For many newcomers intimidated by the big bad city the first question is, Do I really need to live in L.A.? Can't I just get a place in one of the many "bedroom" communities ringing the city and commute into town when I have an audition/job/meeting/rehearsal? After all, I'll have to drive everywhere, anyway.
But not all commutes are created equal. And the simple reality is, if you want to seek work as an actor in film and television, you will have to commit to being in Los Angeles for the majority of your working day ("working" includes going to auditions, rehearsals, classes, as well as actual shooting or recording gigs) and often long into the night (for the same). That's just the truth, no matter how many industrials a San Diego agent can land you, or how great your part is in that play at South Coast Rep.
Once you're acclimated—or once you've established yourself as a working actor in the business—you might make the decision to put a little distance between yourself and the bustle and smog. Many do. If you crave a pleasant, slower-paced, relatively homogeneous community to come home to after a hard day's work, you'll have to go far afield, to the beaches or the canyons (where it will cost you) or to pockets of Orange, Ventura, or Riverside counties. But when you first arrive in L.A., it's best to stay near the action. For those just starting out, extensive freeway time can add just one more stress factor to an already stressful and uncertain career.
Wherever you live, it's essential that you have voicemail or a cellphone with an L.A. area code (323, 213, 310, or 818), as the industry implicitly prefers actors it can rely on to arrive on time at short notice. How you get there is always up to you, but why give them a reason to doubt your immediate availability?
The following, then, is our highly subjective guide to those areas we feel are closest to the industry hubs while still offering a standard of living reasonable and safe enough for an actor just off the bus. We're prepared for the angry letters that might read, "Hey, man! Is Back Stage West trying to dis Torrance?" We're not. It's just one of the many fine Southland communities that is not among the first places we would recommend to our new-to-town readers looking for an apartment.
In fact, if you look closely at the adjacent map, you'll notice that there are a number of un-highlighted areas in our coverage. We're not saying any of these places are unlivable or out of the question for actors—they're just not the best areas to get started in as you're getting acclimated to the city. In truth, almost all of these "off-the-map" areas have positive cultural and/or civic features for newcomers and L.A. old-timers alike, despite not making our guide.
Downtown L.A., Boyle Heights, City Terrace, and East Los Angeles offer apartments for reasonable rent, good highway access to anywhere you need to go, and a cultural oasis or two—the East L.A. Classic Theatre, the theatre departments of East Los Angeles City College and Cal State Los Angeles, and the Plaza de la Raza Cultural and Educational Center. There is also the vast, diverse area known as South Central Los Angeles, where the neighborhoods differ widely—from the low-income Compton to the family community of Hyde Park. The San Fernando Valley includes a number of cities actors call home but are in no way considered particularly accessible from industry hubs: Tarzana, Topanga, Woodland Hills, Reseda, Canoga Park, Northridge, North Hills, Panorama City, Sun Valley, and Mission Hills. Also low on the accessibility scale are such San Gabriel Valley neighborhoods as Alhambra, San Gabriel, and Monterey Park.
Then there are those coastal areas: great for visiting but not an option if you're not rich, famous, or very good friends with someone who is rich or famous. These include Malibu and Pacific Palisades, for example.
And, of course, to the south there is the often maligned but admittedly comfortable Orange County. It has plenty of well-lit two-way streets, practically no potholes, and all the protected left-hand turn lanes you could ever want, but it's accessible from L.A. primarily via two of the Southland's most congested freeways, the gargantuan 405 and the less scenic 5, which is perpetually under construction, often attempting to funnel four lanes of traffic through a mere two.
More picturesque parts of Orange County include the surfer-haven beaches of Newport and Huntington and the quaint, artsy Laguna Beach—home to several yearly arts festivals and the Laguna Playhouse, one of the area's best theatres. Rent for a one-bedroom starts at around $900, a two-bedroom around $1,075. Orange County is also home to the Orange County Performing Arts Center—which brings in everything from large Broadway musicals and world-class symphonies to cabaret artists—and South Coast Repertory, a nationally renowned LORT theatre with acting conservatories for adults and for children.
But enough about the also-rans and on to the best places for apartment-hunters new to the City of Angels.
The famous Downtown L.A. skyline is near the city's original Mexican settlement, now memorialized in the tourist destination of Olvera Street, and Downtown is still headquarters for federal and state courthouses and other government agencies, City Hall, two locations of the Museum of Contemporary Art, an excellent Central Library, the Los Angeles Times, the LAPD, the Staples Center, the city-run Los Angeles Theatre Company, and L.A.'s answer to Lincoln Center, the Music Center, which includes the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (And nearing completion across the street is Frank Gehry's stunning new concert venue, Disney Hall, slated to include a live theatre space, the RedCat.)
Downtown L.A. is very much like other American downtowns in that it has a confounding one-way street layout; it's tough to find reasonable parking anywhere; past a certain street you'll hit a very lively skid row, and after 6 p.m. on weekdays the place is relatively abandoned, with some notable exceptions.
