Certain cities are notorious for being up all night. Not so Los Angeles. Its bars and liquor stores close at 2 a.m., its subways around midnight and its overnight buses run about as regularly as an obese smoker. If you've been out drinking and you're not big on DUIs, your best bets are a $50 cab ride home and a swift dive into bed.

No wonder lines like "Want to go back to my place and watch Comedy Central? I think I've got some Triple Sec" are commonplace on late-night street corners. It's also another tired excuse for New Yorkers to scoff at L.A. With their whooshing 24-hour subways and 4 a.m. last calls, they think they've got the all-night thing wrapped up.

But they're wrong. The discerning Angeleno knows that when it comes to after-hours activities, Southern California is rife with possibility. You just have to know where to look -- and when. You also have to accept that night crawling in the entertainment capital of the world is like leaping into a bowl of scrapple. The city's offerings are a hodgepodge of the legal and the illegal; the tawdry and the tame; the predictable and the wildly offbeat.

Also, because much of the city tends to shut down (illegal speak-easies notwithstandng), the term "after hours" can be interpreted loosely. For our purposes it means anything that happens during a time frame when it normally wouldn't. A far-out example could be "Late Night at American Girl Place." For $225, your little lady and her precious plastic pal can hang out in the store at the Grove until well past closing time (americangirl.com). Or how about singing your lungs out until 4 a.m. at Karaoke Yuu Yuu near Sawtelle and Olympic boulevards (karaokeyuuyuu.com)? They're only the start of our night crawl.

-- Jessica Gelt

Night at the museum
You don't have to swim with the sharks to sleep with them. You just have to sign up for a $70 "Adult Sleepover" at the Aquarium of the Pacific. "It's so lazy there at night," says the aquarium's public programs manager, Elizabeth Keenan. "When the lights go down on the exhibits, you can see the shadows of the fish swimming around, including the sharks."

Before bed you get a pizza dinner, a tour and a chance to dip your hands into a "touch pool" containing invertebrates or bamboo sharks. You can also participate in a yoga or meditation class, or watch a movie in the aquarium's theater. When it's time to sleep, cuddle up next to the 350,000-gallon tropical reef habitat with its 2,000 animals or the sea otter exhibit featuring a giant Pacific octopus and Japanese spider crabs (aquariumofpacific.org).

Prefer landlocked activities? The Natural History Museum hosts slumber parties geared for children such as "Camp Goo," dubbed "an exciting night at the Tar Pits" (nhm.org). Then there's "Zoopendous Nights" at the L.A. Zoo. Participating families (who are encouraged to book their evening far in advance) get an after-dark zoo tour as well as pizza and salad and "beastly stories" at bedtime (lazoo.org).

And the Los Angeles County Museum of Art holds an annual nocturnal romp dubbed "Late Night at LACMA." The last event (held June 21) featured a screening of John Waters' "Hairspray" and a performance by the electro-rock band Ima Robot and the fetishized turntable stylings of hipster demigod Steve Aoki (lacma.org).

--J.G.

Screen time
Midnight movies at the Nuart in West Los Angeles are a SoCal institution. Q&As, door prizes and titles such as Peter Jackson's campy horror classic "Dead Alive" (Sept. 28) will keep you on the edge of your seat (landmarktheaters.com).

The same goes for the New Beverly's biweekly Saturday midnight screenings, featuring spine-tingling titles such as Oct. 13's "Army of Darkness" (newbevcinema.com).

--J.G.

Flirt until dawn
Scenesters troll the Hollywood Ralphs -- dubbed the "rock 'n' roll Ralphs" -- on Sunset Boulevard or the Silver Lake Vons across from the Vista theater in search of late-night flirtation and the occasional firm breakfast melon. Others speed to the 24-hour Sherman Oaks Newsstand seeking media-fueled love and conversation. And although it is discouraged, late-night lore is full of stories of besotted hipsters raiding the dumpsters surrounding the L.A. Flower Mart -- which runs its wholesale business from 2 to 8 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays -- looking for the perfect bloom for that special someone (laflowerdistrict.com).

--J.G.

Dance, dance, dance