What to see in Hollywood: Travel guide to LA’s famous neighborhood

The list of what to see in Hollywood can be overwhelming, so stick to these iconic LA movie theaters, hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Photograph: Michael Juliano

Hollywood boasts an international reputation that no other neighborhood in Los Angeles has. Though parts of the area can be downright filthy, Hollywood still sparkles with gems of old glamorous hotels and celebrity hangouts along with an emerging urban cityscape. Follow our guide to what to see in Hollywood and tour the iconic movie town's must-visit attractions along with a few stops away from the crowds on the Walk of Fame and Sunset Blvd.

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The Hollywood Sign

What may be one of the biggest LA mysteries is how to get as close as possible to the iconic Hollywood Sign. Originally created in 1923, the then "Hollywoodland" sign was supposed to be up for only a year and a half, yet it celebrates its 90th birthday in 2013. There's plenty of parking to view the sign by Lake Hollywood Park, but for an even closer look set your GPS to Deronda Dr. The streets get pretty narrow so make sure you drive extra slow and are not taking massive truckloads of people with you. At the end of Deronda Dr you will reach a dead-end surrounded by a few homes. Park your car where it's safe and walk through the small opening on the right to get to a perfect vantage point of the iconic sign. Looking to get even closer? Lace up for a trek along the dirt road on Mt Lee Dr to where you will be standing directly above the Hollywood Sign and can experience a total 360-degree view of the cityscape.

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Hollywood Free

Hollywood Bowl

Critics' pick

This gorgeous outdoor amphitheatre has been hosting concerts since the LA Philharmonic first played here in 1922. Nestled in an aesthetically blessed fold in the Hollywood Hills, the 18,000-seat venue can bring out the romantic in the terminally cynical, and the glorious setting almost makes up for the somewhat dodgy acoustics. It's the summer home of the LA Philharmonic (who host free weekday open rehearsals; call the venue for more info), but it's hosted everyone from the Beatles to Big Bird, and today mixes classical concerts with all manner of rock and pop.

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Sunset Ranch Hollywood

If you keep driving up Beachwood Dr in search of the Hollywood Sign, eventually you'll hit a dead end at Sunset Ranch Hollywood's cluster of horse stables. The ranch offers a variety of daily trail rides through Griffith Park, and you can book ahead on their website. Pricier and longer rides include meals or a trek to the top of the park or Mt Lee, but even the basic one hour ride ($40) lets you snag a close-up look at the Hollywood Sign along with sweeping views of the hills and LA cityscape below.

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Hollywood Roosevelt

This 1927 landmark, a beautiful example of Spanish colonial design, once welcomed the A-listers who frequented it during Hollywood's heyday. It's worth walking into the Hollywood Roosevelt just to explore its dramatic downstairs: in the alluring lobby, at the discreet Library Bar and around the pool, which boasts a restored underwater mural by David Hockney and an often-buzzing bar scene at the poolside lounge. The rooms are sleek, dark and, in places, showing a few signs of wear and tear. Look out for the occasional subtly placed photographic nod to the starry location.

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Grauman's Chinese Theatre

It's still a great place to catch a movie, but most people come to the Chinese Theatre for the hand and/or foot imprints of around 200 Hollywood stars. As legend has it, Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped into the wet cement outside the new building during construction; in response, theater owner Sid Grauman fetched Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to repeat the "mistake" with their feet and hands, beginning the tradition. The courtyard is usually choked with snap-happy tourists measuring their own extremities against the likes of John Wayne and Judy Garland; it's just a pity that its appeal is tempered by the tour hawkers and the ticket agents who clutter the courtyard. The complex is closed for the summer as the theater converts to IMAX, but you can still take a hard hat tour ($14) through the construction.

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Hollywood Free

Griffith Observatory

Critics' pick

"If every person could look through that telescope," declared Griffith J. Griffith, "it would revolutionize the world." More than 70 years after this iconic building opened, the world remains unrevolutionized, and the city smog means that the views are not as crystal clear as they were in Griffith's day. However, after a five-year program of renovations at the observatory, the 12 in. Zeiss refracting telescope is once again open to the public, providing the crowning glory for this wonderful old landmark. The unparalleled views of Hollywood and the rest of the LA basin ensure constant crowds, so be prepared to hike up the hill after hunting for parking.

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Los Feliz Free

El Capitan

Yearning to relive your childhood and indulge in a Disney flick? El Capitan's your spot—the lavish 1926-built theater screens Disney's most current feature along with classics in between releases. Tickets are indeed pricier than other nearby cinemas, but then again, where else do you get to dine at a classic fountain and see a 2,500-pipe organ be played before the show?

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Hollywood & Highland

It's difficult to say whether Hollywood & Highland has helped drive Hollywood's recent commercial renaissance, or whether it's ridden to success on its coat-tails. Either way, this ambitious mall has become a popular destination for shopping and gawking at the Hollywood sign from its upper level catwalks. The stores appeal to a younger crowd, but old-time film bluffs will appreciate the central courtyard's colossal homage to DW Griffith's iconic Intolerance set, elephant-adorned columns and all. The parking entrance is on Highland Avenue.

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Amoeba Music

Critics' pick

As iTunes has erased CDs from our collective memory, the LA branch of SF's Amoeba Music could easily be seen as a mausoleum to actually leaving the house to buy music. But this, the largest independent record store in the US, is very much alive. The variety of stock (CDs and DVDs, new and used) is awesome, the prices are fair and the staff know their onions.

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Yamashiro

Built as a private art museum in the 1920s, this Japanese palace is a spectacular structure with extraordinary views of Hollywood. For years, it was a beautiful building in which to eat bad food, but Jason Park's new kitchen team has made a major difference: the restaurant is now worth a look even if you don't get a table with a view. Japanese, Korean and Chinese traditional items are presented alongside sensible and occasionally daring fusion ideas. It may not be the cheapest option, but did we mention that view?

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