With its glitz and glamor, its storied and sometimes sordid past, Los Angeles after dark -- and sometimes during the day -- is a playground for grownups out for a good time. Many of the city’s most intriguing nocturnal activities do, however, require you to be 21 years of age. For others, adulthood may not be imperative, but it helps. From sampling the reputed world’s finest martini to taking in the latest foreign art films, you'll never want for diversion in L.A.
Fast Times on the Strip
Adults on the prowl for a good time should visit the mile-and-a-half between Crescent Heights Boulevard and Doheny Drive. The joyously decadent heart of Los Angeles night life since the 1920s, the Sunset Strip was then outside city limits. Gambling was legal and the Los Angeles Police Department had no jurisdiction. In the 1960s, the Strip became synonymous with rock and roll. The Doors got their start at the Whisky A Go Go while soon-to-be-legendary rock stars partied at the “Riot Hyatt” Hotel. Now called Andaz West Hollywood, the renovated, luxury hotel openly celebrates its sensational past when the Rolling Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin trashed the place. The Whisky still rocks, but a House of Blues franchise now hosts many big-name bands playing the Strip. Iconic hangouts like the Viper Room, the Comedy Store and the celebrity-studded Bar Marmont are all worth a stop-in on the Strip.
The Bars: Hollywood History
L.A.’s past remains alive in the city’s classic watering holes, slaking Hollywood thirsts for decades. Assuming you are 21, start bar-hopping in Los Feliz, a neighborhood east of Hollywood. The Dresden Room on Vermont Avenue, famous from the 1996 film “Swingers,” today looks much as it did in the movie -- and when it opened 60 years ago. The Formosa Cafe at Santa Monica and La Brea features walls plastered with photos of movie stars who once knocked back a few while shooting at nearby Warner Hollywood Studio. On Hollywood Boulevard, Musso and Frank Grill opened in 1919 and was immediately a favored haunt of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and others luminaries of silent movies. Decades later, Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen and Elizabeth Taylor all enjoyed Musso and Frank’s impeccable service and martinis, claimed to be the finest anywhere.
Movies in L.A. -- Not Just For Teens
Not to be confused with “adult movie theaters,” which are something different altogether, several L.A. cinemas cater to sophisticated film buffs, leaving teens to suburban multiplexes. The Arclight’s two branches, in Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, charge premium ticket prices, but offer reserved seating in roomy chairs and a strictly enforced “no late seating” policy to eliminate distractions. The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard shows classic Hollywood and foreign films, often with talks by directors, stars and film scholars. The Aero in Santa Monica is the Cinematheque’s westside home. On Beverly west of La Brea, the New Beverly Cinema changes its nightly double feature three times a week. The theater is now owned by Quentin Tarantino, who occasionally picks the double features himself.
Tour L.A.’s Dark Side
Scandals and tragedies are as much part of L.A. history as Hollywood success stories. Curious adults who don’t scare easily can tour L.A.’s famous death and crime sites. Dearly Departed Tours offers a van ride to the sites of the Black Dahlia murder, the house where Michael Jackson died and other ghoulish yet fascinating locales, accompanied by sardonically morbid commentary. Haunted Hollywood Tours takes you to visit the ghosts of Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift at the storied Roosevelt Hotel, among other sites, while L.A.’s most infamous and horrifying crime, the Manson murders, gets a “Helter Skelter Tour” all its own. For a more reverential approach, walking tours of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, final resting place for many movie legends, are also available.