You can see from the snow-capped mountains of the Angeles National Forest to the golden shores of Malibu, on one of Los Angeles' 290 sunny days, when the wind is right and the coastal fog has retreated.
Transformed in 200 short years from a small farming community with a big name — El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula (Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula) — L.A. has been through as many dramatic changes as any hero filing in the city's famed movie factories.
The city has defied the growth patterns of other major metropolises, with a diverse population and a seemingly endless thirst for expansion. As an alternative of a central downtown, L.A. is an interlocking network of neighborhoods, each with local pride and distinct character. Several are resurrecting their heritage and attracting residents wanting to renovate and rebuild in historic neighborhoods.
Among Los Angeles' positive attributes are its mild weather, its beaches and its knack for constantly reinventing itself. On the downside, the area's smoggy air is among the most polluted in the country, the city is built on several earthquake faults, and traffic snarls the region's freeways.
Although Los Angeles County's median home price has crept up to more than a half million dollars, prices can vary dramatically. Tiny fixer-uppers in risky neighborhoods can go for 5,000 while mega-estates in Malibu, Bel Air and Beverly Hills move easily into the - and -million dollar range. Rentals follow the same pattern, with houses in the downtown area going to ,200 per month, while homes in Brentwood or suburban Granada Hills starting at ,000 and go up from there.
From among this various landscape, we chose four neighborhoods that reflect the dramatic variety of Los Angeles. Our selections include historic, portside San Pedro; the San Fernando Valley's suburban Encino; upscale Baldwin Hills and stately Hancock Park in the heart of Los Angeles.
Named for renowned developer and libertine "Lucky" Baldwin, this view neighborhood situated in the southwestern part of the city has developed from a lucrative oil field to a middle class enclave.
Oil drills bordering on giant giraffes pumped in Baldwin Hills for much of the last century. But in the 1950s, developers were drawn to these prime hills situated southwest of downtown, convenient to Los Angeles International Airport and near Culver City's movie studios.
Also situated in Baldwin Hills is the storied 'garden city' of Village Green, which was built in 1942 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2001. Designed by architects heated about the thought that community planning could transform residents' lives, Village Green's 629 two-story condos sit on 64 acres of gently rolling lawns studded with hundreds of mature trees. Residents use scores of winding, wandering pathways to get around on foot and bicycle, since all cars and parking are restricted to the outskirts of the property. While a hot and full of activity city bustles outside Village Green's verdant acres, within it's a fantasy of small-town life.
The condos, which vary from studios to spacious four-bedroom two-bath units, are organized in 17 distinctive courtyards. Everyone has a garden view. Although the surrounding city is a bit of a transitional neighborhood, the quality of life within Village Green is such that vacancies are infrequent and are quickly snapped up. Condos go from the mid-0,000 range to the high 0,000 range, depending on size and improvements. Residents are passionate about the place and newcomers say they find joining the community spirit effortless.
Pick a Neighborhood
Cost of Housing
Several Baldwin Hills homes provide ocean and downtown views, with prices ranging from 0,000 up to 0,000. Architectural styles comprise of Mediterranean, Ranch and Art Deco Modern. Village Green, a planned community of condominiums set on a vast swath of lawns, offers reasonably priced housing with two-bedroom units starting at about 0,000.
With increasing Westside prices, younger buyers have entered into the neighborhood.
Rentals are sparse. When available, two-bedrooms range from ,000 to ,200.
Los Angeles Unified School District assists the area and comprises of a science and math magnet elementary school, Windsor Hills Math Science Aero Magnet. The University of Southern California (USC) and West Los Angeles College are nearby.
Baldwin Hill is not classified as a walking community, however, the neighborhood is a quick drive away from the sporting-event and concert venue, the Staples Center, the venerable Music Center as well as downtown Los Angeles' latest landmark, the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. The Museum of Science and Industry lies to the east; a drive west leads to beaches, and to the north is the 370-acre, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area with picnic and play areas, two fishing lakes, and hiking trails.
Nearby Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills Plaza, Los Angeles' first regional shopping center, houses major department stores and Magic Johnson Theaters, founded by the former basketball star. Ladera Center features one of the largest and liveliest Starbucks coffee shops.
Crossroads Arts Academy, located in Leimert Park Village offers thriving Afro-centric galleries, shops, restaurants, jazz and blues clubs.
Access to the 405/San Diego freeway is easy; getting anywhere on it is not. Alternatively, hop on the north/south running La Cienega Boulevard to avoid hour-long freeway commutes. Barring freeway problems, it's a 10- to 20-minute drive everywhere. With traffic, count on at least 45 minutes. Plans exist for a Metro-Rail line for nearby Crenshaw Boulevard.
In Spanish, Encino means oak tree, a protected species in this neighborhood of 42,500 in the San Fernando Valley. The Valley, an arrangement of suburbs north of downtown Los Angeles, is still part of the city, though 20 miles out.
The ranch-style homes of Encino catch the attention of those in search of wider streets, newer housing stock and a suburban atmosphere. Hollywood entertainers such as Smokey Robinson, the Jackson family, Kirstie Alley, Tom Petty, Cybill Shepherd, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson have all called Encino home at one time or another.
Cost of Housing
Housing stock ranges from small Encino Park homes built for returning veterans of World War II to elaborate mansions tucked into the hills. The standard home price in Encino has risen to 0,000. South of Ventura Boulevard, the prominent area reaching into the Santa Monica Mountains, substantial homes with views start in the .25 million dollar range and go up from there.
Rentals in Encino are plentiful, with a variety of apartment buildings north of Ventura Boulevard. Prices range from 0 for a studio apartment to about ,500 for a single family home.
