Car-Free and Car-Lite in LA: where to live

Bumper to bumper traffic towards LAX, Los Angeles County, Southern California, United States of America

Go car-free and avoid this. (Photo: Pranav Bhatt/Flickr)

In light of recent U.S. Census Data that suggests car-lite and car-free households are on the rise in Los Angeles, we’ve compiled a list of the best locations in the region where minimal car use (car-lite) or never needing a car at all (car-free) is possible. Though there are many subtle lifestyle adjustments to reduce car dependency which don’t require packing up and moving, by far the best opportunity to make a significant change is when selecting a new place to live or work.

Whether you’re a new or future resident unfamiliar with the lay of the land or a longtime Angeleno looking to escape a grueling commute, keep reading. For our regular readers, please don’t forget to tell us what neighborhoods you think should make the list by commenting — this is a post we want to be helpful to those who already live here and those moving to our region.

The list is by no means scientific and we recognize that no neighborhood will be a one-size-that-fits-all. We made our choices by taking into account factors such as access to transit, pedestrian-friendliness and bike access (using scores from walkscore.com), local amenities and connectivity to other neighborhoods. Give it a few years and this list may very well change as Metro continues to build the transit system with funding from Measure R, the sales tax increase approved by local voters in 2008.

5. Culver City

Culver Hotel (Photo: Joseph Lemon / Metro)

Photo: Culver Hotel

Culver City wouldn’t have appeared on this list prior to 2012, but thanks to the opening of the Expo Line last year, the city has joined the ranks of one of regions top transit-oriented locations.

Its appeal to the car-free crowd will only increase when the Expo Line is extended to Santa Monica, which is expected to open in 2016. For now, Culver’s transit options work best for those who work or go to school in the east, where the Expo Line currently connects them to the University of Southern California and Downtown Los Angeles.

To the west, Metro Rapid Line 733 connects Culver to Venice and the beach and Santa Monica; alternatively a bike lane on Venice Bouelvard does the same for two-wheelers. The Ballona Creek Bike Path also runs on the outskirts of Culver, leading bicyclists to Marina Del Rey and the beach bike path that runs south to Hermosa Beach and north to Santa Monica and Will Rogers Beach. The city’s proximity to other Westside neighborhoods makes on-demand transit like Lyft or Uber reasonable options for an evening out, and Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus and Culver City Bus serve the city and surrounding areas.

Downtown Culver isn’t lacking things to do either: gastropubs, restaurants, a movie theater and historic landmarks are all within at most a 10 to 15 minute walk from downtown, along with adjacent residential neighborhoods. Grocery stores and smaller markets are scattered around the the central district and are fairly accessible by walking and biking, depending on your exact location.

The factor hindering Culver City from becoming a true car-free city is its lack of north-south bus routes connecting it to nearby work and entertainment centers like Beverly Hills, Century City and West Hollywood. There are a few options, but they’re not as convenient as they should be.

Culver2

Transit Score: N/A*

Walk Score: 84, Very Walkable

Bike Score: N/A*

* scores unavailable.

4. Pasadena

Old Town Pasadena

Photo: Old Town Pasadena

The city of Pasadena is located about 11 miles northeast of downtown LA. For its residents it provides a functional mix of both urban and suburban. The city has six Gold Line stations, three located in the median of Interstate 210 and three south and near Old Pasadena and it’s an 18-minute to 29-minute ride to Union Station from those stations.

Although the city has been very slow to develop a decent bike plan — much less implement it — there are plentiful cycling opportunities in the area, including many of them on quiet residential streets. With better bike connections to Gold Line stations, Pasadena may have been even higher on our list. To the city’s credit, it has given away bike vouchers.

If you’re an apartment dweller, there are plenty of options here as well — the city has been on an apartment and condo building boom since the Gold Line opened.

