10 Great Neighborhoods in Los Angeles

VALLEYS & FOOTHILLS

"Inland" is the term television weather forecasters use for the broad section of Los Angeles miles away from the beach and coastal basin. The hills and flatlands of the San Fernando, San Gabriel, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys are where many middle-class Angelenos live in lesser-known but more affordable and livable neighborhoods.

Flagship Neighborhood: Claremont

Commuter rail passengers arriving in Claremont can be forgiven if they think they have traveled to a Midwestern college town instead of a suburb 30 miles east of Los Angeles. One block from the station lies Claremont's squeaky-clean downtown, called The Village, where residents greet each other while grabbing coffee, getting their hair done or shopping for gifts. Walk further into town, down shady streets lined with graceful old homes and welcoming porches, and you will arrive on the historic grounds of the Claremont Colleges, which first opened in 1887.

The campus dominates the town and its cultural life, giving Claremont a distinct identity from the strip malls and suburban housing tracts that surround the city. The extension of the 210 Freeway through the northern end of the community and the opening of a new Village-adjacent cinema, shopping center and townhomes have made Claremont more attractive to younger residents. Claremonters celebrate the arrival of the cooler fall months by heading to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, the state's largest native plant garden. Here a large collection of manzanitas, a family of hardy shrubs that cover the hills and mountains, bloom from November through March.

The Neighbors: Traditional and upper-middle-class soccer moms, dads and kids; and a large group of progressive and liberal residents attracted to college town life

Also Consider: Glendora, La Verne, Monrovia

Flagship Neighborhood: Valencia

Valencia's biggest cultural attraction used to be the Six Flags Amusement Park (locals still call it by its original name, Magic Mountain). But a new downtown, built from scratch next to the Valencia Town Center mall, has created a new, grown-up alternative to the theme park. A commuter rail line has made this 40-year-old, master-planned community a more convenient place to live.

But don't drive 35 miles north of Los Angeles expecting to find a hip, 24-hour city. Valencia, part of the larger and equally young City of Santa Clarita, remains solidly geared for families, which take advantage of top-notch public schools, active church groups and paseos, miles of landscaped walkways and bikeways that weave through separate neighborhoods. Everyone here touts the city's low crime rate as a major draw.

Young singles and couples without kids, however, might feel a bit left out, often driving more than 20 miles south to the San Fernando Valley and even deeper into Los Angeles for more urban pleasures. But that getaway can become a problem since the only major highway into and out of town, Interstate 5, can easily become clogged with traffic. As an alternative, locals suggest taking the Old Road, which parallels the interstate, and then San Fernando Road to get you into Los Angeles for a dose of city life.

The Neighbors: Young, conservative middle-class families in search of all the comforts and conveniences of suburbia

Also Consider: Stevenson Ranch, Newhall

Flagship Neighborhood: Sherman Oaks

Two signs only a five-minute drive apart give you an example of the extremes found in this San Fernando Valley suburb. One, posted on the door to a Mexican fast-food restaurant on bustling Ventura Boulevard, warns that photographing and asking autographs of frequent celebrity patrons is forbidden. The other, mounted near the entrance of a secluded trail high up in the hills, warned of recent mountain lion sightings.

Seclusion and sophistication are some of the attractions of Sherman Oaks, home of the mall of Valley Girl fame. Of course, that mall has been turned inside out like the rest of the Valley, now more urban, dense and ethnically diverse than when Moon Unit Zappa uttered her first "Omigod!" more than 20 years ago.

It's a place of modest ranch-style homes in the flats, south of Ventura Boulevard, complete with decorative wagon wheels and Z-shutters, and increasingly larger and striking contemporary homes high in the hills north of the boulevard.

Ventura Boulevard, if you have not already guessed, serves as the main street and dividing line between the more expensive and affordable sections of Sherman Oaks. Block after block of boutiques, tattoo parlors, coffeehouses, restaurants and strip malls line both sides of the traffic-choked street. But come mid-October, the busy boulevard is blocked off for the annual Sherman Oaks Street Fair, giving everyone the opportunity to explore both sides of the boulevard.

The Neighbors: Upper middle-class couples and their families who want to be near the studios of the Valley or job centers on the Westside, a short but often congested drive through the canyons of the Hollywood Hills

Also Consider: Encino, Studio City, Toluca Lake

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