A vacation in Los Angeles isn’t complete without spending some time on the fabulous Sunset Strip. If you are a music lover, this is where the big names were discovered. Likewise with comedy. Spend an evening club hopping and experience the places that led them to fame. Or at least drive down it! Especially at night.
The character of the world famous Sunset Strip in Los Angeles (actually West Hollywood) has changed a number of times over the last century, but with each evolution it has helped shape the culture of the world.
Sunset Strip is the 1.5 mile stretch of Sunset Blvd that begins at the eastern border of West Hollywood at Crescent Heights Blvd to its western border at Sierra Drive where it intersects with Beverly Hills.
Prior to 1984 Sunset Strip was in unincorporated Los Angeles County and had a “loose” reputation. In the Twenties, gambling was legal in Los Angeles County, but not the city. Casinos and nightclubs opened that attracted the elite of the movie industry and during prohibition alcohol was served in the backrooms of the clubs.
Through the next couple of decades high end nightclubs and restaurants were frequented by celebrities and some were said to have mafia connections. In particular, Ciros (now the Comedy Store) was owned by the gangster Mickey Cohen and still bears the bullet holes from some of the mob murders there.
What the Sunset Strip is best known for though is the rock music scene. The sixties brought it and the counter-culture scene to the strip. It became the subject of the Buffalo Springfield song “For What Its Worth” about the Sunset Strip Curfew riots in 1966. It was also during this time the biggest names in music erupted onto the world music scene from the area.
Many of the rock and folk musicians at the time lived in an area called Laurel Canyon. Among them were Frank Zappa, the Byrds, Mamma Cass Elliot, Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, the Monkeys, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young and so many more. Rents were reasonably low for Los Angeles at the time and the now famous nightclubs on the strip were right at the base of the canyon. The Laurel Canyon artists would make their way down to the Strip and play gigs in the clubs to cover their rent.
On the Strip they were “discovered” and broke into the national and international spotlights. Those that didn’t live in Laurel Canyon gravitated to the strip as well. The most notable of the music clubs are Whisky-a-Go-Go, The Roxy, the Viper Room, the Rainbow Room and the Troubadour (which is actually just south of the Strip on Santa Monica Blvd).
Legendary rock groups that grew out of the area include The Doors, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Steppenwolf, Van Halen, Johnny Rivers, Guns N’ Roses, Linkin Park, Carlie Simon, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Buffalo Springfield, Rickie Lee Jones, Mötley Crüe, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Bob Marley, the Ramones who played their first California concert at the Roxy in 1976, George Benson, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many more.
Many bands were also formed in Laurel Canyon and at the clubs. Mama Cass was well known as a “matchmaker” hooking up talented musicians with each other. Don Henley and Glenn Frey met in the front lobby of the Troubadour and formed the Eagles.
During the eighties the scene changed to Glam Metal bands. Well known among them are Queit Rito, Motley Crue and LA Guns. The adoption of “pay to play” policies drove the rock bands out into the areas of Silver Lake and Echo Park.
In 1984 the Sunset Strip was incorporated into West Hollywood and that area has become more commercialized. But it’s still the sexiest mile and a half in America. The great rock clubs are still there and still playing big names. Now not so much to break in but as a showcase for album release parties and other milestones.
Several comedy clubs including the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory have served as launching pads and showcases for the biggest names in Comedy. Among them are Tim Allen, Louie Anderson, Roseanne Barr, Milton Berle, David Brenner, Nick Cannon, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Jim Carrey, Dave Chappelle, Dane Cook, Rodney Dangerfield, Ellen DeGeneres, Phyliss Diller, Jeff Dunham, Jeff Foxworthy, Redd Foxx, Brad Garrett, Eddie Griffin, Kathy Griffin, Buddy Hackett, Bob Hope, Andy Kaufman, Sam Kinison, Martin Lawrence, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Lewis, Goerge Lopez, Bernie Mac, Bill Maher, Howie Mandel, Carlos Mencia, Larry Miller, Mo’Nique, Paul Mooney, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Pollack, Richard Pryor, Paul_Reiser, Chris Rock, Paul Rodriguez, Ray Romano, Bob Saget, Mort Sahl, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Chris Tucker, Damon Wayans, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Flip Wilson, Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters, Steven Wright, Henry Youngman and more.
It’s also densely packed with luxury hotels, boutique stores, restaurants guitar shops and the famous Mel’s Drive In. So there you have it, about 500 reasons to put seeing the Sunset Strip on your things to do in Los Angeles bucket list! If you want to expand your tour of the music scene, drive up Laurel Canyon to the Canyon Country Store, where Mama Cass once lived in a basement storeroom and visit Jim Morrison’s house right behind it. Then head east on Sunset Blvd beyond the formal Sunset Strip to the Guitar Center and see the RockWalk where the handprints of the greats of music have been placed in the sidewalk along with the busts of some as well.
More photos after the break…