I'm a longtime New Yorker who moved to LA — and it was the best decision ever. Here's how I made friends, lowered my cost of living, and found happiness.

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I'm a longtime New Yorker who moved to LA — and it was the best decision ever. Here's how I made friends, lowered my cost of living, and found happiness.
Daniel Zahler realized New York didn't work for him anymore — so he left.Daniel Zahler
  • Daniel Zahler is a Harvard-trained healthcare consultant who previously worked at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey.
  • He moved to LA for a better quality of life after spending 12 years in New York City.
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When I told people I was moving from New York City to LA, these were the common reactions:

  • Why — what's in LA?
  • Did you join a cult?
  • Are you gonna start putting avocado on everything?

The short answer for why I decided to pack up and move across the country: I can live near the beach and work from anywhere. I work as an independent consultant, advising companies in healthcare, life sciences and medical technology. I didn't have a job tying me to New York. I finally made the move to LA in 2017.

I had a realization. What I want out of a city is changing. New York doesn't work for me anymore. LA does.

I got the full New York City experience

I lived in Manhattan for 12 years. I experienced the highs and lows of New York life, from 100-hour weeks at Goldman Sachs to all-day picnics in Central Park.

As time went by, the stress of the city began to wear on me. I felt like the city was taking more out of me than I was getting from it. When I visited friends in LA, I noticed how much calmer I was.

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For me, New York was like a long-term relationship I'd stayed in too long. It was comfortable and familiar. I knew every inch of it. There was always something fun going on. I was addicted to the city's energy.

Yet it wasn't fulfilling me. The crowded streets and honking taxis that once seemed enchanting now felt like an assault on the senses. I wasn't doing enough deep work. Nights out seemed repetitive and predictable. The sense of wonder I'd felt as a newcomer was gone.

In 2015, I decided to sublet my West Village pad and spend the winter in Santa Monica. I had a blast. I went to beach yoga, did sunrise hikes, and sound bath meditations. I befriended my Airbnb hosts. They introduced me to their friends. LA went from being an attractive fantasy to a place where I could actually settle down and make a new home.

Living in LA hasn't had a negative impact on my finances. Santa Monica is one of the priciest areas of California, but it's still cheaper than Manhattan. I was paying $4,000 a month for a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the West Village. Today I'm paying $3,000 a month for a spacious apartment in the heart of Santa Monica with amazing views of mountains and palm trees.

There are three big misconceptions about LA

1. You're always stuck in traffic.

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Yes, traffic is a problem in LA. But you can avoid it. And owning a car has become optional. Seriously!

Uber has been a game changer. You can hop in a car and go anywhere you want. It's convenient and cheap ($20 gets you from Venice to West Hollywood).

It's never been easier to get around LA. Don't let the traffic scare you.

2. There's no good pizza.

LA has become a great food city. New Yorkers, I'm here to tell you: You can get some amazing pizza in LA. Anyone who's been to Gjelina knows it. There's a Joe's Pizza by the Santa Monica Pier serving up a good replica of the New York original.

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LA is undergoing a food renaissance. It's easy to see why. Produce is fresher. Leases are cheaper. It's easier to try new restaurant concepts.

Chefs today are calling LA "the best food city in America."

3. Everyone there is shallow and vapid.

LA is not just for people in "the industry." Yes, there are lots of Hollywood types. Fame is the town's chief currency. Throw a rock on Sunset and you'll hit at least one aspiring actor fresh off the bus from Iowa.

Then there's the other LA. Spend time in Westwood, Silver Lake, Santa Monica. You'll meet designers, scientists, entrepreneurs. People who are ambitious and intent on changing the world.

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I've found that LA is a city of newcomers and outsiders. People in LA are more open-minded and adventurous. There's a sense that anyone you meet could be a future collaborator on a film, art project or startup. Rather than ask where you work, people in LA are more likely to ask: What are you working on?

There's a real startup ecosystem blossoming in SoCal. Tech companies like SpaceX, Snap and Activision got started here. Silicon Valley heavyweights like Google, Tesla, and Netflix have major locations in SoCal. Top venture capital investors are moving to LA to support the next generation of high-growth tech companies. It's an exciting place to be.

It's easier to make friends in LA

I knew maybe 10 people in LA when I moved here a few years ago. Fast forward to today – I've hosted dinners for hundreds of people. I've been invited to speak at events all over the city.

I made more friends in one year than I did in 10 years living in Manhattan.

How did I do this? Isn't LA supposed to be a place where it's hard to make friends? A city where people worship at the altar of fame and social media but struggle to make real human connection?

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LA is not the easiest city to adjust to. The city can seem like a sprawling tangle of highways and strip malls.

New York City is like a river, beating you relentlessly downstream. You need to be a strong swimmer to keep your head above water.

LA is more like a lake. If you don't have a paddle, you can find yourself drifting aimlessly for months or years. It can be hard to find communities and plant roots. You need to go out of your way to hang out with people, build community and make friends.

I made an effort to strike up conversations with people in my building. At Whole Foods. Soho House, Equinox, WeWork.

I found it was easy to meet people simply by smiling and saying, "Hi! I'm Daniel. I just moved here from New York."