Still, Downtown is worth a visit for many of the aforementioned landmarks; also for the bustling (if touristy) Chinatown; for the vibrant, well-maintained Little Tokyo (which positively thrives after dark), home to the nationally renowned Asian-American theatre company East West Players; for Downtown's various commercial districts, from the Jewelry Mart to the garment, toy, and flower districts, where the dubious bargains are only part of the fun. Beautiful historic movie palaces, on the vibrant shopping boulevard Broadway, are still worth a visit for special screenings or on historic tours of the area, available through the L.A. Conservancy, www.laconservancy.org.
Does anyone live there? More and more lately. Downtown L.A. has hit a remarkable resurgence. The Downtown Center Business Improvement District (BID) and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) have worked diligently to improve the status of Downtown as an ideal place to live and work. By working to combat the rampant homeless problem in the area, boosting cleanliness and safety, and increasing the transportation options, it won't be long before Downtown becomes a better place to visit and live. Further boosting the resurgence of Downtown is the 12.5-acre Los Angeles Center Studios, the first new studio in L.A. in more than 50 years. The center offers state-of-the-art production facilities for the film, television, and commercial industries.
Since the mid 1980s, young artists have been flocking to the gigantic New York-style loft apartments for relatively low prices. Traction Avenue has been coined the Artists District (expect to pay $925 a month for a 585-square-foot loft to $3,000 for a 2,200-square-foot unit.) Also look for the recent revitalization of the Old Bank District, the area between 4th and Main streets that is walking distance to City Hall, Little Tokyo, and the Music Center. Three major loft-apartment buildings have recently opened in this area: the San Fernando, The Hellman, and Continental—all offer SOHO-style exposed brick walls, concrete floors, stripped wood, and high ceilings.
There are some high-rise apartment dwellers near that skyline—mostly senior citizens at Angelus Plaza or young professionals at Bunker Hill Towers or Grand Tower (rentals ranging from $965 to $2,450). There is also Pico-Union/Westlake to the southwest, where the ethnically specific neighborhoods can give visitors the feeling of being in another country altogether. South of that is University Park, around the campus of the University of Southern California, where the student life and college-related amenities make it an affordable and relatively dynamic place to live. This neighborhood boasts the scrappy 24th Street Theatre.
Mt. Washington, Eagle Rock, Highland Park
Once called Northeast L.A., this historic cluster of neighborhoods—more or less tucked between the 5, 134, and 110 freeways—has lately experienced a revival that's been compared hopefully to the Silverlake renaissance of the 1990s. The area still boasts a wide mix of incomes and ethnicities, reflecting its proximity to East L.A., Chinatown, and Echo Park.
The height, in many senses, is Mt. Washington, a round knob of a hill with great views and winding streets, with an emphasis on Craftsman-style and stucco houses and bungalows. There are plenty of rentals, with two-bedroom homes going for $1,500 a month and up. Ringing the bottom of Mt. Washington are lower-income families and thus cheaper rentals.
Eagle Rock, which takes its name from a bird-like rock formation in the hills overlooking Colorado Boulevard, is best known as the home of the venerable Occidental College; at its best this quiet tree-lined community has the feel of a small college town. It also has the best pizza restaurant in L.A., Casa Bianca Pizza Pie. Houses rent for less than $900; one-bedroom apartments can rent for half that.
Southeast of Eagle Rock, abutting the 110 Freeway, is Highland Park, an area of historical and architectural interest. Noted poet, writer, and L.A. Times editor Charles Lummis lived here. The neighborhoods are hit-and-miss, but the cheap rent (deals as low as $550) still attracts artists and bohemians. At the south end, near Lincoln Heights, is the Brewery Arts Complex, a loft-style artists colony in a former brewery that boasts some of the best square-foot deals in town.
Acting-related services are minimal, apart from the Lincoln Heights-located Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, which stages plays in Spanish and English. These remain good neighborhoods to look at if you have roommates or you wish to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. But that's also the downside: Despite its proximity to the 110, 134, 5, and 2, and hence the relatively easy commute to Hollywood, Downtown, and the Valley, Northeast L.A. can feel a bit removed from the center of action, industry-wise.
Echo Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz
If West Hollywood is comparable to New York's West Village, the hilly Silverlake area, east of Hollywood and west of Downtown, is L.A.'s answer to the East Village (or to the Bay Area's Mission District). That's due not only to its eclectic, Latino-rooted ethnic mix and thriving gay community but also to its perennial attractiveness to left-of-center artists—or young industry types who still fancy themselves left-of-center artists—which dates back to the 1930s when the hilly Echo Park neighborhood was nicknamed "Red Hill" after the number of communists and fellow travelers holed up there.
Silverlake—named after the boulevard that winds north/south from Glendale Boulevard to Beverly Boulevard—has weathered a steady increase in fashionability since the early 1990s, managing to resist wholesale gentrification or blight (despite the inevitable Starbucks), holding on to its low-key blend of suburban kitsch and post-punk practicality, as well as its reassuring blend of Latino, Anglo, Asian, and African-American gays, straights, singles, and families.
This mix extends to housing types and architecture: Up in the heights of the area's verdant hills, secluded homes (some Neutra originals) can sell for between $300,000 and $500,000, while down the hill, closer to the boulevards, rentals range from '50s-era apartment complexes to Spanish-style '30s single-family homes (split into fourplexes, duplexes, or left whole), with rents that can range from $600 to $1,500.
