Commuting by car is a significant part of life in L.A. You want to feel comfortable not only where you live but also on your route to work. If possible, spend a week or two in the city, explore its outlying districts and test out what it would be like to live in Santa Monica and work in West Hollywood, for example.
If you have to commit to accommodation before getting to L.A., steer clear of Downtown. Because of its historically poor reputation and volatility, you should probably explore it before you commit to it. Also, avoid the San Fernando Valley unless you have experience with the commute and have made peace with it.
If you are looking for a summer sublet, your best bet is to hunt around the colleges. Westwood is safer and nicer than the neighborhood around USC, so looking for UCLA student listings is a great option. Be aware that Gayley Avenue and parts of Landfair Avenue and Strathmore Drive are considered “Frat Row” at UCLA and they don’t necessarily shut down when school is out.
If you are working Downtown for the summer in banking or law, 1010 Wilshire offers short-term, fully furnished apartments, and its roof boasts a pool, gym and sauna. Start hunting in the spring, and you should be fine.
If you are looking for a more permanent residence, determine which neighborhood is best for your circumstances.
As in any city, finding housing in L.A. is a matter of research. Check The Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly for listings. Ask people in your network with ties to the West Coast if they know a particularly good building or a place to sublet. People who are “bicoastal” can be very willing to sublet their space.
It’s also important to check out the building ratings, rental companies, and crime statistics. For general listings see apartmentguides.com, myfirstapartment.com, craigslist.com, and bruinliving.com.