Southern California Close-Ups: Going Hollywood
First published on Dec. 25, 2011. Revised and expanded in early 2012.
Pity the rubes. Those wayward tourists who dawdle in their cars and tour buses along Beachwood Drive, enraging the locals as they haltingly seek that perfect Hollywood sign photo op — they know not what they do. Maybe you’re not from this neighborhood either, but you have savvier Hollywood plans.
They involve horse trails, hidden hotels, a magic castle, a monastery — and that’s just a start. Here are 10 Hollywood micro-itineraries suitable for visitors from across town or across the planet.
1. Get thee to a nunnery
The Hollywood sign (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
More specifically, head to the Monastery of the Angels (1977 Carmen Ave., Los Angeles; www.themonasteryoftheangelslosangeles.com), a mile from the Hollywood sign, where 17 cloistered nuns spend their days praying, eating, sleeping and making desserts. On any day but Sunday, you can hand over $10 to the gift-shop volunteer for a hefty loaf of pumpkin bread — which would make a fine souvenir, but you’re likely to nibble it away in short order. 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, Los Angeles; www.sunsetranchhollywood.com), where horses can be rented for guided rides (ages 8 and older). For $40, you get an hour; for $60, you get two hours. Start at 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 www.beachwoodcanyon.org/Stairs.htm or buy Charles Fleming’s 2010 paperback “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles.” (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., Los Angeles; www.bestwestern.com/hollywoodhillshotel). The hotel is a mid-range, retro-mod 86-room affair with signed glossies of Ray Charles and Marty Feldman on the lobby wall. Ask for a room facing the hills, not Franklin Avenue, and consider this: The movie “Swingers” was written in the lobby-adjacent 101 Coffee Shop (6145 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles; www.the101coffeeshop.com), which stays open until 3 a.m.
2. The Bowl, the Greek, the difference
The Hollywood Bowl (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)
The Hollywood Bowl (2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles; www.hollywoodbowl.com) 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 (2700 Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; www.greektheatrela.com), four miles east at 2700 Vermont Ave., is more intimate, with room for just 5,900 and a season that runs from late April through late October. The Greek is nice, but forget about bringing in your own food or drink.
3. Hip strip
Oaks 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 used books and music (including CDs, LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes, eight-tracks and reel-to-reels) at Counterpoint Records & Books (5911 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles; www.counterpointrecordsandbooks.com), scan magazines at the Daily Planet (59311/2 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles; www.thedailyplanetbookstore.com). The casual Victor’s restaurant (1917 N. Bronson Ave., Los Angeles; www.victorssquare.com) will seat you beneath old photos of the hills. The Oaks Gourmet Market (1915 N. Bronson Ave., Los Angeles; www.theoaksgourmet.com), which opened in 2009, will sell you fancy wines, beers and cheeses, make you a lunch to take away (Hollywood Bowl picnic baskets are a specialty) or feed you at the shop’s one communal table.
4. Musso, Frank, Pantages, Frolic and Redbury
Pantages 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., Los Angeles; www.mussoandfrank.com), 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. (It’s closed Sundays and Mondays.)
Now you’re ready for some live theater at the Pantages Theatre (6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.broadwayla.org), 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., Los Angeles). Then, so long as it’s after 9 p.m. and the guys working the door think you look hip enough, you can nip out for a nightcap in the Writer’s Room (6685 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, entrance at rear), a semi-secret vintage-looking joint that actually opened in 2011. You’ll pay about $14 for a high-end cocktail, but when was it ever cheap to be fashionable?
You’ll sleep around the corner at the Redbury Hotel (1717 Vine St., Los Angeles; www.theredbury.com), which opened in 2010. Its 57 rooms (originally designed to be apartments) are about twice the size of those at the glitzy nearby W Hotel 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 Hotel (6250 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.whollywoodhotel.com), which also opened in 2010, it’s a good fit for those who can’t resist a slice o’ Vegas — a 305-room party hotel where scene-makers rage into the wee hours at Drai’s nightclub (www.drais.net) next to the rooftop pool. It also has a Metro subway station below, which is handy.
5. A movie? Or a live show about movies?
Hollywood & Highland complex (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
If you can handle $56 ($43 plus tax and processing fee) 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 3,332-seat Kodak Theatre (6801 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.kodaktheatre.com) 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 Center (6801 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.hollywoodandhighland.com), you can check the shops and its ridiculous highflying concrete elephants. Maybe they were inspired by D.W. Griffith’s movie sets, or maybe they were just on sale.
