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.
Curtis Stone and his brother Luke both began their culinary careers in an Australian butcher shop, so it makes sense that their joint venture, Gwen, is a meat-focused entity. Named after their maternal grandmother who lived on a farm near Melbourne, Gwen features a full-service butcher shop alongside a fine-dining restaurant that offers Wagyu beef, Kurobuta pork, and other carnivores’ delights.
“The glassed-in counter could double as a museum of steaks,” wrote Jonathan Gold, the late, lamented Los Angeles Times food critic who gave Gwen a rave review. “Well-marbled tomahawks from Creekstone Farms in Kansas, pastured slabs of impossible-to-find rib-eye cap from Napa's renowned Five Dot Ranch and, most significantly, the spectacular, breathtakingly expensive Wagyu from Australia's Blackmore Farms, which the Stone brothers like so much that they set up an import company just so they could get the steaks in Los Angeles.”
A massive, magnificent fire pit is the focal point of the room and serves as the undeniable hub of culinary activity. But Curtis, a veteran of MasterChef, Take Home Chef, and many other cooking shows, is hardly a one-trick pony. He trained in London with Michelin-star chef Marco Pierre White and knows his way around every corner of the kitchen.
His team dishes out seasonal sides that range from creamed leeks to roasted carrots to inventive plates inspired by the nearby Hollywood Farmers’ Market. Reservations are strongly encouraged but walk-ins are welcome too—you may even land a coveted spot at the chef’s counter where you can watch the culinary crew cook for you all night.
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 immortalises 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.
See amazing views of the Hollywood Sign
Although the Hollywood Sign is visible from locations throughout the city, trails in Griffith Park lead to unique perspectives of this famous landmark. Many routes begin right beside the landmark Griffith Observatory, which has its own great view of the sign. Or for an unforgettable vantage point, the Hollywood Sign is the star attraction when you take to the skies on a flying sightseeing tour.
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. And for another only-in-Hollywood experience, head to Hollywood & Highland to see the Dolby Theatre (where the Academy Awards ceremony is held), the nearby TCL Chinese Theatres, super-premium shopping at retailers like Louis Vuitton, and the trendy OHM Nightclub.
Take the children to Los Angeles on your California family holiday, and you're likely to hear one major request: a visit to Hollywood. After all, teens, tweens and even younger children tend to be pretty pop-culture savvy, so this part of LA carries a lot of magic. Build your visit around these family-friendly, don’t-miss Hollywood attractions—some related to TV shows and film stars, and others offering just-for-fun museums and sweets.
Wander the Walk of Fame
Kids can find their favourite 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 favourite stars. Hollywood Boulevard can get busy, especially at weekends, with street performers, costumed film characters and trinket sellers, but there’s also plenty of good people-watching to be enjoyed too.
Get Seats at a Live TV Show Recording
While many Hollywood-based television shows offer free seats to live recordings, the minimum age 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 children 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 is for 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 in case of no-shows. Put aside a good portion of the day if you’re hoping to see a live recording: queuing and the recording 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 films 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 children to be at least 102 cm tall, so check height restrictions before you go.
Explore the Ultimate Hollywood Shopping Centre
More than just shops and restaurants, the Hollywood & Highland Center includes a number of must-do Hollywood activities. Take a tour of the Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held each year, or grab tickets to the TV festival PaleyFest, where you can see your favourite TV stars in person. Head up to the first floor to create your own chocolate bar at the Chocolate Lab inside Sweet! Hollywood, then visit the third floor for a postcard-quality family photo 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 bear in mind that the alley is only open to 21+ year olds after 8 pm.)
Spot a Few Celebrities
One guaranteed way to get a selfie with a star is to visit the LA branch of famed waxworks 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 freshly squeezed juice bar, check out Seeing Stars for a list of upcoming opportunities, including Walk of Fame unveilings, film premieres, TCL Chinese Theatre footprint ceremonies and more.
Visit a Working Film Studio
Take the Warner Bros. Studio Tour—technically in neighbouring Burbank—for a serious show-biz fix. The two-hour guided tour includes visits to the backlots and soundstages used for classic films and TV shows such as Casablanca, Gilmore Girls and Friends, as well as current WB programmes. The tour also includes special exhibitions of props and costumes from the Harry Potter films (as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and the 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-Fashioned Film
A visit to the historic El Capitan Theatre includes much more than a film. This Disney-owned cinema offers both new-release and classic films from Disney, Pixar and Marvel. Besides seeing the gorgeous Art Deco interior, you can enjoy sing-alongs, live-action shows before the film, prop and costume displays, and 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, children 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 combination 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 enjoy Duff’s Cakemix, owned by Food Network star Duff Goldman. Call in and savour a pre-made cake or cupcake, or sign up for one of the bakery’s Drop-In and Decorate sessions that include pre-baked items, decorating supplies and an hour of studio time. Weekends often fill up fast, so book 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 Centre. 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 thorugh 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: it’s 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 theatre’s original owner. Or, catch a movie—the Chinese Theatre still functions as a regular movie theatre 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. Honouring luminaries in motion pictures, television, radio, live theatre/live performance 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 USD to install and maintain) are unveiled at free public ceremonies, which are often attended by honourees 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 honouring has-beens or where-are-they-nows: getting a star is still considered an honour, with an impressive roster of recent honourees (James Franco, Kevin Spacey, Viola Davis, and Javier Bardum, 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 opp.
No velvet ropes or barriers here—at this interactive wax museum, getting close to some of the most recognisable people in the world isn’t seen as a violation; in fact it’s encouraged. More than 125 life-like figures from the worlds of film, TV, music, sports, and even super heroes are on display, and the likenesses can be downright eerie. You might have to pinch Ann 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 favourite 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.