By Michael Juliano
Posted: Monday June 10 2019
Let’s start with the bad news: Hollywood can be pretty disappointing. Yes, the list of things to do in Hollywood boasts big-name attractions like the Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theatre, Paramount Studios and the iconic Hollywood Sign. But Tinseltown is also filled with a lot less glitz and a lot more grime than out-of-town visitors may expect.
But here’s the good news: Hollywood is having a moment right now. High-end celebrity hangouts and hotel bars feel right at home with tucked-away cocktail bars and bespoke coffee shops—and there seem to be more and more of the latter two by the day.
Hollywood is centrally located within Los Angeles, served by the 101 freeway and multiple Metro Red Line stops. The sizable area greets the scenic Hollywood Hills to the north, as well as Universal Studios just on the other side of the hill; stylish West Hollywood and the eclectic Fairfax District to the west; lively Koreatown and adorable Larchmont Village to the south; and a slew of neighborhoods to the east, including East Hollywood, Thai Town and Los Feliz.
So take in the sights on Hollywood Boulevard, but also hit up the trendy water holes on Cahuenga Boulevard, see underground comedy in Franklin Village, hike inside the Hollywood Bowl and make plans for the rest of these standout things to do in Hollywood.
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. It’s the summer home of the LA Phil (and boozy picnics); as long as there’s no performance, it also doubles as a public park.
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. The courtyard is usually choked with snap-happy tourists measuring their own extremities against the likes of John Wayne and Judy Garland, but you can avoid the crowds by catching a flick inside, where the auditorium is as stunning as the IMAX screen’s projection quality
Tucked away on the second floor of the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, the Spare Room is like stepping into another era: one where classic cocktails, tiki-leaning concoctions and punch bowls pour freely, and people make merry all night long. The big draw here, beyond the expertly made drinks, is the gaming. This bar sports an antique, two-lane bowling alley, which looks great with those George Esquivel–designed bowling shoes and argyle socks.
This overlook in the Santa Monica Mountains has fantastic views of the Downtown skyline all the way to the ocean and it’s right on top of the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a prime place to be on a clear night or when your favorite band is playing a sold out show at the Bowl. Get there as early as possible—the parking lot is tiny and while there is street parking, the park is in a particularly curvy spot on Mulholland Drive and cars whiz by even at night.
Originally created in 1923, the then “Hollywoodland” sign was supposed to be up for only a year and a half, yet here it is almost a century later. Getting close to the Hollywood Sign, though, is an often contentious issue thanks to pressure from local homeowners. You can catch a dead-on glimpse of the sign on Beachwood Drive, or farther up the hill near Lake Hollywood Park. Looking to get even closer? Go horseback riding at Sunset Ranch or lace up for a trek along the dirt road on Mt. Lee Drive to where you will be standing directly above the Hollywood Sign and can experience a total 360-degree view of the cityscape.
Any cemetery that houses the remains of such celluloid luminaries as Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino and Mel Blanc was bound to become a tourist attraction. Aside from popular posthumous celebs, Hollywood Forever is also home to Cinespia’s summer outdoor movie screenings, an annual Day of the Dead festival and concerts, both outside on the lawn and inside the property’s Masonic lodge.
Open since 1919, the Musso & Frank Grill is Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, a steak-and-cocktails joint formerly favored by Charlie Chaplin and Raymond Chandler. With its many obscure dishes and individually priced sides (and salad dressings!), the menu can be daunting. However, some dishes are fail-safes. At breakfast, grab an order of crêpe-thin flannel cakes; later in the day, the grilled meats are excellent. And every table gets a half-loaf of house-made sourdough bread, the perfect accompaniment to a dry martini.
As streaming services have erased CDs from our collective memory, the L.A. branch of San Francisco’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 country, is very much alive. The variety of stock (vinyl, CDs and DVDs, new and used) is awesome, the prices are fair and the staff know their onions.
