Welcome back to How to do Los Angeles! This is the third post in this series, on my favorite place in the whole city: Hollywood!
For those who’ve read my other posts in this series, you know that this series got started after my British Isles/Krakow trip, where my girlfriend and I used Rick Steves’s guidebooks like bibles. Rick Steves does two things that in my opinion elevate his guidebooks above the rest. One, he details sites not just as a laundry list of recommend/don’t recommend, but as a detailed itinerary: if you have two days, see this, this, and this; if you have five days, see this, this, this, this and this; don’t miss this, try really hard to see this, don’t waste your time/money on that, and so on. I did this for Los Angeles here.
The second aspect that makes Rick Steves’s guidebooks great are his walks. A tour guide in book form, Rick Steves guides you through the interesting and historical parts of town, down alleys, through parks, across streets, moving from one unique item to the next and filling us with information along the way. Touring cities this way, you get a more detailed view than just Paris being the Eiffel Tower or Krakow being Main Market Square. Not only that, but since you are your own tour guide, the whole thing becomes an adventure, and adventures are how you have the most fun!
Okay, on to Los Angeles. Despite being a car city, Los Angeles has tons of walks, tons of awesome places to explore and go on an adventure. The three best, in my opinion, are Hollywood, Venice/Santa Monica, and Downtown. This post is on Hollywood.
Without further ado, the Hollywood walk:
Start: Hollywood and La Brea.
End: Hollywood and Vine Metro Station.
Headlining sites: Grauman’s Chinese, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Egyptian, the El Capitan, Hollywood and Highland Center, the Dolby Theater, views of the Hollywood sign, Arclight Cinemas and the Cineramadome, Hollywood and Vine, the Capitol Records building, the Pantages, Musso & Frank.
How to get here: Metro Red Line
Total distance: ~2 miles.
Estimated time: 1.5-3 hours, depending on shopping. Add more for tours or movie watching.
Best time to go: Anytime
The Walk: We start our walk at Hollywood and La Brea, on the little triangle island at the SE corner of the intersection. This island marks the beginning of the world famous ** Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame was created in 1960 and currently spans eighteen blocks, containing more than 2,400 stars, each honoring one of five aspects of the entertainment industry: film, television, radio, music, and theater. A star on the Walk of Fame is considered one of the highest honors in the entertainment industry, and with five categories, it is possible to be honored up to five times; as of this writing, Gene Autry is the only person to have done so (Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney, Roy Rogers, and Tony Martin have four stars and more than thirty people have three). A dozen fictional characters are also honored, as are three dogs. Of all the stars that have been placed on the Walk of Fame, two are unaccounted for: Richard Crooks and the film career of Geraldine Farrar. If you find them, alert the authorities.
Approximately twenty new stars are added every year, with the honoree required to attend the unveiling ceremony. Barbara Streisand is the only person who has gotten around this, and several entertainers, such as George Clooney and John Denver, do not have stars because of this rule. Additionally, each star comes with a $30,000 fee, allowing Hollywood to upkeep the Walk of Fame without any cost to the taxpayer.
On the triangle island on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea, the Walk of Fame starts with three stars: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the LAPD. Also here is the Four Ladies of Hollywood, a tribute to the multi-ethnic women of Hollywood. The four women depicted are: Dorthy Dandridge (African American), Anna May Wong (Asian American), Dolores del Rio (Mexican American), Mae West (multi-ethnic, born in Brooklyn). Atop the structure stands Marilyn Monroe in her iconic billowing white dress. The tribute was designed by film director Catherine Hardwicke and unveiled in 1994.
To start on our Hollywood walk, cross to the north end of Hollywood Blvd, turn right, and head down the Walk of Fame. Two blocks down, on the sidewalk in front of the LA Fitness shopping center, is Historic Hollywood Site #1, pointing out the no longer standing Garden Court Apartments. There are more than fifty of these signs, all pointing out historic sites in Hollywood. You can use these to complement this walk, although I’ve already included the best ones.
Further down Hollywood is Orange Street, also known as Carmen Miranda Square, named after the singer/dancer/film star who performed an impromptu dance near this intersection on VJ day. On the southwest corner of this intersection is the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. This hotel, built in 1927 and named after president Theodore Roosevelt, has a long history with Hollywood; most notably, in 1929, it was the site of the first ever Academy Awards. An urban myth says that Marilyn Monroe haunts room 229 and Montgomery Clift haunts room 928. The ballroom and room 213 are also supposedly haunted. Today, the hotel is a popular nightlife and shoot location.
