POPULATION: 3,928,864 (charter city), 13,131,431 (metro) | TIME ZONE: Pacific | CLIMATE: Subtropical-Mediterranean climate (plenty of sunshine all year, an average of 35 days of measurable precipitation annually)
Ready? Your new team is in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles sobre el Rio Porciúncula. Don’t speak Spanish? That means “The Town Of Our Lady Queen Of The Angels On The Porciuncula River.” It was the name given to the LA area by 44 settlers in 1781. You’d know it better as Los Angeles or one of the many nicknames on the list. But thousands of years before that, the area was inhabited by Tongva and Chumash tribes. One of LA’s earlier names was “iyáangẚ,” a Native American word meaning "poison oak place.” To which we say, Come on, it’s not that bad.
The first European to claim southern California for Spain was a Portuguese explorer named Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542. Jump to 200 years later, and a Franciscan friar spearheaded Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in what is now the San Gabriel Valley (home to Pasadena and the Tournament of Roses). Then came establishment of our El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, which was little more than a ranching hamlet until the 1800s. By 1820, there were about 650 residents in the pueblo.
When “New Spain” broke free of the Spanish Empire, the pueblo was part of Mexico. During Mexican rule, Los Angeles became the regional capital of Alta California, a territory made up of what is now the state of California, along with parts of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. With the Mexican-American War, Americans won control of the area, which was solidified by the Treaty of Cahuenga in 1847.
Los Angeles began to grow. 1876 saw the Southern Pacific Railroad’s completion, and railroads began serving Los Angeles. Following that was the discovery of oil. By the early 1920s, California was the largest oil producer in the U.S., and produced about 25% of all the petroleum in the world. There’s still a fair amount of oil production here. (Even Beverly Hills High School has an oil well. It produces about 400 barrels a day, which nets the school about $300,000 a year.)
Concurrent with oil production, the city’s population was swelling. With over 100,000 residents, the water supply was being strained. Additionally, almost all of the world's film industry was being concentrated here. All that Tinseltown revenue helped stave off the economic pain being inflicted on the rest of the country by the Great Depression. In the summer of 1932, when LA was host city for the Games of the X Olympiad, the population was over one million.
Wartime manufacturing came to LA during World War II, including shipbuilding and aircraft building. Hundreds of Liberty Ships and Victory Ships were built here by Calship. Together, Douglas Aircraft, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed, North American Aviation, Northrop and Vultee produced more aircraft in one year than had ever been produced previously. Wartime production represents an apex of manufacturing output never seen before or since. Also never seen before was the rate at which postwar Los Angeles grew. The Interstate Highway System accelerated suburban sprawl and with it, Southern California’s dependency on the car culture.
In 1969, the first ARPANET transmission was sent from UCLA to Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. This is considered the first stage in developing what is now the Internet. (Al Gore was about 21 years old and nowhere in sight.) In 1984, the Summer Olympic Games came to town for a second time—and was boycotted by 14 Communist countries. By using existing venues for almost all the events (a swimming facility and a velodrome were built by corporate sponsors), the Games of the XXIII Olympiad turned a profit of $200 million. It remains the most financially successful Olympics of all time.
Earthquakes are a way of life in Los Angeles. But no quake is remembered like The Northridge Earthquake in 1994. Causing over $12 billion in damage and killing 72 people, it wreaked havoc around the LA area. In Santa Monica, over 20 miles from the epicenter, the quake caused liquefaction of the soil’s subsurface. The resulting damage to property so far from the epicenter was extraordinary.
Also a way of life in Los Angeles is water—both the lack of it and the occasional overabundance. Flooding in the Los Angeles River was unpredictable and occasionally rampant. Long droughts would kill crops and livestock, then anything that was left alive would be carried away by vicious rainstorms and floods. Rain of biblical proportions has been recorded, including one storm in 1978 that dropped a foot of rain in 24 hours. Corpses in the Verdugo Hills Cemetery were carried into the town below, and the small town of Hidden Springs was wiped out. The LA River could be so fierce that for years, it wasn’t even possible to maintain a footbridge over it. Eventually, the Army Corps of Engineers paved the river beds. The Los Angeles River and its tributaries have essentially been turned into concrete storm drains. During a rainstorm, the volume of water in the LA River can match that of the Mississippi in St. Louis.
