Do you believe in magic? You will if you spend an evening at Hollywood’s Academy of Magical Arts, and its clubhouse, the Magic Castle. As its website says, “A miracle here, a miracle there, and pretty soon it starts to add up.”
The 1908 mansi, a "what's that up there?" eyecatcher when viewed from downtown Hollywood, houses a warren of rooms where magician members perform their craft in such spaces as The Parlour of Prestidigitation and the Palace of Mystery. See if you can spot the magician’s sleight of hand from just a few feet away in the tiny 22-seat Close-Up Gallery. There are bars and a Victorian-style restaurant, all worthy of a classy night out (jackets and ties required for the men, and dresses or skirts for the ladies). To add an air of exclusivity and mystery, entrance is only allowed to members (various options are detailed on the club’s website). You can also visit if invited by a current member.
Ivy Brown, an art director and designer who lives in downtown Los Angeles, has been to the Magic Castle several times with her fiancé. “There is an air of mystery, and it was all a little bit secretive. It feels like you’ve gone back to a different time,” says Brown, adding that during one visit, “One gentleman performed a sleight of hand with different size marbles that had me completely fooled. I was just blown away!”
Tinseltown, where starlets are discovered on every street corner (or at least we like to think they are), and the tinted windows of that stretch limo might be hiding a Cruise, Hanks, or Anniston. And in the hills, a big sign stretches across with letters as big as your dreams—Hollywood. Visit iconic sites filled with celebrity footprints or wax likenesses—maybe even catch a real one in the flesh at a movie premier or awards show. Anything is possible in Hollywood.
As the capital of the global entertainment industry, Hollywood is both a state of mind and a very real place. Spend some time here to see reminders of movie legends both past and present, while also discovering a vibrant, contemporary urban district that has undergone a dramatic revival in recent years.
Stay at the hotel that hosted the first Academy Awards ceremony
Back in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, the silent film epic Wings was named Best Picture during the inaugural Academy Awards ceremonies. Stay the night at this beautifully restored boutique hotel, where such icons as Marilyn Monroe once slept. Let the masterful mixologists at The Spare Room (where you can channel your inner Lebowski on two bowling lanes) prepare the perfect craft cocktail.
Find your favorites on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
As you walk through Hollywood, you might just find yourself spending a surprising amount of time looking down. That’s because the Hollywood Walk of Fame immortalizes the entertainment industry’s biggest celebs with distinctive five-pointed terrazzo-and-brass stars embedded in the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. Recent honorees include Jennifer Lawrence and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Go behind the scenes at Universal Studios Hollywood
Learn the secrets of moviemaking magic and look King Kong straight in the eye as you visit a working back lot during the world-famous studio tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. For an even closer look, the VIP Experience will take you inside soundstages and the prop room. Then grab your broom and take to the skies over Hogwarts on the thrilling Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.
Stroll Hollywood Boulevard
In addition to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the famous Hollywood Boulevard is also where you'll find iconic museums, theaters, and attractions. Visit Hollywood & Highland, home to the Dolby Theatre (where the Academy Awards ceremony is held) and the TCL Chinese Theatres as well as super-premium retailers like Louis Vuitton and the trendy OHM Nightclub.
Also, don’t miss…
Whether you’re into classical or rock or something in between, nothing beats a concert beneath the stars at the Hollywood Bowl. Everyone from the Beatles to Lady Gaga have performed here, and you can feel the history all around. Get out early for a picnic dinner, and look into the free museum, which celebrates the Hollywood Bowl’s unique place in musical history.
Margaret Cho has been doing stand-up since high school, and her ability to make audiences LOL has afforded her opportunities in all genres—from her own sitcom on ABC, to roles in blockbuster films like Face/Off, to her Emmy-nominated turn as Kim Jong-Il on 30 Rock, to musical collaborations on her two Grammy-nominated albums. Cho’s 2017 comedy tour, Fresh Off The Bloat, took her back to theaters across America before she returned to work on her new TNT series, Highland. She will also appear alongside Will Smith in Bright, Netflix’s police thriller. Although Cho is at home on the stage, she’s in love with her home in Los Angeles, and the diverse, artistic community she’s built for herself. She shares her favorite parts of California below.
