Prior to the 1984 incorporation of the city of West Hollywood, the Sunset Strip lay in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. Because of this, the Sunset Strip and all of West Hollywood gained a reputation for being a loosely regulated area, in large part because it was not under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Gambling was illegal in the city of Los Angeles, but legal in unincorporated Los Angeles County, which fostered the development of rather wilder nightlife in West Hollywood than was found within the city limits. In the 1920s a number of nightclubs and casinos moved in along Sunset Strip, which attracted movie people; alcohol was served in back rooms during Prohibition.
1930s and 1940s
In the 1930s and the 1940s, restaurants and nightclubs on Sunset Strip, like Ciro's, the Mocambo and the Trocadero, were patronized by people working in the movie industry. Some of its expensive nightclubs and restaurants were said to be owned by gangsters like Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel, earning Sunset Strip a place in Raymond Chandler's 1949 Philip Marlowe novel, The Little Sister. Also on Sunset Strip are the Garden of Allah apartments—Hollywood quarters for transplanted writers like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and Schwab's Drug Store.
By the early 1960s, Sunset Strip had lost favor with the majority of movie people, but its restaurants, bars and clubs continued to serve as an attraction for locals and tourists. In the mid-1960s it became a major gathering place for the counterculture and was the scene of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in November 1966, involving police and crowds of young club-goers. Those riots inspired the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth".
Sunset Strip became popular with rock musicians and their fans. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Byrds, Love, The Seeds, Frank Zappa, and others played at clubs like the Whisky a Go Go, the Roxy, Pandora's Box and the London Fog. In July 1965 Go-Go dancers also began performing. The Hyatt West Hollywood (now known as the Andaz West Hollywood) became a popular hotel.
Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, influenced by Britain's glam rock movement, opened in 1972. It became a hangout for musicians, including The Stooges and the New York Dolls. The 1979 Donna Summer song "Sunset People", from the album Bad Girls, was about the nightlife on Sunset Boulevard. Sunset Strip continued to be a major focus for punk rock and new wave music during the late 1970s
This decade became the home of numerous glam metal bands such as Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ratt and LA Guns, the Sunset Strip ceased to be a major area for up and coming rock bands without industry sponsorship. The adoption of "pay to play" policies, where bands were charged a fee to play at clubs, diminished its appeal to groups, other than as an industry showcase. As of the 2010s, the music industry establishment continues to dominate the clubs on Sunset Strip.
In November 1984, voters in West Hollywood passed a proposal on the ballot to incorporate and the area became an independent city. Increasingly, the western end of Sunset Strip was occupied by office buildings, mostly catering to the entertainment industry, and hotels.
During the 1990s, the center of the alternative music activity in Los Angeles shifted further east to areas like Echo Park, Los Feliz and Silver Lake.