We’ve spent enough time in Hollywood to know that you probably don’t want to put your hands on those grimy bits of star-dotted sidewalk—better to look but not touch. If you can stomach the suspect superheroes, claustrophobia-inducing crowds and never-ending line of gift shops, tattoo parlors and lingerie stores, there’s actually a lot of old Hollywood history and glamour to discover along the Walk of Fame. The immortalized names on those famous five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars run from the Walk’s western extreme at the Hollywood and La Brea Gateway to the W Hotel and Pantages Theater at Gower, and additionally on Vine from the Capitol Records Building down to Sunset, near where the original movie studios sprang up a century ago.
This 160-acre park at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains has one main loop, plus a bevy of dirt hiking trails. The sea of buff trainers and their sleek, sweaty clients can get to be too much during the busy morning and weekend workout traffic, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of the city (and, if you’re lucky, a chance to gawk at power-walking celebs). The southern entrance is at the end of Fuller Avenue in Hollywood; if you want to cut out most of the hiking and just beeline it to the tob, use the northern entrance off the 7300 block of Mulholland Drive.
Good Times at Davey Wayne’s takes us back to the 1970s via garage. Walk past the knick-knacks to find the portal to this booze-fueled time machine: an old refrigerator. Step through its door and you’re instantly transported to a house party in the era of hard rock, sideburns and shag carpeting. Vintage beer cans and retro tchotchkes surround the tufted bar, where staff whip up craft cocktails with forgotten spirits and draught beer is served in cans and novelty mugs.
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?
If you keep driving up Beachwood Drive 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 ($50) lets you snag a close-up look at the Hollywood Sign along with sweeping views of the hills and L.A. cityscape below.
Local Hollywood historian Philip Mershon’s entire tour of Hollywood takes place within a quarter-mile radius of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street 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.
Built by the same man who erected the Chinese Theatre and El Capitan Theatre, the Egyptian was faithfully restored by American Cinematheque in 1998. The not-for-profit company continues to deliver a wide range of excellent themed mini-festivals and one-off Q&As with legendary figures, as well as classic films and contemporary indie cinema.
With endless celebrity photos and numerous“"Best of” lists on the walls, this Thai Town restaurant is one of the city’s cult favorites. If perusing the lengthy menu leaves you feeling dazed and confused, the green mussel curry—succulent New Zealand mussels piled high and bathed in an aromatic Southern curry flavored with lemongrass, sweet pineapples and chiles—is a good place to start on the extensive list of fiery Northern and Southern Thai specialties.
The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre offers three or four shows per night across a variety of disciplines: There’s stand up, improv, sketch and off-kilter comedy. The signature show is ASSSSCAT, which still counts co-founders Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh among its hosts. See it on Saturday nights for a few bucks, or on Sunday at the nearby UCB Sunset for free.
Built as a private art museum in the 1920s, this Japanese palace-like restaurant is a spectacular structure with extraordinary views of Hollywood. If you don’t want to splurge on a meal but still want to take advantage of those views, look out for the free night market on Thursdays during the summer; you’ll find parking for $10 at Mosaic Church (7107 Hollywood Blvd), which runs a free shuttle every 15 minutes.
Just outside the Hollywood border, this hilly park is the home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House. Originally intended as a massive arts complex, the site still fulfills that role with exhibitions in a variety of different gallery spaces, including the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, and public tours of the Hollyhock House. In the summer, the park hosts a variety of alfresco cinema nights, wine tastings and cultural events that bring out a nice mix of singles, couples and young families.
Believe it or not, Paramount is the last major studio to keep its headquarters located in Hollywood—and the only one there to open its doors to the public. Inside the famous wrought iron gate, you’ll be treated to a guided tram tour through soundstages and a sizable New York backlot.
A Hollywood favorite since 2002, the ArcLight offers comfortable assigned seating for all of its films. It’s the most appealing modern multiplex in L.A., but is also a vintage classic due to the Cinerama Dome, a fabulous and unique domed movie theater that opened in 1963. Seeing most current blockbusters in the dome is fine, but catching the occassional classic flick made for the ultra-wide format is a real treat.
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Our list of the best clubs in Hollywood is the cream of the party-spot crop.
Take a break from the Tinseltown madness with a stop at one of the neighborhood's best coffee shops.
Take a joyride on the classic highway in the hills and stop at some of our favorite overlooks.
Relax underneath the Hollywood Sign at this hilltop park.