Where do you live? Hollywood
Why there? I have always wanted to live in Hollywood—it's been a dream since I was a kid! I loved the movie Valley Girl. It seemed like the perfect place and it is!
Who or what is your greatest California love? Where I live now, how my life is, my house, my people—it’s the best!
What is the biggest misperception about Californians? I think that people think we are shallow, or that L.A. has no culture. But it's incredibly rich in diversity, art, class, community.
What is the stereotype that most holds true? That we are self-involved. This is incredibly true.
What is your favorite Golden State splurge? I love taking [U.S. Highway] 101 instead of [Interstate] 5. That is the ultimate indulgence—splurging on taking my time. I just love to be spontaneous and take in different places [on] each trip.
Time for a road trip. Where are you going? To San Francisco from Los Angeles. It's my ancestral home; the ultimate journey. I love Haight Street. Just walking down the street is fun for me. Also, I love eating at random places along the streets—I'm very adventurous with my appetite.
If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? I love a Hollywood classic like Musso & Frank Grill. I used to go in the ’90s with Quentin Tarantino, and it's just as glamorous now as it was in the ’50s!
How do you define California style? California style is casual but elegant. It’s all about sunshine, linen, dark denim, and light wood. That Summer of Love vibe.
Best California song? “Shores of California” by The Dresden Dolls.
How would your California dream day unfold? Late-morning wake-up to do yoga or go to the Rose Bowl for a power walk, then eat a leisurely meal in Chinatown, and see a great late night show with Jon Brion at Largo—the perfect day!
Take the kids to Los Angeles on your California family vacation, and you’ll likely hear one big request: Hollywood. After all, teens, tweens, and even smaller kids tend to be pretty pop-culture savvy, so this part of L.A. carries a lot of magic. Build your visit based on these family-friendly, don’t-miss Hollywood attractions—some related to TV shows and movie stars, and others offering just-for-fun museums and sweets.
Stroll the Walk of Fame
Kids can find their favorite celebrity’s star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located on Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Vine Street. Wander along the boulevard and see how many of the 2,500-plus names family members can identify, or use the StarFinder feature on the walk’s website to track down your favorite stars. Hollywood Boulevard can get bustling, especially on weekends, with street performers, costumed movie characters, and trinket sellers, but there’s also plenty of good people-watching.
Score Seats at a Live TV Show Taping
While many Hollywood-based television shows offer free seats to live tapings, the age minimum for most is 18. There are a few shows, however—such as Nickelodeon’s Figure it Out and The Thundermans, or game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune—that welcome kids as young as 8 or 10. Double-check age restrictions and request tickets online through a ticket broker such as Audiences Unlimited or On Camera Audiences. (One great ticket: Seeing the annual Kids’ Choice Awards, which limits audience members to ages 10–15.) Keep in mind that while tickets are free, they don’t actually guarantee admission, since shows often overbook for no-shows. Save a chunk of the day if you’re hoping to see a live taping: Waiting in line and the show taping itself can take from 3 to 6 hours.
Experience Universal Fun
Combining a studio tour with rides, restaurants, and shopping, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal CityWalk thrill kids and adults alike. Take the backlot tour of this working studio for a chance to see sets and soundstages from current movies and TV shows, then explore the rides, lives shows, and attractions featuring characters from Despicable Me, King Kong, The Fast and the Furious, Transformers, Shrek, and more. Don’t miss the park’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with its motion-simulator ride through Hogwarts Castle, as well as the re-creation of Hogsmeade village, complete with a Honeydukes sweet shop. The most popular rides require that kids be at least 40 inches tall, so check height restrictions before you go.
