A 1.7-mile strip of glam and glitz, The Sunset Strip can be considered the epicenter of music, nightlife, and everything in between. There are not many urban centers that can parallel the razzmatazz of this iconic part of West Hollywood. The strip has a legendary transmutation from being a hotspot of hoodlums and outlaws in the 20s to being a go-to spot for the young and crazy-at-heart party goers and the Hollywood elite.
The most encouraging factor for this strip’s transformation into an unhinged, unsupervised party spot was the geographical placement it enjoys. Near LA, but far enough to keep it out of LAPD’s jurisdiction, it seemed as if this place was handpicked by fate itself to be an epicenter of wild parties, hip hop and music.
The place got the attention of Hollywood and the world of entertainment. It is considered as the birthplace of many brands. In fact, the multicolored psychedelia-inducing billboards that are pockmarked across the streets is a tourist attraction of its own. Simply because the kind of wild, larger-than-life crowd that frequently visited the Sunset strip was a captive audience. This made the place a sweet spot for multi-platinum, transatlantic chart toppers like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Byrds, and Frank Zappa.
Pop Culture Loved it too
With its nightclubs, easy speaks, rock-and-roll club, and gambling dens, the place has cinematographic appeal. It has long been used in cinema and pop culture as an iconic location where dreams could shatter and build in an instant. The iconic TV series 77 Sunset Strip explored the exploits of detective “Stu Bailey” played by Efrem Zimbalist and “Jeff Spencer” played by Roger Smith. Another crime drama by “Dan Raven” starring Skip Homeier and Dan Barton as the protagonists made rounds on the TV. The dramas explored the medley of gangsters and film stars, focusing how the two intermingled and how the life of crime and entertainment coexisted chaotically.
The place made a cameo in the 1976 film Hardcore when the protagonist “Jake Van Dorn” played, by George C Scott, flew to LA to look for his missing daughter. The “Studio 60 in the Sunset Strip ” made rounds as being a popular late-night comedy sketch. The movie “Rock of Ages’ ‘ did some authentic historical justice as it explored the rock and glam metal bands and music culture of the strip in the 80s. The 2010 movie “Burlesque”, starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, navigated the insights of the life of club performers and dancers of the many clubs hotspots of the strip.
Due to the chromatic effervescence and always buzzing lifestyle of the place, the Sunset Strip has always offered a cinematographic advantage for producers and directors to explore and thus made this place popular for filmmaking enthusiasts.
The History of the Sunset Strip – From Bleak to Boogie
The growth of the place has been chaotic, often violent but organic. In the 1920s, the place wasn’t much more than farmlands with ranches sitting here and there, cordoned off by poinsettias and avocados. As it was kind of out-of-bounds for the LAPD, the place was lawless and an incubation hub for gangsters and film stars. The place was flooded with clubs, casinos and gambling dens. Drinking and gambling was the order of the day and the night alike.
From 1930s to the 1950s
The real metamorphosis of the place took place when Prohibition was lifted off in 1933. The criminal underbelly and the fraternity of movie stars soon flocked towards the place as restaurants, nightclubs started in every nook and cranny. Clubs like Ciro, the Mocambo and the Trocadero gained popularity for their partying and the famous people it hosted. Among its visitors were Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, the ultimate diva Marilyn Monroe.
The gangsters and the criminal too enjoyed the merriment the many clubs offered. The Café Trocadero was, in fact, famous as a must-stop for elite gangsters, with the likes of Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel being a frequent reveler of the place.
The Schwab’s Drugstore, The Argyle (Currently the Sunset Tower Hotel) are among the few others that opened its doors for the first time to visitors like Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harold Lloyd and Clark Gable. The Sunset Strip was experiencing a voguish revolution that still resonates.
The 60s and Beyond – The Music Revolution
Almost as if on its natural cue, the popularity of the place for the glamorous movie stars started to dwindle in the 60s. That was when the world of music endorsed this strip as their bootcamp and their stage.
Bands like the Byrds, Nirvana, Led Zeppelins and many others performed at clubs like Whisky a Go-Go, The Pandora’s Box, and London. Bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, too, saw this as an opportunity to steer away from the elite and encash this opportunity. The Hyatt West Hollywood was one prominent place for many musicians.
David Bowie introduced the glam rock movement focusing on Punk rock and New wave genre. In the 1960s, the Motley Crue dominated the music landscape. The grunge movement was another highlight of the music revolution of the place which started in the 90s possibly at the Viper Room, a place purchased by eccentric heartthrob Johnny Depp in 1993.
But today, everything about the place is as urban, modern and civil as a party goer’s must-stop can be. With modern high-rise buildings and respectable venues, the place is still worth a visit.
Main Attractions on the Sunset Strip
The whole strip is a playground for all party people. From clubs to music, food to malls, the place has a lot to offer to the visitors.