The Gold Line, of course, serves the region’s transit hub at Union Station and also continues to East Los Angeles. The Gold Line is also being extended 11.5 miles east to Azusa (the Gold Line Foothill Extension project, forecast to open in 2016) and a separate project will allow Gold Line trains to run through downtown L.A. (the Regional Connector project, forecast to open in 2020). Pasadena is also served by several Metro bus lines, Foothill Transit and the Pasadena ARTS bus, which focuses on connecting neighborhoods to the Gold Line and commercial areas. The Metro Local Line 180/181 and Metro Rapid Line 780 buses run west from Pasadena to Eagle Rock, Glendale, Los Feliz and Hollywood

By far the city’s most car-free friendly business and entertainment district is Old Town Pasadena (Del Mar and Memorial Park Gold Line stations), with a secondary nod to the Lake Avenue business district; there is also the Hastings Ranch area in eastern Pasadena, which is more of a traditional suburban environment and has its share of big box stores. With an array of stores, coffee shops and restaurants with outdoor seating, pubs, movie theaters, parks and the occasional parade or event, you’ll pretty much be set for an afternoon or an evening out. When it comes to filling your refrigerators and cupboards, Pasadena has a handful of major grocery stores and at least three are within a block or two of a Gold Line station, including the giant two-story Whole Foods on Arroyo Parkway.

Pasadena2

Transit Score: N/A*

Walk Score: 68, but most of the city is easily walkable

Bike Score: 71, Very Bikeable

3. North Hollywood (NoHo Arts District)

Photo: NoHo Red Line Station entrance

Photo: NoHo Red Line Station entrance

As the terminus of both the Metro Orange Line and Metro Red Line, North Hollywood — or more specifically the NoHo Arts District – is a solid, affordable transit-oriented hot-spot. If you work or spend much of your time in Universal City, Hollywood, Downtown L.A., Warner Center or Burbank Media Center (Burbank Bus), your daily commute is a straight-shot by either bus or train from the North Hollywood Metro Station.

In particular, North Hollywood is by leaps and bounds the part of the San Fernando Valley that is best connected to the region’s transit system. It’s a 10-minute ride to Hollywood and a 25-minute ride to the heart of downtown L.A. on the Red Line — with easy transfers at Wilshire/Vermont to the Purple Line and at 7th/Metro Center to the Blue Line and Expo Line. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Union Station, the region’s transit hub. The Orange Line connects to destinations across the Valley; it’s about a 40-minute ride to Warner Center.

For recreation, there’s North Hollywood Park, the Chandler and Orange Line Bike Paths, and no shortage of gyms and fitness centers. For entertainment and nightlife there’s a Laemmle Theater, over three-dozen live performance theaters and an increasing number of trendy bars and restaurants. The neighborhood is host to a farmers market on Saturdays and is anchored by a Ralph’s grocery store at its center.

The neighborhood has boomed the past decade in large part due to the completion of the North Hollywood Red Line Station in 2000 and assistance from the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency. Much of this growth occurred along a stretch of Lankershim Boulevard — the area’s primary north-south thoroughfare — between the North Hollywood and Universal City / Studio City Red Line stations.

If you need a break from NoHo but want to stay close to home, neighboring Universal City and Studio City are two easy-to-reach options. The entertainment and retail offerings at Universal CityWalk are only one Red Line stop away (about a four-minute ride). From there you can also transfer to the Metro Rapid Line 750 or Metro Local Line 150/240 to Studio City via Ventura Boulevard, a corridor lined with an eclectic mix of stores and shops, as well as some of the Valley’s more renowned restaurants and bars. Another bonus for locals: need to get to the airport? Supershuttle provides free shuttle service from North Hollywood to Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport.

North Hollywood’s car-free standing could be bolstered with better connectivity to Burbank’s pedestrian-oriented Downtown Burbank and Town Center in the east, where a four mile trip currently requires at least one bus transfer and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

NoHo2jpg

Transit Score: 65, Good Transit

Walk Score: 86, Very Walkable

Bike Score: 68, Bikeable

2. Koreatown

Photo: Intersection at Wilshire / Vermont

Photo: Intersection at Wilshire / Vermont

Koreatown (K-Town) is a neighborhood generally located northwest of downtown and southeast of Hollywood with historic Wilshire Boulevard at its center. A hub of Korean cultural activity since immigrants began arriving in the 1960s, the Koreatown of today rose from the ashes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, whereafter Korean-American business owners began rebuilding and reinvesting in the area. It is the most dense neighborhood in Los Angeles County and is home to the largest population of Koreans outside of Korea. Despite the name, it is actually a very diverse area, attracting a variety of people and backgrounds.

K-Town’s relatively central location places it directly in-between major east-west Metro Rapid bus routes as well as a Metro Red Line station at Wilshire/Vermont providing direct access to Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and Downtown LA. An additional two Metro Purple Line stations run down Wilshire through the commercial core of the neighborhood (also known as Wilshire Center) with stations at Wilshire/Normandie and Wilshire/Western, and will eventually run to the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood when the Purple Line is extended in three phases; the first to La Cienega is forecast to open in 2023. Metro Rapid lines crisscross through major thoroughfares heading toward Westwood and Santa Monica to the west, the Metro Expo Line to the south and Hollywood to the north.

