To say there are a lot of venues for concerts in LA is a real understatement. LA serves as home base for a slew of major record labels and is a crucial stopping point for just about every musical act’s U.S. tour, and every corner coffee house has a stage and a mic for aspiring superstars. But amongst the many, there are some stalwart venues that have made the LA live music experience truly unique. These venues can best be split into three categories: The Big Leagues, The Regulars, and The Intimates.
When it comes to divvying up your concert budget (both money and time), it’s always better to know as much about where you’re going as well as who you’re seeing. As such, we’re presenting you a primer on some of LA’s most important concert venues:
THE BIG LEAGUES
Location: 2301 North Highland Ave., just off the 101
Why it’s special: Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, the nation’s largest outdoor amphitheater is an absolute show-stopper of a venue. The acoustics are amazing, the headlining acts are always interesting and on their best behavior, and you can also bring your own food and drinks to the show, bringing things to another level of comfort. Don’t miss out their KCRW World Festival series or their summer LA Philharmonic shows.
*This writer’s first ever LA show was Phoenix/Grizzly Bear/Girls at the Hollywood Bowl. That’s the kind of quality you can expect from their calendar.
Location: 2700 North Vermont Ave., in Griffith Park
Why it’s special: Another outdoor amphitheater, what the Greek lacks in adaptability (there are set seats and you can’t bring your own food and drinks), it makes up for in sheer presence. Set in the woods surrounding the famous Griffith Observatory, the Greek — yes, that Greek — has the atmosphere of a forest gathering with the sound and light systems of a world-class performance space.
Why it’s special: Set in Frank Gehry’s strikingly-designed space, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the LA Phil’s winter home (summers are spent at the Hollywood Bowl) and the most high-profile classical venue in the city. If your favorite artist happens to stop there, take advantage of the opportunity to visit while forgoing their usual cocktail hour dress formality.
LA Live (Staples Center / Nokia Theatre)
Location: 800 W. Olympic Blvd., at Olympic / Figueroa
Capacity: 18,118 (Staples Center), 7,100 (Nokia Theatre)
Why it’s special: This huge complex plays host to plenty of awards shows, film premieres, and sporting events — the Staples Center is where the Lakers, Clippers and Kings all play at home. Between these commitments, the Staples Center and Nokia Theatre play host to stadium-level tours from folks like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. LA Live has a third venue — Club Nokia — that’s less profile, but is a regular mid-size venue for bands passing through. Which brings us to…
Location: 6215 Sunset Blvd., near Hollywood / Vine
Why it’s special: The Palladium is, at its heart, a 11,200 square foot dance floor with a balcony and stage attached. Built in the 1940s with an Art Deco-style, it’s a real looker that happens to have perhaps the friendliest floor design of any LA music venue. Also, it’s a stone’s throw from Amoeba Music, for those of you looking to get both your recorded and live music fixes at once.
Location: 6126 Hollywood Blvd., near Hollywood / Vine
Why it’s special: Formerly known as the Music Box (among its many named iterations since the 1920s), the Fonda manages to lock down less mainstream fare than its closest venue cousins, the Wiltern and the El Rey. Along with that, it has an interior straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting — oh wait.
Why it’s special: One of two mid-sized venues located mid-city, the El Rey looks like an old-school ladies’ powder room exploded and expanded into the barest form of a performance venue… in a good way. Its chandelier-bedecked ceilings set the mood within velvety red walls, and its sunken floor space provides a variety of angles to catch performing acts.
Location: 3790 Wilshire Blvd., at Wilshire / Western
Why it’s special: While it may not have as flashy of a presence as some of the other venues on this list, the Wiltern is classically iconic in its own way, especially with its historic Art Deco exterior and interior features. Not as gritty as the Fonda but not as polished as the Palladium, the Wiltern is the most accessible of the mid-sized venues, not least because it’s located right across the street from the Purple Line Metro.
Why they’re special: All of these theaters are refurbished movie palaces on South Broadway, and many of them had been out of regular use for decades. However, as DTLA has undergone major redevelopments over the past few years, these baroque icons from another age have been refitted for modern needs — clubbing, film screenings, and music performances. In particular, the Theatre at the Ace Hotel (formerly the United Artists Theatre) is doing well for itself, turning into a cultural hub that caters to the area’s new upscale sensibilities.
Location: 6000 Santa Monica Blvd.
