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Underground LA: Exploring the city’s hidden haunts

The glitz, gloss and glamour of Hollywood is all very well, but to find the real Los Angeles you have to scratch beneath the surface, open unmarked doors and wander down unassuming alleyways. From hidden boozers to secret rooftop gardens and a network of tunnels used during Prohibition, here’s how to see underground LA.

Prohibition tunnels

The City of Angels was once a hotbed of underground criminal activity. Literally, with a network of tunnels used to shuttle illicit booze to speakeasies during the Prohibition era. You can still explore sections of these moonshine tunnels, via a suitably enigmatic entryway. Duck behind the Hall of Records (222 N Hill St) in Downtown LA and take an unmarked elevator to the bottom floor.


Houdini once played tricks on audiences at this tiny, 70-seat theatre in affluent Hancock Park. Since its 2009 relaunch, Brookledge stages vaudeville-style extravaganza with magicians, contortionists and burlesque performers. Unless you’ve mastered invisibility, entry requires an official invite or sizable donation.

Mystery Pier Books

Duck down a stone staircase off Sunset Strip and wind down a dimly lit passage to reach this charming cottage framed by blooms. This literary treasure trove is famed for its range of first editions and antiquarian books, counting Johnny Depp, Daniel Craig and Martin Scorcese among its customers.

Kyoto Garden

Walk through one of the city’s prettiest secret gardens for the price of a coffee or cocktail in the DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown. Flowers, bonsai trees, waterfalls and ornamental ponds cover the serene Kyoto Garden, stretching over a half-acre rooftop.

The Varnish

You could happily sink a few beers, soaked up with a French dip sandwich (gravy on the side), in Cole’s – thought to be LA’s oldest surviving public house. But you might soon notice all the coolest cats disappearing, one by one. Where have they gone? Behind that unmarked door and into an old storage room, now named The Varnish, where there’s a tinkling piano, craft cocktails and live jazz three nights a week.

Museum of Jurassic Technology

Lovers of curios should head to the corner of Venice Blvd and Bagley Ave. This fantastical museum displays sculptures carved from grains of rice, a gallery of canine astronauts and a selection of trailer park relics. Leave logic at the door – truth and fantasy are interchangeable here.

Berlin Wall Segments

See this 40ft chunk of Iron (technically, concrete) Curtain in front of the Variety Building at 5900 Wilshire Blvd. Its ten segments showcase original Cold War-era murals and modern designs painted by LA and Berlin street artists.

West Hollywood Park Tennis Courts

Not quite underground LA, but a rooftop playground with unmatched views of Hollywood and Beverly Hills certainly deserves a mention. Head to the first floor of the parking lot at 647 North San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood, exchange your ID for a free key card and head up to the pristine courts.


Written by Ella Buchan


Image credits: 

Berlin wall © Wende museum

The Varnish bar © iStock: Dylan + Jeni

Los Angeles tunnel at night © iStock: mstaves

Mystery Pier Books © Mystery Pier Books

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