Hollywood tour options are in no short supply, from the open top vans that line the Hollywood Walk of Fame to intimate walking tours. Explore major tourist attractions and celebrity hangouts or take an offbeat look at Hollywood history. Finding that perfect one can be a challenge, especially when most Hollywood tours are, in fact, excursions through the Sunset Strip and Beverly Hills. So, we hopped aboard Tinseltown's top tour buses to find you the best tours through one of Los Angeles' most famous neighborhoods.
RECOMMENDED: Read more Things to do in Hollywood
Starline Tours essentially operates an entire network of double-decker bus circuits across the city, from Downtown to Santa Monica. Unlike most full-day tours, you’re never held hostage to a particular itinerary. Buses arrive at most major tourist attractions across the city every 20 to 30 minutes, so feel free to avoid awful spots and linger in more interesting ones (the Hollywood-West Hollywood-Beverly Hills loop clocks in at just under two hours). Between attractions, faux Robin Leach narration pumps through headphone jacks at every seat. The ritzy British accent lends extra hilarity as it recounts Hollywood lore, like the El Pollo Loco where Brad Pitt used to dress up as a chicken or the liquor store where Guns N’ Roses used to get sloshed. That the narration plays through headphones offers two other possibilities: the ability to change the narration language for both practical purposes and entertainment value, or a completely quiet, narration-free ride. Promotional wraps on the bus obscure the view from the interior, lower level, but the view from the open-air, upper level is unexpectedly fantastic. Even for locals, it provides a fresh vantage point that really highlights the natural and architectural beauty of LA’s more attractive areas.
Duration: 2hrs—all day
Price: $44 adult; $25 child
Local Hollywood historian Philip Mershon’s entire tour of Hollywood takes place within a quarter-mile radius of Sunset Blvd and Gower St and makes no mention of the Walk of Fame or the Hollywood Sign. Yet by the end of the tour, you’ll have visited the origin of nearly all the major Hollywood studios and their immortal works of pop culture. While a number of the buildings on the tour are deteriorating, demolished or repurposed, Mershon manages to conjure up a vivid recreation of everything from the first picture studio to the ascendancy of the original Columbia and Warner Bros. backlots with nothing but a few old photos and his voice. Put simply, the nostalgia can be overwhelming. Those looking to check Hollywood attractions off a checklist will inevitably walk away disappointed. But for everyone else, it’s possibly the only tour in Hollywood that offers a meaningful and engaging connection with the history of the entertainment industry and the Hollywood of yesterday.
Duration: 1hr 30mins
From the moment you’re escorted to the shaded, open-sided truck and its blaring music and crystal clear TMZ logo-emblazoned monitors, it’s apparent that the TMZ tour is a complete, high-production experience. As you cruise past other tours, you can’t help but feel like you’re on the cool bus. The tour guide ribs unsuspecting passers-by and they taunt back—”Hey, it’s Brad Pitt!”—while an encyclopedic collection of location-relevant TMZ clips roll across the screens. Featuring celebrities from Avril Lavigne to JFK, the TMZ tour does not discriminate. Much like the show and website, the tour ridicules celebrity culture as much as it enables it—behind every Britney Spears joke is the burning desire to spot her somewhere along the tour. Essentially, the experience provides three tours in one. The sightseeing aspect efficiently and lightheartedly covers the most notable stops in Hollywood, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Additionally, it’s a celebrity-hunting tour—the guides are armed with camera rigs to record fodder for TMZ—where success is never guaranteed. And it’s an ode to founder Harvey Levin that takes a turn for the melodramatic in the recapping of the day TMZ broke the story of Michael Jackson’s death. For those that haven’t bought into the TMZ universe, the tour is still a legitimately entertaining experience, thanks to the easygoing tour guides and the atonal, irreverent videos that toe the line of decency. Quite frankly, where else could you watch a segment called “Celebrity or Homeless Person?” as a homeless man coincidentally stumbles alongside the tour bus carrying a bottle of booze?
Price: $55 adult; $45 child
As you exit a mini museum of memorabilia that belongs to the ghosts of Hollywood and enter a van with “Hooray for Hollywood” playing, Dearly Departed quickly establishes itself as possibly the most well produced and upbeat tour of misery and tragedy. Where else can you hear the gruesome details of infamous homicides, see where celebrities ate their last meals and hear a list of all of the famous people that have died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center? Somewhere in between all of the crime scene photos and 911 tapes, you begin to contemplate the tour’s thesis on Hollywood culture—fame and mortality? rises and downfalls? the public’s morbid fascination with celebrity death?—only to realize that doing so misses the point. This is a fun, meticulous and historical tour of Hollywood—the culture and the district itself, unlike many other tours—regardless, and the unique theme only helps to differentiate itself from other tours. It manages to treat Hollywood’s history of deaths— both the chilling and the inane—with the reverence and incredulity that they deserve. Honestly, who isn’t the least bit curious to visit the house where the Black Dahlia lived? Just don’t look at the crime scene photos.
Duration: 2hrs 30mins
Walk anywhere on Hollywood Blvd and you’re sure to be stopped by someone hawking a discounted van tour. The prices and employees are persuasive, and, if Prime Time Hollywood serves as a model, the experience could thankfully fare much worse. The canopy-topped vans offer a comfortable alternative to driving yourself through Hollywood gridlock and the frightfully narrow roads through the hills up to the Hollywood Sign. However, the tour rarely delves deeper than “there’s Eva Longoria’s house.” For those looking for a no-frills way to snap some photos of Hollywood’s tourist highlights and celebrity homes, it’s difficult to find a more practical, cost-effective way. Yet, as the more luxurious vans and buses pass, you can’t help but feel that you’ve checked into the roadside motel of Hollywood tours.
(Note: This short tour no longer runs, but the tour operator does offer longer tours.)
Price: $15 adult; $8 child