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They'd typically reply in one of 3 ways:

  1. "Oh really, why'd you move?"
  2. "How do you like LA?"
  3. "Cool, I used to live in New York, too!"

Each week I discovered new communities:

  • Mountain Gate, a monthly speaker series and dinner party with young professionals.
  • Trybe, a group that organizes Shabbat dinners at gorgeous homes around LA.
  • Summit, a group that organizes health and wellness retreats at beautiful Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.
  • REALITY Israel, a tech fellowship run by a global community of change-makers dedicated to tikkun olam, repairing the world.

The best communities help you venture outside your comfort zone and experience something new. There's a sense of adventure. An element of unpredictability.

A good community challenges you. It makes you feel you're part of something bigger than yourself, a greater cause. It gives you a sense of meaning and purpose.

In LA, you can create your own small-town vibe

Finding and participating in these communities has nourished me, sustained me, and inspired me. These communities have made me feel at home in LA.

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Living in NYC, I often struggled to find community. People were always scurrying between work and family obligations, power lunches and first dates. I met new people but didn't often form the close, intimate relationships of my college years.

The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That's why we make friends in school — because we're forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows.

I found one of the keys to LA survival is creating your own small-town vibe within the big city. Find a small community where you run into familiar faces.

I run into friends every week in Palisades Park, or at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, aka the happiest place on Earth.

It's nice to live in an extended community, to have people to rely on beyond family. It's nice to have bustling shared spaces where you can run into people you know without planning it beforehand.

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Seeking out former New Yorkers helped me build community

In the summer of 2020 I created a group called "NYC in LA." I noticed how many New Yorkers were relocating to Southern California during the pandemic.

I wanted to find a way to bring together New York expats and provide mutual support. So I made a group on WhatsApp and Facebook.

The group has grown to over 500 people in the past two years. It's been an incredible source of community. Everyday people share events, local recommendations, and apartment listings. New friendships have been forged. We were even featured in The New York Times in April.

We've started hosting NYC in LA meetups that regularly attract 50-60 people. We created a housing group for short-term sublets. We crowdsourced an "LA Cool List" – a collection of recommendations for local activities, hikes, date spots, coworking spots, workout studios, running and cycling groups.

There's something special about bringing together New Yorkers in Southern California. New Yorkers are a distinct subculture. We all went through the same struggles: Finding an apartment, navigating the subway, dealing with the intensity of NYC life.

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It's like running into someone who attended the same college. You have stuff in common. There's a shared background.

In a way, it's ironic that I moved all the way across the country to end up hanging out with a bunch of New Yorkers. But I love it. Combining the people of New York with the weather and lifestyle of Southern California – for me, it's the best of both worlds.

I've met dozens of people through NYC in LA. Nothing makes me happier than introducing LA newcomers to new friends, giving them tips and helping them settle in. I know how hard it is to feel at home in a new city. I've been there.

One member told me: "I'm incredibly grateful for this group. Virtually all the people I've met and bonded with in LA have stemmed from NYC in LA!"

There's still no place like New York

People always ask me which city I prefer, New York or LA. It's an impossible question. The two cities are so different.

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The short answer is that NYC has the most amazing people, and LA has the best quality of life – sunny skies 300 days a year, beautiful parks and the beach and great hiking spots. Stress levels are lower. Everything is just easier.

Summers in Santa Monica are amazing: there are beach gatherings and outdoor concerts. In the winters, the weather rarely drops below 50. The ocean is cold, but the sunsets are still incredible. You can go to the beach in December and have picnics in February.

I used to be one of those New York snobs who looked down on LA. I'll always be a New Yorker at heart, but I've grown to love LA, too.

I travel to New York 4 or 5 times a year. I love NYC in September, when the weather is great and people are back from their summer getaways. October in the city is gorgeous — the leaves are changing and you feel the magic of autumn in the city. Springtime is great, too: I spend as much time in New York as I can in May and June.

New York City is unrivaled in its energy and diversity and is the major league of cities — truly world-class. The best restaurants, bars, culture and nightlife are all there. I love its vibrancy and its unplanned serendipity. You never know where the night will take you.

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But you also need to have something going for you to make it there. It's not an easy place to live. The people you meet are exceptional – brilliant, attractive, ambitious professionals from around the world who inspire you to achieve more.

Living in New York was like graduate school for me. I learned a lot about the world and about myself. Living in the city toughened me up. It made me more resilient.

Making a great life in a new city is all about making the effort to talk to strangers

Now that I've lived in LA for a bit, I try to share my lessons with other newcomers to the city.

I tell them it's easy to meet new people at co-working spaces and cafes. There's a great mix of entrepreneurs, artists, and other professionals. They have regular events & happy hours. Or you can just go up to someone and ask what they're working on.

Search for local interest groups on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram. It could be a book club, language exchange, hiking or biking group: These are all good places to meet people.

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Airbnb Experiences are also a great way to explore a new area and meet people. I signed up for a group hike in Griffith Park and a walking tour of Melrose street art.

In neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Venice there's more of a small-town vibe. It's easy to meet people at cafes and ask for local tips and places to check out.

People are more approachable during the day, when the sun is shining. Don't be afraid to put down your phone and talk to a stranger. That's how people met before the internet!

Daniel Zahler is a healthcare consultant based in Santa Monica, California.

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