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., Los Angeles; www.elcapitan.go.com). 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., Los Angeles; www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt), 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 (www.25degreesrestaurant.com), 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., Los Angeles; www.renaissancehollywood.com), slightly pricier, twice the size (632 rooms), 10 years old and next to Hollywood & Highland, will suit some travelers better. (Note that the hotel has recently been sold and a name change is pending.)
6. Concrete handprints, terrazzo stars and the boulevard
The Hollywood Walk of Fame (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Don’t worry about missing the Hollywood Walk of Fame (www.walkoffame.com) — you’re sure to come across it in the course of seeing other Hollywood. But for the record, its 2,400-plus terrazzo stars, the first of which were laid in 1960, now cover 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and a few neighboring streets too. To see who’s where, check https://projects.latimes.com/hollywood/star-walk.
As for the emblematic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.chinesetheatres.com), by all means browse the names and handprints, but be careful with your camera. Celebrity impersonators swarm here, some charming, some not, and they’ll be quick to ask for a dollar tip if you snap a picture that includes them.
You’ll see that Starline Tours (www.starlinetours.com), the 800-pound gorilla of the Hollywood and homes-of-the-stars bus tour business, has a kiosk in front of Grauman’s. Starline dates to 1935 in Hollywood, so you could say it’s part of the history. Maybe you can’t bring yourself to be such an obvious tourist, but perhaps you have a friend. Send that friend on a Monday or Tuesday to catch the hourlong double-decker bus tour with guide Brian Donnelly, who has quick wit, good facts and a lot of them.
Elsewhere on Hollywood Boulevard, brace yourself for residual squalor, T-shirt emporiums, vendors of cheap suits and enough trashy lingerie shops to outfit all the ex-wives of Hugh Hefner and Charlie Sheen. You’ll surely come across industrial-size tourist attractions Tussauds (6933 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.madametussauds.com/Hollywood), Ripley (6780 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.ripleys.com/hollywood) and Guinness World Record Museum (6764 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.guinnessmuseumhollywood.com) (all within five blocks of Hollywood & Highland). It’s a relief to spot an independent such as the Larry Edmunds Bookshop (6644 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.larryedmunds.com), where the proprietor keeps close to 2,000 old movie posters behind the counter, folded and filed in ancient manila folders.
7. Stars at work, stars at rest
Paramount Pictures (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Like Universal and Warner Bros. studios in the San Fernando Valley and Sony in Culver City, Paramount Pictures (5555 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; www.paramountstudios.com/special-events/tours.html) opens its lot to paying visitors, offering a two-hour guided weekday tour ($48 a person, reservations required) by foot and golf cart. Really, the Warner Bros. tour is better than the others at giving outsiders a sense of working Hollywood, including glimpses of prop inventories and sound-effects tools. But Paramount is where “Glee” is shot, where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made musicals (Stage 29), where “Citizen Kane” and “Rear Window” were shot (Stages 19 and 18, respectively), and where Kelsey Grammer put in 20 years of work on Stage 25 (“Cheers” and “Frasier,” 1984-2004).
Your Paramount guide will pull out a tablet computer to show movie and TV scenes shot on the premises, and you’ll probably get a peek at sets (probably deserted) from some current shows. Note that studio rules forbid proposing marriage to anyone in the cast of “Glee,” which has happened. “Awkward,” says guide Brynn Kushner.
After the tour, drive slightly east, stroll prosperous, pedestrian-friendly Larchmont Village and have a honey cilantro lime grilled chicken sandwich at Larchmont Bungalow (107 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles; www.larchmontbungalow.com).
Then hop in the car again, head up to Santa Monica Boulevard and turn south into Hollywood Forever (6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; www.hollywoodforever.com), where you’ll find Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone, actresses Hattie McDaniel and Fay Wray and many others. In 2011, the cemetery added a memorial to Toto — the dog, not the rock band. Unlike Forest Lawn and others, Hollywood Forever eagerly offers maps to celebrity graves and hosts parties and DJs. From mid-May through mid-September, there are outdoor movie screenings (www.cinespia.org), where you can recline “above and below the stars.”
8. The reappearing club, the hidden hotel, the wayward pagoda
The Magic Castle (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
The bad news: You probably aren’t among the 5,000 worldwide members of the Academy for Magical Arts. The good news: For a price, you can still spend an evening in its one-of-a-kind clubhouse, the Magic Castle (7001 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles; www.magiccastle.com).
The castle is a 1909 Victorian mansion a few blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard. Since 1963, it has served dinners and brunches to members and guests, who enjoy the magicians who work the castle’s intimate rooms — usually nine performers a night in three rooms — flashing cards, reading minds, creating illusions. Though a fire damaged parts of the club in October 2011, it was fully reopened by late March 2012. If you can’t wangle an invitation from a member, you can buy a 30-day membership for $100, which gets you in the door but doesn’t buy dinner. Or you can book a room at the neighboring Magic Castle Hotel (more on that in a moment.), pony up $20-$25 a person to get in (adults only, except Sunday brunch). Dinner (entrees start at about $20) is separate.
