Escape rooms–those immersive adventure games in which players must solve elaborate puzzles before time runs out–are no longer the under-the-radar sensation they were last year when I named L.A.’s best escape venues. At the moment, more than 60 escape businesses are scattered around town, most with multiple rooms full of locked boxes, hidden doors and improbable missions involving evil scientists, lost princesses and bombs ticking toward detonation.
After months of checking out locations around Los Angeles (it helps to have an escape-obsessed 14-year-old in the house), it’s once again time to hand out The Escapees, my awards for best Los Angeles escape rooms in various categories. No, I haven’t visited every Los Angeles escape room, but these are the standouts based on research, testing, reviewing reviews and word of mouth.
THE GROWNUP FAVORITE
Last year’s biggest oversight was this Sylmar operation that visitors consistently recommend as the scariest, hairiest, age 18+ escape in town. I missed it in 2016 since my goal was to hit the family-friendly places but I’m pleased to join the chorus and say The Basement is uniquely immersive, challenging and “creepy af” to quote more than one reviewer. In three horror-drenched escapes–the Basement, Study and new Elevator Shaft (which replaces the Boiler Room)–the venue stretches beyond locks and keys with actor-led missions that feel so realistic and macabre, they should rename it Xanax Escape. Definitely for older teens and adults, The Basement is best known as the room where a crazy murderer takes you hostage and harangues you for a terrifying hour. Yeah, it’s that intense.
THE CREATIVE STANDOUT
Near UCLA, this upstairs underdog isn’t as glitzy as some of the big-budget escapes but Escapedom has a gripping storyline and riddles that stand apart from the humdrum standard. In two rooms — The Lair and The Den of the Occult. The Lair — the immersion factor is high as you solve clues using mirrors, library books, color-coded hieroglyphs and light signals. The gamemasters are theatrical and highly energetic, giving Escapedom an A-for-effort score that makes me want to recommend it to anyone in that part of town. Mid-to-high challenge, though we escaped with over a minute left on the clock. All in all, an appealing room worth discovering.
THE DESIGN GEM
You know it’s an awesome escape when they give you priestly Renaissance garb to wear as you enter. Questroom takes its code-cracking seriously, from the opening intro to the Medici-worthy sets inside its two rooms, Bloody Elbow and DaVinci’s Challenge (more are scheduled to open soon). Starting with the Italian cowl, the Leonardo-themed chamber brings you back to 1493 in a multi-room experience full of interlocking gears, automatons and mysterious paintings that double as clues (Locks and keypads are so Middle Ages, apparently). While many popular rooms around town suffer from what I call “puzzle grime”–the scuffed up, body oil-soiled effects of too much touching and turning–Questroom is fresh as a master brushstroke on blank Italian canvas. Bravo!
THE GOLD STANDARD
I love 60out, which made my list last year and does again with what really is LA’s classic escape room experience–Grandma’s Master Plan. It’s no spoiler to say the plot takes you through seven rooms as you attempt to fulfill grandma’s doozy of a dying wish. She wants you to rob the bank she never held up herself. Thanks, gram. There are floor plans, clues concealed in recipe books and a series of gramma-phones that force you to make sense of old timey music. The rooms get more interesting as you approach the vault, and while the riddles are complex, 60out gives you 75 minutes instead of the usual 60 to work through all that real estate. An oldie but definitely a goodie on Melrose Ave in West Hollywood. If you’ve never an escape before, this is a great place to start.
THE EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
Everybody told me I had to try Escape Hotel and I can certainly see why. With nine extraordinary rooms under one roof, it’s hard to imagine a more over-the-top, production-savvy operation. For sure, it’s not cheap but the standards are high, especially down in the basement sanatorium that’s dripping with blood and peopled by creepy characters way too terrifying for preteens (and me). Some say Escape Hotel feels too corporate but I like the next-level aesthetics and theme-park-scale ambition of it all. Plus, we solved our way out of the beginner-level espionage room with ten minutes to spare. A splurge that’s worthy with out-of-towners in tow or, yeah, when someone else is paying.
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