Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hurray for Hollywood!

"Don't settle for the little dream - go on to the big one." -- A Star is Born

A new friend of mine is coming to California soon for vacation with her family. While Disneyland is the big draw, they plan to spend one day doing Hollywood too. I told her I would send her my recommendations, but I figured I might as well put them here in case someone else could use them. :)

I have always been fascinated by Hollywood. I love watching movies from Hollywood's Golden Age - Frankenstein, Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, An Affair to Remember, and Rebel Without a Cause come to mind most frequently. Growing up as a kid in a small town in New Mexico, I would watch such movies in awe, wondering how they made the movies and what the sets must have been like. Hollywood always seemed so glamorous to me - I couldn't wait to visit one day. 

When I finally DID visit, I must say I was disappointed. The center of Hollywood has been overrun by tourism. Out of work actors stalk the sidewalks in costumes trying to sell you a picture with them. T-shirt and novelty stores bookend the beautiful and famous old theaters on the block. Tour buses line the street, and everyone seems to be trying to sell you something. All this being said - it IS still Hollywood. You definitely should visit! Just make sure to do a couple of other things while you're in the area too! Here is how I would spend my day in Hollywood and LA - if I only had one day to visit
Hollywood Boulevard Must Visit List

Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd

First opening in 1927, the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood has been the home of many celebrities and famous events over the years. It was the site of the 1st ever academy awards, and Marilyn Monroe actually lived there for several years after she was first discovered (she is rumored to still haunt the halls today). Fans of the hit show, The Hills, will recall the pool area and Tropicana Bar well. There is very little security - even the pool is open to visitors. The interior is gorgeous! I highly recommend you check it out.

Grauman's Chinese Theater (now known as TCL Chinese Theater)
6925 Hollywood Blvd

Just across the street, Grauman's Chinese Theater also opened with much fanfare in 1927. In addition to its exterior, it is most popularly known for the hand and footprints that adorn the sidewalk in front of the theater. There are nearly 200 of such prints and autographs by celebrities in this forecourt, featuring celebrities of the past (Shirley Timple, Marilyn Monroe) and current times (cast of Harry Potter). It is truly a site to behold! 

For those who dig history like I do, a trip inside of the famous theater is a must do as well. You can either take a tour - or actually watch a movie! My mom, niece, and I watched a movie in it a couple of years ago and it was great! It is also beautiful inside (see picture above)! You can visit for details on what is showing and information for their VIP tours. 

Dolby Theater (formerly Kodak Theater)
6801 Hollywood Blvd

Directly next door to Grauman's Chinese Theater is the newly renamed Dolby Theater. As a huge fan of the Oscars, this was probably the thing I was most excited to see! What is slightly disappointing is that this site is actually the site of.... a mall. Yes, a mall. For those 51 other weeks of the year, the golden curtain is hidden and the red carpet is rolled up. Meanwhile, thousands roam around its halls shopping at Sun's Up and Sephora in the Hollywood & Highland Shopping Center near the very same staircase where the glitterati ascend to watch the most prestigious awards show of the year. It's crazy. The theater itself hosts events year round, and you can even take a tour of it if you're so inclined. 

I definitely recommend walking up the famous staircase to the awards hall (you can see some of the mall signs nearby in the picture of my niece above). The columns leading to the staircase actually list the names of all the Best Picture Award Winners, which is pretty neat to see. The mall itself is nice, and if you cut across the third floor promenade at the north end of the center, you can get a great view of the Hollywood sign. Speaking of which...

Other Nearby Hollywood Haunts

The Hollywood Sign (best view)
3204 Canyon Lake Dr

During my many, many trips to LA between 2002 - 2011, I never once made it to the Hollywood Sign. It wasn't for lack of trying - there's just not an easy way to get to it unless you actually know how to do so. Thanks to some very helpful Los Angelenos I've met since moving to CA, I finally found the Hollywood Sign by finding the nearby dog park. Yes, a dog park located just below the sign itself. Don't believe me?

Here's a picture of my dog at that very park just last summer. So much fun! Sure, you can get even closer to the Hollywood Sign if you're willing to hike, but why bother? This is close enough for most, and you get the bonus of seeing an amazing view of LA from the top. When driving up Canyon Lake Blvd, go just past the dog park for the shortest walk and best parking. Should you have kids that want to take a break, the dog park below also has a functional little playground. Not a bad place to spend a half hour in LA!

The War of World's Set/Universal Studios Viewpoint
3400 Blair Drive - Burbank, CA

After you've had your fun at the Hollywood sign, turn around and head back down the canyon towards Burbank for even more fun. Don't have time to take your kids to Universal Studios? No problem! A little known secret, shared by Lindsay Blake of, is that you can actually see part of the studio tour for free atop Blair Drive. This viewpoint is not far at all from the Hollywood sign, making it the perfect bookend to your visit to this side of town. From this vantage point you can see the War of the Worlds airplane crash scene, along with glimpses of Norman Bate's house from Hitchcock's Psycho and Whoville from the Jim Carey version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It - is - so - cool! I took my mom there last fall, and she loved it. It's especially cool when the trams drive by and the "set" comes to life! The trams come by every 15 minutes, so it's worth the wait.

If you find that you still have time before heading back to your hotel for the evening, I must suggest a drive west to Beverly Hills. Why, you ask? Well for one...

Sprinkles Cupcake ATM
9635 South Santa Monica Blvd - Beverly Hills, CA

Where else can you find a cupcake ATM? Sprinkles Cupcake Bakery is a fixture in LA - and with good reason. These cupcakes are delicious! The cupcake ATM is actually wedged between Sprinkles' bakery and their ice cream shop, making it ideal for either sweet tooth. I caution that the cupcakes from the ATM are the same as the ones in the bakery, yet cost slightly more - you're paying for convenience and novelty. But it's still oh-so-fun to use!

What else is in Beverly Hills? 

Paley Center - Television Out of the Box exhibit
465 North Beverly Dr - Beverly Hills, CA

Well, if you have an extra hour to kill I would highly recommend a visit to the Paley Center just a few blocks from Sprinkles. The Paley Center is currently hosting the WB's Television Out of the Box exhibit, an interactive exhibit featuring props, costumes, and other memorabilia from 60 years of Warner Brother's television shows. You can see actual costumes from some of your favorite shows (SouthLAnd, Friends, Seinfield, etc), see props used in the shows, and actually play with some of the sets (Caution: There has been evidence that the Central Perk/Friends set is not authentic, but who cares? It's still pretty fun to play with. I've done the WB tour and seen the actual set, but they don't let you sit on the couch or touch it in any way). The tickets for the exhibit run $10 for adults, $5 for kids under 13 years old, and your ticket gets you buy-one-get-one-free cupcakes at nearby Crumbs. Parking in the garage directly across the street is free for the first two hours, and you can easily do this exhibit in an hour or two. I have visited it twice, and definitely recommend it if you're in the area. 

Fellow blogger Lindsay Blake has put together a very good "must stalk" list for LA if you're interested, but the above would be my list if I only had one day to visit. I would have highly recommended a studio tour too, but since most take a couple of hours and are kind of costly, I would only do them if I had more than one day to check things out. LA is big, spread out, and plagued by traffic - if your time is limited, you have to plan it wisely. I hope you enjoy your trip!

Until next time...

--- Becks

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