Sunset Boulevard is famous, but the best known portion of the boulevard is the mile and a half stretch of Sunset between Hollywood and Beverly Hills that has been dubbed "The Sunset Strip."
Running between Crescent Heights Boulevard (on the east) & Doheny Drive (on the west), the Sunset Strip embraces a premier collection of rock clubs, restaurants, boutiques, and Hollywood nightspots that are on the cutting edge of the entertainment business.
In the evening, the Strip is a vibrant slash of gaudy neon, a virtual traffic jam of young cruisers on weekends, a stimulating mecca for people-watchers and celebrity wannabes.
Like some fabled caravan route between holy cities, the Strip has taken on an eccentric character all its own. Mammoth, hand-made billboards are one of its trademarks. These colorful advertisements were designed to catch the eye of Hollywood producers and deal-makers as they drove to work in Hollywood from their homes in Beverly Hills. Now, many of these billboards serve primarily to puff up egos of the stars they promote - which is why the industry refers to them as "Vanity Boards."
Occasionally, these billboards are clever: the one for Disney's "Aladdin," for instance, featured a magic lamp that actually emitted smoke. Another, advertising a luxury car company, actually put $30,000 in cash on their billboard (watched over by a security guard).
So let's take a look at what there is to see on the
Strip, starting at the Strip's east end, and heading west:
Sunset Strip attractions:
addresses are on the south side of Sunset;
Near the east end of the Strip, you'll find one of L.A.'s premier comedy clubs: The Laugh Factory, at 8001 Sunset Boulevard (the northwest corner of Sunset & Laurel Avenue) (323) 656-1336
The property right across the street from the Laugh Factory (8000 Sunset Boulevard, at Laurel) has an interesting history. A short while ago, the center housed the flagship store for the Virgin Megastore chain, before it went out of business. During its heyday, it saw customers like Winona Ryder and Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affeck, Henry Winkler, and Sharon Lawrence ("NYPD Blue").
The center still houses Crunch Gym, with its own celebrity following, and a popular multiplex.
An historical footnote: That Virgin Megastore sat on the same spot where the legendary Schwab's Pharmacy once stood. In the movie "Sunset Blvd," William Holden's character calls Schwab's Drug Store "headquarters; a combination office, coffee klatch, and waiting room" for Hollywood writers. And so it was. F. Scott Fitzgerald (author of "The Great Gatsby") had a heart attack here in 1940, while buying a pack of cigarettes. Songwriter Harold Arlin wrote "Over the Rainbow" (from "The Wizard of Oz") by the light of the Schwab's neon sign. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd used to play pinball in the back room. And the rumor still persists that Lana Turner was discovered at Schwab's, but it isn't true (see the article on Hollywood High for the real story). Alas, Schwab's was closed in 1986, and replaced by the Virgin Megastore a decade later.
Another historical footnote: At the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights is the former site of the "The Garden of Allah," a legendary Sunset Strip apartment complex, a series of bungalows and cottages, and site of countless wild Hollywood parties. It was actually a collection of private bungalows, frequented by stars such as Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, W.C. Fields, Humphrey Bogart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Marx Brothers, and Orson Welles. According to author and Hollywood historian Laurie Jacobson, Tallulah Bankhead swam naked in the pool here, and Marilyn Monroe was discovered here sipping a Coke next to that same swimming pool. Alas, they "paved paradise, put up a parking lot" (as the Joni Mitchell song said) when they tore down the old Garden of Allah. Today, the site contains just another tacky, modern strip-mall containing, among other things, an El Pollo Loco fast food stop. (There's an interesting web page about it at http://gardenofallah.com/GOA_original.asp)
Just a little west of that same historic corner, at 8200 Sunset Boulevard (at Marmont Drive) is a giant statue of Bullwinkle the Moose (and his friend, Rocky, the Flying Squirrel). It used to stand next to the headquarters of the cartoon studio that made those Bullwinkle epics. Now, it's next door to a pet care center. Such are the tides of stardom...
Right next door, at 8210 Sunset, is Libertine, a trendy nightclub with a celebrity following. (A few years back, it housed Union, another hot club/restaurant.)
Across the street, hovering above the Strip at 8221 Sunset, is Chateau Marmont, the castle-like hotel where John Belushi died of a heroin overdose in 1982. (323) 656-1010.
The sidewalk café featured in the final scene of Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" was "The Source" restaurant," a vegetarian bistro located at 8301 Sunset (at Sweetzer Avenue). The sidewalk dining area has been semi-enclosed since the movie was shot there, and recently the restaurant changed hands and got a new name. It's now called 'The Cajun Bistro'. (323) 656-6388.
