Just about every square-centimetre of California has featured in a film at some point, or at least that's what it can feel like. Directors love to take their casts and crews out of the confines of the studio into the varied landscapes and backdrops across the state. From the deserts and beaches in the south, to the forests and mountains of the north, California has it all. The state has stood in for just about every other location on the planet (as well as many off the planet).
Follow this road trip to discover the film industry's favourite spots in southern California, from Los Angeles, into the mountains, and back down to Orange County, where you can experience your favourite characters and scenes first-hand!
Day 1: Hollywood
Lunch: Dine with the celebrities at Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, known to serve George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Afternoon: Check out some of Los Angeles’ most famous filming locations on a Starline Tour through Hollywood and surrounding neighbourhoods.
Dinner: Experience the splash and style of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the Cicada Club, a jazz bar and restaurant in an historic art-deco building.
Stay At: The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel
Day 2: Los Angeles
Morning: Check out some of the most famous movie props, costumes, and set pieces at the Hollywood Museum.
Lunch: Relive those retro diner moments from Hollywood history at Mel's Drive-In. Hint: It's a great Instagram opportunity!
Dinner: Dine in at Yamashiro, a Japanese-style castle that towers over Hollywood Boulevard.
Day 3: Los Angeles -> Mammoth Lakes (1:45 Flight/5:05 Drive, 496km)
Morning: Get some morning rays and a great brunch in Santa Monica.
Transit: Fly up to Mammoth Lakes or embark on a road trip up to the mountainous outdoor wonderland (note: this itinerary assumes you've flown).
Afternoon: Detour via the Hot Creek Geological Site, which was featured in the classic Western, True Grit.
Dinner: Dine in at the Lakefront Restaurant at Tamarack Lodge to enjoy a local and season menu.
Stay At: Enjoy amazing mountain views year-round at Tamarack Lodge, perched between the Twin Lakes.
Day 4: Mammoth Lakes
Morning: Tour a Californian ghost town in Bodie, where you’ll find relics dating back to the Gold Rush!
Lunch: Taste the best of the Sierras at Epic Café, and make sure to spoil yourself with their desserts.
Dinner: Sample mountainous cuisine from across the Atlantic at Skadi, a Scandinavian alpine-inspired restaurant.
After Dinner: In winter, the Apres ski scene at Mammoth Lakes is a great place to unwind and make friends.
Day 5: Mammoth Lakes -> Lone Pine -> Anaheim (5:25 Drive, 539km)
Morning: Take a guided tour of the Alabama Hills, where films like Iron Man, Django Unchained and Star Trek were filmed, and don't forget to take the famous photo at the Mobius Arch Stone.
Lunch: Dine in with classic 50s diner-vibes in the mountains at Frosty Chalet.
Evening: Continue onto Anaheim, approximately a 4.5-hour drive. (Hint: You should arrive in time for Disneyland's World of Color light show.)
Stay At: Grand Californian Hotel, Disneyland Resort.
Day 6: Disneyland Resort
Morning: Head to the home of some of your favourite characters like Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland Park.
Lunch: Sample the taste of California's Central Coast at the Pacfic Wharf Cafe in California Adventure Park.
Afternoon: Explore the California Adventure Park at Disneyland Resort for thrilling rides and more character encounters.
Dinner: Get your Cajun cuisine fix at Blue Bayou, the authentic dining experience in the original Disneyland Park.
Tip: Schedule Fast Track passes to make the most of any time at Disneyland, and skip the lines at a lot of rides and attractions.
Day 7: Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, and Los Angeles
Morning: Take on the First Order and help the Resistance at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the huge new section of Disneyland Park that’s not far, far away.
Lunch: Feast on a huge selection of cuisines at the Anaheim Packing House, or just sit back and enjoy the sunshine filtering into the huge indoor space. (Tip: Urbana has some incredible Mexican food.)
Afternoon: Slip on a pair of aviators and live out your Top Gun fantasy at the Flightdeck Flight Simulator in Anaheim.
Evening: Now it's time to hit the freeways heading back to LAX to depart. We'd recommend grabbing an In-N-Out Burger on the way to complete the perfect California road trip.
If you’re a film buff, TV fan or music lover, chances are you’ll already know about the huge number of A-list celebrities who love to call California home. The sunshine and the surf, the laid-back attitude, and of course the allure of Hollywood, bring the rich and famous from all over the world to set up home here.
In the middle of Los Angeles, Hollywood is the global hub of the film and television world, with studios, theatres and backlots on almost every corner. Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard are top places to do some celebrity spotting and experience a little red-carpet action.
Kids and adults alike love the backstage tours at working studios Warner Bros. Studio Tour and Universal Studios Hollywood for a chance to see sets from current movies and TV shows, and then explore the rides, lives shows, and attractions featuring favourite characters. And don’t miss the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with its motion-simulator ride through Hogwarts Castle!
If you don’t get to spot a star in person, head to Madame Tussauds Hollywood, or find your favourite film, music and sport legends literally under your feet on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. More than 2,400 named star shapes are embedded in this famous pavement along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street. There are also tours running through Beverley and Hollywood Hills where you can check out how the other half live from the comfort of a bus.
And don’t forget, Los Angeles isn’t the only place to go star-spotting. Throughout the state, celebrities have left their mark, from Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs house complete with a grand piano-shaped swimming pool, to showcasing upcoming project at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Even in the snowy peaks around Lake Tahoe you’ll find the rich and famous taking time off for the Celebrity Golf Tournament. If you keep a keen eye, you’re sure to recognise a familiar face!
