Since August is just around the corner, here's a warning. August is probably the worst time to look for a rental in LA. I speak from experience. August is bad because that's the time families move to be closer to their children's schools. August is bad because that's the time hoards of university kids come to look for fall housing, usually with parents who are more than happy to pay $3000 a month for their children's comfort. This means rents are at their highest. Around December, I noticed similar houses were being listed for several hundred dollars less.
Going online with Craigslist and Westside Rentals seems to be the most popular way to look for a place. Craigslist is free and anyone can use their listings. Westside Rentals isn't free and not nearly so accessible: you have to be a member, and the basic membership plan is $60.00 for 60 days. A lot of the rentals will be listed on both sites since Westside Rentals doesn't charge people to list their rentals. We tried both and we couldn't find a clear advantage to either. So you might as well try the free one first.
I love the fact that even the shabbiest place in LA has a provenance. The Fleetwood Mac couple lived in ours -- and they didn't have a happy marriage -- I swear I can still hear their arguments. Be careful. There are a lot of strange rental situations around, people living under you, beside you, in a corner, down a cavity -- all sharing your washing machine. And landlords are never just landlords. Ours is an ex-graphic artist, ex-magician. And they can have a real inflated ego when it comes to their rental properties, usually because they've invested a part of themselves in the air conditioning unit they've picked or the new taps they've put in. Sometimes you just want to say, "Hey, it isn't all that!" But don't. Smile, be courteous, show up to appointments on time, look interested, and find something nice to say about what you're looking at. Remember -- they're selling their apartments but you're selling yourself. It's just like a job interview.
If you've never been to LA, keep in mind that LA isn't like most cities. You don't have good neighborhoods and bad. You have good streets and bad. And often, they're right next to each other. Sometimes, the good and bad are split right through the middle of the street. Sometimes, the good and bad alternate house by house. So unless you really know LA, you have to visit each building, each neighborhood to see what you're getting into.
Here's a not-very-thorough rundown of some of the neighborhoods.
Downtown: I'm mentioning it first because it's in the middle of being revitalized and getting continual buzz. I'm not sure if the buzz is justified or if it's just a media campaign by people who need to make their money back. But anyway, if you like urban living and would rather live in NYC, Downtown is for you. To get more of a feel for the Downtown lifestyle, try going to Angelenic or blogdowntown.
Silver Lake/Echo Park: It's an interesting mix of wealthy executives, artists, musicians, and hipsters. The only location of Intelligentsia is here and it's becoming the Grand Central station of Silver Lake. Echo Park used to be a working-class, Hispanic neighborhood. Sadly, many of the old residents are being moved out as more and more streets are becoming gentrified. But you'll still find gang activity. A really nice feature of Echo Park is the park with the large lake and man-made water geysers that shoot up high into the air.
Westwood: UCLA, frats, Stan's Corner Donut Shoppe. What more is there to say?
North Hollywood: Not anywhere near Hollywood. It's actually in the San Fernando Valley, where it's hot. Really, really hot. Like 100 degrees in the summer. In 1997, NoHo (as it's known) was the scene of an infamous bank heist. There's also the Arts District with more than 20 professional theaters. In generally, we find the area a little dull. Sorry, NoHo.
Studio City: Also in San Fernando Valley. At its heart, it's a huge strip mall, but a fun one with lots of little stores along Ventura, like the Big Sugar Bakeshop. Nice suburban streets full of nice, comfy houses, too.
San Gabriel Valley: Where most of the Chinese seem to live! Great Chinese and Vietnamese food here, and at great prices! Eat well and prosper.
Santa Monica: You'll find a lot of the alternative health industry here. And the homeless. It's also generally several degrees cooler in the summer.
Venice Beach: There's the beach, which is fun for people watching, and there's Abbot Kinney, a street lined with expensive boutiques.
Here's a list of websites that will give you a good feel about moving here.