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Chinese Theatre
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Tim Wang

The 5 best Hollywood tours

Take one of these awesome Hollywood tours to see more than just the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre

Michael Juliano
Alex Floyd-Douglass
Written by
Michael Juliano
Contributor
Alex Floyd-Douglass
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Hollywood tours are in no short supply, from the open-top vans that line the Hollywood Walk of Fame to intimate walking tours. At their best, they take the guesswork out of exploring major tourist attractions and celebrity hangouts, and can sometimes offer an offbeat look at Hollywood history. But finding a perfect route is a challenge, especially when most Hollywood tours barely even take place in Hollywood; in fact, most are excursions through West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip as well as Beverly Hills.

We’ll be honest: Enterprising visitors are better off with a DIY approach. A smartphone, a Metro pass, and a ride-hailing app cost far less than a proper tour, and you’ll be able to tackle everything at your own pace.

But if you’re looking for a bit more hand-holding and have upwards of $40 to spare, a couple of quality options do exist for Hollywood tours. So we hopped aboard Tinseltown’s top tour buses to find you the best tours through L.A.’s most famous neighborhoods.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Hollywood

Best Hollywood tours

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

Starline Sightseeing 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’ve never been 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 L.A.’s more attractive areas.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

However you make your way to this tour, you can’t possibly miss the bus. It has TMZ emblazoned in huge lettering down the sides of it and it’ll likely be surrounded by excitable folks. The lack of windows means taking photos is a breeze – plus, it allows your guide to yell witty quips at passersby when you roll through celeb hot spots. Inside the bus, a history of salacious celeb details are offered via amusing anecdotes, all the while you’re exploring different parts of the city. Essentially, this is 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 at times takes a turn toward the melodramatic. For those that haven’t bought into the TMZ universe, the tour is still a legitimately entertaining experience, thanks to the easy-going tour guides and the atonal, irreverent videos that toe the line of decency. 

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Walk anywhere on Hollywood Boulevard and you’re sure to be stopped by someone hawking a discounted van tour. The prices and employees are persuasive, and, to be honest, the experience could 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 tours rarely delve 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.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

As you exit a mini museum of memorabilia dedicated 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 might start contemplating what the tour is actually trying to say about Hollywood culture – 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 – and the unique theme only helps to differentiate itself from other offerings. It manages to treat Hollywood’s history of deaths – both the chilling and the inane – with the reverence and, sometimes, 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. Seriously.

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

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.

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