When you think of Los Angeles, it’s easy to imagine sun-drenched streets, impossibly-beautiful people – and, of course, great music. This is a guide to the top musical hotspots in LA which continue to inspire today’s musicians, from areas which launched rap superstars to the cities which have inspired thousands of great songs.
If you’re flying to LA, take some time out to explore its musical history and get closer to the places which inspired the music you love.
© Illustration Air New Zealand
Musical Tour of LA
Hollywood/Hollywood and Vine – The spiritual home of the American movie industry, it’s also home to the Dolby Theater, Capitol Records Building and is, of course, mentioned in hundreds of songs as a symbol of fame, success and glamour.
Compton – A city in the south of Los Angeles County, it is one of the epicentres of American rap music. Home to NWA stars Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube, as well as Coolio, The Game and more recently Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar.
Malibu – Although Malibu isn’t a hotbed for concerts or music venues, its beautiful beaches, coastline and ocean views have inspired songwriters for generations, because as The Runaways said in their song California Paradise – “Malibu shines like summer gold”.
Sunset Boulevard/The Sunset Strip – Home to many famous LA bars, recording studios and theatres, including The Viper Room, The Rainbow Bar and Grill, Whisky a Go Go and The Tiffany Theater. It also has an area known as Guitar Row, due to the high number of music stores and businesses.
Laurel Canyon – A hotbed for counterculture in the 60s and 70s, this Hollywood Hills neighbourhood was home to stars like Frank Zappa, Carole King and Neil Young. The area would inspire some of the most iconic music and photography of that era
Santa Monica – A popular location for tourists, Santa Monica is home to Universal Music Group and its associated record labels, as well as The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Santa Monica Boulevard was also the inspiration for a hit Sheryl Crow song.
Central Avenue – The home of jazz and R&B in Los Angeles through the 30s, 40s and 50s, Central Avenue was home to a large African-American community including jazz legend Charles Mingus. It’s still home to an annual Jazz festival and a number of small jazz clubs.
Music Venues in Los Angeles
Whisky a Go-Go – A West Hollywood institution and the launching pad for bands like Linkin Park, No Doubt, System of a Down and The Doors. The nightclub has achieved such iconic status as a music venue that it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Troubador – A legendary rock and folk music venue established in the 1960s, The Troubador has hosted some of music’s greatest singer-songwriters. Elton John’s first American gig happened there and to this day it remains an influential venue for emerging artists.
The Roxy Theatre – A nightclub venue that has hosted many notable album recordings and other live performances. Including albums by Neil Young, Bob Marley, Guns ‘N’ Roses and Warren Zevon. It was also the location for The Ramones’ first Californian gig in 1976.
Hollywood Bowl – The Hollywood Hills is home to this unique amphitheatre that offers amazing acoustics and is the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Hundreds of concerts take place there every year and can sometimes be seen from outside the bowl, on the surrounding hills.
Staples Center – An arena that hosts both sport and entertainment events, The Staples Center is a go-to venue when the stars of pop, rock and rap are touring Los Angeles. It is also the regular host venue for The Grammy Awards.
The Greek – Tucked away in Griffith Park in the Santa Monica mountains, The Greek or ‘Greek Theatre’ is named for its Grecian-style stage. It hosts a variety of musical events and stage shows and was featured in the 2010 Jonah Hill film ‘Get Him to the Greek’.
Dodger Stadium – Best known as the home of the LA Dodgers baseball team, the stadium also hosts mega-concerts thanks to its massive 56,000 capacity. As well as acts like Dave Matthews Band, U2 and Bruce Springsteen, it hosted the penultimate live performance of The Beatles.
The Viper Room – Well known for stories of Rock Star and Hollywood excess, the bar opened in 1993 with actor Johnny Depp as one of the owners. A popular hangout for young actors and musicians throughout the 90s, today it regularly hosts metal and punk rock acts.
Rainbow Bar and Grill – Although not primarily a music venue, this bar/restaurant has been a hangout for musicians since the early 70s. Stars like Alice Cooper, Keith Moon and Lemmy were known to frequent. The venue is also referenced in a range of notable songs and music videos.
Musical Buildings in Los Angeles
Capitol Records Building – The home of the Capitol Records record label, and the famous Capital Studios recording facilities, which have been used by artists like Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. An iconic LA landmark – the light on top of the building’s spire blinks the word ‘Hollywood’ in Morse code, all year round.
Amoeba Music Record Store – Streaming and MP3s are very convenient, but can’t really compete with the thrill of holding music in your hands. Founded in 1990, Amoeba Music stocks 100,000s of titles, making it one of the largest independent record stores in the world.
Grammy Museum – The Grammy Awards are the Oscars of the music world and in Los Angeles you’ll find the Grammy Museum which features exhibits, memorabilia and specific programs designed to celebrate the best of recorded music.
Los Angeles Music Center – Home to both the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and Los Angeles Opera company, it’s one of the biggest performing arts centres in the US. It’s made up of various venues including the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
RockWalk – Hollywood has its famous Walk of Fame, but on Sunset Boulevard you’ll find the RockWalk. Among the many Rockstar handprints in the concrete outside the Guitar Center music store, you’ll find Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, The Ramones and Ozzy Osbourne.
- Hollywood – 3280 mentions.
- Compton – 874 mentions.
- Sunset Boulevard – 332 mentions.
- Malibu – 315 mentions.
- Long Beach – 299 mentions.
- Inglewood – 224 mentions.
- South Central – 219 mentions.
- Santa Monica – 179 mentions.
- Pasadena – 67 mentions.
- Laurel Canyon – 66 mentions.
- Hollywood and Vine – 63 mentions.
- Sunset Strip – 58 mentions.