Updated May 2018
Does Los Angeles require a permit to street perform? No. (Although Santa Monica does.)
Are there any good places to busk in Los Angeles? Yes, but not as great as some other cities.
Should I busk in Los Angeles? Of course!
A guide to busking in Los Angeles:
The city of Angels isn’t so heavenly when it comes to buskers, but there’s money to be made if you play your cards right! I’ve been living here for the past year and have visited on many occasions, having both relatively good and terribly bad experiences with busking.
I first visited Los Angeles in 2009. I was sporting long hair, a patchy beard, and a paper-thin wallet. I was traveling with my girlfriend at the time, who’d never been to LA either, so we did what any good tourist does!—We headed straight to Hollywood.
As many people have found, Hollywood is a little disenchanting up close. As we approached the entrance of the famous Graumman’s Chinese Theater, we were accosted by a horde of dollar-store superheroes and celebrities: Batman, Superman, Captain Jack Sparrow, all sorts of pseudo-characters dressed in worn-out spandex and duct-tape armor.
These heroes weren’t in search of crime to fight, but rather, booty to plunder. Tourists were paying a dollar here or a fiver there for a photo. They were tipping street performers a well, some of whom were doing little more than balancing on one foot.
My first thought, like any other traveling musician with no bank account and half a brain, was: How do I get in on this action?
I was told at the time by asking around (this was before the days of ubiquitous smartphones, remember) that busking in Hollywood required a special busker’s permit. I later learned that this is not true!
Anyone can busk in Hollywood, provided you:
- Do not use amplification of any kind
- Do not harass or directly solicit pedestrians
- Stay on the sidewalk and NOT on private property
Now, that second rule is a loose one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by “rappers” on Hollywood Blvd and handed a CD they want me to listen to, only to be asked for money to pay for it. Ugh.
I’ve never busked in Hollywood because I can’t stand most of the buskers in Hollywood and no one would likely be able to stop and listen to acoustic music without amplification anyway.
In my opinion, it’s just not worth the hassle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it!
I’ve done some busking around Venice and had an awful experience. It’s mostly filled with kids… skaters, surfers, other bums like me, no one with that beloved touristy zeal for throwing dollar bills in my guitar case.
My friend Corey and I played for several hours without making a single red cent! We might as well have been on a different planet.
Nearby Santa Monica unfortunately does require a busking permit, so I’ve not graced its sandy shores with my tunes. If you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of time here, I’d recommend looking into getting one. The Santa Monica Pier would likely be a high-quality busking grounds.
Let me say, as I always say, that this shouldn’t stop you from trying without a permit. You’ll likely be given a warning and asked to leave before being issued a ticket. As they say in some circles, fuck The Man. I’ve been kicked out of more spots than I could count, that’s for sure! Even in places where it’s legally allowed. Some folks just don’t want you there so they’ll tell you to leave. In most cases it’s best to be polite and move along even if you know they’re wrong.
I’ve had my best results in Huntington Beach, on the pier. Time and time again piers have proven to be pretty damn good busking spots. They follow several of my favorite busking spot characteristics:
- Quiet – so people can hear the music
- Touristy and “magical” – people are happy, and in the mood to spend money!
- People often stop naturally, to take in the view, which gives us a chance to “hook” them
Best of all, I’ve never been asked to leave! From any pier in fact, albeit I’m sure that would change if I tried to busk on Santa Monica pier. Huntington Beach isn’t the greatest spot I’ve ever busked, but it’s the best I’ve found in Los Angeles.
There are some other places which I would recommend giving a shot. Here’s a list of them, along with my aforementioned current favorite:
- Huntington Beach Pier
- Glendale, specifically the “Americana” mall area
- On the sidewalk along Highland Ave in front of the Hollywood Bowl, when a concert lets out
- On the corner of Cahuenga and Sunset, across from Amoeba Records (nearby Hollywood but not in the overly congested area of Hollywood and Vine)
- Burbank, check out the Burbank Mall between the theaters or the area near Tony’s Darts Away on weekend evenings (and have a beer there on your break).
These are just a few and there are many more out there if you look around.
If you’d like more busking tips and a LOT more tips for traveling musicians, making money while you travel, getting places to stay for free, and stuff like that, please consider grabbing a copy of my book Two Bucks to Timbuktu on Amazon.
Or, if you’d like to read the hilarious journey of my friends and I attempting to vagabond our way around the world, check out my book Planes, Trains, & Broken Strings!