Crossing Orange, we’ll pass the touristy Madame Tussades Waxworks and find ourselves at the most iconic building in all of Los Angeles: *** Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Built in 1927 following the success of the Egyptian, this theater quickly became the most popular theater in the world, primarily due to the celebrity hand and footprints locted out front. The theater has been home to numerous movie premieres (including Star Wars in 1977) and three Academy Award celebrations, and it has gone through several owners over the year. Currently, the naming rights are owned by TCL, a Chinese electronics corporation. The theater is remarkably well maintained and recently received an IMAX upgrade, making it even more impressive. If you see a film here (highly recommended), make sure your screening is in the main theater, not one of the accompanying multiplex screens.
As you’ve probably already noticed, the Chinese is also front and center for the street performers of Hollywood, many dressed as iconic movie characters and awaiting a chance to take a picture with you (for a tip). Aspiring rappers also like to hawk CDs here, and other musicians and dancers are also often here doing their thing. On top of all this, outside the Chinese is where the most recognizable Walk of Fame stars are located, including what I have observed to be the most photographed star of them all: Michael Jackson’s, located just west of the entrance to the hand and footprints. And if that weren’t enough, the Chinese is a popular city tour starting point (not recommended), recruitment spot for Hollywood’s museums (also not recommended), and live TV filming and audience recruitment location.
Just past the Chinese, past the Hard Rock Cafe, is the entrance to the Dolby Theater, current home of the Academy Awards. As you turn toward the theater, notice Muhammad Ali’s star on the wall to your right. This was done at Ali’s request, as he did not want his name walked upon. Continuing past Ali’s star are tributes to all past best picture Oscar winners. Near the end, walk up the stairs and you’ve arrived at the theater.
The Dolby Theater offers guided tours, but they are expensive and I don’t recommend them. Instead, turn right, walk past the bathrooms (on your right) to the * Hollywood and Highland Center. This center, a giant mall/food court, is worth checking because of its spectacular tributes to the Hollywood film industry; most notably, the entire center was designed after DW Griffith’s Intolerance. This design was unveiled in 2001 as part of the $500 million Hollywood and Highland remodeling project, which is credited with revitalizing Hollywood and its surrounding areas.
Inside the Center, you can play in the water fountain and read success stories along the “How We Got Here” path. Don’t bother shopping or getting food; there are better places further on our walk. What you should do is walk to the north end, near California Pizza Kitchen, and check out the best view of the Hollywood Sign in Hollywood. Actually, it’s the second best view. Head up to the fourth floor for the absolute best view.
Once you’ve finished here, head back to Hollywood Blvd and use the pedestrian crosswalk to cross to the south side of the street, where you’ll find the Masonic Temple. Built in 1921, many of Hollywood’s early greats were Masons and they used this building as their ballroom, temple, lodge, and party hall. During prohibition, an underground tunnel connected the Masonic Temple with the Chinese Theater, allowing for the safe transportation of illegal liquor between locations. By the 1970s Mason membership had declined and the building was converted to an opera theater and nightclub. It is now owned by Disney and is used to record Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Just past the Masonic Temple is the * El Capitan. Built for live theater in 1926, the theater was bought by Paramount and converted to a movie theater in 1942. Five years later, the Supreme Court decreed that movie studios could not own theater chains (it was considered a monopoly) and so Paramount was forced to relinquish control of this theater. But by the 1980s, movie studios were back to owning theaters again, and the El Capitan was bought by Disney. Today, there is no better place to see a Disney film.
Past the El Capitan, past the shops and souvenir stores, at the end of the block is one of Los Angeles’s most famous intersections, Hollywood and Highland. The birthplace of Hollywood (formed in 1887, incorporated in 1903, and annexed into Los Angeles in 1910), it is only fitting that this intersection be dedicated to one of Hollywood’s greatest stars and philanthropists, and so it is known as Gene Autry Square. Lots of museums, shops, and the Hollywood and Highland Center line this intersection, and on the NE corner is the First National Bank Building. Built in 1928, this was the second tallest building in Los Angeles when it opened and in the 1950s it served as one of the Metropolis backdrops for the Superman TV series. It is now vacant, but continues to serve as an elegant neo-gothic structure in Hollywood’s skyline.
Continuing on Hollywood Blvd., cross Highland, pass the touristy museums, and you’ll arrive at Hollywood and McCadden, also known as Morris Kight Square. Morris Kight was a gay rights leader and in 1970, he organized the first ever street-closing gay pride parade, right here on Hollywood Blvd. Also at this intersection you’ll find the Church of Scientology Hollywood Test Center. This is the first of many Scientology buildings you will find in Hollywood.
