Inside LA - The Los Angeles Lowdown
Close-Up On Hollywood & Dream Factory
So many visitors who come to Los Angeles – certainly the vast majority of first-time visitors – have a vision of Hollywood in their mind before they arrive. They may well have actually “seen” it in a video, news report, Television show or “Hollywood” movie (whatever that means). No matter what anyone else says, you want to see it for yourself. The good news is there are lots of interesting things to see and do in the neighborhood of the Walk of Fame, the bad news is you need to know where to look otherwise you probably won’t see them. That’s where this guide comes in! We’ve curated the best places and experiences in Hollywood that you can reasonably see and do in a day, so you can get your close-up of Hollywood’s Dream Factory and have a truly memorable time.
A Guide to Spending a Day in Hollywood
In 1923 when the Hollywood Sign was erected, the town below was home to what was by then already the fifth biggest industry in the US, moving pictures. The sign was a billboard, not for the film industry (which was at the time only just becoming known as “Hollywood”), but for the housing tract in the hills under the thirteen enormous letters (that originally spelled HOLLYWOODLAND).
The spectacular sign quickly became entwined with the aspirations, glamour and innovation of movie industry of course, and the physical place and the myth were forged together. So much so that, nearly a century later, despite the original plan being for it to stand for only a year, it remains a powerful symbol of the California Dream.
When we show guests the famous boulevard, it often seems to be an anti-climax for them: “isn’t this supposed to be the most glamorous place on earth?!” Of course, we all have high expectations of Hollywood, however, it’s also Hollywood, the myth, where rebel artists from around the world organized themselves, took risks, dared to dream and told stories that would change the hearts and minds of millions.
Today, Hollywood is a place where people live, work, go to school, catch the bus or train and shop at the local supermarket. It’s always been a living, breathing, working town – it’s not, and never has been, like Beverly Hills. The nature of Los Angeles is that its history is often less visible than many other cities. In LA, you need to open some doors, step off the beaten track and do a little homework. Then the legends that put the neighborhood on the map come alive. The myth meets the place all around, because every building has a story to tell, like every star on the Walk of Fame.
And the myth-making continues. In the 2016 movie LA LA LAND the music of Sebastian is heard by Mia as she walks past the You Are the Star mural, just off Hollywood Boulevard, like the myth of Orpheus, entwining the power of music with love. We all want to be part of that myth also, and the great thing about Hollywood is that we can.
So, what do we suggest for your day in Hollywood? In order for you to properly experience this world-famous Los Angeles neighborhood and get a real feel for the myth, the history and the working town that it is.
1. HOLLYWOOD – NEIGHBORHOOD AND DREAM FACTORY
Start your day with the Real Hollywood Tour, so you can learn the background and history of the area. Unfortunately Hollywood doesn’t hit most people between the eyes, in the way that downtown Manhattan or the Eiffel Tower do. It is hard to reconcile the Hollywood of your dreams with the reality and a tour is hugely beneficial in bridging that gap. There are a ton of historical sites in the area, with some fascinating and illuminating stories to go with them, but if you don’t have a local expert curating it for you you’ll most likely miss the vast majority of them and wonder what all the fuss is about. Don’t make that mistake!
Over a two hour walking tour we visit all the well-known local landmarks on the Walk of Fame, like the Dolby and Pantages Theatres, Capitol Records, the Roosevelt Hotel and the Egyptian and Chinese Theatres, as well as several other spots which you haven’t heard about, but are very historic and interesting. You can also get more recommendations for things to do from your guide.
After our two-hour walking tour you’ll be hungry and we have the perfect recommendations for lunch. 25 Degrees has some of the best burgers in town and is located inside the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (venue of the very first Oscars Ceremony, in 1929).
If you can’t get a table there check out Mel’s Drive-In, it’s way above the level of your typical diner, with organic, grass fed beef for instance, and it’s been here since 2001.
3. LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
After lunch continue your Hollywood experience with a studio tour. Paramount Studios is the only old time Hollywood movie studio still in the area and it’s well worth doing the tour to get an understanding of how the industry works. Remember, making movies isn’t actually glamorous, it’s an industrial process – involving building sets, making costumes, feeding cast and crew, mounting cameras on cranes etc – and you’ll learn all about it here.
If you want to understand why Hollywood is called the Dream Factory, this is the place to do it. Just imagine, from the 1920’s to the 1960’s there would have been at least 10,000 people working on this lot, creating at least two movies a week (Paramount needed the content for their platform – meaning their huge theatre chains around the world). All the Hollywood studios, at that time around 10-12 of them, were essentially the same. It was the mass production of entertainment, made possible by a tech revolution.
Another option for understanding how and why the area did become the entertainment capital of the world, is the Hollywood Heritage Museum. It’s one of LA’s best kept secrets and will give you a glimpse of what those early, pioneering, movie-making days were like, in the small farming town that was Hollywood in the 1910’s.
4. GO FULL-ON GLAMOR
Okay – now the learning’s done, time to have some fun! Yamashiro was a private members establishment, known as the 400 Club, for the elite Hollywood set in the 1920’s. In 1948 it became a restaurant and, sitting 250 feet above the boulevard, this recreated Japanese Palace has some of the best views of Hollywood you can find.
If you’re looking for old-Style Hollywood glamor and history just seeping out of the walls then head for Musso & Frank Grill. For many years it was the Hollywood eatery (Chaplin, Bogart, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe all had their own tables here) and it’s still a popular spot with today’s Hollywood stars. Make like a movie star in your own booth.
If you want a more modern experience visit Mama Shelter or the Highlight Room at the Dream Hotel (we do on our Hollywood Speakeasy Bar Tour) – both of them have beautiful rooftop bars, offering stunning views all the way from the Hollywood Sign to downtown. They also have great food menus.
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– By Damien Blackshaw (Twitter)