I'm finally here! And there's so much to figure out. I thought I would quickly run down a list of the basics that everyone has to deal with. I should note that for the international students that UCLA's iStart online orientation program is quite helpful with all these decisions, even if I didn't go with their suggestions for most things in the end.
Housing: This is the Big Decision, which I made much easier on myself by electing for (and getting, since it was a lottery) UCLA Graduate Housing. I have taken up a furnished studio apartment in The Paseo-Weyburn Terrace, which is a somewhat expensive option (although comparable properties in the same neighbourhood were listed at as much or higher on Craigslist). My chief goal was to avoid a commute as far as possible (more on this below). Staying in Weyburn also means a minimum of hassle in terms of buying furnishings, dealing with individual utilities bills, and so on. Aside from proximity to campus, the location seems to have all the essential facilities within walking distance. Not to mention, it really is a handsome building. Here's a picture that I took this morning just before moving in.
Laptop: The laptop specifications given by Anderson are somewhat exacting and possibly overkill for many people, but I decided that if you're going to splurge on one thing, it may as well be the laptop that you will be utterly dependent on for the next 2 years. I got a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, with 3200x1800 QHD display, 256 GB SSD, 2 GHz Intel Core i7 processors(Haswell/4th gen; please, no matter which laptop or version of the intel processors you get, make sure it is the 4th generation, because the difference in battery life is really high), and 8 GB of RAM. This set up goes for $11199 on Best Buy, but you can get a 150$ student discout to ease the pain a little. The one thing this does not have that the specifications say is "mandatory" is an Ethernet port, so I made sure to buy a USB 3.0-Gigabit Ethernet connector along with it.
A couple of caveats on the Yoga 2 Pro: there are 2 major issues that people had found with this laptop. One is that some of the older models (pre-March 2014), which are still being sold online on the Lenovo store and possibly other dealers, don't come with dual-band wireless. So they might not get you the best speeds on more modern networks. There were also a few complaints that the wireless cards were just plain low quality, with several dropped connections and so on. However, the models that you can buy in stores should by now have dual-band, so this should not be a problem. The second issue was the infamous "mustard" yellow on their displays. This incredibly high resolution display was built with a particular sub-pixel arrangement that meant it just couldn't show bright yellow colours properly; there was always a slight greenish tint. Lenovo has issued a BIOS update and patch for this which largely resolves the problem, but you will have to make sure to do that on your own.
Phone/service plan: I aready had an unlocked smart phone from home so, after getting some advice on which service provider has better coverage in the area, I opted for T-Mobile's 50$ unlimited talk+text, 1 GB of LTE data/month plan. There are an incredible variety of options here, and it really comes down to figuring out the best fit for you. If you have a SSN and are planning on getting a new phone with a contract, there are some extremely tempting savings to be made.
Bank Account: You should do your own research on this if you think you'll have special needs, but I think most banks will offer similar options on a basic no-frills (or "student") checking account. UCLA recommends Chase. I got one at Bank of America because I was staying with a friend, thats where he was banking and it was really close. It took about 30 minutes to get set up.
Transportation: I wanted to avoid buying a car as far as possible, and that was one of the major reasons that I opted for graduate housing. However, as soon as I got into the city, I was informed that my only real options were getting a car or just not having a social life. I have yet to verify this for myself but just from seeing how spread out everything is, it seems quite likely. My current plan is to compromise by getting a bike for the time being and seeing just how difficult things get once the course actually starts.
So these were my choices: it's possible that they weren't the most optimal ones I could have made, but I'm extremely glad to have got it sorted out, all the same. Let me know in the comments if you found any of this useful!