“Driving around Los Angeles with Brian Wilson is like being with a king surveying his realm—this is his town, where he was born and raised (he lives today no more than 20 miles where he grew up) and where he created the music of The Beach Boys, a singular sound that has long symbolized the Southern California dream.” —Jason Fine
American Masters – Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road follows Brian Wilson on a drive through Los Angeles with his longtime friend and Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine. With Fine behind the wheel and Wilson as DJ, they revisit the places that shaped Wilson’s life.
Below is a list of Brian Wilson’s favorite destinations in Southern California, from the locations of his childhood memories to the places he still loves to visit.
“The city has transformed since he was a kid, but many of Brian’s favorite haunts are still here, and his memories run deep, from the studios to steak houses he loves to visit to spontaneous drives down Sunset Boulevard to the ocean, which give him a sense of peace. ‘Malibu!’ he told me during one drive for our film, ‘Memory City!'” – Jason Fine
1. The recording studios of Los Angeles
Of all the places in Southern California which hold his memories, it is the recording studios that may be most significant to Brian Wilson. As singer-songwriter Jakob Dylan said, Wilson “was one of the first people to use the studio as an instrument itself.”
His appreciation for the unique sound of each space is most apparent in “Good Vibrations,” which used four studios (Western, Sunset Sound, Gold Star and RCA Victor) to achieve its eerie harmony.
“Well, each studio was different, you know? … not any one studio’s the same,” said Wilson.
Among the various locations he’s worked in, United Studio (then called East/West or “The Western”) on Hollywood Boulevard was where Wilson recorded most of his work, including “Pet Sounds.” He continues to work there to this day.
Other studios include:
- Hite Morgan Studios, where some of The Beach Boys’ earliest studio hours were recorded.
- LeShawn’s in Hawthorne, where Wilson recalled, “That’s where I bought The Four Freshmen.”
- Melody Music, near Wilson’s favorite soft serve joint, Fosters Freeze.
- Gold Star Studios, where Wilson recalled working with producer Phil Spector and recording “Why do Fools Fall in Love.”
2. Brian Wilson’s childhood home
Although Wilson’s childhood home is no longer there, you can visit the location to see “The Beach Boys Historic Landmark” plaque where his house once stood – now along the Century Freeway. The face of the memorial commemorates the home of Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson with an image of the “Surfer Girl” album cover.
In visiting this site, you might be able to rekindle the SoCal of Wilson’s past—a California just beginning its suburban sprawl under the impact of a rising aerospace industry. You’ll see how close Wilson grew up to the beach (only about eight miles away), despite never going until he was 10 or 11 years old. In his autobiography, “I Am Brian Wilson,” he writes:
“The first time I went to the ocean I couldn’t believe it. . . My dad took us and I was scared at the size of it.”
3. Paradise Cove, Malibu
Described as a “big, fun, spirited place” by Fine, Paradise Cove is a landmark for any Beach Boy aficionado. The location is most identifiable in the 1962 photos that graced the cover of the band’s first record, “Surfin’ Safari” and their third album, “Surfer Girl.” Paradise Cove’s beautiful pier has long attracted artists, serving as the backdrop for television classics such as “The Rockford Files” and “Baywatch,” as well as music videos like Britney Spears’ “Sometimes.”
Today, the cove also features a beach café and a plaque commemorating “the spot” of The Beach Boy’s first album cover.
4. Moonshadows in Malibu
Along the Pacific Coast Highway is Wilson’s “old spot,” Moonshadows—a place of refuge during his difficult years. From 1982 to 1995, Wilson lived in Malibu under the care of Eugene Landy, a therapist whose unconventional methods controlled every aspect of Wilson’s life and behavior. Just down the beach from his home at the time, Wilson would “sneak out of the house, drink a bottle of wine and go dance around,” he told Fine in a 2015 interview.
5. Trancas Beach
In the 1970s, The Beach Boys had a resurgence in popularity with the release of their double LP, “Endless Summer.” In 1976, the band launched a “Brian’s Back” campaign, celebrating Wilson’s return to producing and touring with the group again. “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels had been a huge fan of the band and was eager to promote The Beach Boys along with SNL talent. NBC would air a television special called “The Beach Boys: It’s OK,” mixing live concert footage with comedic skits.
Among the sketches was a segment called “Surf Police,” featuring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd rushing into Wilson’s bedroom to force him to go surfing. Filmed on Wilson’s birthday, the beach sections took place on Trancas Beach, where he was also photographed by Annie Leibovitz for a Rolling Stone cover.
Reminiscing with Wilson, Fine said:
“. . . you did so much that day. It was your birthday party, you filmed that Rolling Stone cover and you did that skit for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ all on the same day.”
6. Fosters Freeze in Hawthorne
A California tradition, Fosters Freeze has been a go-to spot for soft serve desserts since the 1940s. Among its franchise locations, the Fosters Freeze in Hawthorne, California is of particular significance to Wilson, as it’s where Dennis Wilson spotted the girl in the Thunderbird he sang about in “Fun, Fun, Fun.” In this interview, Wilson recalls going there to get milkshakes.
7. Lawry’s in Beverly Hills and In-N-Out Burger
A fan of steak and potatoes, Lawry’s is Brian Wilson’s favorite restaurant. On a more casual occasion, you may also run into him at one of the many In-N-Out Burgers in Los Angeles. We cannot verify if he orders from their famous secret menu!
8. Musso & Frank Grill
Located on Hollywood Boulevard, Musso & Frank Grill is a staple of old Los Angeles and the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. The eatery has attracted literary greats like Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Bukowski to Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and George Clooney. Wilson still enjoys visiting the famous restaurant for special occasions.