In the mid–20th century, the complex Los Angeles–Long Beach area started as a warm-weather paradise with a strong economic base and the attraction of cosmopolitan adventure. The area is huge. Because of earthquake risk and the increasing importance of the automobile, the city built outward—into every nook and cranny of available level land for miles—rather than upward.
Surrounding a network of city cores, the sprawl of low buildings extends 80 miles on a near-perfect grid from the beach at Santa Monica west of downtown east towards San Bernardino. The LA metro area extends north into the San Fernando Valley, including Burbank and Glendale in another large sprawling panorama, and extends south to the busy port of Long Beach. Flying into Los Angeles International for the first time, the view of the sprawling cityscape is stunning..
That isn’t to say that everything is the same throughout the area. “L.A.” includes some of the nicer places to live in the world, such as Beverly Hills, Malibu, San Marino, and the seemingly endless beach communities that stretch south from Santa Monica toward Long Beach. Pasadena to the northeast has a marvelous “old California” feel, as do areas of Santa Monica and some of the beach communities. But without extensive financial resources, these communities are all but inaccessible, and those who cannot afford them feel the full impact of the overcrowded landscape.
That said, the area has some of the best weather in the world. Warm sunny days, cool evenings, low morning clouds and fog, and sea breezes are the norm. Rain only falls in the winter, and seldom at that. Museums, performing arts, professional sports, boating, and beach recreation are among the world’s best. All imaginable services—higher education, healthcare, transportation—are available in abundance. As the area is more economically diverse and less dependent on high-tech industry than northern California, the economy continues to be relatively strong for California.
The downsides of living in L.A. are caused by overcrowding and sprawl. Traffic and air-pollution problems are extreme. Reported commute times are long but not worst in the U.S. as many might expect -- but reality could be worse as many of those surveyed are retired or don’t commute on a daily basis. Those who do face daily frustration, with freeways seldom moving at full speed at any time of the day.
Air quality is the worst in the nation by far, to the extent that only two other U.S. cities are within 50% of L.A.’s pollution level. A brown cloud hovers over the city, particularly inland, most months of the year. Violent crime is twice the U.S. average, but property crime is surprisingly moderate. The Cost of Living Index is oppressive, but not the state’s highest. The median home price has escalated rapidly in recent years and doesn’t buy much.
Recently the area has attempted to reduce dependence on the automobile by improving mass transit. And, the 40-year campaign to reduce auto smog has definitely helped. However, the growing number of cars and miles driven have mitigated these effects. For those who can take the bad with the good, or who can afford one of the nicer areas near the beach or in the surrounding hills, L.A. can be a nice place to live. Otherwise, be warned. Those of average means should probably look elsewhere - if Southern California is the destination, Riverside-San Bernardino or Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura are worth a look.
Los Angeles proper is located in a level coastal basin extending eastward from the Pacific Ocean. Downtown is about 10 miles east of the shore, with built up areas extending 60-plus miles east and southeast into San Bernardino and Orange counties. To the north and northwest lie areas of hills and coastal mountains separating the city proper from the flat San Fernando Valley. To the northeast lie the much higher San Bernardino Mountains, rising up to 7,000 feet above the valley floor. Natural vegetation in the foothills is dry grass and brush with a few trees in higher elevations; the valleys are almost entirely built up.
Climate is normally pleasant and mild throughout the year. The Pacific Ocean is the primary moderating influence. Daily temperature ranges are low year-round, varying only 15 in spring and summer and 20 in fall and winter. Temperatures above 80 are observed every month of the year. Like other Pacific Coast areas, rainfall comes in winter, with 85% of precipitation occurring November through March. Rainfall totals increase in foothill areas, and flash floods and mudslides are common in canyon areas. At times, the lack of air movement, combined with a frequent and persistent air inversion (warm, dry, desert air trapping slightly cooler and more moist Pacific air) brings considerable air pollution in the basin, causing health problems for some and reducing or even eliminating visibility of the nearby mountains.