The El Rey Theatre has been a part of the Los Angeles live music scene since 1994, but its history goes back much further, as is obvious with one look at its Art Deco building. Built in 1936 as a movie house and more recently designated as a historic-cultural monument, the architecture of the theater is worth a visit alone. Take in the stunning lobby with its sweeping staircases, massive chandeliers and grand ballroom (it's available for private events) then plan to stand for most of the live concerts held here. These days it is part of the AEG family, hosting shows virtually every weekend, as well as some weekdays. Acts range across musical genres, with alternative rock leading the way.
Small, dark, and handsome, Harvelle's is one of L.A.'s favorites for live blues, rock and alternative music. In business since 1931, this Santa Monica landmark used to be a dark, smoke-filled dive, but nowadays it has gone sophisticated. The striking black-and-white decor gives the place a retro cool vibe, with the stage set off by its deep-red curtain backdrop. When popular bands come to play, the place gets jammed to the rafters, so you may want to arrive early to secure a seat. Whether you prefer the cutting-edge sounds of new rock artists or more traditional riffs from some of the greatest blues musicians alive today, you're sure to hear something terrific at Harvelle's.
Teragram Ballroom recently opened in downtown Los Angeles, giving music-loving Angelenos another intimate venue to see live music. This DTLA concert space is on 7th Street, just blocks from Staples Center and the Microsoft Theater (the former Nokia Theatre), located in a renovated, century-old theater that was once a Hollywood movie palace. But unlike those two massive venues, the Teragram Ballroom only holds 600 people in this standing-room-only venue. The 9,000 square-foot theater offers special features for both artists and audiences: three dressing rooms, dedicated loading dock, spacious backstage, state-of-the-art sound system, three bars and a restaurant with plenty of space throughout to make the experience one of fun, rather than that of sweaty bodies jammed into a too-small space, all fighting to get the attention of a bartender. Instead, this well-thought-out venue makes one feel as if this is a perfectly planned dance party venue.
The Wiltern began its life as a vaudeville theater in 1931. One of Los Angeles' most beautiful theaters at the time, it remains a wonderful example of Art Deco design, thanks to efforts in the 1980s to save the building. The restored theater opened in 1985 and remains one of the city's largest and most popular venues for live music. As of 2002, the ground floor of the theater was converted to standing-room only, while the two balcony levels â" loge and mezzanine â" still offer fixed theater seats. The Wiltern is an eclectic venue, with shows ranging from concerts by groups like Gov't Mule and Chick Corea Elektric Band to stand-up comedy from Margaret Cho and even special swing dancing evenings.
One of L.A.'s classic clubs, The Mint is a little place with a big sound. The music-filled venue has packed them in since 1937, with just a small stage, minute dance floor and long, convivial bar and booths. You can grab a bite to eat in the back, but why not join the crowd right up front as you boogie down to bands ranging from New Orleans favorites like Trombone Shorty, Marcia Ball and Rebirth Brass Band to brand-new up-and-coming groups. Plus, you never know who might turn up on stage here; everyone from Stevie Wonder and Justin Timberlake to Bonnie Raitt and Tom Jones have graced this longtime favorite L.A. live-music joint.
The Hotel Cafe is the quintessential venue for seeing up-and-coming singer-songwriters (as well as bands, too) perform in Los Angeles. Offering live music seven days a week, this small Hollywood hotspot is often a launching pad for budding artists' careers. Inside, the atmosphere is intimate, cozy and unassuming. Arrive early as tables and couches are at a minimum; otherwise, it is a standing-room only venue. Enjoy drinks from the bar, but despite the word "cafe" in this club's name, don't expect to find any food here. What it does have are two stages, the Main Stage with a capacity of 200 and the Second Stage that holds 85. Cover charges typically ranges between $10-20 at the door, cash only.
Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles is the premiere live music venue in Southern California, with its seating capacity of 21,000. That's why the biggest acts on the planet book in here, from Bruce Springsteen, who played the venue's opening show back in 1999, to Taylor Swift, whose 16 sold-out appearances mark the most often a woman has played there. Staples also was the place people gathered for Michael Jackson's memorial service on July 7, 2009. It is also the home of the major Los Angeles sports teams (Lakers, Clippers, Sparks and Kings), so it isn't always a music venue.
A lovely outdoor stage nestled in the midst of Griffith Park, the Greek Theatre has been a part of the Southern California music scene since it opened in 1931. Renovated in 2015, the open-air amphitheater comfortably seats 5,900 people. With a season that lasts from spring to fall, the venue takes advantage of L.A.'s fantastic weather to showcase a wide range of musical talents. Top acts that have taken the stage at the Greek include Lenny Kravitz, Willie Nelson, Idina Menzel, Adele and many others. Unlike the Hollywood Bowl, concertgoers are prohibited from bringing outside food or beverages into the venue; drinks and food are available from various vendors during the shows.
Designed by famed architect Frank Gehry and completed in 2003, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a stainless-steel marvel with transcendent acoustics in the grand, vineyard-seating designed auditorium. Created to evoke a ship at sail, the hall features a impressive curved, wooden pipe organ that Gehry also designed. The home of the L.A. Philharmonic, which performs classical music throughout its annual season, the hall also offers many different musical events throughout the year, including performances by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the American Youth Symphony. Self-guided audio tours are offered daily, but in order to see the main auditorium, you must purchase a ticket to one of the shows.
From April to October, the Hollywood Bowl is the place in SoCal to see concerts and performances of every kind. The summer home of the L.A. Philharmonic, it's also the spot where the Beatles and the Doors played back in the day and the venue that hosts the Playboy Jazz Festival weekend every June. There's sometimes ballet on the beautiful bandshell stage, sometimes a classic movie musical unspools with the whole audience singing along, and other times rock, country, Latin or pop musicians belt out their tunes. Bring your own picnic, wines â" and especially if you are sitting in a box â" tablecloths and candles. Or have a first-rate dinner from one of the Hollywood Bowl's fine restaurants before the show; and remember that there's no hurry to leave, as the parking lots stack everyone's cars, so it often takes a while to find a way out.