by Erica Garza
As a teenager in Southeast LA, I always begged my parents to drive me west, and when I finally got my driver’s license, I drove myself (even in traffic). I daydreamed about the sparkling sands of Santa Monica. I wanted only to shop all the coolest vintage stores on Melrose.
When it was time to go to college, it was a no-brainer. I applied to UCLA, got in, and happily moved to Culver City. When I wasn’t studying, I was eating at Canter’s Deli or hanging out on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. I never dreamed of going back. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the familiar east side, except that I didn’t want familiar. As they say, the grass is always greener. Or so I thought.
Now, as an adult in my mid-thirties, married with one child, we live back on the east side—the northeast side. Though there are still things I love about the west side—the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax, the beauty of Malibu, swanky hotel bars like SkyBar at The Mondrian—I barely make the trip anymore. Part of the reason is that I rarely want to sit in traffic, but it’s mainly because there is so much to love about the northeast side—affectionately known as NELA—composed of neighborhoods like Highland Park, Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, and Lincoln Heights. Other popular areas beyond NELA but still on the east side include uber-expensive Silver Lake, the nearly hidden Mt. Washington area, the still affordable El Sereno and the predominately Latino Boyle Heights.
The east side slowly grew in popularity in the 2000s, drawing artists and millennials to its culturally rich neighborhoods and more affordable rents. Sparking gentrification debates that haven’t stopped, the neighborhoods blossomed with yoga studios, coffee shops, vegan eateries and everything in between.
Nowadays, rent in LA seems to be expensive no matter where you look, but the east and west maintain their aesthetic divide. Here are some differences I’ve picked up as a native Angeleno on East LA vs. West LA.
Surfers vs Hikers
Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of can’t-miss hiking trails in Malibu, Topanga Canyon and more, but because of the west side’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, beaches outnumber the trails and parks. On the east side, you’ll find Griffith Park, Elysian Park, Mac Arthur Park, Echo Park Lake, and Ernest E. Debs Park to name a few.
If your speed is more of a jog followed by a woodsy picnic instead of hitting the waves, the east side might win your favor.
Fine Dining vs Indie Coffee Shops
Again, it’s not impossible to find upscale restaurants on the east side or independent coffee houses on the west side, but don't forget that Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and the Sunset Strip are out west and they compete often for Michelin stars and celebrity sightings.
Things are toned down a bit on the east side. It’s not unusual to park with your laptop for hours in one of its many local eateries and coffee shops. And I don't care what anyone says—West LA tacos will never be as good as East LA tacos.
Expensive vs Kinda Expensive
Los Angeles was rated the eighth most expensive city in the country in 2018. But here’s what I noticed before recently buying my first house. While homes are expensive no matter where you look compared to the rest of the country (and even the rest of the state, except for San Francisco) you get more for your money on the east side.
For the same price of what we might pay for a condo in Santa Monica, we can buy a whole house with a yard and zoning rights to expand on the east.
Park vs Valet
Every time I drive to the west side, I make circles around my destination looking for a parking spot until I eventually give up and pay for valet parking. While parking can be a little tricky on highly-trafficked roads like Colorado in Eagle Rock, Sunset in Silver Lake and York in Highland Park, you usually don’t have to look long. Also, there are many paid parking lots around to save the day.
Iconic vs Urban
With its beaches, mansions and Hollywood glamour, people often say that West LA is what outsiders envision LA to be. It’s also home to iconic landmarks like the Santa Monica Pier, the La Brea Tar Pits, Rodeo Drive, and its many movie studios.
In contrast, East LA is known for its urban sprawl and its cultural diversity. It’s true that you may not find as many iconic landmarks on the east as you would on the west, but you might just find the next best thing.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds a master’s degree in writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Telegraph, and VICE.