In 2012, a bar opened in a bungalow house on the grounds of a Santa Monica hotel and instantly became the most popular place to drink in the city. It was called The Bungalow, and it had a giant patio a block from the beach, fire pits to curl up next to with friends, exceedingly strong drinks, and a lot of hot people you recognize from TV. It was, in theory, the perfect LA bar. Except for one thing: none of that actually happens here.
For maybe five minutes when it first opened, The Bungalow lived up to its potential. But heading to this bone-crushing mess today is a bonafide nightmare. The giant line snakes around an unshaded parking lot next to some port-a-potties, the sprawling bar space is packed in like a Hollywood dance club, and you can’t even see the ocean. As for that hot crowd of famous people? It’s just a bunch of tourists taking selfies with surfboards and post-grads in identical outfits with an open tab on their parent’s credit card.
You can do better than The Bungalow. Whether you’re looking to have a cocktail by the beach or make day-drinking plans for a group, there are better bar options all over the city. Go to one of these spots instead.
Mama Shelter in Hollywood can get just as crowded as Bungalow, but at least this rooftop bar really does have good views and far fewer people screaming about their friend Taylor and how “she always does this!” The colorful space has foosball tables, outdoor movies, a full restaurant, and giant lounge beds wrapped in Mexican blankets with a shockingly low percentage of human sweat on them. The cocktails are all movie-themed (the tequila-heavy Y Tu Mama Tambien is our favorite), which is endearing simply because you’re staring right at the Hollywood sign.
A new hotel rooftop bar opens every week downtown, but NoMad is our favorite. The big poolside space rides a fine line between relaxed and rowdy, with a crowd that careens towards the latter. There are great views, servers who won’t vanish for 45 minutes, and a giant stone sculpture of a Roman god’s face that looks like it was stolen from the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. But the real reason we love it here is the drinks. Whether it’s the spicy paloma or the frozen blue Hawaiian, NoMad’s cocktails are extremely well-made and strong enough to validate their $16-$18 price point.
Finding a place to drinking outdoors on the Westside is easy. Finding a place to drink outdoors on the Westside with a crowd that doesn’t make you want to leave immediately is much harder. Skip all the fist-pumping bros in Sperrys, and go to The Lincoln in Venice instead. This cocktail bar on Lincoln Blvd. feels like a well-designed mechanic’s shop, and while it does get crowded at night, Saturday and Sunday afternoons are much more low-key. The front patio is great for lounging with solid cocktails (get the Bitter About My Hot Friend) and a crowd that generally knows how to communicate without having to shout “yo” before every sentence.
It’s Saturday, you just bought a new shirt that you feel good about, and you want to drink somewhere that makes you feel like you know about cool things. Skip the Westside entirely and go to Apotheke in Chinatown. This cocktail bar imported from NYC has a 19th-century apothecary aesthetic and medicine-themed cocktails that are different and creative. The interior is somewhat small and gets crowded quickly, so head outside to the massive back patio, post up at the outdoor bar, and if anyone asks about your shirt, just tell them that you bought it from a pop-up.
There’s a difference between casual day-drinking and blacking out and sexting your landlord from underneath a ping pong table. If you’re looking for the former, go to Block Party. The mostly-outdoor bar in Highland Park is one of our favorite day-drinking spots on the Eastside with a huge back patio, an excellent craft beer list, shuffleboard, and a boozy snow cone you can accidentally spill on your crush to get their attention. They don’t serve any food, but you can order delivery from any restaurant you want.
The novelty of drinking inside a surfer bungalow a block from the beach is nice, but the novelty of drinking inside a giant wooden barrel built in 1941 in North Hollywood is better. Idle Hour reopened in 2015 after being closed for 30 years and has been one of the most popular places to drink in the Valley ever since. It’s rowdy any time of the day here, but you and your friends are always able to find a corner to take over. They have a massive beer list, good cocktails, and a back patio with a giant statue of a dog smoking a pipe.
At first glance, Tropicana is another poolside bar with a crowd trying too hard and cocktails that are more expensive than the Lyft you took to get there. Your eyes aren’t totally deceiving you. But the longer you stay at this iconic Hollywood pool, the more you start to like it. Surrounded by 1960s bungalows, Tropicana is the closest thing LA has to a weekend in Palm Springs, and the space is big enough to keep that girl who just cannonballed into the pool with her Louboutins on at a safe distance. Even though they’re expensive ($16+), the drinks are good and, most importantly, strong.
It’s been a successful day at the beach, and you and your friends don’t want it to be over yet. You aren’t getting into Bungalow with those flip flops on, so go to Tower 12 in Hermosa Beach instead. In fact, just spend the whole day there. The sand is cleaner, the water is nicer, and Tower 12 is the perfect post-beach drinking spot. On the second floor on the Hermosa Pier, this bar/restaurant pulls in crowds for cold drinks and good burgers, and that’s all that really matters to you at this point. Stick around at night when the DJ appears and things get a bit wild.
Big Dean's Ocean Front Cafe
There are only so many Trents in pastel khaki shorts you can meet before your mind goes into freefall. Avoid them at Big Dean’s. This classic outdoor dive on the Santa Monica boardwalk across from the pier might be in the heart of the tourist zone, but we’ve never seen a tourist here. Instead, you’ll find mostly regulars who are not being primed to take over Dad’s consulting business in Manhattan Beach in three years. Drinks are cheap (it’s beer and wine only), the bar food is solid (get the chili cheese fries), and it’s a great place to watch a game.
We love Resident because no matter what you’re looking to get into on any given day, you can find it at this indoor/ outdoor bar in the Arts District that doubles as a music venue. If you’re looking to casually drink outside and flirt with the dog next to you, Resident’s patio opens every day at noon with a bar inside an Airstream and water misters to keep your body temperature under control. But if the night is ripe for some dancing, head inside where there’s always a DJ/band lighting up the stage.