Explore the Ultimate Hollywood Mall
More than just shops and restaurants, Hollywood & Highland Center includes a number of must-do Hollywood activities. Take a tour inside the Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held each year, or grab tickets to the TV festival PaleyFest, where you can see your favorite TV stars in person. Head up to the second level to create your own chocolate bar at the Chocolate Lab inside Sweet! Hollywood, then visit the fourth floor for a postcard-quality family shot with the iconic Hollywood sign in the background. Up for a friendly family competition? Prove your bowling prowess at the hip Lucky Strikes bowling lanes on the ground floor. (Just keep in mind that the alley becomes 21-and-up after 8 p.m.)
Spot a Few Celebrities
One surefire way to get a selfie with a star is to visit the L.A. branch of famed wax museum Madame Tussauds, which features famous faces such as Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Barack Obama, Kobe Bryant, Taylor Swift, and Shrek. If you’re set on seeing a star in person and don’t have luck at the local coffee shop or pressed juicery, check out Seeing Stars for a list of upcoming opportunities, including Walk of Fame unveilings, movie premieres, TCL Chinese Theatre footprint ceremonies, and more.
Visit a Working Movie Studio
Take the Warner Bros. Studio Tour—technically in neighboring Burbank—for a serious show-biz fix. The two-hour guided tour includes visits to backlots and soundstages used for classic films and TV shows such as Casablanca, Gilmore Girls, and Friends, as well as current WB programs. The tour also includes special exhibits of props and costumes from the Harry Potter films (as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and DC Universe, which features first-edition comics, DC video games, and even the actual Kryptonite used in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Don’t miss the chance to see all the Batmobiles ever used. (One hitch: The tours are for ages 8 and up.)
Take in an Old-Style Movie
A visit to the historic El Capitan Theatre includes much more than a movie. This Disney-owned theater offers both new-release and classic films from Disney, Pixar, and Marvel. Besides seeing the gorgeous Art Deco interior, you can experience sing-alongs, live-action shows before the movie, prop and costume exhibits, or character meet-and-greets. Seats are first come, first served, or you can order VIP tickets online that include a reserved seat, popcorn, and a drink.
Break a Record
Know how many items are in the largest Star Wars memorabilia collection? Want to guess the record for the most hamburgers eaten in three minutes? If your kids love odd and unusual trivia, they’ll love the Hollywood Guinness World Records Museum. More than just looking at exhibits, kids can also attempt the world’s long jump record, compare their weights to the world’s heaviest person, and experience the feel of speed records in the Adrenaline Theater. If you have enough time to see them all, consider a combo ticket that also includes the Hollywood Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Make Dessert Like a Celebrity Chef
Fans of cooking reality shows will dig Duff’s Cakemix, owned by Food Network star Duff Goldman. Stop by and savor a premade cake or cupcake, or sign up for one of the bakery’s Drop-In and Decorate sessions that include prebaked goods, decorating supplies, and an hour of studio time. Weekends often fill up fast, so grab a reservation online.
When it comes to icons, this towering sign stands tall—literally. Originally erected in 1923 to promote a housing development called Hollywoodland, the enormous sign—which lost its last four letters in 1949 and got a massive makeover in 1978 (spearheaded by Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame)—now acts like a towering beacon for anyone who dreams of being in the movies.
Get good views of the sign along Mulholland Highway as it snakes through the Hollywood Hills, as well as from the Griffith Observatory and Lake Hollywood Park. From town, look up at the sign from the Hollywood and Highland Center. Or, for a more novel way to see the sign, hike the West Trail in Griffith Park or join a guided trail ride out of Sunset Ranch, at the end of Beachwood Drive. Sunset Ranch’s horseback riding tours include one- or two-hour rides through Griffith Park, evening tours with dinner, and even overnight stays that all offer great photo ops of the famous sign—along with other L.A. scenery, stretching all the way out to the Pacific.
Stretching from the bustle of downtown to glamorous Malibu, Sunset Boulevard stands out as the ultimate road to fame or fortune. Or at least that’s the dream. From scruffy clubs and neon to historic movie studios and beaches, this iconic street captures the very essence of L.A.—a clash of extremes all spread out beneath the California sun.