It’s not a cheap night. But you’ll step into a world where secret doorways lead to shadowy bars, where Cary Grant and Johnny Carson once were insiders and where Neil Patrick Harris sits on the board of directors. When the last trick is done, close out the night with a martini ($12 or so) at neighboring Yamashiro (1999 N. Sycamore Ave.), a restaurant and bar that features a 600-year-old Japanese pagoda and wide, twinkling views of the inexhaustible city.
Now, back to the Magic Castle Hotel (7025 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles; www.magiccastlehotel.com). It’s a converted apartment building with a central pool, 40 units and a low profile. And listen: It would be a great value even without access to the castle — rooms for two that start just under $200, pleasant grounds, sky-high TripAdvisor scores. Check in, take a swim, don the tie and jacket or little black dress (the castle has a formal dress code) and catch the hotel’s free shuttle to the clubhouse.
9. Adventures in East Hollywood
Jumbo’s Clown Room (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
For years, Palm’s Thai restaurant (5900 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.palmsthai.com) has had a not-so-secret weapon: Kavee Thongpreecha, better known as Thai Elvis, who serenaded diners with the King’s hits while they dug into boar, deep-fried frog, fish maw salad and more conventional Thai dishes. Thai Elvis has been recently sidelined by poor health, but Palm’s Thai is still an emblematic L.A. experience.
Because it’s in eastern Hollywood (where Thai Town and Little Armenia rub shoulders), odds are that a young Armenian valet will take your car as a Thai hostess welcomes you. While diners fill the long line of tables in the big, airy dining room, pop performers typically do half-hour sets at 7:30, 9 and 10 p.m. daily. But you may move on sooner, for the sake of drama.
Drawing on the many aspiring actors in town, the Hudson Theatres (6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; www.hudsontheatre.com) is among more than a dozen other performance spaces that make up Hollywood Theater Row (www.theaterrowhollywood.com). Most stand along Santa Monica between La Brea Boulevard and El Centro Street, have 99 or fewer seats, and sell seats for less than $30. (The Hudson complex actually includes three theaters and a coffee bar.) The work can be outstanding, and that ought to be enough to fill your night. But some people want an edgier, only-in-L.A. sort of adventure.
For them, there’s Jumbo’s Clown Room (5153 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.jumbos.com), a smallish, strip-mall, semi-ironic retro-burlesque pole-dancing club. The dancers keep their bikinis on, and their ages and shapes vary considerably. Two matronly women pour the drinks; there’s no cover. Customers are encouraged to tip “a buck or two per song.” The bouncer looks like just another 163-pound unproduced screenwriter, and sometimes the drinkers are so happy chatting that the dancers seem an afterthought. You figure it out.
10. In praise of bricks, mortar, music and soul food
Amoeba Music (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Start by scavenging for new and used music and videos in cavernous Amoeba Music (6400 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; www.amoeba.com). Cross Sunset to Space 15 Twenty (1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles; www.space15twenty.com), a little alt-mall that includes an Umami Burger (Umami Urban, www.umami.com/umami-burger) and a Hennessey + Ingalls art and design bookstore (www.hennesseyingalls.com).
For fortification, head to Stout (1544 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles; www.stoutburgersandbeers.com), which specializes in burgers and has more than two dozen beers on tap.
Then drive to the Guitar Center (7425 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; https://stores.guitarcenter.com/Hollywood). Peruse the vast collection of instruments inside. If not, scrutinize the sidewalk in front, where Guitar Center has established a Rock Walk with handprints from more than 400 rock stars and others since 1985 (www.rockwalk.com). You’ll notice several other music shops on the block, along with Aroma Café (7373 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; www.aromabakery.com), a good place for a bite.
Later you’ll catch live music somewhere — maybe the tiny Hotel Café (a singer-songwriter club at 1623½ N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles; www.hotelcafe.com) — and on the way, you’ll cruise past the Highland Gardens Hotel (7047 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles; www.highlandgardenshotel.com), where in October 1970 Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose in Room 105.
Eventually, it will be 3 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday, and you or someone you love will suddenly feel the need for chicken and waffles. No problem. This is why Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles (1514 N. Gower St., Los Angeles; www.roscoeschickenandwaffles.com) stays open until 4 a.m. on those nights/mornings. It’s not healthy, but, hey, it’s not heroin. Eat heavy, sleep deep.
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