Los Angeles Unified School District assists the community. Valley Alternative High School in adjacent Van Nuys gets top rankings as do renowned private schools such as Crespi High School. UCLA, California State Northridge and two community colleges, Los Angeles Valley and Pierce, are within commuting distance.
The 2,000-acre Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area with Lake Balboa and the Balboa Sports Center provides jogging trails, kayaking lessons, pedal-boat rentals, picnicking, fishing and three golf courses. Three Encino country clubs are also made up of courses. Additional attractions include the 5-acre restored Los Encinos State Historical Park and the 6½-acre Japanese Gardens, cultivated by reclaimed water.
Catering to Encino's Persian, Israeli, Asian and Russian residents, restaurants line Ventura Boulevard. Chic shopping plazas and boutiques, also along the boulevard, make Encino a shopper's paradise.
At the crossroads of two major freeways — the 405/San Diego and 101/Ventura — Encino sits 10 miles from Hollywood and 20 from downtown Los Angeles. However, commutes can be vicious, up to an hour for those short distances.
Urbanized in the 1920s by the Hancock family, this historic neighborhood is among the most sought-after in Los Angeles. Homes give an atmosphere of relaxed gentility, on its tree-lined streets that sit far back on their lot. Nearly all phone and utility lines are buried and fences are discouraged.
Practically all of the homes are historically significant. The 66-block area has one of the largest collections of 20th century Period Revival architecture in the country. The commonly two-story single family residences include Tudor Revival, English Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival as well as Monterey Revival, California Ranch and the American Colonial Revival.
The list of original residents of Hancock Park reads like the "Who's Who" of California: Doheny, Chandler, Huntington, Van Nuys, Crocker, Banning, Newmark, Van de Kamp and Duque.
The mayor's official residence is here, as is Canadian Consulate General's English-style mansion. Both overlook the prestigious Wilshire Country Club. Muhammad Ali and Nat "King" Cole once resided here. Current celebrity residents include Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, Patricia Heaton, Brooke Adams and husband Tony Shalhoub, star of the detective series "Monk"; and William L. Petersen, star of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
Cost of Housing
A number of the stately two-story homes in English, Spanish, Mediterranean, French, Colonial and traditional styles were designed by prominent architects Paul Williams and Wallace Neff.
Prices range from .25 million to over million, with square footage from 3,000 to 15,000 and proportionate lot sizes. A few lesser homes go for mid-0,000. Home rentals range from ,000 to ,000 monthly and a typical 2,000-square-foot duplex rents for ,500.
The Los Angeles Unified School District assists the community, as do excellent private schools. Marlborough School, grades 7-12, established in 1889 and the oldest independent girls school in the country, moved to Hancock Park in 1916.
The commercial hub of Hancock Park, dating from the 1920s and inspired by Larchmont, N.Y., Larchmont Boulevard, offers chic, upscale boutiques, a hardware and general store, plus restaurants featuring outdoor dining and varied cuisines.
Surface streets provide easy access to nearby Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Grove, Melrose Avenue and Beverly Center mall shops, plus one of the highest-grossing Loehmann's in the country. The Hollywood Bowl and small theaters are a short drive north.
Downtown Los Angeles or beaches, each about 10 miles away, 45 minutes via the 10/Santa Monica or 101/Hollywood freeways. When the freeways resemble parking lots, surface streets provide alternative routes.
Urbanized in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo, San Pedro, situated at the eastern end of the rocky Palos Verde peninsula, was a rough-and-tumble port town before annexation in 1909 by Los Angeles, 25 miles north.
San Pedro once boasted the infamous Shanghai Red bar that is described in Richard Henry Dana's classic sailing adventure, "Two Years Before the Mast." Writer Charles Bukowski lived in San Pedro for several years before dying there in 1994.
San Pedro was settled by Portuguese, Croatian, Italian and Greek immigrants, in the 1900s. It was also home to a energetic Japanese immigrant community though 3,000 people were expelled in 1942 as part of the Japanese American internment during World War II. The expulsion is detailed in "Farewell to Manzanar," Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's memoir.
Community landmarks include the bright green Vincent Thomas Bridge, L.A.'s version of the Golden Gate Bridge and the City of Los Angeles' official welcoming monument, and Angel's Gate Lighthouse at the port's entrance.
America's busiest port with record volumes of cargo moving through the 7500-acre harbor, Pedro Bay is home to the Port of Los Angeles.
Cost of Housing
Flat near the harbor and beaches, San Pedro's streets rise toward the Palos Verdes Peninsula, with several hillside homes offering spectacular ocean views. Homes are Spanish, Craftsman and contemporary-styled.
Prices range from the high 0,000's to more than .1 million. The typical 1,793-square-foot home sells for 0,000. A traditional '70's-era, two-bedroom apartment rents for ,500.
The Los Angeles Unified School District serves San Pedro. Dodson Middle School and San Pedro High School rank high in reading scores. Two magnet schools exist, South Shores Elementary School for the arts and San Pedro Elementary School for math and science.
Parks mark San Pedro, including 37-acre Pt. Fermin Park, atop rugged bluffs with breathtaking sea views, and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, with 38 salt-water tanks housing eels, sharks and other sea creatures. Cabrillo Beach offers a calm, inside-harbor beach and another renowned windsurfing beach.
With many buildings now artists' lofts, downtown San Pedro is undergoing revitalization. The refurbished 1931 Warner Grand Theater reopened in 1996 for classic movies and live theater.
Charming shops line Sixth Street, offering antiques, linens and hand-crafted jewelry. "First Thursdays" open-houses provide peeks at art galleries and ethnic restaurants.
The 110/Harbor Freeway offers trouble-free access north to downtown Los Angeles and south to Orange County, both about 25 miles distant. In rush-hour, commutes can last more than an hour.