In todays post I am going to be focusing on a specific neighborhood in Los Angeles. As a music lover, I have been fascinated by the history of Laurel Canyon and today I finally made the trip out there to see the sights for the first time. There is so much to say about Laurel Canyon I’m not quite sure where to begin but I will start with a little bit of history about the area.
Laurel Canyon is a neighborhood located in the Hollywood Hills region near West Hollywood. The history of Laurel Canyon goes back thousands of years when it was inhabited by the Tongva regional tribe of people. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on the period of time in the 1960s and 1970s when this area became extremely influential in music history. During this time period the neighborhood became home to many famous musicians such as Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, Carole King, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Eagles, Neil Young, The Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell and many, many more. These artists lived together in this idyllic setting that was the backdrop for bands forming and breaking up, huge parties and jam sessions and an overall open door policy where everyone was welcome. The area has been referred to as “Los Angeles’s answer to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood”.
At the center of it all was the Canyon Country Store. This was where everyone in the neighborhood would gather. At the time, Jim Morrison was living in a little house behind the store and wrote The Doors song, “Love Street” which features the line “I see you live on Love Street. There’s this store where the creatures meet,” about the Canyon Country Store. Fun fact, Jennifer Aniston worked at the store before landing her famous role on Friends.
The landscape of the canyon makes it seem far away in the country but in reality it is only minutes away from Sunset Blvd. The juxtaposition of this rural, peaceful place with the bustle of Los Angeles just below is really something to behold.
The area inspired so much music, most notably Joni Mitchell’s album Ladies of the Canyon and the song “Our House” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, written by Graham Nash about his home in Laurel Canyon with Joni Mitchell. I love this quote by Joni Mitchell which I think sums up the area perfectly:
When I first came out to L.A. [in 1968], my friend [photographer] Joel Bernstein found an old book in a flea market that said: Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you California. Ask anyone in California where the craziest people live and they’ll say Los Angeles. Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they’ll say Lookout Mountain. So I bought a house on Lookout Mountain. —Joni Mitchell via An Oral History of Laurel Canyon, the 60s and 70s Music Mecca by Vanity Fair
As the article Hippie Haven by Curbed LA put it, “it’s difficult to find the exact homes the rock gods lived in decades ago. Fires, remolding, landslides and landscaping have changed the canyons geography, but not its home grown, friendly feel”. With this in mind, I embarked on my journey to experience the vibe of the canyon firsthand and absorb some of the history that still remains.
I had read that when you enter the canyon you are immediately enveloped in the scent of eucalyptus. This is absolutely true. I was blown away by the beautiful scent and it seemed to tell us that we were heading in the right direction. I had a list of landmarks that I was hoping to explore and I was able to locate many of them. I started at the Canyon Country Store which is both historical and still very much a functional store for todays residents.
From there I went to visit Jim Morrisons Love Street house. The house, which is actually located at 8021 Rothdell Trail, was built in 1922 and has had many owners over the years. It underwent a huge restoration after a fire in 2011 but it is still worth a visit. It is located behind the Canyon Country Store next to the cleaners. You will know you’re in the right place when you see the plaque that states “Morrison House”. You can see the photos of the inside of the home now in this article by LA Weekly.
Other stops on my self guided tour included Joni Mitchell’s home located at 8217 Lookout Mountain. I also passed the mysterious Lookout Mountain Studios which is a former defense site that used to produce motion pictures for US Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission. It is now a private residence. The famous log cabin where Frank Zappa resided is no longer standing, but it was located at the corner of Laurel Canyon Blvd and Lookout Mountain.
My overall feeling of the canyon is that it has definitely changed quite a bit, but still manages to retain some of it’s charm. You can see where development has occurred and rising cost of living has the area feeling a bit more high end. The streets are extremely narrow and difficult to drive on. You need to be extra careful because in most areas there is only room for one car to pass at a time due to cars being parked on the street.
The top of Lookout Mountain has one of the most spectacular views of Los Angeles I have ever seen, but the road is not for the faint of heart. The twists and turns at the top of the street have you on the edge of a cliff with no guard rail. If you are afraid of heights, I don’t recommend going up to that area. I’m glad I saw it, but I will not be venturing up that way again.
Overall I was pleased with my visit and felt that I got to experience my own piece of rock history. If you would like to learn more about this area check out the following:
- Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood
- There is a brand new documentary that will be widely released this September called Echo in the Canyon, so keep an eye out for that!
- This is a great article from Travel + Leisure about planning your trip to Laurel Canyon
- Rock n’ Roll Landmarks article by USA Today
Check out the photos from my trip below and let me know your thoughts in the comments!