By the early 1900s, the Los Angeles River was unable to keep pace with the water needs of the growing city. Water had to be brought in from somewhere else. The Owens River begins about 200 miles away in rural Keeler. Much to the chagrin of Owens Valley farmers, the river was diverted to Los Angeles through a combination of politics, persuasion and purchasing power. See also: the California Water Wars, which inspired the iconic Jack Nicholson film, Chinatown. When the Los Angeles Aqueduct project began in 1908, William Mulholland was the Los Angeles Water Department’s chief engineer. He supervised the design and construction of the world’s longest aqueduct—a feat that has been compared to building the Panama Canal. When the aqueduct was opened during a 1923 ceremony at a San Fernando Valley reservoir, Mullholland was asked to give a speech. His entire speech: “There it is. Take it.”
The original land grant for the City of Los Angeles was about 28 square miles. Now, with so much water as leverage, growth through annexation began in earnest. Over 17 years, the city grew to cover 450 square miles. (For an idea of how much power that water had then, Los Angeles today covers just an additional 52 square miles.) The economic landscape has changed in LA over the years. The auto manufacturing business used to be big here, but the last of the plants shut down in the 1990s. Agriculture has moved to counties outside LA. The furniture industry which used to prosper here has moved to places like Mexico.
Over the years, the economy and populations in LA have shifted. Los Angeles is on the cusp of becoming what’s called a “majority minority” city. There’s an enormous immigrant laborer population here. About half of them, mostly Latino, work for the Asian entrepreneurial community. LA is also one of the country’s more disparate cities when it comes to the divide between rich and poor. Downtown Los Angeles, which for a long time was considered a no man’s land for residential development, has been undergoing a wave of gentrification. Old buildings are being converted to condos. New apartment buildings have been going up. All this new development has been creating a challenge for the lower-income residents who used to live here.
Economically speaking, industries here have shifted. Besides losing the auto plants, agriculture and furniture, aerospace has dissipated since the end of the Cold War. In the movie business, there’s what many would consider an epidemic of “runaway production” as producers look to shoot films and television in more affordable markets—whether they be out of state or north of the border. Still, the entertainment business is huge here. So is fashion. And shipping. Almost half of the nation’s containerized import traffic comes through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. 40-foot shipping containers enter the country by the millions, and then go out to the nation via highway and rail.
If nothing else, Los Angeles is definitely a city of color. Immigration has long fueled the population here. The ethnic communities are large and diverse. The city began as a Spanish territory. It was taken over by the European-descended U.S. government. The proximity to Mexico has always made LA a destination for Mexican and Central American immigrants. The mid-Wilshire area has Little Ethiopia. The Fairfax district around Beverly Blvd is sometimes referred to as Kosher Canyon for its orthodox Jewish population. The neighborhoods of Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Historic Filipinotown, Thai Town, and even a Samoan enclave in the south of Los Angeles, all speak to the consistent influence of Asian immigration here. Overall, it makes for a vibrant and exciting urban tapestry. Opportunities abound for multicultural experiences right in your own backyard.
As an added bonus, this means that LA’s culinary scene is exploding with possibilities. From traditional Thai cooking to Ethiopian vegetarian cuisine, from an array of fusion restaurants across the city to iconic steakhouses, from old-guard American eateries to America’s first French Dip sandwich, from street food to soul food to sea food to sushi to gourmet food trucks, eating in Los Angeles is just one manifestation of a true American melting-pot original.
