A Guide To Exploring Los Angeles And Its Rock'n'Roll History

Downtown LA sunset

2.26min read

Published 25 June 2014


It may be famous for its movie industry, but Los Angeles has always been a rock’n’roll town. Some of America’s most famous music clubs and venues are clustered around the city, making Los Angeles a must-see holiday destination for rock aficionados.

Los Angeles was a gritty town well before novelist Raymond Chandler set the legendary detective Philip Marlowe loose on the city’s toughest streets. Yet, it was the counterculture movement of the 1960s which helped define ‘L.A.’ as a leader of America’s hard-edged rock scene, with bands like The Doors and The Mamas and the Papas setting up camp and helping transform the city from a West Coast outpost into a musical epicentre.

 Downtown LA sunset
Fast cars and electric guitars


From Hippies To Hard Rock

While it was folk music which first dominated the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, it didn’t take long for a plethora of heavy-hitting rock bands to start making their mark. Groups like The Doors, The Byrds and Led Zeppelin flourished in the city’s newly-established venues, introducing rock music to an appreciative audience.

A number of legendary clubs still put on rock shows today, including The Roxy Theatre, Whisky A Go Go and The Troubadour. They’re a great place to catch established acts and up-and-coming bands, whilst soaking in the beer-fuelled environs of a West Hollywood backdrop which helped launch the careers of hundreds of bands.

Welcome To The Hotel California

It used to be that famous rock bands threw television sets into hotel pools. Today, hotels like the legendary Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard are more sober affairs – though no less significant when it comes to viewing the rock’n’roll sights. The Marmont – rumoured to be the inspiration behind The Eagles’ smash hit ‘Hotel California’ – is where Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham rode a motorcycle through the lobby, and where music-lover John Belushi met his unfortunate demise.

While the Chateau Marmont retains an air of exclusivity, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel welcomes visitors to its ever-popular Teddy’s nightclub. The club’s small size and lengthy guest list can make it difficult to get in, so if you’d prefer to do your celebrity-spotting poolside, plenty of rock stars lounge around the Roosevelt’s hotel pool during daylight hours.

 Musician playing drums
Live music is still popular in L.A.


L.A. Vinyl Revival

Los Angeles is in the midst of a vinyl revival – although in truth, records never really went away. The city’s prolific punk scene has been churning out 12-inch LPs for decades, with bands like Black Flag, Social Distortion and Bad Religion producing a string of popular releases over the years. The popularity of the city’s punk scene means several well-stocked record stores have been in business for eons, including Rockaway Records in Silver Lake and Atomic Records in Burbank.

Newer stores like Echo Park’s achingly hip Origami Vinyl and the punk-oriented Vacation Vinyl in Silver Lake draw a decidedly youthful crowd, but when it comes to sheer choice, the undoubted leader of the pack is Amoeba Records. A one-stop shop for record-loving tourists of all musical persuasions, this cavernous Hollywood store is one of the largest independent record retailers in the world.

 Map of LA with pin
Record stores have kept L.A. on the musical map


Glitz And Glam Rock

In its heyday during the 1980s, the hard rock and glam metal scene helped revitalise a flagging Los Angeles scene. Bands like Guns ‘N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe and Skid Row held sway over the city and did plenty of drinking at venues like The Rainbow Room in West Hollywood. You can sink a beer or two at this historic club, or better yet check out some live bands at the equally famous Viper Room.

It may be many things to many people, but at its heart Los Angeles is still a rock’n’roll town. So whether you’re an 'L.A. Woman' or simply California Dreamin’', why not hire a car and hit the open highways on a path of musical discovery in L.A.?


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