"Carney's," a novel restaurant that bills itself as "the little train on the right side of the tracks," is housed in a large yellow train car on the north side of Sunset (8351 Sunset Blvd.), located just west of Sweetzer Avenue. Actor Andrew McCarthy ("Mannequin") likes the place. So does Cuba Gooding Jr. (323) 654-8300. (They have a website at http://carneytrain.com)
Back on the south side of the Strip, at 8358 Sunset, stands the historic Sunset Tower Hotel. In the 1990's, it was known as The Argyle Hotel. Before that, it was known as the St. James's Club & Hotel, a grand old 13-story building, the Strip's first high-rise (built in 1929), and one of Hollywood best examples of Art Deco design. But at the start, as now, it was called the Sunset Tower hotel, and virtually every star in Hollywood stayed here at one time or another. It was a favorite of Howard Hughes, who kept a number of suites here for his various girlfriends; other guests included Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne (who is said to have kept a cow on the balcony outside his penthouse suite for fresh milk). In the 70's, the building was seen on the popular detective show "Cannon", as Cannon's apartment building. As the St. James, it housed a private club, hotel and restaurant, with members that included Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, and David Bowie. It was also the locale for memorable poolside scenes from the movie 1992 "The Player," and has also appeared in the "The Italian Job", "Get Shorty" and "Strange Days". Leonardo DiCaprio and friends were spotted at the Fenix bar at the Argyle. (323) 654-7100
At 8371 Sunset (at King's Road) is the Saddle Ranch Chop House. It's kind of hard to miss, considering the stagecoach out front and the manequin/saloon girls hanging from the balconies of the rustic wood building. Inside, besides grub, you'll find a mechanical bull (seen on "Desperate Housewives","American Idol", "Six Feet Under", etc. In July of 2010, Tom Cruise & Will Smith closed down the place for most of the day, while they met here to discuss a possible joint project. (This location started out as the former Thunder Roadhouse Cafe, opened by "Easy Riders" Dennis Hopper & Peter Fonda.) Worth a look. (323) 656-2007.
At 8430 Sunset is the House of Blues, a restaurant/bar/concert-house whose owners include actor Dan Aykroyd (of "The Blues Brothers") and the rock group Aerosmith. (323) 650-0247
Just across Olive street (to the west) is The Sky Bar (at the Mondrian Hotel) - one of the hottest nightspots in L.A. right now. 8440 Sunset. (323) 848-6025
And on the north side of Sunset is another major comedy club on the Strip: The Comedy Store, at 8433 Sunset , where stand-up comics such as Jay Leno got their big break. (323) 656-6225.
Historical note: There have always been famous nightspots on Sunset. When the boundary lines were drawn, this stretch of Sunset fell outside of the borders of the city of Los Angeles, and it flourished as an independent region not subject to the city's laws. Back in the mid-1930's, before Las Vegas lured away many big name acts, Sunset Boulevard contained the world's hottest nightspots.
There was the famous trio nightclubs: The Trocadero (8610 Sunset), Ciro's (8433 Sunset), and The Mocambo (8588 Sunset), that were very popular with the show-biz crowd in their time.
Ciro's (where the Comedy Store is today) may have been the most famous nightclub in the nation back then, where stars were not only in the audience but on the stage as well - stars watching stars! Desi Arnaz and his band played there on occasion, and Desi & Lucy danced there to other bands. Frank Sinatra punched a photographer here. Mae West even took the stage at one time to judge a bodybuilder's contest.
All three of these historic nightclubs are gone now, but the Sunset Strip itself has remained a popular night spot through the decades, with modern rock clubs replacing the posh nightclubs of yesteryear.
The old TV show "77 Sunset Strip" featured shots of "Dino's Lodge" each week. Dino's was real, located then at 8524 Sunset (west of La Cienega Boulevard and east of Londonderry Drive). Alas, the lodge no longer exists, and 8524 Sunset is now simply part of a large, nondescript office building, next door to the Tiffany Theatre (8532 Sunset). But the Tiffany occasionally boasts stars of its own, in its live stage productions: In 1999, David Arquette ("Scream") starred in a new musical version of "The Rocky Horror Show"; and in 1994 George Wendt ("Norm" on "Cheers") and Ed O'Neill ("Al Bundy" on "Married with Children") shared the bill here in the play "Lakeboat." Look closely at the sidewalk in front of the arching doorway at 8524 Sunset, and you'll discover a plaque declaring that this is indeed the site of "77 Sunset Strip"; the series was filmed here from 1958 to 1964.
Just a block south of Sunset, at 1200 N Alta Loma Road, is the Sunset Marquis Hotel and its well-known celebrity haunt, the Whisky Bar. (310) 657-1333
At Sunset Plaza Drive (the 8600 block), you'll find Sunset Plaza, with its chic sidewalk cafés, trendy boutiques & great people-watching. A local favorite hang.
