They involve horse trails, hidden hotels, a magic castle, a monastery — and that's just a start. To close out our yearlong series of Southern California Close-Ups, here is a set of 10 Hollywood micro-itineraries, suitable for visitors from across town or across the planet. To see the previous 11 installments in our multimedia tour of Los Angeles and Orange counties, go to latimes.com/socalcloseups.
1. Get thee to a nunneryThe Hollywood sign (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
More specifically, head for the Monastery of the Angels (1977 Carmen Ave., a mile from the Hollywood sign), where 17 cloistered nuns spend their days praying, eating, sleeping and making desserts. Hand $10 to the gift-shop volunteer for a hefty loaf of pumpkin bread — a fine souvenir, if it lasts that long. Then head two blocks east to Beachwood Drive, turn north toward the famous sign and keep going even after the road dwindles to dirt. There you'll find Sunset Ranch (3400 Beachwood Drive), where horses can be rented for guided rides (ages 8 and older). For $30 you get an hour. Start about 4 p.m. on a clear winter day and you'll get a different angle of the Hollywood sign, but better still, a Technicolor panorama with setting sun, a distant sliver of the Pacific, city lights at your feet and a whiff of horse manure to keep it real. The ranch is also the starting point for the Hollyridge Trail hike, which takes you near the fenced-off Hollywood sign, or you can explore the half-dozen public staircases threaded among the hillside homes. (Plot your route at http://www.beachwoodcanyon.org/Stairs.htm or buy Charles Fleming's 2010 paperback "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles." And in the interest of full disclosure: Fleming is an L.A. Times editor.) When you're done, you'll want a thick slice of that pumpkin bread and maybe a nap in your room at the handy Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills Hotel (6141 Franklin Ave.). The hotel is a mid-range, retro-mod affair with signed glossies of Ray Charles and Marty Feldman on the lobby wall; the movie "Swingers" was written in the lobby-adjacent 101 Coffee Shop.
2. The Bowl, the Greek, the differenceThe Hollywood Bowl (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)
The Hollywood Bowl (2301 N. Highland Ave.) is such a prime city asset that it's a wonder nobody has proposed selling it to reduce municipal debt. It was carved into the hills in the 1920s and programmed by the L.A. Philharmonic, seats about 17,000 people and stages mostly jazz, classical works and show-tune performances, June through September. For newbies, the big surprise is that by long tradition, audiences can bring their own picnics, beer and wine. The city's other prime summer pop-concert option, the Greek Theatre, four miles east at 2700 Vermont Ave., is more intimate, with room for just 5,800 and a season that runs from late April through late October. The Greek will not let you bring in your own food or drink.
3. Hip stripOaks Gourmet Market (Elina Shatkin)
You're not in a hurry. So you patiently seek one of the rare parking spots off Franklin Avenue near Tamarind Avenue, then meander past the trendy row of shops and restaurants between Tamarind and Bronson avenues. Browse Counterpoint Records & Books (5911 Franklin Ave.), scan magazines at the Daily Planet (59311/2 Franklin Ave.). The casual Victor's restaurant (1917 N. Bronson Ave.) will seat you beneath old photos of the hills. The Oaks Gourmet Market (1915 N. Bronson Ave.) will sell you fancy wines and beers, make you a lunch to take away or feed you at the shop's one communal table.
4. Musso, Frank, Pantages, Frolic and RedburyPantages Theatre (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Wouldn't that be a great name for an L.A. law firm? Sit down to an early dinner at Musso & Frank Grill (6667 Hollywood Blvd.), the oldest restaurant in Hollywood (opened 1919), for old-world service, setting and menu, with juicy steaks and the option of Jell-O for dessert. Then nip out back for a high-end cocktail ($14) at the Writer's Room (6685 Hollywood Blvd.), which feels pre-Elvis but opened next door a couple months ago. Now you're ready for a show at the Pantages Theatre (6233 Hollywood Blvd.), whose 1930 Art Deco lobby is one of the greatest rooms in the city. On your way out after the show, admire the vintage sign announcing the Frolic Room (6245 Hollywood Blvd.). You'll sleep around the corner at the Redbury Hotel (1717 Vine St.), whose 57 rooms are about twice the size of those at the glitzy W Hotel (6250 Hollywood Blvd.) and sometimes more affordable. The Redbury has no pool, but every room has a washer, dryer and turntable. It's where the cool kids might come after having kids of their own. As for the W, it's for those who can't resist a slice o' Vegas — a party hotel where scene-makers rage into the wee hours at Drai's nightclub next to the rooftop pool.
5. A movie? Or a live show about movies?Hollywood & Highland complex (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
If you can handle $56 a person and up, there's no better place than Hollywood to see a sort-of play about movies — Cirque du Soleil's "Iris," which shares the Kodak Theatre (6801 Hollywood Blvd.) with the annual Oscars ceremony. "Iris," which premiered in mid-2011, is a mix of gymnastics, dancing, live music, cinematic effects and trapeze work, held together by a slender plot. It's expected to run for years. Even if your mind starts wandering after intermission, the evening is a great showcase for performers with stupendous skills. Because the theater is enveloped by the Hollywood & Highland mall, you can check the shops and its ridiculous highflying concrete elephants (inspired by D.W. Griffith's movie sets). But wait. If you have kids younger than 8 or so — or a tighter budget — skip the Kodak. Cross the street and see a movie in Disney's exuberantly restored El Capitan Theatre (6838 Hollywood Blvd). This venue, built in 1926, premiered "Citizen Kane" in 1941 and kicked off Hollywood's revival with its reopening 50 years later. If you're a screen history geek or in a celebratory mood, you might like the Spanish-style Roosevelt Hotel (7000 Hollywood Blvd.), where the first Academy Awards were held in 1929, where Shirley Temple is said to have danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson on the lobby steps, and where there are several busy bars and restaurants, including the well-regarded burger joint Twenty-Five Degrees, which stays open all night. It can get loud on weekends, and recent renovations have unaccountably mixed Asian minimalism with the old Spanish flourishes. The Renaissance Hollywood Hotel (1755 N. Highland Ave.), comparably priced, twice the size, only 10 years old and right next to Hollywood & Highland, will suit some travelers better.