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How do you get a liquor license in California?

As in most states, California keeps a tight rein on liquor licenses. The application process is stringent as are the requirements. Any person wishing to obtain or transfer an alcoholic beverage license must follow the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) application process to the letter. Be aware that certain requirements may differ in some localities.

The Application Process

  • Select a location for your business. Before applying with ABC, check to see if zoning approvals and escrow accounts are required. For license transfers, copies of a Notice of Intended Transfer must be obtained from the County Recorder.
  • Have a professional property survey completed as required by California law.
  • Determine the types of liquor licenses available, and which suits your purpose.
  • Apply online at or in person at the nearest ABC district office.
  • Once your application is filed, a notice will be posted to the general public. The public then has a 30-day window in which to object to your business being granted a license.
  • The ABC will initiate a thorough investigation. It will include a personal background check as well as investigations into the business in general. Anything unusual may trigger a request for a personal interview by the ABC.
  • After the due diligence investigation is completed, you will receive a ruling on your license. If approved, the license will be mailed to you at your business address.

Application Processing Time

Section 23987 of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act requires the Department to mail a copy of each application to certain local officials. Section 23985 of the Act requires a 30-day posting period. Most investigations take approximately 45-50 days. Timelines can average about 75 days for person-to-person license transfers, and 90 days for an original. Circumstances sometimes result in a longer wait period; therefore, before final approval and issuance of a license, caution should be used regarding extensive financial commitments, such as plans for grand openings.

How much does it cost?

The honest answer is, a lot! For your state license, submission fees are between $650 – $12,000 depending upon the license type. If a new license is unavailable, you may be able to purchase an existing license, which could cost between $30,000 – $50,000. Each alcoholic beverage licensee must possess a seller’s permit from the State Board of Equalization. It is a misdemeanor to sell in California without one. Seller’s permits, federal stamp taxes, and per-gallon tax on sales can add up to a tidy sum. These are well worth researching before you submit the application.

If you have not figured it out by now, liquor licensing is a complex, uncertain process.

Dealing with the California ABC bureaucracy can be a challenge. It is wise to have an attorney working with you on the application process to smooth out the process and address any legal glitches that might arise.

Let EJP Law, P.C., P.C. take the stress out of applying for a liquor license. If you live in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Westwood, and the surrounding greater Los Angeles area and are thinking of applying for a liquor license, call (213) 784-3640. Let the legal experts at EJP Law, P.C., P.C. guide you through the process.

All information provided on this page is for educational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. Each situation is dependent on the specific facts and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.