From the beaches of La Jolla to the majestic mountains of the Angeles National Forest, from the Joshua trees of the Mojave desert to the gilded canyons off Mulholland Drive, Southern California is a beautiful place.
But, frankly, it can also be hell on earth. If you've ever been stuck in traffic on the 91 freeway in the Inland Empire or tried to find your way around Commerce on a lonely summer night with no GPS to help you out, you know what we mean. It's not all good.
Here are our top 5 hellacious communities in SoCal. Apologies to those who actually live in these places:*
5. Vernon. If you lived here, you probably wouldn't. Because it's an industrial wasteland just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Why this 5.2-square-mile town of just 70 registered voters even needs to be its own city is anyone's guess. Well, anyone's educated guess. There's a healthy tax base, 50,000 workers, and a $200-million-a-year city utility. And no soul whatsoever.
4. Sun Valley. It was a toss-up here between Panorama City, Pacoima and North Hollywood. But then we thought about it. And if you really want to capture the spirit of the northeast Valley — the gangs, the year-round heat, the train tracks, the warehouses, the dust, the decrepit motels, the porn production sets, the residents with chickens in their yards — Sun Valley really has it all. And it's smack-dab in the middle of all those other scenic locales. If “Breaking Bad” was based in SoCal, it might be happening here.
3. Hawaiian Gardens. Such a lovely name, such a challenged region. In choosing a city to represent the beautiful southeast corner of Los Angeles County, there was a lot of competition: Norwalk. Santa Fe Springs, La Mirada! But Hawaiian Gardens is the little city that could. At only 1 square mile, this Seth Green–sized city has managed to see as many as 1 in 15 residents affiliated with the local gang. And, to be sure services get paid for, a majority of the town's tax revenue comes from the Hawaiian Gardens Casino. If “Boardwalk Empire” was set on the contemporary West Coast, we can imagine it happening here. Allegedly.
2. Fontana. If any city represents the historic misfortunes of Southern California, it's Fontana. Once home to the thriving Kaiser Steel Mill, the town of Fontana, like the rest of SoCal, has seen many blue-collar jobs disappear. During the Great Recession, the city became an epicenter for the nation's subprime mortgage meltdown. Half of all borrowers in the region owe more than their houses are worth. Fontana became one of the first municipalities around to float the idea of seizing underwater homes via eminent domain.
The city, one of the largest in the I.E., is proud of its heritage, including being the birthplace of the Hells Angels and home to SoCal's main racing venue, the Auto Club Speedway (NASCAR!). But it's hotter than Hades in summer. And housing-crisis ghost towns abound in the area. But you could do worse. Like our next pick …
1. Barstow. Too easy, right? Dad always used to give joke directions to his friends: First you take a left at Barstow. Yeah, it's the armpit of Southern California, a place en route to both shit and Shinola. Why does this place exist, you ask, except as a pit stop halfway to Vegas? Well, it was a mining town and subsequently became a crossroads, first with the Southern Pacific Railroad, then with Route 66, and now with the 15 freeway. It's a trucking hub, so if you need to live near dumped bodies, this is your place. (We kid!) And, of course, you've probably always told yourself that you need to reside in a midsize city nearest the hottest place on Earth (Baker, California.) You're home. Enjoy.
*We're just having fun with these. Please don't take us too seriously. L.A. Weekly's location isn't exactly heaven on earth. And death threats will not make us like your city better.