Moving to Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles — dubbed the "city of angels" by its original Spanish-speaking settlers — is the largest city in California and the second-largest city in the United States. Unlike its top-two counterpart New York City, which packs its residents on top of each other into skyscrapers on the tiny island of Manhattan, Los Angeles sprawls out for miles between the Pacific Ocean to the west and mountain ranges to the east. It's a diverse and eclectic mix of neighborhoods, cultures, and natural beauty that has something to offer for all kinds of different people.
Whether you're moving to chase your dream of becoming an actor, relocating for a new job, or seeking the sunny weather that Southern California promises, the logistics of packing and finding a moving service can be overwhelming. Here's some information that might make your transition to your new home in Los Angeles a little smoother.
What Is Los Angeles Like?
It's difficult to describe LA succinctly because of its incredible diversity of people, cultures, ways of life, and economic variability. You can live on top of a mountain above Malibu or deep in the San Fernando Valley and still call yourself an Angeleno. You can be a famous movie star in Hollywood or the shyest person in the neighborhood and be a vital part of this thriving metropolitan area.
According to a survey conducted by WalletHub, Los Angeles ranks in the top ten most diverse cities in the nation. Residents come from over 140 countries, including Mexico, Korea, Iran, El Salvador, and many others. Certain parts of the city boast myriad restaurants celebrating the cuisine of other lands. Half the population is White, while 32% identify as Hispanic. African-Americans account for 9%, while Asians make up 11.5%.
Economically, however, income diversity is lacking. The gulf between rich and poor in Los Angeles is wide, and high real estate prices are a significant factor that drives where people can afford to live vs. where they might choose otherwise.
As of a study conducted in 2010 by the University of Southern California, the predominant religion in Los Angeles County is Roman Catholic, at 36% of the population. That's followed by nondenominational Christian at 3.5%, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints coming in third at 1.5%. Protestant faiths are present, as are non-Christian faiths, such as Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam.
Pew Forum surveys suggest that around half of the people in Los Angeles surveyed have a firm belief in God and participate actively in their chosen religion, so you may find a great spectrum of commitment and a wide diversity of churches from which to choose if you seek religion. Californians are, in general, widely accepting of all kinds of beliefs and practices, from the atheist to the devout. With such diversity in LA, it's easy to make friends with people who have all kinds of life experiences different from yours.
Los Angeles proper covers about 469 square miles and is the county seat of Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles metropolitan area includes the cities and neighborhoods around it, bringing the total population to 13 million as of 2013. It's connected by a series of interstates and freeways that people who live in LA refer to by their numbers. Though they have official names like "Santa Monica Freeway," you're more likely to have someone tell you to take "the 101" or "the 5." "Saturday Night Live" has sketches that poke fun at this tradition.
It's a well-known headache that traveling in Los Angeles by car involves a lot of stopping and rolling to get to your destination. It takes some time for residents to learn the best ways to travel at certain times of day, but traffic jams are a fact of life in LA. With a very limited set of public transportation options, most people have no choice but to drive, especially if their job is located in a section of town where the real estate isn't in their price range.
A study conducted by Gabriel Kahn and Mingxuan Yue as part of a University of Southern California project examined all 26 freeways to see which one is really the slowest. People took to Twitter with their guesses — and lots of editorial commentary — and the results showed that during morning rush hour (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.), the slowest road in LA is the 405 heading north, with an average speed of 24.8 mph. During the evening commute (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.), the slowest is the 5 heading south, with an average speed of 21.5 mph.
Los Angeles has some extremely well-rated school districts, but the accompanying real estate prices put living there far outside some housing budgets.
La Cañada Unified School District is one of the highest rated according to Niche, with particularly high marks for student-to-teacher ratio, test scores, and college prep. It encompasses La Cañada Flintridge in the western part of the metropolitan area, near Burbank and Pasadena.
The San Marino School Unified District of San Marino, California, is sandwiched between the 10 and Route 210, just south of Pasadena. It's also among the top-rated on Niche, with impressive grades for student-to-teacher ratios, college prep, and test results, as well as safety.
Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, located north of Long Beach on the ocean; South Pasadena Unified School district, covering part of Pasadena; and Walnut Valley Unified School District in the city of Walnut on the east side of the city round out the top districts with excellent marks.
Hawthorne School District, just east of LAX, boasts high marks for college prep and teacher-student ratio in a more affordable housing market.
The LA metropolitan area has many charter schools as well. Granada Hills Charter High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District received the highest grade in diversity, academics, test scores, student-teacher ratio, and college prep. High Tech Los Angeles in Lake Balboa covers a wide region of the Los Angeles Unified School District and receives similarly high marks.
