What do you imagine when you think of Hollywood? Perfect weather? Gorgeous beaches and celebrities strolling Rodeo Drive? Some of this exists, but not in the ways you’d expect.
I moved to California for film school in 2005. I lived in Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Hollywood, Culver City and Santa Monica, and can give you a decent grasp on what to expect if you’re thinking about moving to work in Hollywood.
What’s Hollywood Like? is being covered in two posts:
1) General geography & where to live.
2) The filmmaking/creative side of Los Angeles.
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles is weird because you’ve got this thing known as “Hollywood” that sits inside LA county, but garners more attention than Los Angeles itself. In fact, if you’re employed in the creative industry, downtown LA is something you may rarely see. Why? None of the studios are there and the local scenes are pretty good.
The map below (sketched by Alden Olmstead) shows the general layout.
You’ll find downtown LA southeast of Hollywood (look for Paramount & Sunset Blvd). Santa Monica and Venice sit right on the ocean to the west.
Traffic Like You’ve Never Seen
Ever had the experience of driving home from work and suddenly you hit massive gridlock due to an accident? That’s LA every day. On the 405, the 10 and the 101.
The traffic on the 10 and the 405 is the worst you’ll ever experience. Except for say the mayhem that will ensue during the apocalypse.
You can ride a bike faster than driving a car during rush hour on the 405. Any attempt to take surface streets is already being tried by 50,000 other vehicles. If you like motorcycles, this is your new nirvana. Bikers can “white line” which means your favorite crotch rocket will get you anywhere in half the time.
I’ll never forget when my wife first moved to the LA area. One day I came home from work at 5:30. We were meeting her uncle at LAX at 7PM. LAX was 12 miles from us. I rushed in the door and said, “We’ve gotta get ready and go.” My wife was like, “We don’t have to be there until 7.” I responded with, “I know, we’ve gotta go!”
Places to Live
The best place to live IMHO is a place where you’re not spending your free time breathing exhaust fumes. This means that if you want to live in Santa Monica, you’d better not be working in the valley. If you live smart (compared to where you work) you can avoid a lot of the traffic everyone else has to deal with.
The real Hollywood is a lot different than what I imagined. There’s really not much to see. Sure, you’ve got the Walk of Stars, Capital Records and other sites to see, but the main strip in Hollywood is really for tourists, and it’s not that nice.
You’ll find people walking around in cheesy costumes along with Ripley’s Believe It Or Not types of sites. And a lot of Hollywood can also be… Well, a little disgusting. Especially if you’re wearing flip flops.
If you’re after glamor, you’re not going to find it in Hollywood (Head west on Sunset to Beverly Hills and things will get increasingly better).
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some cool stuff there. Paramount sits right off Melrose. Deluxe is nearby. And there’s a plethora of other places that have created the films we all love, in addition to local theaters and clubs off Sunset (Viper Room, etc).
But at the end of the day, Hollywood was not a place I wanted to live. The Hollywood Hills are nice, but you’ll need some cash to afford it.
Beverly Hills, CA
If you’re after clothing stores with price tags that could feed thousands of starving children across the world, Beverly Hills is the place to go. All joking aside, it’s a really nice place to live. Beautiful streets, creative eateries and a police force that responds faster than 99.9% of the rest of them.
If you’re working in Hollywood and want a nice place to live, Beverly Hills is an excellent option. Albeit it’s going to cost you. You can’t live where people like Steve Martin live, and expect it to be cheap, right?
When someone says they live “in the valley” they typically mean Burbank, Glendale or Pasadena. Chatsworth (known for porn) and other non-desirable places are also technically included.
Burbank is the first place I lived while attending film school. These cities contrast the rest of LA with less congestion and more affordable living. You can go to a grocery store with an actual parking vs a parking garage. You can buy a home with a yard for the same price as a condo in Santa Monica. You get the idea.
Valley cities also boast small downtown scenes with outdoor shopping and entertainment. Honestly, they’re nice places to live. The drawback? Smog. It’s pushed in by the winds from the Pacific Ocean and stops at the mountain range that lines the eastern border of the valley. The valley is also a long drive from the ocean, and it gets much hotter. If it’s 70 with a cool breeze in Santa Monica, it could easily be 85 with a hot breeze in Pasadena.
