The quake's magnitude was 4.4 and it was centered 15 miles west-northwest of the downtown civic center, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS seismologist Robert Graves called it a typical Southern California quake of moderate magnitude and said expectations would be that damage would be slight, if it occurred at all.
Los Angeles police and fire officials said there were no immediate reports of damage.
"It rocked and rolled for about 10 or 12 seconds. I'm surprised nothing fell off the walls or broke - and nothing did - but it was quite a shaker," said Brian Bland, a retired AP Radio correspondent who lives in suburban Santa Monica.
The 6:25 a.m. quake occurred at a depth of about 5 miles. There were several aftershocks, including one of 2.7 magnitude that caused very minor shaking, Graves said.
The epicenter was near Sepulveda Pass in the Santa Monica Mountains, about 6 miles from Beverly Hills and 7 miles from Universal City, the USGS said.
It was one of the largest quakes to hit Los Angeles since the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake killed several dozen and caused $25 billion in damage two decades ago, Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist, told KABC-TV.
"It's not that large by California terms. It's the size of earthquake we have across the state once every couple of months," Jones said. "But we haven't had one like this in LA for quite a while."
A magnitude 4.7 quake struck near Inglewood in 2009, she said.
Broadcasters live on the air immediately announced that an earthquake was occurring. Anchors at KTLA-TV took cover underneath their desk before quickly resuming the broadcast by seeking USGS information.
Californians are taught and practice the "drop, cover and hold" technique to prevent injury from falling debris.
Associated Press Radio Correspondent Matt Small in Washington contributed.