Though most people travel around Los Angeles by car, certain areas do offer some public transportation options. Because the city is so sprawling and huge, the infrastructure required to connect it all has proven too mammoth a task, but you can nonetheless take the Los Angeles Metro Rail between the 93 stations on its route. The Metro consists of six total lines, designated by color, and commuters can ride from downtown LA along a single train route going six directions.
The lines end at places like Santa Monica, Chatsworth, and Long Beach with many stops along the way. Unlike cities where public transportation is residents' primary way of getting around, using the LA Metro likely requires you to arrange another mode of transportation for the last leg of your journey, such as a ride from a friend, a taxi, or a walk.
Famous Southern California Climate
Los Angeles has, on average, 284 sunny days per year. That means for 78% of the year in LA, you shouldn't forget the sunscreen! It has a Mediterranean climate where little rain falls in the summer, which is why the brush fire risk is so high during the hottest part of the year. Rainfall is about 16 inches per year, with rain most likely in January and February, and snow or any kind of frozen precipitation is rare except at the higher elevations in the mountains that surround the city.
In November through February, when parts of the country are experiencing blizzards and ice storms, LA has average lows in the 50s and average highs in the upper 60s. Spring starts the warmer season, with highs in the low and mid-80s and lows in the mid-60s. Though some people prefer a series of distinctive seasons, many see the year-round generally mild temperatures as one of the greatest features of living in LA. Coastal communities and people living at higher elevations will experience some chillier averages than those who reside in neighborhoods in the valley.
The moderate climate means you can enjoy plenty of outdoor activities year-round, and the home designs often reflect this indoor-outdoor living philosophy, with large patios, decks, pools, outdoor kitchens, and covered porches with wall-sized doors that open to allow people to fluidly move between indoor and outdoor spaces.
However, living at the lowest elevations will mean you have to deal with the smog that settles on the valley and looks like a milky haze hanging in the air. Though California has strict vehicle emissions standards, pollution is still a problem from the millions of car trips that residents and visitors take each year. The particles get trapped by the sunny weather that keeps warm air on top of cool air for an extended period and prevents it from dispersing. If you're sensitive to poor air quality, it's better to choose a neighborhood on the west side, since the wind blows the smog east.
Los Angeles Is a Huge City of Connected Neighborhoods
Each neighborhood in LA has something distinct about it, and neighborhoods are broken down further into smaller regions. It's a complicated mass of interconnected places. Some are incorporated cities, connected to the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area because they're located in LA County. Some are districts that are part of Los Angeles. Sorting through politics and logistics can be difficult, but lots of people find the LA metropolitan area a great place to call home regardless. A handful of LA's many neighborhoods are listed below.
If someone asked you to make a list of Los Angeles neighborhoods you'd heard of before, Hollywood would probably be the first one that came to mind. At the base of the famous white block letters embedded in the side of the mountain, Hollywood is beloved and notorious for its long and storied history. It's the word most people associate with the television and film industry, though it started in 1853 as a thriving agricultural community.
Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daieda Wilcox took a train from their native Ohio back to California and heard a story from another passenger about a Dutch community named Hollywood. Daieda liked the name so much that the couple named their ranch Hollywood. Later, in 1887, Harvey submitted a plan for incorporation of a town called Hollywood. By 1900, Hollywood has a streetcar and a population of 10,000. Filmmakers began fleeing from restrictions and unpredictable weather in the East to the sunny climate of Los Angeles, and word spread about this town to the west of Los Angeles: Hollywood.
Originally, the Hollywood letters were placed in the side of Mt. Lee to advertise a subdivision called Hollywoodland. Eventually, those letters fell into disrepair, and in 1943, the Chamber of Commerce elected to remove the "land" portion and preserve the Hollywood letters for residents and tourists to admire. Though the average person can't get close to the letters anymore, a number of hikes around Mt. Lee give you a nice view of the city with the letters in your view. You can also have a distant but prominent view from Griffith Park without hiking.
Now Hollywood is awash in celebrity culture and admiration. The Hollywood Walk of Fame features miles of stars embedded in the sidewalk for admired celebrities from the past and present. Hollywood Boulevard, TCL Chinese Theater (formerly known as Grauman's), and the famous Hollywood Hotel all celebrate television and movie-making. Paramount is the only studio still remaining in Hollywood, with other big studios relocating to different parts of Los Angeles over the years. But lots of behind-the-scenes work still goes on in Hollywood, including film editing, effects, and post-production work.