Famous Music Venues and Clubs
Whisky a Go Go
One cannot think of Rock n Roll and forget Whisky a Go-Go. A famous music club at Sunset Strip, it is where the punk culture was born and thrived. While it is still enjoyed by many for its music and food, Whisky a Go-Go has had its share of turmoil. Being a performance hub for many famous singers/bands like Johnny Rivers, Miracles, and Guns & Roses, the place was always wild and lively. Besides music, Whisky a Go-Go made fringe skirts all the rage in all night clubs, after a DJ performed in a cage, wearing a short, fringed skirt.
Apart from music, one can enjoy a hearty meal of burgers and fries and shop for some fun Tees or collectibles too.
The Roxy Theatre
One of the most famous spaces at Sunset Boulevard, the Roxy Theatre was started in 1973 with an intention to provide a platform for young artists. Pee Wee Herman’s Show and the Rocky Horror Picture Show are some of the examples of how Roxy Theatre promoted out-of-the-box talent. It offers a VIP lounge for those who want to experience the Sunset Strip with their own crowd, the reason why it is one of the most visited venues by the Hollywood stars. Some of the regulars had been Alice Cooper, John Lennon, Neil Young and Robert De Niro. Even today, Roxy Theatre welcomes artists from all the genres and ethnic backgrounds. Besides being a popular celebrity space, it is also a very environmentally conscious venture as is apparent from their participation in AEG Environmental Sustainability Programme.
The Viper Room
Though famous for being a platform for many big names, like Stone Temple Pilots, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Queens of the Stone age, Pussycat Dolls and Natalie Cole, the Viper Room was once a restaurant, a bar as well as a jazz club!. It became the Viper Room only after Johnny Depp bought it in 1993. The venue was purposefully dark to let the celebrities have their time in peace. Unfortunate of it for being always in the headlines, mainly for several drug abuse cases. Once a hip place, in 2020, it was expected to demolish it and build a glass building instead.
Must-Go Eateries, Bars and Restaurants
Rainbow Bar and Grill
Rainbow gained popularity for being the venue of Marilyn Monroe’s date. From VillaNova to Mermaid Club, it became Rainbow Bar in Grill in 1972 and from then on, literally, a home to many artists. Owned by Vincente Minnelli and Allen Dale, Rainbow had some famous names as their regulars, that include Lemmy Kilmister, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Alice Cooper.
The Standard did not survive the pandemic. Recently sold, the hotel is famous for its interior as it is a true depiction of Hollywood style. It was even designed by Shawn Hausman who was a film set designer.
The Tower Bar
The Tower Bar is one of the best examples of Art Deco Style, expressive and not minimal at all. With huge fenestration, decorative façade and crème hues, the historical West Hollywood venue stands tall with all its magnificence. Leland A. Bryant, the architect who designed it in 1929 was known for his Period Revival design style, yet he did justice to Art Deco Architecture with Tower Bar. The Tower Bar can be seen in many movies, some of which are, The Player and the Strange Days, Get Shorty and Murder, and My Sweet. The Tower Bar catered to some of the very well-known names like Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Paulette Goddard, and Zasu Pitts.
Shopping Extravaganza at Sunset Strip
A heaven for shopaholics, Sunset Plaza is more than just a contemporary mall. It is an experience in itself whereby one can enjoy the outdoor bazaars, savor delicious food at the cafes and just have the time of your life.
The Beverly Center
For those who always seek variety and want a lot of options, Beverly Center is a must-go mall for them. With more than 90 stores and a diverse range of dining options, the center should not be missed if one plans to visit LA.
Visiting Lately? Here are a few tips:
The place is not just turbulent, it is tumultuous. It is best to know the “Hows” and the “Dos and Don’ts” of the place. Here is what you must know:
Best Times to visit
- The day if you are on a shopping spree, the night for everything else.
- Make reservations for comedy shows, concerts and dinners beforehand.
- Free Local Bus- The City Line and the pickup line
- Metro Line 2 for about under $2
- Bike tours: The “LA in a Day” a 32 mile, 5 ½ hour journey through
- Bus tours Hop-on hop-off buses
- Free Sunset Trip Shuttle Service- Passes every 15 minutes
- For overnighters $40 and up, $30 for overnight 4pm to 10am approx.
- Don’t park in the Carney’s lot
- Be sure to check the pricing.
- You can look for parking on the following map: www.thesunsetstrip.com/parking
Some friendly Tips
- Wear comfortable shoes if touring the strip. Avoid heels.
- Keep an eye on parking meters and parking rates.
- If traveling alone, keep close to populated areas. Rest assured the strip is safe and sound.
- Must-go for movie and pop culture enthusiasts.
- For party animals, friends and night lifers only. Not ideal for families or kids
It will not be wrong to conclude that the Sunset Strip – Los Angeles, is not just a cultural hub or a social nook, but is a history in itself. A history of Los Angeles, of the entertainment industry and architecture. One cannot have the feel of LA without visiting the Sunset Strip. This picturesque street which now buzzes with life has its share of notorious past, but that does not stop it from shaping the LA lifestyle.
Even if you are not fond of crowded spaces, a visit to the sunset strip is a must to experience the life and drama of LA. It is certainly not a place for families with children, but can be enjoyed with friends and colleagues.