At 8605 Sunset is a shop called Billy Martin's, a favorite clothing stop for Bruce Springsteen and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who are fans of their Western-style duds. (310) 289-5000
On the south side of the street, near Sunset Plaza, at 8720 Sunset, is Le Dome, a celebrity restaurant that can boast Elton John as one of its founders. (310) 659-6919.
A number of Hollywood celebrities have left their bare footprints in the wet cement outside of Kenneth Cole Shoes, at 8752 Sunset.
Just above 8795 Sunset (at Horn) was Wolfgang Puck's original, world-famous Spago restaurant, the original celebrity restaurant. (Spago long since moved to Beverly Hills. But you can still see the large eye mural on the side of the building.
Just across Sunset from the former Spago, at 8788 Sunset, was actor Woody Harrelson's eccentric new club/restaurant/oxygen bar, named O2. It didn't last long... The spot now houses a more traditional restaurant/bar.
Music has always played a big role on the Strip. Besides the former Virgin Megastore, there was the venerable Tower Records flagship store (at 8801 Sunset), a Hollywood landmark where stars autographed CD's & shopped, and rock concerts took place in the parking lot. The building now houses Live on Sunset, a trendy clothing store. . (310) 657-7300.
The Strip has always been famous for music and night life, so it is fitting that the west end of the Strip is anchored by a number of famous nightclubs:
One of the best known clubs on the Strip if The Viper Room, at 8852 Sunset. Owned by Johnny Depp, it's where actor River Phoenix died.
"The Whisky" (8901 Sunset, at Clark/San Vicente): the world famous spot where Jim Morrison and The Doors started out (as the house band in 1966). So did the Who. the Kinks, the Byrds, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix also played there. It was the birthplace of go-go dancing back in the 1960's - and the club is still going strong (with mostly heavy metal bands). During their first visit to L.A., the Beatles were invited to the Whisky by actress Jayne Mansfield. When the press ambushed them there, a temperamental George Harrison threw his drink at a pesky photographer, and hit another actress (Mamie Van Doren) by mistake. (310) 652-4202.
"The Roxy" (9009 Sunset, at Hammond St.): perhaps Hollywood's best rock club; and definitely the most popular club for celebs; where Rod Stewart met his future wife, supermodel Rachel Hunter. Over the years, it has seen performances by David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Prince. (310) 276-2222.
The Rainbow Bar & Grill (9015 Sunset): former site of the Villa Nova restaurant, where Marilyn Monroe had her first date with future husband Joe DiMaggio in 1953, and where Judy Garland became engaged to Vincente Minnelli (Liza's father) in 1945. (The Villa Nova has since relocated to Newport Beach.) As the Rainbow, it has attracted the likes of John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Led Zeppelin. More recently, the Rainbow's customers have included Sly Stallone, Robin Williams, Nicolas Cage, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. (310) 278-4232
Across the street, at 9039 Sunset, is the Key Club. (310) 274-5800
The Troubadour isn't actually on Sunset, but it's only about a half mile south of the Strip, at 9081 Santa Monica Blvd (just east of Doheny). The club opened back in 1957. It was here where Elton John performed his first show in the United States (on August 25, 1970); he was introduced by Neil Diamond). In that same year, a drunken John Lennon heckled the Smothers Brothers here and was thrown out of the club (along with his friend, Harry Nilsson). Randy Newman started out here. The Eagles (Don Henley & Glenn Frey) first met here in 1970 ("You know, the Troubadour Bar was the center of the universe at that point in time", said Don.) Comics Cheech & Chong were discovered here. Elton returned to do a series of special anniversary concerts in 1975. Later, the club became virtually synonymous with heavy metal bands such as Mötley Crüe. (310) 276-6168.
...as you drive farther west on Sunset, past the end of the Sunset Strip and the Los Angeles city limits, Sunset Boulevard suddenly undergoes a startling transformation. The harsh city streets and eccentric storefronts of West Hollywood abruptly disappear, and are replaced by broad, emerald green lawns and elegant white mansions.
Welcome to Beverly
For more information, you can phone:
Chamber of Commerce: (323) 469-8311
[A Word of Warning: like all big cities, parts of Sunset Blvd can be dangerous at times. Exercise reasonable caution.]
Getting there: The Sunset Strip is that part of Sunset Boulevard (in west Hollywood) which begins at Crescent Heights Boulevard (just west of Fairfax) and runs west to the Beverly Hills city limits (at Doheny Drive). / To reach the Strip from the Hollywood (101) Freeway, take the Sunset Boulevard exit, and go west on Sunset Boulevard, (about three miles) to beyond Crescent Heights Boulevard. / From Rodeo Drive, take Rodeo Drive north to Sunset Boulevard, then turn right (east) on Sunset.
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