From the oldest part of Los Angeles near Olvera Street, the broad boulevard starts its path to the sea. Sunset Strip, the section between Havenhurst Drive and Doheny Drive, has a checkered history—it was the setting for counterculture protests in the 1960s, rock and roll decadence in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and has more recently undergone a chic renaissance, with luxury hotel towers and fine restaurants hidden behind ivy-covered walls. The boulevard then winds past the mansions of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, then heads west toward some of SoCal’s most famous beaches. Must-see stops along the way include the Guitar Center’s Hollywood RockWalk (a rock-star twist on the better-known Hollywood Walk of Fame), and the legendary Chateau Marmont, a castle-like luxury lodging that has housed its share of Hollywood indiscretions. Slip into the bar to have a drink, and see what celebrities might be hiding in dark corners.
Since 1927, this ornate Asian-themed movie house has been hosting films, and it’s still a top place for premieres in Hollywood, with arc lights and paparazzi and the hubbub that goes with the movies. But it’s the courtyard out front that gets even more attention, where more than 200 famous celebrities have left their hand- and footprints in cement, then signed them personally—sometimes with a flourish. Marilyn made prints with her signature high-heel pumps; John Wayne stepped into wet cement with his cowboy boots on; Star Wars’ R2D2 left wheel prints.
Take a 20-minute guided walking tour to peek behind the theatre’s impressive golden doors, and learn more about master showman Sid Grauman, the theater’s original owner. Or, catch a movie—the Chinese Theatre still functions as a regular movie theater for first-run films.
When you’re in Tinseltown, posing with a sidewalk star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame is practically a rite of passage—and it’s also one of the city’s most beloved free attractions.
Honoring luminaries in motion pictures, television, radio, live theatre, and recording since 1960, the famous sidewalk includes both sides of Hollywood Boulevard from Gower to La Brea, plus both sides of Vine Street from Yucca to Sunset. The handsome terrazzo-and-brass stars (each costs about $30,000 to install and maintain) are unveiled at free public ceremonies, which are often attended by honorees and their celebrity entourages—a great way to see stars if that’s one of your Hollywood goals (and isn’t it everyone’s?).
And don’t think this is about honoring has-beens or where-are-they-nows: Getting a star is still considered an honor, with an impressive roster of recent honorees (Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, James Franco, Kevin Spacey, to name a few). Want to find a particular star? Use the Walk of Fame’s online Star Search tool to send you to the location for your dream photo op. While you’re there, you’re a short walk from such big Hollywood Boulevard attractions as TCL Chinese Theatre, El Capitan Theatre, and Madame Tussauds Hollywood.
No velvet ropes or barriers here—at this interactive wax museum, getting close to some of the most recognizable people in the world isn’t seen as a violation; in fact it’s encouraged. More than 125 lifelike figures from the worlds of film, TV, music, sports, and even superheroes are on display, and the likenesses can be downright eerie. You might have to pinch Anne Hathaway to make sure she’s not real—credit that to the meticulous work of the museum’s highly trained sculptors, who have collectively created wax figures of real people for more than 200 years. Don’t leave until you’ve had the chance to shoot hoops with Kobe Bryant, sidle up to Johnny Depp, and perform onstage with Rihanna.
Stargazing takes on a different meaning in Tinseltown. While there’s no guarantee you’ll spy a familiar face when you’re here, there are some locations where you can up the odds—particularly at hotels. Start at Hollywood’s luxurious, castle-like Chateau Marmont. Always a celebrity magnet, this elegant hotel is a revolving door for the hippest celebs. Check the palm-tree ringed patio during lunch hours for A-listers like Scarlett Johansson and Robert Pattinson. Teddy’s, the unmarked celebrity haunt at Hotel Roosevelt on Hollywood Boulevard, is a favorite for the VIP set, and while you probably can’t get through the door, you can hang out in the lavish lobby to see who comes and goes. The basement-level recording studio at the Sunset Marquis draws mega-watt musicians including Madonna and Elton John.
Local sightseeing companies like Starline Tours also tempt visitors with tales of major star-sightings. Your trip may yield nothing more than Sandra Bullock’s gated driveway, but, well, it’s a very nice driveway.