Whether you want to bang your head in a hallowed hall of hair metal, swivel your hips to Latin beats, sip wine under the stars while savoring the sweet sounds of Stravinsky, check out chart-toppers with thousands of friends or stand close enough to a singer-songwriter to study his strumming skills, Los Angeles has a live music venue to suit your needs.
Arguably the best place to see a show in Los Angeles, maybe even the U.S., this al fresco amphitheater with its iconic curved art deco band shell and lush Bolton Canyon setting has been welcoming big names from every genre of music (think Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles, composer John Williams, Radiohead, Jimmy Buffett, Reba McEntire, etc.), theater productions, and festivals since the 1920s. It’s also the LA Phil’s summer home. A night at the Bowl is best started with a picnic at a table in the surrounding hills or in your box and a stop at the wine bar. Patrons can bring food and drinks to most concerts to save money or buy gourmet eats curated by James Beard Award winners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne on site. Some shows end in fireworks. There’s also a gift store and museum. Parking is a expensive and a drag. Most people instead take city shuttles from various pickup spots around town or brave the uphill climb from the Hollywood and Highland subway station.
The intimate back room of this stalwart guitar shop in Santa Monica has been a special place to sip free coffee and watch prominent pluckers and master wordsmiths like Beck, Emmylou Harris, Art Alexakis, Chet Atkins, and Los Lobos do their thing since 1969. In fact, Acoustic Guitar Magazine labeled it “one of the world’s most treasured music venues.” The merchandise lines the walls. Chairs are of the folding variety. And if you happen to be so moved by a performance, you can sign up for lessons before heading home for the evening.
When it isn’t busy hosting NBA or NHL games as the home court of the Lakers, Clippers, and the Kings, this downtown LA arena welcomes musical giants who have a fervent enough following to put butts in more than 19,000 seats, folks like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Justin Timberlake. The concert experience is bettered through free Wi-Fi, 840 Toshiba flat-screen TVs, specialty lighting, 675 speakers outside the seating area so you don’t miss a beat even during an inevitable bathroom break, and 23 refreshment stands and restaurants including Smokehouse BBQ, BS Taqueria, and Ludo Bird.
Built in 1936, this art deco movie theater in the Miracle Mile was converted into a live music venue in 1994. The ground-floor ballroom and stage are fairly plain save for the chandeliers, but the lobby, neon marquee, colorfully tiled entryway, and detached ticket booth remind visitors of its historical significance. It usually books by up-and-coming baby bands and solo acts. Be prepared to be on your feet for hours as most concerts are general admission, standing-room only affairs. Hopefully you’re lucky enough to score a seat in the VIP balcony and bar. Those willing to hunt can find free street parking on Wilshire Boulevard or in the surrounding neighborhood.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, or more specifically its alley entrance, unfussy décor, and small stature. In fact, the small space is this Hollywood joint’s biggest asset. You’ve likely never heard of most of the unsigned bands, local favorites, or budding singer-songwriters on their calendar. The industry suits and hardcore hobbyists standing next to you at the bar probably have though, as this intimate 21-and-older-only space is often where Americana, light rock, and alternative acts get their start in LA. The Lumineers once graced its main corner stage, which is really more of a platform that barely elevates performers two feet above the crowd. There are a few bistro tables, but most attendees stand for the nightly gigs. The second stage is home to a regular songwriter’s showcase.
If these walls could talk, they’d recount juicy tales of Lenny Bruce being arrested on obscenity charges, Bob Dylan playing an impromptu show for the staff, The Byrds meeting at an Monday open-mic night, a secret Coldplay concert, Janis Joplin’s final night of partying before being found dead of an overdose, Carly Simon and James Taylor’s first meeting, and record release parties by No Doubt, White Stripes, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The club itself, established in 1967 on a West Hollywood corner just over the line from Beverly Hills, is a no-frills, all-ages, mostly standing room-only space with great sound and room for 400. There are a few seats in the balcony, VIP loft, and to the side of the bar. You just might be witnessing the next Tom Waits, Vince Gill, or Gun N’ Roses, all of whom were discovered here.
Wanna rock and roll all night? There’s been a party almost every day at this seminal Sunset Strip club since it opened its doors in 1964. The biggest names of ‘60s and ‘70s rock like The Doors, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin all jammed here before the heavy metal and hair bands grabbed the scarf-covered mics in the ‘80s. Nowadays, former members of the aforementioned hitmakers are most often on stage reliving the glory days or banding together as supergroups. They also do swift business with cover bands and aspiring local rockers. Always all ages.
Another Sunset Strip staple that has seen its fair share of memorable shows like the three-night Neil Young residency that christened the club in 1973 or the first U.S. run of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Its founders include label heads and producers like Lou Adler and David Geffen. It, like most of Hollywood’s historic venues, is dark, gritty, and small enough to feel a band’s intensity through the pulsating floor. On The Rox used to be a members-only lounge upstairs, but is now just a 21-and-older drinking den.