The average non-celebrity living in Hollywood may have to deal with tourists, helicopters, movie sets taking over streets, and actors walking around in character costumes to take selfies with the tourists. But life is vibrant and exciting on the Sunset Strip, with plenty of bars, restaurants, and shopping. The residences perched in the Hollywood Hills are everything from mansions to bungalows, with lush California foliage dotting the landscape. Living in one of the many neighborhoods of the Hollywood Hills gives you access to the Southern California lifestyle.
The higher you go in the hills around Los Angeles, the more spectacular your view of the sprawling city lights will be.
If you're going by famous LA images and pop culture references, Santa Monica is up there after Hollywood. It's a beachfront community climbing into the Santa Monica mountains and includes places like Malibu, Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills, and Westlake Village. The image of the Santa Monica pier with the Ferris Wheel and roller coaster at the end hints at a classic beachfront Los Angeles lifestyle. The 100-year-old pier has an amusement park, aquarium, arcade, shops, and restaurants for endless entertainment.
Santa Monica is part of the region dubbed "Silicon Beach," along with nearby Venice and Alsace, since many tech firms have moved their headquarters to the region. This influx means higher real estate costs, but residents claim a high quality of life. Santa Monica has a downtown district with shops, a public library, and restaurants and is a region focused on outdoor living, including time spent at the beach.
Silver Lake is notorious in pop culture for its laid-back hipster vibe. Located in central Los Angeles and surrounded by Los Feliz, East Hollywood, Koreatown, and Echo Park, it's known for its trendy restaurants and hip residents. Once a more gritty urban area, it's been transformed over the last few decades into a sought-after hotspot for dining and shopping. Today, it's a great place to live for artists and families alike.
Beverly Hills is famous for its wealthy residents, its palm tree-lined exclusive shopping district Rodeo Drive, and its starring role in myriad television shows and movies. Situated to the west of Hollywood and the east of Santa Monica, it's a relatively low-crime area with easy access to many other parts of the city. Beverly Hills boasts great walkability and good schools, but the pristine atmosphere comes at the cost of extremely high real estate prices.
Downtown is in a period of flux, with some parts enjoying urban revitalization and some waiting on the cusp. Its districts include Civic Center (with government and law enforcement headquarters), the fashion and jewelry districts, Little Tokyo, and skid row. Trendy hotels and renovated apartment buildings are bringing more people to live and enjoy leisure activities downtown.
You can take a docent-guided walking tour of DTLA for a broad overview of its history. A tour may start at Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, an architectural jewel of the city, and end at The City Market of Los Angeles, the site of the original produce market in the early twentieth century and now a bustling and thriving venue for restaurant vendors of all cuisines.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, developers bought the land where Venice now stands and dug canals for drainage, along with an amusement park at the beach. Fast-forward to modern day, and Venice is a popular beachfront residential spot with a unique European flair. You can live in a house on one of the canals and cross over on curved bridges or enjoy a quirky circus-like show along Ocean Front Walk, a 2.5-mile promenade with fortune tellers, performers, and vendors. Venice is also a tremendously busy tourist destination, with heavy car and pedestrian traffic along the beach and boardwalk.
San Fernando Valley
The San Fernando Valley proper is commonly just called "the Valley," especially in pop culture references. It's a huge area on the east side of Los Angeles and includes Glendale, Burbank, San Fernando, Hidden Hills, Calabasas, Northridge, Van Nuys, and Receda, among other areas. This neighborhood encapsulated the epitome of suburbia after World War II when families came to Los Angeles for the weather and the promises of suburban family living. It was an affordable place to live, a hub of American manufacturing and small-production agriculture, and a place where kids rode their bikes from dawn to dusk.
As the years went on, factories left for overseas countries, and the hopeful and idyllic atmosphere changed as residents aged out of their homes. Today, the valley is home to 1.4 million people from diverse places, and it's taking on a new identity.
Koreatown is located between Westlake and Hollywood. In the 1960s, Koreans began to emigrate in large numbers to Los Angeles and settled in the area now known as Koreatown, though the residents of the neighborhood also include a mix of Latinos and others. This area has a vibrant food scene with authentic Korean dishes as well as fusion restaurants with Korean and Hispanic food marriages. Two-thirds of Koreatown's residents were born outside the United States, creating a vibrant and diverse community.
Higher Education in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is home to two well-regarded public universities: the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). It's also home to a number of private colleges: California Institute of Technology, Pomona College, Clermont-McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Scripps College, Occidental College, Loyola Marymount University, and Pepperdine University.
Special Fields of Study
USC has a wide variety of undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts, business, and science. Its graduate programs include a pharmacy school, medical school, school of law, and architecture school, among others. Its enrollment in 2016 was 44,000 students, which can be typical of public universities in the California systems.
