A lonely street in Los Angeles at night. But the appearances are deceptive – LAs underground scene has plenty to offer.

Awake in Los Angeles.

Discovering the LA underground scene – from urban exploring, to secret parties and 3 am taco truck feasts – in a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280 S.
Text: Krystian Bandzimiera
Photos: A.J. Herrera


One of the most wonderful sights to behold is the City of Angels looking like a tiny buzzing miniature of itself as you’re flying into LAX. Palm trees and power lines reach up into the deep blue sky while a perfect summer lingers just around the corner. This is a portrait of a city, which, once the nurturing sun has sunk down over the Pacific Ocean, is far from rushing off to sleep. As the light fades, print shops, old warehouses, and rooftops turn into vivid nightlife locations – this is the LA underground scene. Our story beings when we run into photographer A.J. Herrera, known for his portrayal of the LA nightlife scene.

On the streets of LA in a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280 S.

One minute you’re quietly enjoying a cup of joe in a coffee shop, and the next you’re introduced to a local underground party organizer and whisked off on the eventful trip through nocturnal LA documented in this photo story. Our adventure lasted until the next morning.

Scenic attunement to a long night: beautiful sunset over Los Angeles.

Chapter 1: driving into Downtown LA.

A.J. and I get into our sweet ride for the night, a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280 S, and drive down the 101 Freeway. It’s Saturday evening and we witness yet another symphonic sunset as traffic amalgamates into a golden urban painting.

“You wanna see what LA is like at night?” A.J. suddenly asks. I give him a quick look and before I say anything he utters: “Aight.” And then: “Take the next exit, we’re going downtown.”

Palm trees in beautiful afterglow over LA.

Chapter 2: meeting Shawn, our guide.

11 pm on a Saturday night. We roll up onto a parking lot somewhere in the Arts District and sit and wait. After a couple of minutes one of the rear doors of the car opens, and a hand extends from the back seat: “Hi, I’m Shawn.”

And then: “Let’s just say that I’m going to show you something that I can only show you at night.” I rev up the mighty engine and we start our journey, heading east.

The 6th Street Bridge down by the LA River in nightly backdrop.

Chapter 3: 6th Street Bridge.

As we arrive at our first stop, beneath the impressively high arches of the bridge, we hear only the clear chirp of night birds puncturing the dense warmth of the dark city. The 6th Street Bridge, down by the LA River, is one of the most stunning locations to explore at night and we walk down a long, dark tunnel without making a sound until we finally arrive in the vast river valley.

Suddenly, Shawn tells us we need to leave, urging us back to the car. “I got an address for us, we should check it out.”

The underground scene of LA has plenty to offer to night owls.

Chapter 4: a warehouse somewhere Downtown.

Approaching an intersection, we see a handful of young people standing scattered on the sidewalks. As I lower the window one of them heads over to our car and greets Shawn, “Hey man, how’s it going? Did you get the password to get in?” “Yes, just received it.” We get out of the car, walk across the street and enter the warehouse through a barred door under the watchful eye of some kind of guard in a black suit. Entering a long, unlit hallway, we feel the floor increasingly vibrating to a constant beat. As the door opens a wall of heat hits us and we are pulled into a jam-packed place filled with people dancing to the sounds of two DJs at the far end of this sweltering space.

Chapter 5: the Taco truck situation.

Around 3 am someone suddenly says, “I’m hungry, let’s get tacos.” And so we go. In Los Angeles, some of the best Mexican food can be found at out-of-the-way taco trucks. Highly frequented during late hours! Driving through the streets post snack, we see large crowds of people heading home. At this time of night, the nightclubs in Hollywood and Downtown are already closed. Life seems to be fading from the vivid streets and sidewalks. “So, how do people get access to events like the one we just went to?” “First of all, we don’t post the location anywhere on the internet.

Lonely streets in the heart of LA. But appearances are deceptive.

We send out messages to approved guests one hour before the actual event. Not even the DJs know the location until something like two hours before. Setting up pop-ups like this is a last minute thing.” And every once in a while they have to break up the party because the authorities have been alerted.

Chapter 6: the second warehouse.

Amidst a somber and sleeping warehouse district, we discover our next location. Carefully, we walk down another ill-lit corridor to where a large, restless crowd is waiting in line, waves of adrenaline building up until suddenly we’re in a large and bright room, brimming with deep bass and a beautiful, dancing crowd. It’s incredible! I ask Shawn: “How do you manage to fill up these spaces seeing as you don’t advertise them?” “We’ve been organizing parties for several years now. They’re exclusive and not everyone gets in. And you can’t buy your way in. I mean, they’re meant for regular people like you and me that have something in common: they love music, away from the glam of mainstream clubs in Hollywood or Beverly Hills.

Energized atmosphere in one of LAs underground clubs.

Some of the most respected international DJs come to LA to play exclusively for us because they’re in it for the culture and the music, which originated from such low key events. The pop-up culture we have created here has become a vital part of Los Angeles.”

After a long night in LA we cannot resist the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the Handsome Coffee Roasters.

Chapter 7: Sunday morning, somewhere in Los Angeles.

Taking off to see the sunrise and clear our minds with coffee, we drive back to the Arts District, to Handsome Coffee Roasters. We have captured a long and exciting night.

And we end an outstanding journey, leaving with unforgettable impressions as it sets out to be another beautiful day in Los Angeles.

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