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.
From hosting the first Academy Awards presentation in 1929 to serving as the go-to hot spot for A-list gatherings today, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has always been a destination for the stars.
This landmark across from the famous TCL Chinese Theatre (still a big spot for movie premiers) offers a unique combo of movie history and contemporary elegance. Party by a fire pit at the Tropicana Bar, overlooking a pool sporting a mural painted by modern master David Hockney. Sip craft cocktails created by mixology wizards in the exclusive-feeling Library Bar, and settle into a tufted leather booth beneath crystal chandeliers for the most glam burger you’ve ever had at the restaurant 25 Degrees.
Kick back in the Spanish Colonial-style lobby for some people-watching—and keep your eyes open for Marilyn Monroe. She lived at the Roosevelt for two years, and some visitors swear they’ve spotted her ghost. You can even stay in the Marilyn Monroe suite by the pool.
Disneyland Resort is undeniably magical—and that’s part of its charm. But understanding how the magic is made can be entertaining too. You can get sneak peeks and learn some fun anecdotes on the resort’s cool tours.
Perfect for first timers or for veteran Disneyland-ers who want to bone up on cool trivia, the Welcome to Disneyland Tour provides a thorough introduction to both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park—plus there are plenty of anecdotes to make you feel in the know.
In Disneyland Park, the Walk In Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps tour offers an intimate perspective and opportunity to experience attractions significant to Walt’s past, in addition to those that connect with Walt’s very personal vision. Personal VIP tours are also available, and the specialised Star Wars at Disneyland tour offers a Jedi’s-view perspective of the resort’s many attractions related to the saga.
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.
The area around Lone Pine—including the Alabama Hills Recreational Area—has some of the most recognisable piles of rock in the history of cinema. The terrain here provided the settings for hundreds of B westerns and several classic films, such as 1939’s Gunga Din, 1957’s The Tall T, and 1962’s How the West Was Won. The Bureau of Land Management offers a self-guided tour of Alabama Hills movie locations, while the website of Lone Pine’s Museum of Western Film History helpfully contrasts the sites along the road with stills from the films shot there.
The Museum also keeps the memories alive with its Lone Pine Film Festival, held every October over Columbus Day weekend. The festival is enlivened by real and faux cowboys, film stars, extras, and experts. What’s more, since location work at Lone Pine is ongoing, visitors might witness a new classic: The area was recently used for scenes in Iron Man and Django Unchained.
Attending a TV show taping is a blast, but there are a few tips you can follow to make sure it’s memorable—and only in a good way.
1) Be sure to get there early if you want a good seat (or any seat at all, as studios overbook the tickets).
2) Expect to stay at least three hours, especially for sitcoms, which can take a long time as scenes get reworked and reshot. Bring a snack and a book for downtime. (At longer tapings, audience members might be treated to pizza, but don’t count on it.)
3) Bring a jumper; studios are kept notoriously cool to compensate for the hot lights on stage.
If you’re hoping for an on-camera appearance, do your homework ahead of time. What types of things is the show looking for? It might be a silly costume for a game show like Let’s Make a Deal, or it might be well-dressed people for a cameo appearance in a talk show. Also, be enthusiastic: employees sometimes tap the most eager audience members to be part of the show.
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.
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.
Hollywood magic still resonates at this huge studio lot in Burbank, where you can witness pieces of cinematic and television history—and also have a good chance of spotting a celeb strolling out of a soundstage.
The stalwart studio was founded in 1923 and had its first big hit in 1927 with the groundbreaking “talkie” The Jazz Singer. Because filming still goes on here, you might see stars and crew from films, sitcoms, and talk shows wandering about. Fans are often taken aback during the tour, says Danny Kahn, executive director of Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood, because they get to “visit actual filming locations, often getting a chance to see production activity.” (That no-spoiler-alert spirit is why you’re allowed to take photos during some parts of the visit, but no video.)
Set aside about three hours for the regular tour, which starts in the studio’s 110-acre backlot. You’ll see exterior sets used in hundreds of films and TV shows, including classic films such as Casablanca and Rebel Without a Cause and TV series ranging from The Dukes of Hazzard and ER to The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Next, you move on to the Prop Department and the Archive, a two-floor collection of memorabilia and antiques from Hollywood’s golden era. Here is where you’ll also find From J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World: The Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts Exhibit, which features props from the Harry Potter films as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—including the Sorting Hat, wizard robes, Quidditch brooms, and Newt’s Case of Creatures.
The Archive also includes DC Universe: The Exhibit, which debuted in 2016. This interactive area lets you touch classic superhero props (like Superman’s kryptonite), see the Belle Reve prison cell from Suicide Squad, and peek at original comic books featuring all seven members of the Justice League. Don’t miss the exhibit’s Picture Car Vault, where you can see all of the Batmobiles that have been featured in the Caped Crusader’s films.
Handle Superman’s kryptonite, then try out your acting skills on the Central Perk set from Friends.
The tour ends with the self-guided section called Stage 48: Script to Screen, which features a soup-to-nuts looks at the production process—from a writer’s room to the couch-centered set of Central Perk, as seen on a certain long-running TV show. “The interactive soundstage offers guests the chance to try their hand at acting,” Kahn says, “as they re-enact a scene from the legendary sitcom Friends.”
For the VIP treatment, opt for the six-hour Deluxe Tour. You’ll see even more backlot sets and get to break for lunch in the studio’s Commissary Fine Dining Room, where you’ll chow down in the midst of actors, producers, writers, and studio executives.