City of Angels
The Entertainment Capital of the World
The Big Orange
Omnes Stellae (“Everyone’s a star,” unofficial)
RANDOM SONG ABOUT THE CITY
“Los Angeles Blues” by Peggy Lee
PRO SPORTS TEAMS
Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (MLB)
LA Galaxy (MLS)
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA)
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
Los Angeles Rams (NFL)
Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
Los Angeles Sparks (WNBA)
Los Angeles Kiss (AFL)
Los Angeles D-Fenders (NBA-D)
Orange County Blues (USL)
FC Santa Clarita (UPSL)
ALSO KNOWN FOR…
Epic traffic congestion
The country’s third busiest airport
The Hollywood sign
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles
A former lima bean ranch now known as Beverly Hills
The Zoot Suit Riot
Networking at AA
The country's busiest and most congested freeway
Carmageddon and Carpocalypse (which never actually happened)
Televised high-speed chases
The nationally-televised Low-Speed Chase
The shuttle Endeavour’s road trip
The invention of the French dip sandwich
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jackie Robinson, Charlie Chaplin, Angelyne, Eldridge Cleaver, Adlai Stevenson, Walt Disney, Pancho Gonzales, Busby Berkeley, Helen Gurley Brown, Pete Rozelle, Tony Gwynn, Raymond Chandler, Marion Jones, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oscar De La Hoya, Jack Kemp, John Elway, Frank Gehry, Wolfgang Puck, Elon Musk, Ice Cube, Etta James, Sandy Koufax, William Mulholland, Diana Nyad, Edward James Olmos, Ronald Reagan, Cal Worthington, uncountable stars, politicians, musician and athletes
Probably the two best things to remember about living in Los Angeles is that real estate is hugely expensive, and you’re going to spend a lot of time in the car (probably moving very slowly). And if you’ve ever seen the recurring Saturday Night Live sketch, “The Californians,” where all the conversation is about the highways people took to get there, be prepared: this is a reflection of real life in LA. Talking about taking the 405 to the 101 to the 134 and dropping down the 110 to South Pas is standard cocktail party conversation.
Something else to remember here is that if you’re going to work for the recently relocated Los Angeles Rams, their temporary home is downtown at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Their permanent home will be about 5 miles southwest as the crow flies (more like a 10-mile drive) in Inglewood. City of Champions Stadium is slated to be completed for the 2019 season. In a city of traffic jams, “freeway close” proximity makes a difference. (For this reason, we’re also going to bypass looking at the San Fernando Valley, as it’s a really long haul to downtown. But if you have freeway perseverance, you can handle the heat, and you want more real estate for you dollar, it’s there.)
If you’re an urban dweller and like the idea of living in a downtown, you’re in luck. Downtown Los Angeles has been undergoing a renaissance. Renovation, rehab and new construction are all part of the gentrification wave. Just don’t be fooled by the median home price in the mid-300,000 range. Yes, you can find a 1-bed/1-bath condo for around $350,000. You can also find a 1-bed/1-bath condo for around $750,000. Anything of appreciable size is not going to come cheap. The good news for downtown, besides proximity to the Coliseum, is proximity to arts and entertainment, restaurants, nightlife, Chinatown and Little Tokyo. You’re also right by the freeway, and can get many places around LA in about 20 minutes. (Which is also a running gag: wherever you live, you’re always about 20 minutes away from wherever you’re going.)
Moving away from downtown, there are some iconic suburbs. North of downtown is South Pasadena, which has the distinction of being the oldest self-builder of floats in the historic Tournament of Roses Parade. A small community, the median home price is about 2.5 times higher than downtown, but you’ll also get more for your money. For the price of that 750K 1-bed condo, South Pas can give you 3-bed/2-bath condo or a 3-bed house with a yard. It’s still not cheap, but it’s quieter, has great amenities, a great location, and better schools.
The ninth biggest city LA County, Pasadena proper has about five times the population as South Pas. The real estate inventory is obviously bigger, and is also more varied. The city also has some rough parts. But overall, it’s a pleasant city with excellent amenities and good schools. And the Rose Bowl. But if you really want to go upscale, adjacent San Marino is the place. A beautiful and affluent community, it has the top-performing school district in the county. Across the board, scores for amenities, housing and education are excellent. And all that comes at a price: the median home price is over $2 million. At the time of this writing, the least expensive listing we could find was a 1,500 sq. ft. 3-bed/3-bath on a 6,000 sq. ft. lot, Spanish-style, built in 1935, for about a mill and a half. (Stunningly rehabbed, of course.)
