Why you should visit Hollywood
The streets of Hollywood are lined with palm trees and movie history: this is the film capital of the world. An estimated 50 million visitors come to Los Angeles a year, with many flocking to “Tinseltown” to tread in the footsteps of the stars.
The Hollywood sign, which is celebrating its centenary in 2023, stands tall above the neighbourhood, synonymous with showbiz and glamour. But it is not all studios and sunshine – Hollywood and its surroundings boast great food, hiking trails and awe-inspiring views of the sprawling Californian city.
Top attractions and things to do
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
For a behind-the-scenes peek at famous sets, props and costumes, head to one of LA’s film studios. Jump in a golf buggy to explore the backlot “streets” of Warner Bros. Studios in nearby Burbank, where “Friends”, “Gilmore Girls” and “Casablanca” were filmed, followed by a coffee at Central Perk. Tour guides are brimming with insider secrets, like what the studio uses to make fake snow in sunny California (clue: it is no longer asbestos!).
Paramount, Sony and Disney also offer tours, while Universal Studios has its own theme park for movie-based thrills.
The Hollywood sign
Now one of the most iconic symbols in the world, the Hollywood sign was first erected as a real-estate promotional gimmick in 1923. It spelled out “Hollywoodland” until 1949 and went in and out of disrepair over the decades, restored at one point with the help of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner. A recent facelift, using 400 gallons of white paint, has put it on top form for its 100th anniversary.
The nine letters, which tower above Hollywood from Mount Lee in Griffith Park, can be seen from Hollywood Boulevard, or you can hike up to a closer vantage point for a better look. Don’t forget to turn around and take in the beautiful views. Tour companies like Bikes & Hikes can take you right up behind the sign, but getting too close to LA’s prize monument is strictly prohibited.
Another popular landmark with spectacular views of the city, and of the Hollywood sign, is the Griffith Observatory, located on Mount Hollywood, above the celebrity-filled Los Feliz neighbourhood.
The Art Deco exterior, as seen in James Dean’s 1955 drama “Rebel Without a Cause”, remains largely unchanged from when it was built in 1935. Inside, visitors can journey through the solar system in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium or explore the exhibits and public telescopes. The Observatory’s cafe, with its outside terrace, is the perfect place to watch the sun go down.
Steady your expectations here. The red carpet is rolled out for the Oscars and the famous Christmas Parade, but on a normal day Hollywood’s namesake boulevard is a little less glamorous. There are souvenir and lingerie stores aplenty, and the city’s homelessness crisis plays out on the side streets. It is nevertheless a rite of passage for movie fans to scour the sidewalks for the terrazzo and brass stars memorialising their favourite entertainment icons.
Escape the crowds and hawkers by stepping into the Chinese Theatre for a show or tour. Other highlights include the Dolby and El Capitan theatres, Madame Tussauds and the Hollywood Museum. For shopping, pop into Hollywood & Highland, or head five miles west for the world-famous Rodeo Drive fashion paradise in Beverly Hills. If you can time your trip with a concert, The Greek Theatre and Hollywood Bowl are also just a short drive away.
Where to stay
For a party hotel in the middle of the action, Mama Shelter LA is the place to be. The first Mama hotel was set up in Paris by Club Med’s Serge Trigano and there are now 16 others worldwide, including Mama Shelter Shoreditch in London, but they have retained their kitschy boutique feel.
Located a short distance from the Walk of Fame, there is no doubt you are in Hollywood as you enter Mama LA. Chalk graffiti decorates the ceilings, vintage photos line the retro dining booths and Looney Tunes masks hang from the light fixtures. No hotel-room bibles here, only printed film screenplays for guests to enjoy. For added stardust, Room 304 is dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, who stayed there during the hotel’s former life as the Wilcox. The cherry on this six-storey cake is the rooftop bar, with its rainbow parasols, cocktails and near 360-degree views of the city.
Eating and drinking
Mama Shelter hosts a lively line-up of regular events for locals and tourists alike, from live DJ sets and open air cinema on the roof to drag bingo in its downstairs bar. Chef Jonathan Kim has created a unique menu in the restaurant – think braised short ribs with pickled jalapeno, followed by savoury cheesecakes and banoffee pie reconstructed as tiny bananas. Recover from your flight on the rooftop with a Wake Me Up cocktail (bomani cold buzz, mr. black, averna amaro) and a bowl of boujee fries (with truffle oil and nori goma) overlooking the Hollywood sign.
For a taste of history, Musso & Frank Grill is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, offering antiquated charm. Or try the Original Farmer’s Market for a lunchtime feast – especially recommended is Trejo’s Tacos, set up by actor Danny Trejo. Elsewhere, fine-dining seafood restaurant Providence, on Melrose Avenue, has two Michelin stars and recently earned its first-ever Green Michelin Star for sustainability.
How to get to Hollywood
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the primary airport serving the city. From there, you can travel on the LAX FlyAway Bus and Metro Rail Red Line up to Hollywood, although you might need to take another bus or walk depending on your final destination. Yellow Cabs, Uber and Lyft are also available, or rent a car at the airport.
Hollie Clemence was a guest of Los Angeles Tourism (discoverlosangeles.com) and Mama Shelter LA. Room rates at Mama Shelter LA start from $169/£140 (medium Mama, double room only). 6500 Selma Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028; mamashelter.com
Sign up to The Week’s Travel newsletter for more destination guides and the latest trends