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.
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.
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.
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.
Honouring 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 honouring has-beens or where-are-they-nows: Getting a star is still considered an honour, with an impressive roster of recent honourees (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.