaheim, who notes the commute to LA is “absolutely” doable. From here, it’s under 45 minutes to the Westside by LAX or El Segundo (still under the LA average) and same goes for downtown LA, too.

Families and sports fans alike will live for summer nights at the ballpark rooting on the Angels while eating stadium-famous Mexican from Chronic Tacos. Or, if hockey is more your speed, the 2007 Stanley Cup-champion Anaheim Ducks play downtown at the Honda Center. And it’s more than major league sports: The convention center and arena sees everything from fencing competitions to the USA dance nationals, and the Honda Center hosted the world gymnastics competition. And yes, you can always just nerd out with the kids at Disneyland -- the only park in the country built under the supervision of Walt himself.

Downtown, the Anaheim Packing District is a favorite for post-game food and cocktails, with over 15 artisan eateries for all ages, award-winning breweries, and even a speakeasy in The Blind Rabbit. The brewery/massive beer garden to become a regular at is Anaheim Brewery; the historic 1920s structure reopened in 2011 under wife & husband team Barbara and Greg Gerovac, who moved to Anaheim in 2008. “We had three requirements. We wanted to be able to walk to the library, a grocery store, and local restaurants. Bingo! Downtown Anaheim has all three,” Barbara says.
A high-end restaurant scene & easy park access
Though there are cheaper places to buy a home in the Valley, Encino is much more than a bedroom community. Westside hotspots Brentwood and Santa Monica are an easy drive, and the city’s own restaurant scene offers Malibu-worthy sushi and tasting menu lounges. Coupled with unfettered access to its 11,000-acre backyard of Topanga State Park, the lifestyle here proves you don’t need to go up the coast for a relaxing, food-filled weekend (and that the Valley stereotype is totally passé).

“The only thing the Valley used to lack were high-end, chef-driven restaurants, but that is changing,” explains chef/restaurateur and Valley native Phillip Frankland Lee, whose three Encino restaurants helped put the city on the culinary map. The Top Chef alum’s concepts include dollar oysters and IPAs at Woodley Proper, an elegant tasting menu at Scratch Bar & Kitchen, and the omakase speakeasy Sushi l Bar. “Our restaurants have guests from all walks of life and from all age groups,” he says. “It’s truly diverse yet ‘homey’ and we are seeing more young couples moving here every day.” On Ventura Boulevard, you’ll pass by Okumura, the sushi bar headed by chef Ryota Okumura that’s on more than one best-restaurants list, and the always-crowded Claudine Artisan Kitchen & Bakeshop, where locals have been going for laid-back dishes like fried chicken sandwiches and breakfast naan since 2016. (The shop is owned by another Valley native: pastry chef Lea Newton, and her friend, chef Anthony Jacquet.)

Whether you have friends in town or kids you need to wear out, Encino’s proximity to the sprawling Santa Monica Mountains to the south means a plethora of outdoor activities, like working up a sweat hiking the wooded Caballero Canyon Trail to the top. “There are awesome parks above us on Mulholland [Drive],” Jacquet says. “There are dog parks and small parks within walking distance. And just about a mile down the road, there’s a city center with entertainment for kids and bars for adults.” Want to venture outside the city limits but still stay relatively close? The state parks near the coast are just a 20-30 minute drive.
Walkability & one-of-a-kind businesses
Sleek pour-over coffee shops, $6 movie tickets, and a 1920s bowling alley turned vintage social club welcome you to Highland Park, a historic northeast suburb that’s seen serious growth within the last five years because of its affordable lifestyle. Residents initially escape here to be closer to the Hollywood Bowl’s world-class concerts and festival schedule, but end up falling for Highland Park’s genuine, laid-back charm, which has attracted immigrants for decades. It’s also appealing to first-time buyers who want more space to raise a family, and also something different to do every weekend.

From fiery Yucatan dishes at El Faisan y El Venado to indie vinyl at Gimme Gimme Records, mom-and-pop businesses are what make Highland Park so refreshing. Post-brunch shopping options range from scanning vintage bar carts at Shopclass to checking out the typewriters at US Office Machine Co. (it’s been in Highland Park since ’62). Take a breezy walk down Figueroa Street or York Boulevard, where the 20th-century Craftsman homes standing next to freshly-painted modern storefronts is a testament to the neighborhood’s blend of old and new. “When we moved to Highland Park and saw businesses that were moving in and saw the ones that had been there for a long time that were staying, we had an instant connection with it,” says Mike Rougeau, who relocated with his girlfriend and two dogs in 2016 from Silver Lake, Highland Park’s increasingly crowded neighbor.

