Follow TV Tropes


Down L.A. Drain

Go To

"The L.A. River, for all your car-chase needs!"

Fun fact: That's not just a storm drain system, that's what's left of the Los Angeles River (which would be dry in the summer if not for lawn runoff, and which has been put into concrete channels for almost its entire length). The river is pretty much gone now (except during sudden downpours), mostly due to urban development and diverting its tributaries. A major 1938 flood (yes, the river was once substantial enough that it overflowed its banks from time to time) that forced the recall of the then-mayor caused the Army Corps of Engineers to concrete the living daylights out of large portions of it, resulting in the grey manmade ditch you see today. Note that this is not the same as the L.A. sewer system.

Basically, these large concrete channels get a lot of mileage for chase scenes in movies because they look interesting, they allow for a lot of speed, there's no traffic you need to block or divert for filming, and they're conveniently nearby for any shows or movies produced in the Los Angeles area (that is to say, anything produced in Hollywood, which is quite a bit of stuff).


It's kind of like the urban car chase equivalent of Kirk's Rock. May overlap with Absurdly Spacious Sewer. Not to be confused with Down the Drain.

If you want to see the river in something approaching its natural state, go north to Van Nuys and the Sepulveda flood-control basin (another result of the aforementioned 1938 flood), east of Griffith Park for a 3-mile stretch (now open since 2013 to kayaking and boating), or south to San Pedro and Long Beach, where the river still flows into the sea, sans concrete. There have been many calls to try and restore the rest of the river to a natural state, but none of them seem to have gained much traction at local, state or Federal levels.

Compare with Artificial Riverbank for the Japanese equivalent built for similar reasons.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Something that looks suspiciously like the LA river drain system can be seen in exterior shots of the Torumekian capital city of Tolas in the manga version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, suggesting Tolas may in fact be a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.note 

    Comic Books 

  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the T-800 first encounters and rescues John Connor from the T-1000 (the motorcycle vs. truck scene), was filmed at the corner of Plummer and Hayvenhurst in Northridge, in the Bull Creek wash, a tributary to the L.A. river.
  • It's the site of the car race in the film version of Grease.
  • Where the giant ants ended up in Them!.
    • As well as the murderous mutant baby in It's Alive.
  • Discussed in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. They're having a Grease-style car race in the river, and Crow riffs "The L.A. River, for all your car-chase needs!"
  • The end of The Gumball Rally included a race down the LA river.
  • Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) has an L.A. river chase scene.
  • The plot of Chinatown revolves around the LA water system. The concrete structures are featured.
  • In the finale of Volcano, they demolished an empty high-rise so it would fall into the path of a stream of lava flowing down a street, directing it into a storm drain where it would flow into the sea.
  • Early in The Core, the crew of the Space Shuttle has to make an emergency landing here after Earth's collapsing magnetic field causes the Shuttle's navigation systems to go haywire during reentry.
  • The 2003 Mark Wahlberg remake of The Italian Job has the heroes driving through the viaducts in Mini Coopers as part of their getaway.
  • The film Brick involved a murder that took place in a tunnel in the viaduct system.
  • In the film Point Break (1991), Utah chases one of the "Ex-President" bank robbers on foot, ending with him injuring his knee after jumping into the viaduct and his quarry getting away.
  • There's some driving down the L.A. river in the film Drive. Since The Driver seems to see himself as a character in a film, this is a direct nod to the trope itself.
  • The car chase in Repo Man goes into the drains as well.
  • The final scene of Blood In Blood Out takes place in the L.A. storm drains where Paco meets Cruz to see one of his murals and where he comes to accept that he is responsible for everything that has hapened to Miklo.
  • In Transformers, Sector Seven are chasing after the Autobots, Sam, and Mikaela, and they wind up there, as well subsequently capturing Bumblebee not far from the 4th Street bridge.
  • The car chase in To Live and Die in L.A. includes a section where Chance and Vukovich are pursued through the L.A. storm drains.
  • The titular critter in Big Ass Spider! takes up residence here for a brief time during its rampage; obviously intended as a homage to Them!
  • The end credits Power Walk sequence for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension were shot at the Sepulveda Dam, which holds back part of the river as a flood control measure.
  • A drag race in the river plays a pivotal role in Turbo. It's where the main character, a snail that wants to be fast, gets Super Speed after getting caught inside one of the cars' engine and gets an infusion of nitrous oxide.

