I live near the world-famous Hollywood sign, in an area known as Beachwood Canyon. Often when I hike in the area, tourists pull over and question me.
“How do I get up to the Hollywood sign?” Answer: You don’t.
“Is there a better place to take a picture?” Answer: I resist my natural instinct to say, “Yes. At the Grand Canyon,” and instead reply, “Sure,” and politely give them directions to a more photo-advantageous perch.
Tourists from all over the world come to my neighborhood. They often drive slowly up Beachwood Drive, the north-south pathway toward the sign. They poke their heads out of sun roofs to take photos. They pile out of limousines or tour buses or taxis for group shots. They pose in the middle of the street and dodge traffic from both directions just to get that keeper shot for the family album.
Recently the sign was imperiled. Developers from Chicago had purchased the 138 acres around the sign in 2002 from the estate of the late Howard Hughes, who in 1940 bought the land so he could build a love nest for Ginger Rogers and himself. When that celebrity coupling went bad, as so many celebrity couplings do, the land was left alone until Chicago muscled in and threatened to construct luxury homes.
But thanks to a rousing “Save the Peak” effort in the community and beyond, and a recent last-minute $900,000 donation by Hugh Hefner, no McMansions will mar the iconic site. The “Hollywood” sign is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Visitors should be aware, though, that the sign stands alone. It is served to the public a la carte. There is nothing that comes with the sign. There is no park on top of the peak with a museum and snack bar. There is no public-access road that leads to the top. Although the savvy hiker can find his way up, there are signs warning against it; if the police helicopters that suddenly appear out of nowhere whenever a stray explorer or two begins hoofing up the hill aren’t enough of a deterrent, the rattlesnakes in the summer months tend to send off negative vibes.
So that’s it. Welcome to our neighborhood. Go ahead and pose with the Hollywood sign in the background. Now scram.
Well, that wouldn’t be very neighborly, now would it?
Actually, there’s a lot to see in the area. Snapping the Hollywood sign can serve as a dandy start to a full-bodied tour, with plenty of points of interest. Just because there isn’t much else to the sign but the sign doesn’t mean your stay has to be as brief as the average shutter speed.
Village Coffee Shop
After you get your fill of Hollywood sign photography, stop in to this quaint eatery just up Beachwood Drive, beyond the giant stone arches that signal the beginning of cozy Beachwood Village. The café serves up basic American breakfast and lunch fare, but the atmosphere is something out of another era. There are charming wooden booths along the windows, and while you chomp on your pancakes and burgers you can imagine a time when some of the local movie moguls of a bygone time cut deals both of the land and film variety. There are artifacts on display that explain the history of the original Hollywoodland real estate development of the 1920s, from which the current area has evolved.
A couple doors down from the coffee shop is Beachwood Market, where you might run into a celebrity actor or musician or two while you shop for groceries or order a sandwich from the deli. Sharp-eyed cinema buffs will notice that the exterior was used in the 1956 horror classic, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
The street itself is a Hollywood landmark. In fact, a few years ago the locals mounted a campaign that came to be known as “Save Our Cement,” because they didn’t want the original cement of the street to be torn up and replaced by black asphalt. As you drive along, there are some eyesore modern apartment buildings, but interspersed within them are many architectural beauties both of the apartment and single-dwelling variety. This neighborhood was used as the backdrop for Nathanael West’s dark Hollywood tale, “The Day of the Locust.”
Sunset Ranch Hollywood
If you like to mosey, then check out Sunset Ranch Hollywood, located at the very end of Beachwood Drive. These horseback riding stables offer short-term day rides as well as an evening dinner ride through nearby Griffith Park so you can live out your Tom Mix or Hopalong Cassidy fantasies.
Like most Hollywood beauties, this reservoir just to the side of the Hollywood sign peak has been having some work done in recent years. When it’s ready for its close-up, it provides a splendid venue for a brisk walk around the lake for those who like to grab a little exercise on vacation above and beyond the lifting of suitcases.
Castillo del Lago, situated just up the road from Lake Hollywood Park, was once used as a speakeasy by mobster Bugsy Siegel. In the 1990s it was owned by Madonna. Then there is Wolf’s Lair, a castle-like fortress on Durand Drive that was recently bought by singer-songwriter Moby. Another structure worth gawking at is the geodesic dome house built in the ‘60s, also on Durand. Woody Allen once ridiculed the architecture of L.A. for its abundance of styles, but the variety provides an eyeful for tourists, and Beachwood Canyon in particular has more than its share of eclecticism.
While not in Beachwood Canyon, the entrance to the park is only 10 minutes away, and the Observatory, perched atop Mount Hollywood, is a must-see, especially since its renovation and expansion was completed in November, 2006. The site was once featured in “Rebel Without a Cause,” starring James Dean and Natalie Wood. If those stars don’t excite you, the ones in the planetarium will.
Other nearby attractions within minutes of the Hollywood sign
- Mann’s Chinese Theater: See the famous footprints and then take in a movie!
- Hollywood Walk of Fame: Look for the names of your favorite stars!
- Hollywood Forever Cemetary: Visit the graves of Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and others by day, then catch a Cinespia screening of a classic film at night!
- Hollywood Bowl: Sit outdoors in a historic venue and listen to live music!
- Paramount and Warner Brothers Studios: Sign up for VIP Tours of these famous lots!
- Musso & Frank Grill: Sip a martini at the oldest restaurant in Hollywood (since 1919), where the likes of Greta Garbo, William Faulkner, Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson once dined!
- Hollywood & Highland: Shop and eat, shop and eat! And then take a break to check out the adjacent Kodak Theater, home to the Academy Awards!
- Cinerama Dome: This landmark theater, which first opened in 1963, is a veritable house of worship for movie fans! (And the Arclight, another state-of-the-art set of theaters, is right next door!)
- Amoeba Records: It’s called the world’s largest independent record store! Who knows if that’s true?! But it sure is big!
- Capitol Records Building: You can’t just go in and walk around! But it’s cool to look at!