But how good can your neighborhood be if you have to wither away in traffic to experience anything? From here, you can commute to Burbank, Hollywood, or University Park in about 30 minutes -- way below the LA average of 53 minutes. Highland Park’s walkability to grocery stores, movies at Highland Theaters, and attractions on its “busiest” streets is also unbeatable. The Metro Gold Line stop, which will get you down the 101 to downtown LA within a half hour, makes the museums and breweries there easily accessible on the weekends, too.    
Beachfront & craft brews
Quiet, palm tree-lined streets and ocean views make Long Beach the perfect laid-back surf town without the overpriced two-bedrooms and selfie-snapping tourists. The coastal neighborhood is also experiencing a cultural renaissance, with the city pouring resources into the downtown and its convention center and affordable condos popping up all over town. “It has big-city elements with a small-town vibe,” says Beachwood BBQ tasting room manager Jeremy Rodriguez, who’s lived here for 10 years. “You know your neighbors, you see people you’ve met all the time. It’s all that, located on the Pacific Ocean. It’s a trifecta of awesomeness.”

Beachwood, which opened its brewery here in 2011, joined Belmont Brewing Company (which has been operating since 1990) and Congregation Ale House (est. 2010) to make Long Beach a regional hub for craft beer. In 2016, San Diego’s Ballast Point opened a brewpub here, and last year, Torrance’s Smog City Brewing moved into a stall at the SteelCraft outdoor eatery. Beyond beer, downtown, the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center hosts events such as ComplexCon and Disney On Ice. “The buzz is getting out about the city,” says Loren Simpson, the convention center’s director of digital communications. “We’ve had Kevin Hart and other comedians from LA come [perform] because it’s just quaint. You don’t feel like an outsider when you’re here.”

Weekend activities range from touring (or staying the night in) the famous ocean liner The Queen Mary, seeing exhibits at the Long Beach Museum of Art, raiding vintage shops along Retro Row, or watching classic movies outdoors at Sunnyside Cemetery. Residents here have access to a bike-sharing program that’s encouraged the city to ramp up bike lanes; and when you do need to drive to work, you won’t tear your hair out commuting on the 405. “Coming from Long Beach and going to El Segundo or anywhere on the west side, you’re going against traffic,” says resident Jamie Weeks, a manager at the convention center. “You can be at LAX in 45 minutes.” Speaking of airports, there’s one of those, too; Long Beach Airport is the official West Coast hub of JetBlue.
Outdoor adventure & theme parks
There are worse ways to spend a weekend than flying through the air on roller coasters, biking scenic trails, or cooling down via six-story water slides. That’s the life you could have if you relocate to Santa Clarita, a northern LA suburb that’s home to two Six Flags theme parks, shares its eastern border with Angeles National Forest, and boasts a commitment to investing in the outdoors. “We have over 9,000 acres of open space acquired by the city and are connected to millions of acres in the Southern California mountain ranges,” says Santa Clarita Assistant City Manager Frank Oviedo. “You can bike to the beach or hike into the mountains all from your front door.”

With over 24 community parks to wander, Santa Clarita is great for both families with kids and dog owners alike. There are 85 miles of connected pathways and off-road trails to explore in the mornings while you drink cold brew from local favorite Undergrounds Coffeehouse. “I’m an avid runner, so I spend a lot of time running our trails or mountain biking,” Oviedo says. Kayaking and other water activities are accessible as well, with Castaic Lake a mere 10-minute drive away (or hey, an hour bike ride for you cyclists). The food scene likewise supports an active lifestyle. After a trail run, order organic tofu breakfast scrambles and fresh-pressed juices at Eat Real Cafe or a tomato, feta, and basil frittata with a ginger shot at The Daily Harvest.

Driving time into central LA is similar to other areas of metro LA, and “we have a robust transit service as well as being served by the region’s Metrolink trains that will get you into downtown LA,” Oviedo says. If you’re flying domestically, you can be at Burbank airport in about 20 minutes. And easily the best part about living in Santa Clarita: Six Flags Magic Mountain and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor are a 15-minute drive, meaning insane waterslides, roller coasters that race through the air upside-down, and seasonal festivities like October’s Fright Fest is all at your fingertips.
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