A downtown revival, expanding subway system and high-speed rail link to San Francisco are transforming this West Coast city into a 21st-century megalopolis.

The living is just a little bit easier in Los Angeles, or it can feel that way to the out-of-towner. Residents know it is — traffic on the 10/405/110 aside.

Whether it is the bougainvillea that rains across Spanish-tile roofs or the piney-herb-scented hills in Topanga Canyon or a sunny morning on Melrose or the Venice canals, this sprawling metropolis is entrancingly attractive, and it is not just all the pretty movie stars. LA is, in actuality, not a one-industry town, although it can certainly seem that way at times. And the downtown revival, expanding subway system and high-speed rail link to San Francisco (due in 2020) is transforming the city  into a 21st-century megalopolis.

What is it known for?
Sun, smog and starlets, but mostly sun. Los Angeles averages 329 days of sunshine a year and the effect on the local psyche cannot be under-calculated. "The biggest advantage to living in LA is what all the extended sunshine does to you. It's like a drug," said Melissa Roth, a transplanted New Yorker. Replanting yourself in all that sunlight means getting used to being shiny and happy - at least most of the time - and then discovering Los Angeles' art and cultural scene, from museums like the LACMA and the Getty, to plays starring TV and screen stars in between filming or during a post-rehab comeback.

LA's ethnic food scene is booming. Mexican taquerias,  Koreatown barbecue and everything in between are competing with the Wolfgang Pucks and the Suzanne Goins for stomachs and Food Network programmes. The entertainment industry attracts the creative caste, distinct from the Hollywood elite, who work in the industry's satellite businesses, from editing to costume design to photography. Part of this class is the organized expat communities, particularly the Brits, who can be found at the new Soho House West Hollywood turning a faux-blind eye to David Beckham at the bar.

Where do you want to live?
Where you settle down is really a choice of who you want to be. Do you fancy yourself an east side hipster in Silver Lake, a Venice Beach boho or a West LA striver? No matter where you live, there is such a strong freelance culture in LA - a product of movie and TV production schedules - with millions of locals  working from home, in cafés and on their own schedule. You can make a life and find a community in almost any neighbourhood.

Although LA is enormous and prices vary by area, prices have dropped across the boards and so have rents since 2008. For buyers, more research is necessary. "Brentwood remains very desirable, so people will pay a premium," said Dakota Smith, editor of Curbed LA. "Whereas first-time home buyers are taking advantage of typical immigrant communities, like Boyle Heights, where prices have dropped more."

Beach communities like Malibu remain the goal for many second-home renters and buyers, but some are going for a second home within city limits. "People who can't afford to buy yet will live in a loft or apartment downtown and rent a house in the Hollywood Hills with friends as a weekend place," explained Smith. "When you're up there with the deer and you have a pool and a barbecue, it can feel like you're really away."

Side trips
The metro area is so spread out (500 square miles) and so congested (locals experience 72 hours of traffic delays a year), that simply driving from one end to the other can be an endurance test. But if time and traffic are on your side, in just a couple of hours you can be skiing at Big Bear, touring vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, soaking up the sun and surf in Santa Barbara, or sorting out your chakras in Ojai. And driving up US 1 to Carmel and San Francisco is a classic American road trip in easy reach.

Heading south, the Orange Country coast from Laguna to Monarch Bay and Dana Point is a perfect weekend trip. Or roll four hours to Las Vegas for a night in Sin City. Flights from LA to Hawaii are frequent and at only five-and-a-half hours, just right for a week's getaway.

Practical info
Los Angeles is very diverse and so are its housing prices. First-time buyers are circling east LA neighbourhoods like Boyle Heights, Echo Park and the unincorporated parts of East Los Angeles, according to Smith. They are looking for bargains and finding them. "People are also looking in North Hollywood and south Pasadena, and in the valley," she said.

For those who want to buy a pied-à-terre in town, downtown LA has become popular for its walkable restaurant and nightlife scene. Housing stock ranges from $1 million apartments at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at LA Live to a gritty live/work warehouse for $250,000.

Los Angeles can tend to be somewhat of an intransigent city, so think about if you are here to stay or if your job could change. It can be hard to sell a house in the current climate, so if your plans are not firm, look for a rental. These days it is a great option. "For $1,350 you can live in a prime West Hollywood neighbourhood with direct sunlight all day, views of trees that are green year round and you can walk to everything you need," said Roth. "Oh, and walk-in closets."

Further reading
Brand X: Free weekly magazine and blog from the Los Angeles Times
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LA Weekly.com: Comprehensive city coverage and entertaining blogs on restaurants, music and gossip