Los Feliz, west of Silverlake, is a venerable L.A. neighborhood dominated by Craftsman-style houses. The area's well-kept rentals tend to run higher than in Silverlake: Studios and one-bedrooms rent for $700 and up. Just south of Griffith Park, a major landmark with lots of diversions, including the Greek Theatre (not what it sounds like—it books mostly rock and pop acts), the neighborhood also has attractive pedestrian and dining corridors along Vermont and Hillhurst avenues between Sunset and Franklin, and Barnsdall Art Park and its theatre is nearby.
Echo Park, nestled between Silverlake and Dodger Stadium's Elysian Park, is the lowest-profile of this trendy troika; rents are accordingly lower, and the neighborhood's demographic is more mixed. Landmarks include Aimee Semple McPherson's famous Angelus Temple and the pleasant park that gives the neighborhood its name.
With close proximity to the 101, 110, 2, and 5 freeways, the area is extremely accessible to Hollywood and Downtown, pretty good to the Valleys, but something of a haul to the Westside. And though it boasts no film studios or major theatres, small performance spaces like Company of Angels and the Skylight Theatre seem a natural part of the area's funky nightlife, which ranges from rock clubs like Spaceland to dance clubs like The Echo, to one-of-a-kind watering holes like the Dresden Room, The Silverlake Lounge, the Tiki Ti, Akbar, Good Luck Bar, The Short Stop, and the Red Lion.
Hollywood has become the entertainment industry's unofficial brand name, but the name comes from the actual region of L.A. overseen by the famous hillside sign (formerly "Hollywoodland"). In many ways, this remains the heart of Los Angeles. And, in a series of bold civic/commercial moves that have been as rapid as they have been massive, the neighborhood and the industry are, to a large extent, coming together again, with the Hollywood/ Highland complex and its Kodak Theatre, now the home of the Academy Awards, and the nightlife along Sunset and Hollywood boulevards reaching a critical mass of crowds and trendiness that some are comparing to the rock 'n' roll '80s.
Of course all this nightlife—add in a little band shell called the Hollywood Bowl—can make traffic in this already-choked region a real trial. This influx of people and cars in a tightly gridded old neighborhood has made living in Hollywood begin to seem a little like living in Manhattan: Residents pay a big mark-up in rent, but they're able to walk to a lot of amenities, and the excitement on the streets often has that intoxicating urban mixture of conviviality and danger.
Hollywood and Highland, once a gathering place for hookers and homeless, now sports such shops as the Gap, Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Express, Ann Taylor, Aldo and a host of popular restaurants, including Wolfgang Puck's latest creation, Vert. The Mann Chinese Theatre has expanded to a multi-cineplex with six spacious theatres, and, starting in January, Jimmy Kimmel will premier his new late-night talk show, which will film every evening in the El Capitan building. The show, which airs on ABC, will premier after the Superbowl and is hoping to be a more off-the-cuff version of the current late-night format (especially because liquor will be served in the lobby bar of the El Capitan). Also on tap for Hollywood and Highland (or High-ho as the locals call it) will be a new TRL-inspired show to be aired on VH1 every afternoon. While the sex shops and cheap touristy storefronts still exist, trendy bars like Star Shoes, Daddy's, and The Pig and Whistle are bringing new life to this once seedy side of town
Hollywood, the 'hood, still isn't the place where actors do most of their work; apart from the famous Paramount lot and Raleigh studios across the street, most of the industry services located in Hollywood proper are production- and postproduction-related. And while Hollywood is intersected by the 101 Freeway, it's still a surface-street haul away from most of the Westside and a freeway crawl through the Cahuenga Pass to the Valley—and the Westside and the Valley are where all those studios are.
The area does boast, however, a glut of small theatres, from Santa Monica Boulevard's so-called "Theatre Row" to Theatre of NOTE, the Tamarind, the Stella Adler Theatre, etc., and many acting and rehearsal studios, as well. And many of L.A.'s best restaurants and clubs are here—for your employment, as well as your entertainment, needs—even on streets where you wouldn't want to live. Off the main drag of Hollywood Boulevard such venues as Beauty Bar and Vinyl are the latest ultra-trendy nightspots. And for a distinctly New York feel, slip into the peerless, and pricey, jazz club Catalina Bar & Grill for a cocktail after browsing at the bustling, open-all-night World Book & News on Cahuenga.
Among the most village-like and thus popular places to live in Hollywood is the Beachwood Canyon area, just below the Hollywood sign, where young working actors congregate at the Hollywood 101 coffee shop or on a nearby block of shops and restaurants on Franklin Avenue. The farther south you go down from the hills, the more likely you are to find one-bedrooms as low as $700, in duplexes and in apartment complexes. But with another nearby area of entrenched trendiness, Los Feliz, on the east and south, rents are climbing: Two-bedrooms can run from $1,800 to $2,500. As you go up into the hills, you're talking serious-money houses. A good place to look for rental info is the bulletin board at the Beachwood Market on Beachwood Canyon Drive.
Another popular cluster is a few hills west, in the blocks north of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, west of Highland and La Brea but south of Mulholland Drive. Following the trend of much of L.A., rental prices steepen along with the ground elevation, so the farther you get into the hills, the less likely you are to find anything under $1,000 (even a one-bedroom), let alone find rentals at all. In this area, though, is Runyon Canyon, which offers a good hike (for dog-lovers, no leashes required) and arguably the best free view of the city in town.