This Hollywood Boulevard venue was originally built in the 1920s and reopened for regular bookings in 2012. It retained its ornately carved walls, gilded stage surround, thick curtains, and little cage-like alcoves on each side of the stage. The checkerboard-tiled bottom floor is standing-only general admission while the second-level balcony offers seats on a first-come basis. The Fonda holds 1,350 people. Booze is available but shows are usually all ages. The attached Blue Palms Brewhouse serves craft beer and belly-filling pub fare like wings, nachos, and buckets of salty pretzel balls. Conveniently located about two blocks from a subway station and trendy boutique hotels.
Upon completion atop Bunker Hill in downtown LA in 2003, this stunning stainless steel Frank Gehry-designed edifice became an instant City Of Angels landmark. A 60-minute self-guided audio tour narrated by John Lithgow can be taken most days to learn more about the unique architecture. Thanks to the main auditorium’s pristine acoustics, well-cushioned seats, and sleek polished wood paneling, it’s also an excellent choice for taking in classical, world, jazz, and contemporary concerts. The LA Phil is based here as is the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
This spectacular new-ish addition to the live music scene actually dates back to the 1920s when Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chapman formed the United Artists studio and built the adjacent Jazz Age movie palace in downtown LA in the Broadway Theater District. It had changed hands many times, functioning as a Spanish-language movie house and filming location for televangelist Dr. Gene Scott. Then the hipster-friendly Ace Hotels brand took over and meticulously revamped the 1,600-seat beauty in 2014. Seeing the three-story lobby, baroque proscenium, intricate murals, and the vaulted ceiling dappled with thousands of glimmering mirrors is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Named after a frequent Havana haunt of Ernest Hemingway, this Vine Street supper club has brought infectious live salsa rhythms to Hollywood on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays for more than 30 years. Guarantee yourself a table to watch from by making dinner reservations and then take advantage of the complimentary dance lessons in order to work off the sangria, ropa vieja, and other Cuban delicacies you sampled.
As seen in "Swingers," "What Women Want," and "Anchorman," this lounge and restaurant is a living time capsule. It’s had the same interiors — high-backed oversized booths, loud wall treatments, and a green pleather bar — since 1964 and has booked the same dynamic duo, the lovably over-the-top Marty and Elayne, on piano, synthesizer, and drum kit five nights a week since 1982. On Tuesdays, adventurous souls can join the swing set. Sit back and enjoy the Sinatra-like stylings while imbibing in the signature Blood & Sand cocktail (also available for more than 60 years) and buttery escargot.
Since it opened in 1937, the Mint has become LA’s premiere blues bandstand and bar. Located in mid-city, the small spot, with ceiling plastered in old vinyl, can pack in 200 people when top names in the genre show up. But on evenings when lesser-known acts are playing, grabbing a seat at the long bar or a table to indulge in sliders or pecan pie is much easier.
The Echo Park performance compound, which features two separate bare-bones stages on top of one another, can be relied on to schedule aspiring indie rock and hip-hop superstars as well as DJs with block-rockin’ beats. The Monday night residency has helped launch the careers of college radio staples like Foster The People, War Paint, and The Airborne Toxic Event.
Valley girls and boys just wanna have fun and one go-to on their side of the hill is this Agoura Hills spot, which does brisk business in indulgent comfort food, tribute bands like the Faux Fighters, and throwback acts from the ‘60s to the early ‘90s like Everclear, Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, Wilson Phillips, or Frankie Valli. (It’s a cool way to catch folks you loved, but might not have had the chance to see when they were at the top of the charts.) With rugs on the floor, guitars on the walls, and a big statue of Buddha welcoming you, the vibe is much more laidback than Hollywood clubs of its size. Finding parking is a heck of a lot easier too.
Taking advantage of Southern California’s nearly year-round pleasant weather is this outdoor mega arena formerly known as the StubHub Center. They book massively popular bands like Coldplay and festivals like the Warped Tour when the LA Galaxy soccer team and the NFL Chargers are not in town. While it isn’t quite as rewarding as seeing a favorite in a smaller venue, there’s something to be said about spending an evening on the pitch with 27,000 people singing alongside you.
This Hollywood jazz joint, lovingly run by Romanian-born jazz enthusiast Catalina Popescu, has welcomed many horn-blowing, piano-playing, and scatting legends from Art Blakey and Chick Corea to Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis in its 33 years. The new-ish location retains the tablecloth and trout almondine elegance.
Financed by a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman turned sports team owner, the Fabulous Forum was the place to see the Lakers, Kings, and big-name concerts in the ‘70s through ‘90s. When it opened in 1967, the Inglewood icon was one of a kind with a scalloped façade and a cable-suspended roof. It became dated and under-utilized after Staples was built, but the Madison Square Garden Group rescued it in 2012, maintained the unique design, and updated the tech and amenities. Particularly cool when artists position the stage in the middle and perform concerts in the round.