“Hollywood is a state of mind” was a popular refrain when this part of Los Angeles was in the midst of its decline not long ago. But with hot new boutiques, restaurants, hotels and condos sprouting up, it has reemerged as a bona fide destination. Amid a spirit of transformation, the neon lights on Hollywood Boulevard’s landmark movie palaces are fired up again, as waves of international visitors mingle with colorful locals. This new Golden Age of Hollywood marks the best time to visit in decades.
Hollywood + Highland
The Hollywood & Highland Center has been a catalyst for the rebirth of Hollywood Boulevard. Its Dolby Theatre, formerly the Kodak Theatre, is the home of the Academy Awards and new Cirque du Soleil show Iris, which premiered last year. The center’s shops are varied, including Lucky Brand and Louis Vuitton, and it boasts nightclub Level 3. The central Babylon Court frames views of the iconic Hollywood sign. Built in 1923 to advertise a housing development, the 45-foot-high letters originally read “Hollywoodland.” Next door to Hollywood & Highland is Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, famous for its celebrity handprints embedded in the cement out front.
Just across the street from Hollywood & Highland is the ornate, lavishly illuminated El Capitan Theatre. Masterfully restored by Disney, it offers special presentations of the studio’s animated releases combined with performances using an antique Wurlitzer pipe organ and children-pleasing stage shows. Jimmy Kimmel Live! tapes in an ABC studio next door. The Egyptian Theatre—built in 1922 around the time that King Tut’s tomb was discovered—screens eclectic artsy fare. The landmark Pantages Theatre has staged megahit musicals including The Book of Mormon, and the Hollywood Palladium has a rich history of showcasing headlining musicians.
Walk of Fame
The sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard (La Brea Avenue to Gower Street) and three blocks of Vine Street (Yucca Street to Sunset Boulevard) are inlaid with the legendary brass-and-terrazzo stars honoring celebrities from the entertainment industry. More than 2,400 stars are enshrined beneath the feet of tourists, but the roster is not without its quirks—Pee-wee Herman has one but Clint Eastwood doesn’t. Marilyn Monroe’s star is steps from Hollywood & Highland, and John Lennon’s is appropriately located in front of the Capitol Records Building, the structure designed to resemble a stack of records.
Museums, Hollywood Style
Hollywood has its museums, but don’t expect to encounter Picasso or Monet, or even a T. rex skeleton. Next to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is Madame Tussauds Hollywood, filled with more than 100 wax figures ranging from legends Clark Gable and Audrey Hepburn to contemporary icons such as Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga. You can ponder some zany accomplishments at the Guinness World Records Museum, while the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum offers bizarre exhibitions on double-headed animals and shrunken human heads. Serious movie buffs, however, head to the Hollywood Museum, which occupies four floors of the historic Max Factor Building. Among the 10,000 costumes and artifacts on display are Indiana Jones’ whip, Rocky Balboa’s boxing gloves and W.C. Fields’ top hat.
The storied intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, the epicenter of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, boasted a large concentration of entertainment industry companies in the 1920s. It’s a different Hollywood today, but the magic of this location endures in the soaring W Hollywood Hotel & Residences, which boasts Delphine brasserie and Drai’s rooftop club. A Metro station is integrated into the hotel; Hollywood is particularly well served by mass transit. Across the street is boutique hotel the Redbury and its stylish Middle Eastern restaurant, Cleo.
Sunset Boulevard and Vine is in transition, but dance clubs and eateries give this corner plenty of character. Serious cinephiles catch their flicks at ArcLight Cinemas, where it’s easy to spot a celeb. Close by is Amoeba Music, where music fans and collectors browse the aisles through 31,000 square feet of space packed with rare vinyl records, CDs and memorabilia.
A couple of blocks west is the stylish minicomplex Space 15 Twenty, catering to shoppers well into the evening. The center is anchored by a supersize Urban Outfitters and complemented by other hip boutiques.
The revival of Hollywood has only enhanced its endless nightlife opportunities, and a lively bar and club scene permeates the district. On Hollywood Boulevard, you can party under the guise of literary advancement at library-themed Hemingway’s, or attempt to get past the velvet rope at Playhouse or Lure on Ivar Avenue. Cahuenga Boulevard also hosts dozens of clubs.
Quintessentially L.A. but a galaxy removed from Hollywood Boulevard is the Hollywood Bowl, the largest outdoor amphitheater in the U.S., where the Los Angeles Philharmonic takes up residence from June to October. Picnicking under the stars here is among the most memorable experiences in L.A. Nearby is the Ford Amphitheatre, featuring a more intimate environment for international music, dance and family fare.
Los Feliz + Silver Lake
These neighborhoods are among the best-kept secrets in the county. Vermont Avenue, the main drag in Los Feliz, presents a collection of shops and restaurants that range from bohemian to chic. Skylight Books and 24/7 diner Fred 62 are popular hangouts. Newer lounges such as Rockwell represent the neighborhood’s increasing sophistication.
A once-forgotten stretch of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz now hosts trendy boutiques such as Confederacy and restaurants including cult fave Umami Burger. Fully transformed is Silver Lake Boulevard, now crowded with eateries and upscale retailers.
At Sunset Junction, where Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards intersect and the eponymous music festival takes place in summer, is where Los Feliz transitions into Silver Lake. Foodies hang at casual Forage or the Cheese Store of Silverlake, while aspiring screenwriters hammer at their laptops and sip lattes at Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea.
The largest urban park in America, this sprawling swath is an ideal place to hike, picnic, golf, ride horses and more. The Charlie Turner Trailhead begins at the Griffith Observatory, one of the great planetariums in the world and a frequent filming location. The hike up Mount Hollywood (three miles round trip) provides views of the Hollywood sign, and the nearby Greek Theatre, a 5,700-seat amphitheater, is a legendary music venue. Also located in Griffith Park is the underrated Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens and the Western heritage-oriented Autry National Center, both accessible from the Ventura (SR 134) or Golden State (I-5) freeways.
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