Up next, cross McFadden and head to the ** Egyptian Theater. The Egyptian Theater was Hollywood’s first movie palace and home to the world’s first movie premiere (Douglas Fairbanks’s 1922 version of Robin Hood). Built by the same Sid Grauman who designed the Chinese, the Egyptian was inspired by the excavation of King Tut’s tomb, the popular event of the day. The roof, however, is made of Spanish tile, completely inauthentic and done to save money.
The Egyptian has a checkered history. It was the most popular movie theater in the world when it opened, but was supplanted by the Chinese only five years later. Because of this, the Egyptian was slowly forgotten and despite a brief revival following its conversion to Todd AO (a widescreen format similar to cinerama), by the early 1990s, the theater had fallen into significant disrepair. In 1996, the city of Los Angeles sold the theater for $1 to the American Cinematheque, who performed a $14 million renovation. Today, the theater is a haven for film buffs and cinefiles, housing film festivals and showing premieres and foreign and historical films that are almost impossible to view on the big screen elsewhere.
Up next, it is restaurant time. Three of Hollywood’s oldest and best restaurants are near the Egyptian, the first being Pig ‘N Whistle, located to your left as you exit the Egyptian courtyard. Pig ‘N Whistle opened in 1927 and catered to the Egyptian moviegoers in a time before theaters had concession stands. Due to its design and location, this restaurant was a popular celebrity hangout back in the day. The food is delicious, and it isn’t too expensive either.
Turning right as you leave The Egyptian, you’ll hit Las Palmas Avenue. Here, just south of Hollywood, is Micheli’s, Hollywood’s oldest Italian restaurant. I’ve only been to the Studio City location but even so, this is one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles. The theming is wonderful and the food is very good, but better than that, all the waiters and waitresses here are singers/performers and come dinnertime, they are constantly belting out tunes. It is loud and crazy and tons of fun.
Finally, continuing on Hollywood Blvd, just past Las Palmas is Hollywood’s oldest and most famous restaurant: Musso & Frank. The restaurant opened in 1919 and the Writers Guild used to be across the street, so if you ask the waiters, they can tell you the specific booths that just about every great early 20th century American writer wrote at, not to mention all the actors who ate here too. The food is pricy and so I’ve never eaten here, but I hear it is delicious.
Continuing down Hollywood Blvd, the next few blocks contain some of the best and most eclectic shopping in Los Angeles. Theaters, clubs, comedy clubs, prop and toy stores, wig shops, sex shops, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, book stores, clothing and lingerie stores, tattoo parlors, drug paraphernalia, you name it, it is here. So browse around, buy something silly, and have fun. Be sure to check out Larry Edmund’s Bookstore, opened in 1938 and currently containing 500,000+ photographs, 6,000+ posters, and 20,000+ books dedicated to film and theater. Also worth noting is the William Stromberg Clock, located on the corner of Hollywood and Wilcox advertising Stromberg Jewelers since 1927. And finally, on Hudson just north of Hollywood is the Mural to Delores Del Rio, honoring early Hollywood’s greatest Mexican-American actress.
When you reach Wilcox, turn right and head down a hundred feet or so. Here, you’ll find my favorite Hollywood mural, You Are The Star. In this mural, the movie theater experience is reversed, putting the audience on stage and the moviestars in the seats. Look into the seats and see how many faces you recognize. If you want to cheat, check out my breakdown below. I don’t know of any official breakdowns, so my list, a conglomeration of my own knowledge and lots of research, is the most comprehensive breakdown out there, although I still can’t figure out where Clark Gable or Audrey Hepburn are.
And here is the breakdown:
Heading back to Hollywood Blvd, continue east and on the north side of the street you’ll find the remains of Warner Brother’s original theater, the Warner Pacific Theater. This theater was built in 1928 and legend has it Sam Warner still haunts the building. The signs say Pacific (Pacific Theaters bought it in 1968) but if you look close, you can still see Warner written inside. Above the building are two radio towers with KFWB on them. These were part of Warner Brothers’s old radio station, the call sign supposedly standing for Keep Filming Warner Brothers.
Passing the Warner Pacific Theater, the upcoming intersection, Hollywood and Cahuenga, is also known as Raymond Chandler Square. One of Los Angeles’s greatest novelists, Raymond Chandler began writing at 44 and in less than ten years he completely re-defined the detective novel and noir genre. Several of his novels were adapted to films, most notably The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, with Humphrey Bogart and Elliot Gould playing Chandler’s most famous character, Philip Marlowe, in their respective films. Chandler also dabbled as a screenwriter and was twice nominated for the best screenplay Oscar. This intersection is named after him because it is believed that Philip Marlowe’s office was located in the Security Trust and Savings Building on the NE corner.
