Most first-time visitors to Los Angeles want to (and perhaps need to) see the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” that is Hollywood Boulevard. Your Set if Drifters suppose it’s potentially even fun… if you’re 10 years old and have never seen anything like it. On the contrary, as adults, we make it a general rule to avoid this ultimate of “tourist hells” as much as physically possible. (Buskers dressed up as Michael Jackson, Freddy Kreuger and Tweety Bird? No thanks.)
That being said, if you absolutely must check out all the gaudiness that Hollywood has to offer, let us give you a few pointers… Okay, quiet on the set. Rolling, rolling. Sound speed. Action.
1. Do not attempt to park your car anywhere near Grauman’s Chinese Theater… unless you’re actually going to the cinema – or shopping at that hideous nouveau mall. (And why would you want to?) Instead, if you just cannot live without putting your hands over Marilyn’s imprints, ask a friend to drop you off at the corner of Hollywood and Orange and pick you up 10 minutes later at the other end of the block. This way, you can quickly pay homage to Monroe, photograph yourself lying next to Billy Barty’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and gawk at the freaks for a few minutes before hopping back into the safety of your own car! (And trust us… Thanks to the traffic jam that is Hollywood Blvd., that 10 minute timing should work out perfectly.)
2. Choose the Egyptian over Grauman’s. If you really want to sink your teeth into one of Hollywood’s legendary theaters, avoid the mania at Grauman’s and head on over to the Egyptian instead. The theater, set a bit back from Hollywood Boulevard yet still visible thanks to four giant columns, actually predates the Chinese Theater by five years. (Sid Grauman actually worked on the Egyptian with developer Charles Toberman before jumping ship in 1926.) Now home to half of the American Cinematheque’s wonderful programming, the Egyptian Theater recently went under a $12.9 million renovation in 1998. The restoration project polished up the landmark’s impeccably-decorated interiors, including pairs of seated Anubis statues, thousands of hand-painted tiles featuring Egyptian motifs and a domed interior ceiling you just have to see to believe! We recommend the behind-the-scenes tour – $5 USD, or $10 when combined with the price of a movie! Reservations are required.
3. Need a good shot of you standing under the Hollywood sign, but can’t afford to waste your time or money on some lame-ass tour? Make way for Beachwood Drive, easily accessible off of Franklin Avenue near the Church of Scientology’s “Celebrity Center” (natch). This picturesque journey, toward the original “Hollywoodland” and beyond, makes for a nice break from the zaniness of Hollywood proper. Look for a great vantage point of the sign at the intersection of Cheremoya Avenue (on the right) and again, further up the canyon road after your turn right on Hollyridge Drive. (Set of Drifters tip: Ready for breakfast or lunch? Newly renovated, the colorful Beachwood Cafe is delightfully full of high quality menu options like baked brioche French Toast with bacon butterscotch sauce, or the hearty cranberry herb turkey burger.) A somewhat treacherous journey through the Hollywood Hills awaits you if you continue on Hollyridge instead of turning back the way you came. If your stomach can handle the switchbacks and altitude, you’ll be afforded some impressive vistas! Worried about getting lost? Have no fear. You’ll eventually empty back out onto Beachwood Drive (via Verbena then Cheremoya or Graciosa.)
Another great option for viewing the Hollywood sign is along Canyon Lake Drive to the west, accessible via Barham and Lake Hollywood Drive. This picturesque sojourn from reality will whisk you past the stunning, and secluded, Lake Hollywood Park (one of the better places to picnic or toss that Frisbee), and the former castle home of pop goddess Madonna. (Yes, the one she painted in yellow and red stripes back in the 1990s).
If you’ve got your hiking shoes on, a still third vantage point awaits you in Bronson Canyon. Heading up Canyon Drive from Franklin, you will quickly enter a heavily-wooded park (part of Griffith Park) that ends at a parking lot to the right. Pull in here, and continue on foot up the road to the red-painted curb that curves upward to your right. After only about 1/4 of a mile, this path will lead you left to one of the nicest views of the sign, though you’ll have to do a little climbing to get there. First, stop off at the legendary “Bat Cave,” the filming location that was used as the “Dark Knight’s” home in the original Batman TV series. (It later subbed for evocative locations on Wonder Woman, Falcon Crest, and in this – http://youtu.be/t2LwJqXCe5o.) After trolling around for a few minutes, head back out the front, and across the dirt field, to a small trail that leads up to a promontory between two larger mountains. You’ll need shoes with proper traction as this incline can be quite slippery. From here, it is possible to head up to the top of the mountain behind you along the ridge, though we wouldn’t recommend it. On our trip we made it about 90% of the way before we decided it was just too dangerous. Better to snap the photos while you can and head back down to your car!
4. Don’t waste your time hunting down a “Star Map” to view celebrity homes. Sure, a drive through Bel Air or Beverly Hills makes for a (mostly) relaxing Sunday afternoon, but after a few blocks of back-to-back Mediterranean-style behemoths, the gated, walled-off compounds are all going to look the same – oddly depressing. Instead, we suggest checking out the abodes of some of your favorite TV families! First on that list is the Brady Bunch house. You’ll need to head on out to Studio City to check out this landmark, in real life, a much smaller one-story ranch house located at the corner of Klump and Dilling. Another potential draw is the home that made Elizabeth Montgomery television’s most famous sorceress! The facade filmed for Bewitched is located at the corner of 18th Street and Georgina in a lovely Santa Monica neighborhood.
Finally, if you are feeling a bit more morbid, why not make the trek out to LA’s historic West Adams District? While the neighborhood’s impressive Craftsman-style architecture should be reason enough for the visit, it’s here where you’ll also find the manse used to depict the Fisher family’s funeral home for five seasons of Six Feet Under! (Location is the corner of 25th Street and Arlington just south of the Interstate 10 freeway.) Less than two miles north, you’ll also not want to miss the “Murder House,” the 1922-built Victorian mansion made famous in the brilliant debut season of American Horror Story! This macabre setting is found at the corner of Country Club Drive and Westchester (near the intersection of Arlington and Olympic).
Grauman’s Chinese Theater – 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028, (323) 461-3331, http://chinesetheatres.com
Egyptian Theatre – 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028, (323) 461-2020, http://www.americancinematheque.com/egyptian/egypt.htm
Beachwood Canyon – http://www.beachwoodcanyon.org/HISTORY.htm
Beachwood Cafe – 2695 North Beachwood Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068, (323) 871-1717,
Lake Hollywood Park – 3204 Canyon Lake Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068
Madonna’s Castillo del Lago – 6342 Mulholland Highway, Los Angeles, CA 90068
Bronson Canyon & the “Bat Cave” – 3200 Canyon Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068, (323) 666-5046, http://www.laparks.org/dos/parks/facility/bronsonCanyonGP.htm
Brady Bunch house – 11222 Dilling Street, North Hollywood, CA 91602
Bewitched House – 267 18th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90402
Six Feet Under house – 2302 West 25th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90018
American Horror Story “Murder House” – 1120 Westchester Place, Los Angeles, CA 90019