When I first arrived in LA some twenty years ago, I landed just south of Hollywood near San Vicente and La Brea. I was staying with friends from my hometown while I looked for a new place for my family. I liked the neighborhood there – it was close to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. There was a cool ocean breeze at night in the summer and really no need for air conditioning. I had no idea of the San Fernando Valley, other than Tom Petty’s song, “Free Fallin”.
I had seen the 405 freeway and had been on it driving from LAX to Sunset Boulevard. I saw the Sepulveda pass going over the hill and I assumed it was wide open space from there to Sacramento, so I was shocked the first time I actually drove “over the hill” and there was a whole other “city” over there with nearly two million people – the San Fernando Valley.
According to Wikipedia, the San Fernando Valley is home to 1.8 million people and covers 260 square miles. Most of the San Fernando Valley is a part of the city of Los Angeles. Burbank and Glendale are their own cities, as is Calabasas to the west. Communities in the San Fernando Valley that are actually governed by the city of Los Angeles include, Chatsworth, Canoga Park, Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Reseda, Northridge, Granada Hills, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, North Hollywood, and Sun Valley. It is a huge area with the Santa Monica Mountains to the south and the Santa Susana mountains to the north. The LAPD covers all of these areas.
When it came time for me to move my family down from Montana, my agent recommended that I move to “The Valley” as it is called. She said that it was a better place to raise kids, that the parking and traffic situation was better, and that it was just a nicer overall place for families. I remember driving through The Valley looking for apartments and thinking what a dump it was. My first impression of The Valley was that it was the red-headed stepchild of Los Angeles. And it was hot compared to the west side.
I ended up settling in the west valley in a small rental house “south of the boulevard” in Woodland Hills. “South of the boulevard,” means south of Ventura Boulevard, and is generally a snooty term suggesting exclusivity. My kids went to Woodland Hills Elementary, which I must say was a very good public school. The Valley was hotter – an average 20 degrees warmer in the summer time, and a little colder in the winter time.
I slowly grew to love The Valley and even when I lived in Hermosa Beach, I always felt that I was home whenever I visited The Valley. I currently live in Van Nuys, which is several miles “north of the boulevard,” where I swore I would never live.
Places to Look for Apartments in The Valley
This will probably offend some people, but for newcomers, especially if you are seeking work in entertainment, I will only recommend moving to certain areas in The Valley:
- Sherman Oaks
- Studio City
- North Hollywood
If you live west of the 405, or Sepulveda Boulevard, the commute time to Hollywood and the studios is considerably longer. The traffic on the 101 Ventura Freeway is pretty intense at most times, and the surface streets can take forever across The Valley. Also west of the 405, the only other road over the hill is Topanga Canyon. East of the 405, you can take Coldwater Canyon into Beverly Hills, Benedict Canyon, or Laurel Canyon into Hollywood.
If you live in the north Valley you are far away from anywhere you want to be. The rents may be cheaper in Chatsworth or Northridge for instance, but they aren’t that much cheaper. Believe me, if you are moving to Los Angeles and are considering the San Fernando Valley, stay close to Ventura Boulevard, east of the 405.
Sherman Oaks runs from the 405 freeway to Woodman Ave. to the east, and is bordered by Burbank Boulevard to the North. Ventura Boulevard is the main artery that runs east and west. There are many good apartment buildings in the area, and good restaurants and shopping on Ventura Boulevard. Crime is relatively low compared to other parts of The Valley. There are several arteries in and out including Beverly Glen and Benedict Canyon. There are some very good public schools in the area. Rents run about $1200 for a one bedroom apartment, $900 for a studio. It is about 20 minutes to Hollywood or the west side outside of rush “hour”.
Studio City runs from Woodman Ave to Universal City. Studio City is considered one of the nicest places to live in Los Angeles and is home to many people who work in the entertainment industry. It is close to the studios in Burbank and Hollywood. There are cool restaurants and spots on Ventura Boulevard and some great local parks and schools. Rents may be a little higher. There are many quaint little neighborhoods with houses for rent and guest houses. Crime is relatively low and it feels safe to walk the streets at night.
I currently live on the North Hollywood/ Van Nuys border. The only reason I am recommending North Hollywood to newcomers is because it has a Red Line (subway) station for easy access to Hollywood and Downtown LA. I think North Hollywood is a little gritty for people just moving to Los Angeles, depending on where they come from. Crime and gang activity is higher. You will notice a lot of graffiti. You will see prostitutes working Lankershim Boulevard just north of the NOHO Arts District where the red line station is. There are a lot of homeless people. It has been cleaned up a lot recently, and there are many new apartment complexes in that area as well as restaurants, theaters, bars, and gyms. Many young people move to North Hollywood and love it. Rents are a little cheaper and the Red Line runs to Hollywood and downtown. The Orange line runs across The Valley and connects to the Red Line.
As you cross into Burbank from North Hollywood you will notice that the streets get wider and everything looks cleaner. Burbank has its own police force that is known for strict law and order, if you’re into that. Burbank is home to Disney Studios, Warner Brothers and many other entertainment companies. Burbank has its own major airport and great public schools and parks. It is close to Hollywood and the west side. I highly recommend Burbank, especially for families. The downtown area is very quaint and there are many theaters and a sprawling mall there. It feels very safe in Burbank.
The Valley is a little more relaxed as far as parking restrictions and generally has more parking than most areas on the Westside. It seems to be a little less crowded, less urban, and the traffic is not as bad. The Valley was more comfortable for me coming from Montana with my family than the west side was. It is hotter in the summer; that is why so many places in The Valley have pools.
The Valley is very large and spread out and there is not a real sense of community there. There is not really a common downtown area where everyone goes. If you want to start a new life in The Valley, all you have to do is move a couple exits down the freeway, and you will probably never see anyone from your old neighborhood again. The Valley is hot in the summer as the mountains on all sides trap the heat in, unlike the west side that gets the ocean breeze. The Valley is pretty far from the Ocean, and most people who live in The Valley go to Zuma Beach in Malibu, which is roughly an hour drive.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, crime was a big thing. Many parts of The Valley were very rough. Gang wars fueled by a crack epidemic were in full swing. It was not uncommon to have 14 plus murders in the city on a weekend. Crime, all over the city is way down since then. I feel comfortable living anywhere in The Valley now, but it wasn’t always that way. However, I think that new people moving to LA should stick close to the areas of Sherman Oaks, Studio City, North Hollywood, and Burbank and as they get acclimated to the city can venture out into other areas. The San Fernando Valley has been the butt of many jokes over the years in movies and songs, but some of those same people who wrote those songs and movies now call The Valley home.