Why it’s special: Surely the strangest venue on the list, Hollywood Forever is a cemetery, and a star-studded one at that. But when it’s used as a music venue, it’s always to creepy, brilliant effect — lo-fi acts like Lana Del Rey, The xx, and James Blake have all played here for maximum spooky factor. They also host outdoor film screenings in the summer via Cinespia.
For details on its attached venue, the Masonic Lodge, keep on reading.
Why it’s special: Built in 1906 by the Al Malaikah Shriners, the Shrine still serves as their home base, but more importantly for the general public, it’s a stunning piece of Moorish-inspired architecture that also happens to house the occasional show. While it’s most known as the former home of the Academy Awards and the current home of the SAG Awards, if an artist you like gets booked here, go.
The Echo / The Echoplex
Location: 1822 Sunset Blvd. (The Echo), 1154 Glendale Blvd. (The Echoplex)
Capacity: 350 (The Echo), 700 (The Echoplex)
Why they’re special: These sister venues are holding some of the most exciting underground music events in the city. Whether they’re teaming up with dublab or holding Popshop West shows with future pop superstars (see: Tove Lo this past April), they’re a very city-specific outfit — and are beholden to neither Live Nation nor Goldenvoice. Not that they need them: they’ve recently expanded into doing bigger events in Downtown LA’s Regent Theater.
Location: 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., in West Hollywood
Why it’s special: Founded in 1957 by Doug Weston, the Troubadour served as a serious music incubator throughout its history, with artists like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young making their LA debuts there. Probably the best first-time venue for folks who want to take in LA’s scrappier music history, as well as a good show.
Location: 9009 Sunset Blvd., in West Hollywood
Why it’s special: Part of LA’s iconic Sunset Strip, the Roxy, much like the Troubadour, was a breeding ground for some of music and comedy’s most famous names. Co-founded by David Geffen in 1973, the venue continues to host musical acts across genres. For a double dose of that vintage LA experience, grab food at the Rainbow Bar and Grill next door.
The Masonic Lodge
Location: 6000 Santa Monica Blvd.
Why it’s special: The larger cemetery space has a greater visual and psychological impact, but for regular programming at Hollywood Forever, the go-to venue is the super hot Masonic Lodge — no really, it’s an incredibly warm space, not least because its eclectic selection of shows, including sets from folks like Karen O and Moby, will inevitably end up bringing in a large, sardine-packed audience. Come here for spooky vibes, but not like “I’m holding a picnic on a skeleton” spooky.
Whiskey a Go-Go
Location: 8901 Sunset Blvd., in West Hollywood
Why it’s special: With a name like that, how could you not go? Jokes aside, the Whiskey’s been around since 1964 and, like the Roxy and the Troubadour, has been a rock scene fixture for decades. While the Whiskey chain was first started in Chicago, the LA location is the one that’s gone down in cultural history. Nowadays, go-go dancing might be out of style, but the Whiskey’s influence on the Strip lives on.
The Viper Room
Location: 8852 West Sunset Blvd.
Why it’s special: Rounding out our Sunset Strip influencers*, the Viper Room is like the dark alley your parents warned you about personified as a venue — the place practically radiates seediness, from its fanged neon logo to its foreboding low-lit interior. But then again, that’s part of the appeal.
Location: 1717 Silver Lake Blvd.
Why it’s special: While Silver Lake is these days a punchline of sorts, the pedigree of the Satellite can’t be denied. Began in 1995 as Spaceland (with an inaugural performance featuring Beck and the Foo Fighters), in late 2010, Spaceland’s owner took more of an interest in dance/electronic music and started partnering with the Echo and the Echoplex. Spaceland as it was became the Satellite, and it continues to foster Silver Lake’s indie rock scene, as well as serve host to events like Dance Yourself Clean.
Location: 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Why it’s special: Plenty of restaurants offer performance spaces for fledgling singer-songwriters. Very few restaurants have a performance calendar as packed and renowned as the Hotel Café. This is the go-to venue for that tinkling-china-in-the-background feel, and everybody from Adele to John Mayer has gotten up close with fans in this simply-named Hollywood fixture.
*Where’s the House of Blues Sunset Strip? Alas, this iconic Strip fixture is being shut down and will be relocating. No word yet on the eventual redesign, but the lodge-like feel of the original, as well as its tremendous situational history, will be missed.
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