Koreatown, Westlake, Mid-City
This area stretches from Hancock Park to Downtown L.A., between Washington and Beverly boulevards. Though much of it is considered Koreatown, this area is quite ethnically diverse, with a larger Latino population the closer one gets to Downtown, especially around Lafayette and MacArthur parks. Ethnically specific restaurants and clubs abound in this area, particularly with some of the finest Asian cuisine to be had in L.A. Housing is a mix of small homes and apartment houses. Apartments are fairly cheap ($600 and up), some quite large.
Young people are moving into these neighborhoods, attracted to the spacious apartments, many with hardwood floors and an older East Coast feel to them. There's very little in this area in terms of theatres and studios, and much of it tends to be more economically impoverished. However, bounded by the 101 to the north and the 10 to the south, this area is centrally located and offers short commutes to most places to which an actor needs access.
Koreatown houses a plethora of interesting Korean barbecue restaurants, karaoke bars, and Asian-inspired clubs. Hancock Park and Westlake Village offer a more suburban feel, but you'll pay for it with steeper rent prices (expect to pay around $1,200 for a one-bedroom).
Park La Brea, Hancock Park, Fairfax District, Mid-Wilshire
This area of Los Angeles encompasses the range of wealth and ethnicities that make up the city. For actors, especially, this is a prime area to call home because it is central to so much going on in entertainment and culture—particularly the Fairfax district.
Park La Brea is a group of apartment complexes in a planned community, which houses many retirees, most of Eastern European Jewish background. There are many young families and singles in Park La Brea, as well, and the place seems to fill up every pilot season, as it has an inordinate number of furnished apartments for short-term rent. Parking is virtually non-existent, to non-residents at least. Rent tends to be high, $900-plus for one-bedrooms.
The surrounding Fairfax District, bordered by CBS Studios and Farmers Market to the south and trendy Melrose Avenue to the north, is made up of high-priced modest homes and fourplex apartments in a range of styles from Spanish to Tudor. This is a dog-walkers' neighborhood with an interesting mix of young Hollywood types and older Jewish residents, along with a large pocket of Orthodox Jewish families to the east, near Hancock Park. Recently, The Grove, a Vegas-like outdoor shopping center, has taken over the land surrounding Farmers Market—and wreaked havoc with local traffic. The movie theatres in the Grove are pretty great, though, if you don't mind dropping $10 for a ticket.
Melrose is the place for outrageous fashion, from leather dresses to tattoos and body piercings. It is packed with pedestrians on the weekends. Fairfax, on the other hand, combines small Jewish-owned stores and the famous Canter's Deli with hip smaller clubs such as the Kibitz Room and Largo. Third Street, west of Farmers Market, offers low-priced but trendy restaurants and little parking. Rents in the Fairfax District for one-bedrooms a few years ago were in the $750-850 range, but recently they have moved into the $1,000-1,300 range, comparable to West Hollywood. Nearby theatres include the Matrix, the Zephyr, the Third Street Theatre, and the Greenway Court Theatre.
Hancock Park, to the east of La Brea Avenue, is one of the wealthier communities in Los Angeles. Big yards and estates with lots of trees give this neighborhood an old-money, East Coast feel. Apartments are few and far between and typically quite expensive. Hancock Park is purely residential, with no theatres or audition spaces to speak of.
Mid-Wilshire (also called the Miracle Mile—also, rather spuriously, called "Beverly Hills adjacent") is south of the Fairfax District and is the most densely populated area in L.A. On Wilshire Boulevard are numerous high-rise buildings, including the VNU building, home to Back Stage West. South of Wilshire are block after block of apartment houses and single-family homes. Rents seem to get lower the farther one goes south of Wilshire. One-bedrooms generally start at $800-900 in the nicer areas.
Centrally located between Downtown and the beach, these four areas are typically reached by the 10 Freeway to the south or the 101 to the north. However, most locals use surface streets to get wherever they need to go, avoiding the freeways altogether.
LONG BEACH AREA
This area is quite affordable compared with other coastal cities and their beachfront apartments, like Santa Monica and Venice. However, it boarders on being too far a drive to the industry focal points, considering the ever-congested stretch of the 405 Freeway is the main route to the Westside, Hollywood, and the Valley. One-bedrooms start as low as $500-600. Long Beach, the busiest cargo port on the West Coast, has a diverse ethnic mix, including a large Spanish-speaking population. About 60 percent of Long Beach is apartment dwellings. Although it's a schlep to the center of industry activity, the Long Beach Airport services three airlines with frequent flights—including the popular, affordable New York carrier Jet Blue. The MetroLink Blue Line connects Long Beach to Downtown L.A. by train. L.A. International Airport is also 17 miles north. In addition to the 405, this area is connected by the 710, 605, and 110 freeways. International City Theatre, the Long Beach Playhouse, and the Edison Theatre are located here.
SAN FERNANDO VALLEY
For some reason the San Fernando Valley, or "the Valley," as locals refer to it, often gets a bad rap. True, it does not have nearly as many cultural/historical landmarks as "the city" (Hollywood, Downtown, etc.). The Valley is also not as architecturally diverse, as it is made up mostly of one-story suburban homes built in the 1940s and '50s, a lot of nondescript stucco apartment buildings, and too many mini-malls.