Want to live where Mickey Mouse was born? Look to the affluent, hillside community where Walt Disney first drew Mickey in his uncle's garage: Los Feliz. (If you speak Spanish, it goes out the window with a lot of LA’s oddly anglicized pronunciations. Case in point: this place is pronounced “Los Fee-lez.”) Originally a 1795 Spanish land grant, half of Rancho Los Feliz's almost 6,700 acres was donated to the city in 1919 and became Griffith Park. The rest was developed. Some of LA's most noted architecture is here, including a couple of Frank Lloyd Wright homes. With lots of entertainment industry folks here, the median home price of around three quarters of a million is deceiving. If you're lucky, that price might snag you a 3-bed/3-bath condo. A single-family home on a small lot can easily run into seven figures.
Adjacent Silver Lake was also originally part of Rancho Los Feliz, and is somewhat more affordable than its more upscale cousin. Silver Lake has a reputation as a hipster neighborhood with good restaurants and abundant nightlife. Since its 1970s status as an underground haven for the demimonde, gentrification has set in. Many entertainment-industry notables live here, too. The name Silver Lake refers to the reservoir around which the community is built, and is named for Water Board Commissioner Herman Silver.
Like swimming pools and movie stars and jokes about the Beverly Hillbillies? Beverly Hills can oblige. And compared to San Marino, it looks positively affordable. There’s actually residential inventory under a million. But if you want to bypass the condos and get into a single-family home, you’re probably going to have to double that. (Unless, of course, you look into what’s affectionately known as Beverly Hills Adjacent real estate. Almost in BH, but not quite.) Beverly Hills amenities are excellent, as are the schools, but it’ll cost you. Neighboring Bel Air is also quite nice, with home prices similar to Beverly Hills, more leafy green property, and fewer amenities. Bel Air seems somewhat tucked away and off the beaten path relative to Beverly Hills, and feels more private.
Moving west through the Wilshire Corridor (which has a concentration of high-rise condos), you find a median home price under a million in West Los Angeles. UCLA is right there, and it’s a diverse and vibrant community. Slip through West LA, and you’re in Brentwood. Made famous (infamous?) by OJ Simpson, Brentwood used to fly below the radar. Now, it’s on the map. But unlike Beverly Hills, three quarters of a million will actually buy a home big enough for a family. For that matter, so will half a million. Schools here are good. Amenities are excellent. An overall pleasant town, if somewhat inundated by the crush of traffic, it’s a nice place to live.
Further west, Santa Monica is equally pleasant if not more so. It also ups the ante considerably, with a median home price more than double that of Brentwood. It’s a great town with a great beach. It also suffers from the congestion and high prices that have become so endemic to LA. (Not to mention that some folks are challenged by the city politics that inspired the mid-20th-century nickname, The People’s Republic of Soviet Monica.) Lending to the congestion is the wildly popular destinations of the beach, Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade. On a good day, the drive to the Coliseum is only about a half an hour. (Be prepared for the bad days.)
Further up the coast is Pacific Palisades. The home prices climb from Santa Monica’s median to almost a million. And that million will get you a nice condo. You can find one for as little as half a million if you don’t need much room. And entry level single-family home is about a mill and a half. The schools are excellent. The views are stunning. The amenities are limited. And if you really want to make a statement, you can drive further up the coast to Malibu. Just don’t be surprised if your nifty little $3-million beachfront home is suddenly blocked from access to work by the next mudslide into PCH. (Remember all that flooding mentioned earlier?)
Just down the coast from Santa Monica is Marina del Rey, where one is more likely to live in a condo. Or on their yacht. But further down, past LAX, is one of LA’s premiere neighborhoods, Manhattan Beach. Yes, you’re looking at million-dollar plus residential inventory. But if you can justify it, it’s a favored community with excellent schools and amenities—including what seems to be a rarity in LA, families who have been there for generations. And the beach is a delight. Rancho Palos Verdes and Palos Verdes Estates are further south. And while they’re expensive and lovely, the 45-minute drive to downtown (without traffic) could test the limits of your patience.