As for the living, there are three major grocery stores and an ample supply of mom-and-pop markets in the area. Koreatown is also known for its 24-hour nightlife, its variety of restaurants and bars and of course, great Korean cuisine. Unfortunately, the locals we talked to are pretty tight-lipped about their favorites, so you’ll have to find the gems on your own (though we’ve heard there’s this thing called Yelp…and articles like this).

KTown2

Transit Score: 79, Excellent Transit

Walk Score: 90, Walker’s Paradise

Bike Score: 64, Bikeable

1. Downtown Los Angeles

Photo: Downtown LA at 7th / Broadway

Photo: Downtown LA at 7th / Broadway

No surprises here. Take a look at the Metro Rail map and you’ll see why Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) takes the prize for the best place to live car-free in LA. By leaps and bounds, downtown L.A. has the easiest access to transit — both for traveling within the very large downtown area and traveling beyond on Metro bus and rail lines, Metrolink and Amtrak trains and the many bus lines operated by other transit agencies.

The other reason that downtown is ranked first on our list is that it has come back from the dead. Although it has always been the top job center in our region, downtown in the latter half of the 20th century increasingly became an overparked, moribund version of its former self that had plenty of jobs but lacked things residents could easily find in the ‘burbs. Such as a grocery.

Times have changed; downtown now has a Ralph’s and a Target and a smaller version of a Walmart — the old standby of the ‘burbs — is coming to Chinatown. The city of L.A. adjusted its zoning code in the ’90s, making it easier to revamp old buildings into residential buildings. And developers began gobbling up vacant lots and other sites in order to build an array of apartments and condos. Many have parking, in fact — but the fact is downtown is becoming more convenient and driving far less necessary.

With two transit hubs at 7th Street / Metro Station and Union Station, Long Beach, North Hollywood, Pasadena, Culver City and East LA are all within direct reach. If you live here, using Metro Rapid buses expands your options with direct connections to West L.A., Westwood and Santa Monica. For short jaunts, there are bike lanes on some major streets, and Metro Local buses will get you just about anywhere else. Consider on-demand transit options like Zipcar (with Metro Discount), Lyft or a good old-fashioned taximeter cabriole and owning a car as a DTLA resident could almost be a crime.

When it comes to amenities for residents, downtown is turning a corner. New grocery stores, shops, bars and restaurants are filling long-vacant buildings or being built over former parking lots. For extracurricular activities, Staples Center, LA Live, Walt Disney Concert Hall, MOCA, Grand Park and historic cultural enclaves like Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Olvera Street are all in your backyard.

Downtown Neighborhoods:

Downtown L.A. consists of at least a dozen smaller nabes, below are a few you will likely find during your search:

  • Financial District
  • Historic Core
  • City West
  • Bunker Hill
  • South Park
  • Little Tokyo
  • Chinatown
  • Arts District

DowntownLAwithText

Transit Score: 99, Rider’s Paradise

Walk Score: 92, Walker’s Paradise

Bike Score: 69, Somewhat Bikeable

Honorable Mentions:

So tell us your thoughts: what neighborhoods or cities do you think are the best places to live a car-free / car-light lifestyle? If you’re already car-lite or car-free, any tips?

57 replies

  1. Kudos! and Culver City comment: Thanks for this. Los Angeles is becoming such a better place because of efforts like yours (and, for instance, the LA bike Coalition who posted this blog on its FB page). I originally moved here in 1987 and returned in 2010. What a difference! Keep it up, LA. Your efforts humanize this metropolis. Thanks for helping to push LA forward. RE Culver City: I just started evening classes at West LA College. I bike from the Expo Line, but would appreciate being able to use a bus. The Culver City Bus schedule is not very convenient for students in evening classes. The Expo line is not included on Culver CIty’s bus map. Here’s hoping for more connections.

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  2. I agree, the Eastside deserves some consideration. East LA is served by the Gold Line, will have a direct shot downtown with the Regional Connector, and is still affordable.

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  3. The usual Pasadena-Hollywood-Westside (and now Downtown) bias. Most people in Southern California live in suburbs and most older “Pacific Electric” era suburbs are perfectly walkable. Pretty much anywhere in the San Gabriel Valley, Whittier, Fullerton, Orange, Santa Ana etc.

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