Political Science and Business Administration are popular undergraduate choices at UCLA, while graduate work is offered in dozens of fields, including nursing, neuroscience, accounting, physics, and dentistry. Similar in size to USC, its enrollment as of 2016 was close to 45,000 students.
California Institute of Technology stands out with its storied history of doctoral science and engineering students. Among its graduates are 73 Nobel Laureates, and its faculty members have earned 71 United States National Medals of Science or Technology. Commonly known as Caltech, it's located in Pasadena within walking distance from the old town portion. It's one of the most prestigious private universities in the United States.
The USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins are both in the PAC-12 conference, with opponents like the University of Oregon and the University of Arizona in all sports. Men's NCAA Basketball and Football have a healthy following at both schools, and fans from the two universities enjoy a heated rivalry given their 12-mile proximity and fluctuating dominance on the court and the field.
A trip to the Rose Bowl for either football team is a coveted prize. USC has been to the Rose Bowl 21 times, while UCLA has gone eight times. The team that wins the rivalry game takes possession of the Victory Bell, a large bell attached to a painted cart that gets rolled on the field. It's painted blue for UCLA and red for USC and stays that way until the opponent can reclaim it. Students enjoy a variety of spirit activities on each campus for rivalry week.
Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine University are both part of the West Coast Conference (WCC) for NCAA basketball and other sports. Though the WCC is mostly made up of smaller private colleges, it also includes opponents Gonzaga University and Brigham Young University.
Things to Do in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
If you've been around social media for the past few years, chances are you've seen a photo or two from outdoor light display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in the Miracle Mile section of the city. The installation called "Urban Lights," by Chris Burden, celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2018 and has become a symbol of the city. Visitors each have their own unique interaction with the rows of lamp posts. Inside, LACMA has a world-class permanent collection of antiquities and modern art, as well as some revolving exhibitions.
Within walking distance of LACMA, you can connect to the very distant past of the Ice Age at La Brea Tar Pits. For tens of thousands of years, natural asphalt or tar has seeped up through the ground near where Hancock Park currently sits. The George C. Page Museum preserves the animal bones found in the tar and is a remarkable guide to the history of this otherworldly place.
Stop for a snack, then walk over to the nearby Petersen Automotive Museum, which boasts 100,000 square-feet of exhibits about cars and their impact on society. The kids will enjoy seeing a Lightning McQueen from the movie "Cars," and lovers of 80s nostalgia will enjoy seeing a Ferrari used on the television show "Magnum, P.I." An additional fee gives you access to a vault with over 250 rare and unique cars from all over the world.
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a stop at The Getty. Founded and supported by the J. Paul Getty Trust, this museum is devoted to the visual arts on a huge scale. It is located in Brentwood, on a hill above the 405, with a secondary location called The Getty Villa located in Malibu. The main museum is a part of a series of buildings that house free public events, including admission to the museum's extensive art collection. You just have to pay for parking.
As Los Angeles continues to experience downtown revitalization, buildings take on new life as hotels, and you'll find a rooftop bar at the top of many. Experience the spectacular city light views from atop LA's skyscrapers while enjoying a drink with friends. Downtown LA has plenty of options to choose from.
Activities off the Beaten Path
If you've never been on a funicular in the middle of a bustling metropolis, Angels' Flight will be a treat. For one dollar, you can ride in the bright orange railcars that run up and down Bunker Hill in downtown LA. It's near the City Market.
To learn about the earliest history of Los Angeles, a visit to El Pueblo de Los Angeles will teach you about the 44 settlers who traveled 1,000 miles from Mexico to set up a farming community where LA now stands. They named it "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula," which translates to "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula."
Admission is free, and it's part of LA's famous Olvera Street, an homage to the early settlers and a celebration of Mexican heritage in one of the oldest parts of the city. Enjoy the recreation of a Mexican marketplace with traditional food and celebrations.
Enjoy Outdoor Activities Overlooking the City
Angelenos take advantage of the weather and the surrounding hills and mountains for fresh air and exercise. Many hiking trails boast spectacular views of the city, and an immersive experience in the California flora and fauna. There are trails for mountain biking in Topanga State Park in the Malibu Mountains, and you'll be rewarded with stellar views of the ocean. Los Angeles's many parks provide a great opportunity for outdoor exercise year-round.
The Los Angeles metropolitan area is home to the richest Hollywood stars and the hippest food truck chefs, as well as every kind of person in between. Moving to a city with such rich diversity and nice weather provides hundreds of opportunities for work, play, or chasing an artistic dream. Whether you've come to work in the movie business or seek your adventure at one of the city's fine universities, Los Angeles is a welcoming place for people of all sorts. No matter which neighborhood you choose to settle in, it will feel like home in no time.