We’ll now turn right on Cahuenga and head two blocks south, to Sunset Blvd. On the SW corner of this intersection (known as Larry King Square) is the CNN Tower, but more interesting is Amoeba Records on the SE corner. Amoeba Records is the best music store in Los Angeles, and its movie selection is pretty good too. So feel free to go inside, browse around, check out the adverts for local shows, and be sure not to miss the graffiti staircase that leads down to the parking garage.
Continuing east on Sunset, cross Ivar and head to the * Cineramadome and the Arclight Cinemas (in the back). With its assigned seating, no commercials, super comfortable seats, and 21+ alcohol screenings, the Arclight is the premiere movie theater in Los Angeles. Owned by Pacific Theaters, there are several Arclight locations in Southern California, but Hollywood is the flagship. Even if you don’t plan to see a movie, go inside and check out the bookstore and the poster art behind the cashiers’ desk. The hallway that leads to the bathroom has some interesting movie premiere photographs as well.
As for the Cineramadome, it was built in 1963 and features a screen so wide it literally curves around the audience. Three projectors are used to fill the screen, and while this method was popular back in the 1960s, today the Cineramadome is one of only three theaters in the world that show films this way. The Arclight and Cineramadome like to show more prestigious fare, like festival gems and limited releases, but they play mainstream films too.
Continuing on Sunset, we’ll reconnect with the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Vine Street, where we’ll turn left and head to Hollywood and Vine.
Hollywood and Vine, also known as Bob Hope Square (I do not know why this intersection was named after him), is another one of Los Angeles’s most famous intersections. Originally, Hollywood was filled with lemon groves, and in 1903, the farmer who owned all four corners of this then dirt intersection allowed a church to go up on one corner. This started the development of one end of Hollywood, with development of the other end having already began at what is now Hollywood and Highland. In 1910, all of Hollywood was annexed by Los Angeles and in the 1920s, the film industry moved in. The rest is history.
Today, Hollywood and Vine contains several historical buildings. On the SE corner is the Taft Building, Hollywood’s first skyrise. During Hollywood’s golden age, every studio had an office here and from 1935 to 1945, this building also housed the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. On the SW corner stands the B.H. Dyas Building, which was built in 1927 and housed the Broadway Hollywood department store for over fifty years (the Broadway sign remains atop the building). The Laemmle Building used to stand on the NW corner, but it was destroyed in a fire in 2008. And finally, on the NE corner is the Equitable Building, which formerly housed most of Hollywood’s advertising agencies.
The Hollywood and Vine intersection also contains one of the most unusual entries to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On all four corners is a tribute to Apollo XI astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. How do these historical figures fit into the the Walk of Fame’s film, television, radio, music, and theater categories? Simple. The landing was televised, making the astronauts TV stars.
Continuing north on Vine, we’ll cross Hollywood where about 400 feet ahead is the Hollywood Palace, another historic Hollywood playhouse. Across the street (you can cross using another conveniently placed crosswalk) is the famous Capital Records Building. Built in 1955, this building was the world’s first circular office building and was designed to resemble a stack of 45rpm records. Along the south base of the building is a mural honoring some of the great Capital Records jazz musicians, including Miles Davis and Nat King Cole.
Contining on our walk, we’ll turn around and head back to Hollywood Blvd, then turn left. Here, just past the Equitable Building, is The Pantages, Los Angeles’s number one playhouse. Built in 1930, the Pantages was originally a vaudeville and movie theater, but was converted to a live playhouse in 1977. As of this writing, all five highest grossing weeks in Los Angeles theater history have been at this theater. And finally, the Academy Awards were held in this theater from 1949 to 1959.
After the Pantages we come to Hollywood and Argyle, also known as Celia Cruz Square. Celia Cruz was one of the greatest Salsa dancers of the twentieth century, but like Bob Hope Square, I do not know why this intersection was named after her.
At Celia Cruz Square, cross to the south side of Hollywood Blvd and turn right, backtracking half a block to the Hollywood and Vine metro stop. Whether you’re a metro rider or not, head inside: down the escalators and through the “yellow brick road” walkway. What you’ll find is the most detailed and decorated of all the Los Angeles metro stations. The whole station is beautiful but most striking is the ceiling, completely covered by empty film reels. The station centerpieces, two giant raygun-like 1930s motion picture cameras (donated by Paramount), are pretty cool too.
And that’s it! The end of our Hollywood walk, conveniently finishing inside a metro station so you can continue onwards, to downtown or No Ho or Universal Studios. Or back to Hollywood and Highland, where you can catch a movie at one of the amazing movie palaces. Or you can continue exploring Hollywood; this walk covered the best parts, but there’s still a lot more that this city has to offer!