Culver City, CA
I really enjoyed Culver City. It’s a small, happening place located in a real sweet spot. Not too far from Santa Monica/Venice, not too far from Hollywood. Not too far from downtown Los Angeles. You can find Trader Joe’s for shopping, along with a newly opened co-op which offers an incredible array of organic foods. You’ve got cool Hollywood history like the old hotel situated next to Culver Studios that John Wayne won in a card game. You can also find one of the original shooting places of King Kong (shown below) – Stuff like that. Sony Pictures is also located in Culver City.
Another fun coastal city near Hollywood is Venice. If you’re in Culver City, you simply drive west on Venice Blvd. towards the setting sun! Venice is unique in that it has a self-contained water way similar to Venice, Italy. It’s actually pretty cool to see. Locals have small docks and boats and there’s no parking anywhere so the canals stay pretty quiet.
Venice also offers great shopping along Abbot Kinney, a boardwalk with local vendors and a beautiful beach scene with a pretty rad skateboard park (pictured above). Check out Gjelina for food and the Toms flagship store for great coffee and a chill place to drink it. These are just a couple of the sweet spots along Abbot Kinney.
Crime used to be really rough in Venice. Like so bad the police wouldn’t even come if you called in saying you heard gunshots. Things are now better than they used to be, but Venice is still not a place I’d hang around after dark.
Santa Monica, CA
Santa Monica is by far the best place to live. This beautiful city is oceanside (we lived 5 blocks from the beach). There are 2-3 Whole Foods within 5 miles of each other. And you’ll find quiet, beautifully groomed neighborhoods ideal for an afternoon stroll.
All of the architecture is unique, and you can have fun guessing who lives in the beautiful homes (people like Halle Berry & Edward Zwick).
Santa Monica has good access to the 405, the 10 and highway 1. Yet if you live in the good part of the city, the highways are too far away to hear any traffic. The downside? Many of the apartment buildings are old, and the new ones will cost you a fortune. 1047 4th Street in Santa Monica has the best landlord you’ll ever find. If they’re renting, grab it before it’s gone.
Most people driving in from the valley are hitting the Promenade along with the Santa Monica Pier. If you want a quieter environment, check out Montana street. Quaint shops and restaurants along with my favorite writing spot – Peet’s Coffee on 14th and Montana (you can see famous people here in the morning).
For quaint and legit Italian, look no further than Osteria Bigoli. To see your favorite old films on the big screen, check out the Aero Theatre across from Peet’s. And Sweet Lady Jane is a bakery worth checking out on a nice afternoon… which in Santa Monica is every afternoon.
Local Tip: Wilshire runs through the heart of Santa Monica, CA. You might be tempted to pronounce it “Wil-Shyre” but it’s pronounced “Wilsher.” You’ll sound like a local if you remember this.
This coastal city features restaurants located right on the water, a calm and quiet pier and beaches that are IMHO more of the California experience. Santa Monica, for example, is a great city but I’d never go to their pier or beaches. Why? Saturated with tons of people driving in from the valley. Malibu is just far enough that a lot of people won’t make the drive.
A very popular restaurant right on the water is Moonshadows. I’ve eaten there many times. Saw Ed Norton there once! If you like sushi, Zooma is a must visit. Also right on the water. Great food and environment. The Malibu Pier also has a couple nice restaurants worth looking at.
Malibu is also where people with money live. You name it, they’re up there. It’s been home to people like Mel Gibson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, etc. The infamous pull over that got Mel Gibson so much heat happened as he was leaving Moonshadows and heading to his Malibu home.
You need to be rich to live in Malibu. I’m not saying there isn’t cheap housing: Some people will rent out their guest house, etc. But for the most part, you’re looking at serious bucks. My wife and I checked out a house for rent once (photo above). It was old but in good condition. Beautiful yard and views. $12K a month in rent – it didn’t even have beach access or a pool!
More Places to Explore…
I haven’t come close to covering all of the places to live in the LA area: You’ve got Marina Del Rey next to Venice, the Pacific Palisades between Santa Monica and Malibu, and much more. But I hope this at least gives you a glimpse into areas to consider if moving to LA.
Read What’s Hollywood Like Part 2 to learn more about the entertainment industry.