  • The setting for the climax of Michael Connelly mystery novel The Narrows. Detective Harry Bosch and his Serial Killer prey wind up getting swept into the L.A. storm drains during a monsoon that has turned the usual trickle of flow into a raging torrent.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Beverly Hillbillies: In "Christmas at the Clampetts", the hillbillies receive a boat as a gift from Mr. Drysdale. Jed, having heard of the Los Angeles River, directs Jethro to take the family down to the "stream". The hillbillies are disappointed, to say the least.
    Elly May: Well, there ain’t enough water down there to wet down a good-sized crawdad, is there Pa?
    Jed: Pitiful, pitiful.
  • The fifteenth season of The Amazing Race started there. In one of the crueler eliminations ever, one team was eliminated right there in the concrete ditch, without ever getting to go to another country.
  • Frequently used by Angel on Angel.
  • Didn't the rebels in the original V (1983) hide out there?
  • In the Quantum Leap episode "The Camikazi Kid" [sic] Sam leaps into a 17 year old racing enthusiast in San Gabriel Valley, CA. He and the bad guy of the episode have their climactic race in the drains.
  • Seen a lot in Stock Footage on C Hi Ps, with the cops riding their motorcycles through it to get wherever they were going.
  • The Discovery Channel show The Colony was a "survival experiment" set in a What If? After the End setting where Humanity has been wiped out by a disease. The gathered "survivors" had to band together to survive by any means that they could. Housing and warmth, defenses from animals and raiders, food, running water- all the necessities needed to survive. The 1st installment was filmed in an abandoned industrial park surrounding the Los Angeles river channels. The surrounding area was cordoned off from the public to ensure that the immersion wasn't broken. This also included making sure that no cars or planes were heard passing by.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2 premiere included a chase here.
  • An episode of Top Gear (US) uses this to test three period muscle cars and their 21st century replacements.
    • During a race from the Valley of Fire down to Palm Springs (and later onto the US/Mexico border) in Season 19, the UK version of Top Gear made a stop at one of these. Though, after a bout of tyre-spinning from Clarkson, Hammond and May, they had to make a swift exit.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 has Coulson race Robbie Reyes into here.
  • CSI: Cyber: In "Gone in 6 Seconds", the FBI catch the hacker responsible for the Murder by Remote Control Vehicle in the Los Angeles river channels. This was the spot of the car crash that cost him the use of his legs, so that is why he chose it for his ultimate revenge.
  • 24: Near the end of season three, jet fighters launch a bombing run to destroy a villain's helicopter parked here.

  • The Swirling Eddies song "What a World, What a World" has the repeated lyrics, "Roll LA River, roll / and take me to a better world."
  • The music video for Chicago's Stay the Night was filmed in and around the LA River. Legend has it that then-lead singer Peter Cetera did his own stunts.
  • In Pharrell Williams' "24 Hours of Happy" (various people dancing to his hit song "Happy" in and around Los Angeles over the course of 24 hours) several clips take place in the LA River, starting at 7:56 am.

    Video Games 
  • The Los Santos storm drain system appears in a particularly memorable mission on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Before and after that, it's a good way to slink around half the city, as it has slopes that lead to street level everywhere, and there's absolutely no traffic.
  • Grand Theft Auto V also has them in its version of Los Santos, and they get used in several missions.
    • The climax of the Jewel Store Job has the player escape from the cops through the sewers and out into the river.
    • In the mission Hood Safari, after Franklin, Trevor, and Lamar get into a huge shootout with a rival gang, they escape from the cops by jet skiing through the river.
    • In the mission Fame or Shame, Michael and Trevor chase Lazlow up the river and humiliate him as revenge for him embarrassing Michael's daughter Tracey on national television.
  • Need for Speed: Underground, which is set in a No Communities Were Harmed version of LA, has several races that take you through empty storm drains.
  • You can drive the LA river in the video game L.A. Noire.
    • A DLC mission culminates in a car chase down the river.
  • Midnight Club: Los Angeles: Also happens to be a drivable location there.
  • Also a playable track in Blur.
  • The Crew, of course, has them in its representation of LA. Bonus points for your introduction to Vincent: he's working as a stunt driver on a movie filming in the LA River.
  • The Fairport canals visited early on in F.E.A.R.: Perseus Mandate are almost a carbon copy of the Los Angeles riverbed ditches.
  • In Twisted Metal (1995), set in Los Angeles, a canal similar to the LA river runs through the Cyburbia stage.
  • A few tracks in Split Second are set in a storm drain system obviously based on LA's.

    Western Animation 
  • DuckTales (1987): In "New Gizmo Kids on the Block", the police chase Ma Beagle and the Beagle Boys along a Los Angeles River lookalike ditch.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode Bart and Lisa miss the school bus, and Marge chases the bus around the drain system so that it stops and they can catch it.
    • This location's overuse in car chase scenes was made fun of in another episode, when Abe races a rival group of seniors through a similar ditch in Springfield.
    • In the movie, Homer uses part of a similar ditch to get onto the dome.
  • An episode of The Critic when Jay is working as a screenwriter has him chase down the producer in a car chase that ends at the Los Angeles River, complete with helpful sign lampshading its overuse for this purpose in media.
  • The Venture Bros. mostly avoided real-world locations until season six, but "The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together, Part 2" does have a scene set in the L.A. River. The Cleaner drops the Ventures off there after freeing them from the L.A.P.D.

Alternative Title(s): Los Angeles River, LA River


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: