Safe and Dangerous Places in Los Angeles

Areas to Avoid Los Angeles


Los Angeles, Calif., like many other populous cities across the United States, can be a wonderful place to live or an extremely dangerous one, depending on the circumstances and your location. Unlike the other mega-cities, though, Los Angeles is a huge spread of disparate, cultural neighborhoods that vary almost block-to-block. Where you feel safe or unsafe is somewhat subjective. That being said, there are a few facts about the safe areas and the areas to avoid in Los Angeles that can somewhat be agreed upon. The safe places in Los Angeles, statistically, are relatively unpopulated areas near the edge of the greater metropolitan area, next to the wide open spaces or the most affluent neighborhoods. The well-known lyric, "nobody walks in L.A.," is as much a consequence of the widespread layout of the city and its lack of convenient public transportation as it is of personal fears for safety combined with a bit of a car addiction.

Safe Areas in Los Angeles:

Affluent Beach Cities
The numbers referred to here are, of course, property values. Let's take Malibu as an example. Home values in this exclusive beach enclave are of course stratospherically high, while the population, another significant factor in crime stats, is low. You are much more likely to see Tom Cruise in Malibu than you are a loaded gun. The most common crimes here are drunkenness and its common companion DUI (driving under the influence), so vigilant, defensive driving is a precaution one should take. Like most of Los Angeles, the "safe" city of Malibu has a gang problem – in the form of the Malibu Locals Only gang. Protecting "their territory," the group has been known to harass Pepperdine students, but the local sheriff's department doesn't consider them a current threat. As far as crime goes in Malibu, there was one murder reported here in the 10 years between 1998 and 2008. Here in this lovely beach town, you can relax in safety among friends or folks that look awfully familiar, anyway.

East San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys
Burbank / Toluca Lake, the home of WB studios, NBC, and Disney® headquarters, is one of the relatively safe places in Los Angeles. The city has plenty of steady, well-paying jobs, quite well-kept residential areas with single family, owner-occupied homes, and perhaps two homeless people. Sip coffee at a cafe in the horsey area of town and watch the graceful animals canter by. Glendale, Arcadia and Sierra Madre are nestled next to foothills with lower population densities than the inner city and lots of nature-loving, big-dog-owning residents.

Bedroom Communities
Valencia, Santa Clarita and Calabasas are located next to wide open spaces at the edge of the Los Angeles area. These towns got their start as bedroom communities in the far west San Fernando Valley (over the hill from Malibu, coincidentally). Santa Clarita is the sixth safest city in the United States with at least 100,000 inhabitants.

The West Side
Brentwood, Bel Air and Pacific Palisades are examples of safe areas in Los Angeles that have mainly residential communities with a large ratio of high-end single family owner occupied homes, often with private neighborhood security. Beverly Hills is an area that is part residential and part business, but is also quite safe. Century City is filled with multi-million dollar, high-rise apartments and offices, and has little crime.

Other Safe Areas in Los Angeles
Wherever you happen to be in Los Angeles, museums, churches and other places of quiet contemplation tend to be very safe, or at least relatively safer than the surrounding neighborhoods. Police stations themselves are relatively safe, but not quite as relaxing.

Areas to Avoid in Los Angeles:

Los Angeles is a dramatically under-policed city, with one officer for every 426 residents, and just 19 police divisions covering a city they have subdivided into almost 100 neighborhoods. Naturally, there are pockets of peril.

Gang-Plagued Areas
Know that almost every neighborhood has gang activity, but the worst will show much more graffiti, empty, dilapidated industrial buildings, closed businesses and abandoned cars- all signs of urban blight. If you wander into this type of area, be aware that gangs usually tend to concentrate upon their own relatively private feuds. With gangs come, of course, the potential for violence as well as drug activity, prostitution, etc. Don't go alone, and especially don't walk alone, during the day. Robbery and intimidation are also concerns. At night, try to avoid these areas entirely if possible. There may be car-to-car shootings, mistaken identity (even if you think you don't look anything like a gang member), and carjacking.

South Central Los Angeles
The hotbed of the infamous 1992 riots, South Central Los Angeles is where, in response to the acquittal of white police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, truck driver Reginald Denny was pulled from his truck and beaten on camera at the corner of Florence and Normandie. Riots raged, destroying neighborhoods and local businesses already on the edge. Watts and Compton are notoriously renowned as areas to avoid in Los Angeles (in addition to any other areas you hear mentioned in a "gangsta rap" hit). Murders are so common in this area that a study of a 4-mile radius around 108th and Normandie showed 407 murders since 2007. Regardless of whether or not you are driving, going to this area is just a bad idea. Less flashy cars will attract more of the wrong kind of attention.

East Los Angeles
Follow similar advice in East Los Angeles, assessing the risk by looking for the tell-tale rampant graffiti and other signs of a gang-controlled area. If caught alone at night in a rough area due to car trouble, for example, be smart. Stay in the car if possible, drive to police station or an open, brightly-lit store and park right in front. Get out and go in if it looks safe. Call a friend, a taxi (although there are a few neighborhoods they will not enter) or the non-emergency police number.

Many beach communities are havens for the rich, and Venice is no exception with residents like Angelica Huston and Dennis Hopper. The overall vibe there is very artistic and bohemian, and the canals are a must-see. However, it has a rather robust gang community in the Oakwood area and it is best not to walk alone at night, especially next to a park or the beach.

Homeless Gathering Points
Skid Row and other sidewalks like it can be some of the most dangerous places in downtown Los Angeles and, unfortunately, are home for many people. The homeless are not usually dangerous, but don't open your purse or wallet out in public on the street. Simply say, "Nothing today," if approached as you walk by. Drugs and desperation might occasionally make you the target of a more aggressive panhandler or robber, mostly under cover of dark, so it would be best to avoid walking here at night. Santa Monica is relatively friendly to the homeless, allowing them to congregate in promenade shopping area and elsewhere. You probably won't have a problem in these areas with lots of foot traffic and fellow shoppers around most of the time.

Tourist Areas

Hollywood Boulevard, Avenue of the Stars, Olvera Street or Santee Alley (fashion district), downtown and the Universal Studios shopping area, among others may not be considered areas to avoid in Los Angeles, but the truth is that they are just plain crowded and you should definitely exercise caution. Here, you need to keep your wallet close, preferably in a front pocket. Your purse should be closed and held close to the body. Don't carry more cash than you need.

The downside of the car culture and bad public transport is not remembering exactly where your car is parked within the five-tier cement wilderness that is your typical parking garage. In parking garages, you are vulnerable to crime as you walk around looking for your car or while entering or exiting the parking garage. Wherever you are, be aware of your surroundings, move confidently and try not to look lost. Don't wear flashy jewelry unless you are going directly to the Academy Awards ceremony. Don't leave valuables in your car, or if you do, at least hide them from view.

Crowded freeways can obviously be dangerous places, especially in Los Angeles. Rush hour can really be anytime these days. Practice defensive driving and leave lots of space in front of you to handle the stop-and-go traffic. Beware of road rage in any part of town, as you may be driving a lot here in Los Angeles. Restrain yourself from making "unfriendly hand signals" or doing too much honking, as situations can escalate quicker than you might think. Use a GPS and always check traffic reports if possible to keep you on the quickest, best route to your destination.

The bottom line is, and anyone visiting the area will be happy to know, that Los Angeles in general is enjoying a downward trend in all types of crime. Some categories are down 40% from 1992 and almost every part of town is safer than ever before. Remember that common sense is perhaps your best tool in staying safe, and enjoy any big city. Welcome to Los Angeles!

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