The Valley is just not as hip as other spots in L.A., such as Silverlake, West Hollywood, Fairfax, Venice, or Santa Monica. And yes, the Valley tends to get about 10 to 20 degrees hotter than the Westside and beach areas during the summertime, leading to rolling blackouts. Not only is it not as hip, it sometimes lacks in the beauty department, with clouds of smog and street after street of graffiti. In addition, as it is always under construction, traffic can be overwhelming and parking problematic.
So what's the draw? While we often think of film and television as happening in Hollywood, much of the entertainment business takes place on the other side of the hill, in the Valley. Many of the film/television studios, casting offices, and acting workshops are rooted here. Another plus is that the Valley tends to be a more affordable place to live in than other parts of Los Angeles—with some exceptions, of course. Although prices have gone up quite a bit, in comparison the Valley is still cheaper than many L.A. areas, and one gets a lot more for their money. Along with housing, gas prices are slightly lower in the Valley.
There's plenty going on here, especially on Ventura Boulevard, which is the pulse of the Valley—running through Universal City and traveling west through Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Tarzana, and Woodland Hills. There are tons of good restaurants, movie theatres, coffeehouses, and shops along this popular boulevard. And just north of the fault line (Nordhoff Street), we enter the earthquake cities—more commonly known as Northridge, Sylmar, and San Fernando—where the attractions are shopping centers and affordable housing.
Burbank, Glendale, Toluca Lake
Like much of the Valley, the ambience here is suburban, except for downtown Burbank and the studios. Burbank is home to Disney Studios, NBC, and Warner Bros. In other words, this is a prime area, close to the 134 and 5.
Glendale tends to be more affordable than Burbank or Toluca Lake, offering a full array of apartment buildings, from the large and modern to 1930s and '40s duplexes and fourplexes. Singles start at $650, one-bedrooms at $900. Two-bedrooms go for $1,200 and up. Small single-family houses are available for rent in the southern part of Glendale, usually in the moderate price range of $1,400 and up. The northern area of Glendale is more affluent, and rent is generally more expensive. Notable points of interest include the Glendale Galleria, the Alex Theatre, and the historic Brand Library, and the noted classical repertory theatre troupe A Noise Within is back in its historic Masonic Temple building in downtown Glendale. There are also many temporary agencies, a large number of them catering to the entertainment industry. For a coffee break or quick lunch, Porto's Bakery on Brand Boulevard is worthy of a visit.
In Burbank most of the single-family houses were built in the 1940s and '50s. Most of the apartment buildings were built in the 1940s through the '80s. The most notable theatres in this area are Burbank Center Stage, home of the first-class The Colony Theatre Company, and the Falcon Theatre, owned by film/television producer Gary Marshall. There's also the Third Stage and the Victory Theatre, as well as other smaller theatres and many workshops and acting classes in the area. The Burbank Airport is also nearby, as are the popular Oakwood Apartments—month-to-month temporary housing that's a favorite of pilot-season visitors. Lake Hollywood off Barham Boulevard offers an oasis in the city: great for walking, jogging, or just taking in the beauty. Star sightings are common, as many make their homes in the surrounding hills. For make-up needs, there is Cinema Secrets, where you can find almost anything imaginable and take advantage of its 10 percent discount if you can show a union card or proof of employment at a studio. There are also numerous thrift shops for props and costumes.
Toluca Lake, referred to as the jewel of the Valley, tends to be an even more affluent area than Burbank, and yes, there is a lake, although it's not easy to see, as it's surrounded by large homes owned by such folks as Bob Hope. The streets are wide, safe, and clean—ideal for walking, bike riding, or just sightseeing. Popular hangouts include one of the first Bob's Big Boy restaurants, home to classic car club meetings on weekends, Paty's Coffee Shop, and Priscilla's, all on Riverside Drive.
North Hollywood, Studio City
North Hollywood covers a vast span of the Valley and, like many parts of Los Angeles, has its better and worse areas. Apartment buildings date from the 1960s to the present. Rental costs are less expensive in the north end of the area and more expensive closer to Studio City, which is populated mostly by middle- to upper-income residents. Rentals start at $800 for a one-bedroom and $1,200 for two-bedrooms.
Expect to pay more in Studio City, which is more centrally located to Ventura Boulevard, close to the 170, 101, and 134 freeways. Points of interest include Universal Studios and CityWalk, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, MTM Studios, CBS Studio Center, the NoHo Arts District—an area on and near Lankershim Boulevard populated with a number of theatres and coffeehouses—and the El Portal, the Valley's only mid-size Equity theatre. Woodbridge Park, the neighborhood between the Los Angeles River and the 101, is particularly bucolic. It sits adjacent to Woodbridge Park, and many homes are within walking distance to Tujunga Village—a quaint single block of coffeehouses, restaurants, a gourmet food store, and a bookstore.
Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Encino
Childhood Van Nuys resident Robert Redford was once quoted as saying, "Van Nuys is just this furnace that could easily destroy any creative thought that managed to creep into your mind." But how can you hate the city that housed one of California's first Krispy Kreme donut shops? The rent is also considerably cheaper than in the neighboring Sherman Oaks and Encino, though it's not as well located for shopping and eating. Still, with studios and one-bedrooms beginning at $600 and homes as low as $1,200, what difference does a few blocks make? Sherman Oaks is less industrial and boasts two megaplex shopping malls: Sherman Oaks Fashion Square and the renovated Galleria. A desirable area for all ages, Sherman Oaks is mainly populated by middle- and upper-class homes and townhouses. The crème-de-la-crème of the area is Encino, with its million-dollar homes and tree-lined streets. Of course this also means higher rent—don't be surprised to find a one-bedroom apartment charging more than a house in Van Nuys.
These three areas are located near the 101 and 405 freeways and are close to a wide variety of theatres and acting schools in the Valley.
SAN GABRIEL VALLEY
Altadena, Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino
Pasadena, with its wide tree-lined boulevards and stately homes, offers a taste of the East Coast to those who miss it. Old Town Pasadena is a hot spot among young people for shopping, drinking, and eating, and has a decidedly yuppie feel. Apartments are few and far between in Pasadena and are therefore not cheap—$900 and upwards for one-bedrooms. However, things get less expensive north of the 210, and some homes are also available for rent at fairly affordable prices.
Pasadena is accessible—the 110 dead-ends here from Downtown, the 134/210 runs through the north side, and the 2 is not far away—and the area offers peace and quiet, but it's by no means close by. A commute from Downtown L.A. is only 15 to 30 minutes, but from Hollywood it is 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. One of the original irrigation colonies, Pasadena is home to the Rose Bowl, the Rose Parade, and some of the finest homes in the Southland designed by such architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and the Greene brothers. Theatre companies in Pasadena include the venerable Pasadena Playhouse, as well as the Pasadena Shakespeare Company, the Knightsbridge Theatre, Arroyo Repertory Company, Furious Theatre Company, and Fremont Centre Theatre.
Altadena to the north and South Pasadena to the south are farther from freeways and offer fewer apartments, though both are very attractive suburbs. But those subdivisions in Altadena and South Pasadena that do exist are often cheaper than in Pasadena and worth a look. One-bedrooms are often available for $600 and up. Every winter, Altadena lights up its thoroughfare, dubbed Christmas Tree Lane. Then there is San Marino, a very expensive city to live in, not easily reached by any major freeways, home of the Huntington Library. Unless you've suddenly come into some money and don't need to get to auditions often, San Marino is probably not the place for you. It's great to visit, however.
Santa Monica, Venice
While this is not central to most of the entertainment business—no major studios are here, although a number of production companies are—people who live in these beach communities swear by them, and it's no surprise why. This is easygoing California culture at its best.
The colorful, funky Venice, known for its strong community of resident artists, was first constructed in 1904 under the direction of Abbot Kinney, for whom one of the more popular streets in Venice is named. Indeed it was originally conceived as a city built along water canals, like the Italian original, but many of the canals were eventually replaced by concrete to make way for cars. In the 1960s, the remaining canals became a hangout for artists and hippies—including Jim Morrison of The Doors.
As property values skyrocketed, the longhairs and struggling artists were chased out of these areas, and many of the homes have since been remodeled; the canals were restored by the city six years ago. Even if you can't afford to live along the canals, it's a beautiful place for walking if you live nearby.
There are many other areas within Venice, which is a mix of Craftsman-style bungalows, modest duplexes, and ultra-modern apartment buildings and homes. There still remains an element of ultra-cool to this place; Dennis Hopper lives nearby "the 'hood," the notorious Oakwood area of Venice (between Rose Avenue and Abbot Kinney and west of Lincoln Boulevard), where some serious gang activity occurs. Even "the 'hood" has seen some improvements, and residents there have noticed that some of their blocks have cleaned up significantly in recent years.
There are still affordable rentals to be found, but you have to look hard or be willing to live with roommates. The farther away you live from the beach, the more affordable rent gets. For the most part, the cost of living has gone up over the years because of this neighborhood's popularity—the main draw being Venice Beach. A one-bedroom cottage in the heart of Venice went for $800 just a few years ago. Now it's renting for around $1,150 and up. Keep in mind that parking can be a problem if you live near the beach and do not have an assigned parking space, especially on the weekends when thousands flock to watch the festivities along the Venice boardwalk.
Likewise, Santa Monica has long been a favorite neighborhood, although it has a more toned-down reputation compared with its neighbor Venice. There are many apartment buildings, dating from the 1940s to present, as well as Craftsman-style and 1950s suburban homes, which now sell for outrageous sums. Rent varies depending on the quality of the building and the proximity to the beaches or major shopping areas, which include Montana Avenue, Third Street Promenade, and Main Street.
Santa Monica and Venice are close to Pacific Coast Highway and the 10 and 405 freeways. Rent starts at $775 for a studio, $795 for a one-bedroom, $1,250 for a two-bedroom, and $1,050 for a house. Theatres include Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice and, in Santa Monica, Highways Performance Space, the Powerhouse Theatre, and Santa Monica Playhouse.
Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey
"Most of the people who live in Marina del Rey are either flight attendants or divorcées," observed a longtime California resident. To that list, one might add "people with boats." Its proximity to the airport, the harbor, and major freeways make this area a convenient, if pricey, place to live. Having lost to San Pedro in a battle to become Los Angeles' main commercial port, Marina del Rey turned from an estuary filled with duck hunters into what its chamber of commerce calls "a pleasure-craft harbor," with more than 6,000 recreational boat slips and a lot of moderate to expensive restaurants.
As the area remained largely undeveloped coastal wetlands until 1968, the architecture is mostly modern, and apartment complexes range from two-story buildings to high-rise towers. Rent starts around $750 for a studio, $800 for a single bedroom, or $1,195 for a double. Residents tend to be somewhat well established, active, and over the age of 35. Actor-related resources are limited in these areas, though the ever-bohemian Venice Beach lies a few miles north.
SOUTH BAY CITIES
Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach
With plenty of great surfing, volleyball tournaments, long flat bike paths ideal for biking—when not occupied by rollerbladers—and an abundance of sports bars where microbrews flow freely, these beachside cities attract plenty of single, sun-loving twentysomethings. Once an area covered with sheep and barley, as these cities grew and became more easily accessible via the Pacific Electric Railroad, they began to attract day-tripping Angelenos who sought to escape the heat of the Greater Los Angeles basin. The place became a vacation refuge for such legendary figures as Errol Flynn and the Charlie Chaplin family.
This is also where the Beach Boys came of age—in Manhattan Beach—and where, in nearby Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, Southern California's surf culture got its biggest sendoff in the 1950s and '60s.
Housing ranges from the well-kept lawns and luxury apartments of the south Redondo ultra-rich to boxy beachfront apartments where young groups of friends rent pads to clutter with beer cans and members of the opposite sex. Rent is not cheap, with studio and one-bedroom apartments starting at $850 and quickly going up from there. There are also plenty of beautiful Spanish-style homes on winding streets for more family-oriented residents to nest.
The main theatrical attraction is the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, a modern, 1,425-seat proscenium-type theatre, home to the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, the largest producing civic light opera in Southern California. Keep in mind that commuting to these areas from Hollywood can turn into an hour-long drag if undertaken at the wrong time of day.
Although sports enthusiast may favor El Segundo for being home to the Los Angeles Kings' and Lakers' practice facility, it doesn't offer much for those interested in the performing arts. In general, it is a higher-rent area with few or no notable theatres, audition, spaces, or acting schools. On average, one- to two-bedroom apartments start at $1,000 to $1,500. This small industrial town hugs the beach and is just south of LAX so those who often travel for out-of-state auditions may want to consider living here. However, it suffers from continually high levels of traffic noise.
Considered by most to be L.A.'s equivalent of NYC's West Village, West Hollywood (or "WeHo" as it is sometimes called) comprises the largest gay community in L.A. The two main WeHo boulevards are Sunset and Santa Monica. Santa Monica is known for its bistros and theatres—of the legit and the porn variety. Sunset is known for its chic, expensive restaurants, its neon signs, and its clubs—including the Whisky, the Viper Room, and the Roxy. Both boulevards typically find more pedestrians out at all hours than most other areas of Los Angeles. The late-night scene throughout the week is very much alive.
In addition to a number of casting directors and agents who have offices in West Hollywood, there are theatres such as the Court, the Coast Playhouse, the Coronet, the Globe Playhouse, the Celebration, and comedy clubs the Laugh Factory, the Comedy Store, and the Improv. West Hollywood also offers some excellent bookstores, art galleries, and the Laemmle Sunset-5 movie theatre complex, which screens art-house fare.
There are many new apartment complexes in West Hollywood, though most typically date from the 1930s and '40s. Rents are high in this area. Studios are typically $800-plus, one-bedrooms $1,000-plus, and two-bedrooms $1,400-plus. To the north of West Hollywood, making their way up to the Hollywood Hills, are more homes than apartments. These are quite pricey as well and cater more to young people in the industry than to families. As in surrounding areas, parking can be a nightmare in this area unless you have a permit. Urban, exciting, and always hopping, West Hollywood caters to the young—for a price, of course.
Westwood, Brentwood, West Los Angeles
This is a very widespread area of Los Angeles that includes modest to upscale neighborhoods and a large variety of apartment buildings. Brentwood tends to have the most expensive homes, townhouses, and apartments because it is such a desirable neighborhood, with many shops and restaurants within walking distance, relative safety, and close proximity by car to the beaches.
Most of the apartment buildings in Brentwood date back to the 1950s. Studios tend to run $850. One-bedrooms go for $1,200 and up, two-bedrooms are above $1,450. San Vicente and Wilshire boulevards are the main arteries through Brentwood, connecting it to Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, and Westwood.
Westwood, an area first developed in the 1920s, is a mix of upscale traditional homes, million-dollar modern high-rise condos along Wilshire Boulevard, and apartments, many of which are occupied by students at UCLA.
Westwood Village, where a number of restaurants and shops are located, has seen better days, but it remains a walking area with many movie theatres, including two 1950s movie palaces: the Bruin and the Village.
West Los Angeles covers the widest area of these three neighborhoods and seems to have the most affordable rent. There are many nondescript stucco apartment buildings from the 1950s to present, as well as modest but very nice homes. Apartment rentals begin at $750 for a studio, $900 for a one-bedroom, $1,200 for a two-bedroom. This area is close to the 405. Points of interest for actors include the Geffen Playhouse and UCLA (home to the Freud Playhouse), as well as a multitude of tiny black-box theatres.
Beverly Hills, Bel Air
If you imagined Beverly Hills as the pinnacle of wealth and glitz, you won't be disappointed. Both Beverly Hills and Bel Air are home to some of the richest folks in L.A.—movie stars, studio executives, and business tycoons settle here. Bel Air is set in the hills north of Sunset Boulevard and consists entirely of expensive homes. There are also wealthy areas of Beverly Hills that extend into the canyons.
The area between Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards, with homes dating back to the 1920s, is probably what you picture when you think of Beverly Hills—wide streets lined by trees such as tall palms. There are no apartments in this area—only million-dollar-and-up homes.
However, if you drive south, to the area south of Wilshire and Olympic boulevards, you'll find many apartment buildings, dating to the 1930s and '40s. They start at $800 for singles, $1,000 for one-bedrooms, and $1,500 for two-bedrooms—although rent tends to be higher for most apartments. You'll find the more affordable apartments are often in areas called "Beverly Adjacent," which technically fall into Los Angeles zip codes but border Beverly Hills.
Beverly Hills and Bel Air are within easy driving distance of many areas, including Santa Monica and Hollywood. Several routes through the canyons, such as Beverly Glen and Coldwater, provide street access to the San Fernando Valley. It is a relatively safe area in which to live and offers many restaurants and shops close by, including those on the ritzy Rodeo Drive. Many agents and casting offices are here. Theatres include the Beverly Hills Playhouse and the Canon Theatre.
Culver City, Mar Vista, Palms, Westchester
The Culver City area is a great place to get away from it all but still maintain easy access to more bustling parts of the city. With easy access to the 405 and 10, residents are only minutes away from the coastline or Downtown. The freeways are usually easy to navigate, although you might not want to make a trip to the Valley in rush hour traffic. The spacious Sony Studios, where many game shows like Wheel of Fortune are taped, make up the heart of Culver City and lend a retro Hollywood feel to the area. Best of all, rent can be surprisingly cheap for West L.A. Clean, safe apartments can be found in the $1,000 range for two bedrooms, and as low as $695 for a one-bedroom. The surrounding areas can also be fairly affordable, especially with all the new luxury condos and apartments constantly popping up nearby.
Palms houses many UCLA students who can't afford the pricier neighborhoods north of the area. For frequent travelers, the L.A. airport is literally minutes away, and you'll never have to bug a friend for a ride again. And thanks to the elaborate new Promenade at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester, residents no longer have to trudge to Westwood or Santa Monica for all their shopping and movie needs. While you may want to expand your search for acting schools or theatres to Santa Monica, nearby theatres include Gascon Center Theatre and the Ivy Substation. If you think you're too hip to live in Culver City, you can always tell people you're "Marina-adjacent."
The Sawtelle area includes a mini-Little Tokyo, with its cozy cluster of noodle houses, Japanese groceries, and nurseries. It's also within whistling distance of the West Los Angeles Police Department—for safety, excitement, or to report that your issues of Back Stage West are being stolen from your mailbox. The YMCA also provides a low-key place to exercise for those unhappy with the snooty, image-conscious gyms around town.
On the east end of the Sawtelle area is The Odyssey Theatre: It tends to run three simultaneous productions, and classes are taught on weekends by members of Circus Theatricals.
Century City, Cheviot Hills, Rancho Park
Work in the business area of Century City or live in one of its snazzy apartments—to rent or buy—and know you're on what was the back lot of Fox studios as recently as the 1960s. Indeed the 20th Century Fox lot still calls Century City its home.
Century City, with its skyscrapers and pristine streets, is quite pricey for the working-class actor. But you'll be within walking distance of umpteen movies at two multiplexes, as well as the great fresh-air shopping mall.
Rent becomes more affordable south of Pico Boulevard. Near the 10, with easy access to the 405, the areas of Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park are host to many working-class families. These areas feature single-family homes, with some apartment buildings interspersed. Pico Boulevard is a restaurant row, boasting nearly every cuisine at moderate prices for those who want to take a meeting on the Westside. (We've spotted Drew Barrymore, Billy Baldwin, Charles Martin Smith, John Lithgow, Adam Arkin, and Denzel Washington at coffees and lunches within a one-block area.)
To work off those meals, Rancho Park is, indeed, a park, with one of the finest public golf courses in town. The park also includes a parcourse fitness circuit, tennis courts, basketball courts, a swimming pool, and an outdoor amphitheatre for those impromptu rehearsals.
Adjacent to the park is the Century City Playhouse—which allows a glimpse of the towers of Century City but is not in its zip code. And near restaurant row is The Empty Stage, for improv classes and theatre rentals during the week, improv and sketch comedy shows weekend evenings.
And for those weekly headshot mailings: The Rancho Park Post Office branch, while nearly always busy, provides ample free parking.
Look for a single-room studio to start renting for $750 and up, with Century City at the high end ($1,000-plus) for a one-bedroom high-rise apartment. Parking is difficult in the business districts and restricted throughout most of the residential areas. BSW