Hollywood Dreaming
Hooray for Hollywood!
The Midwest backlot at Warner Bros in Burbank.

While Los Angeles has many tourist attractions, it is perhaps the allure of Hollywood that most intrigues traveling families. Hollywood, which was named after the California holly tree by the wife of an early real estate developer, is no longer the epicenter of the motion picture business. However, the word still evokes all that is the movies.  Paramount Pictures maintains its classic lot in eastern Hollywood and many support companies (labs, smaller stages, equipment rental houses, etc.) call it home.

Other major studios and many independent film companies are also spread all over the Los Angeles area, from Burbank to the San Fernando Valley to Santa Monica.

The following must-see attractions will give movie pilgrims the opportunity to taste the elements of the old and new in the current Hollywood.

HOLLYWOODLAND

For many visitors to Los Angeles, there is no more coveted photo than a shot of the world-famous 1924 Hollywood sign. The Sign’s 50-foot letters originally read “Hollywoodland” as advertisement for the real estate development of the same name in Beachwood Canyon. 

By 1949 the sign was in disrepair and survived only when a plan to demolish it was defeated by public protests.  Instead, it was renovated and the “land” dropped from the name.  The development was a great success and remains today a highly regarded residential area. Though it is visible from all over the city on its lofty perch on Mount Lee, it can be difficult to get a well-angled shot. It is actually illegal to hike to or get anywhere near the sign, which sits behind restricting gates and is monitored by security cameras and Park Rangers. Visit the Hollywood sign website link above for an insiders photo guide to the sign.

The movie business landed in Hollywood around 1911, with the construction of Nestor Studios, followed by the Lasky-DeMille Barn, which survives today as the Hollywood Heritage Museum. The museum features archival photographs from the silent movie days of motion picture production, movie props, historic documents and other movie related memorabilia. Also featured are historic photos and postcards of the streets, buildings and residences of Hollywood during its heyday. Open weekends only.  

Stars for the Stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Boulevard was always the Main Street of Hollywood, anchored by its classic icons — TCL Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame. The TCL Chinese Theaters (it’s been turned into a six-plex and partnered through 2023 with a “real” Chinese company for naming rights) formerly known as Grauman’s, opened in May, 1927, in the most spectacular theater opening ever. Thousands of people lined the Boulevard, with riots breaking out as the stars of “King of Kings” arrived.  It remains one of the favored venues for movie openings today, and tourists love to show up on nights of big movie premiers and watch celebrities walk down the red carpet.

Its dramatic forecourt holds a number of hand and footprints of the stars, and leads on to the Walk of Fame, which runs both directions on Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea Avenue to Gower Street, and on Vine Street from Yucca Street to Sunset Boulevard.  More than 2,000 stars have been given to outstanding artists in film, television, music, radio, and theater. If you’re really into it, be sure to download The Los Angeles Times Star Walk app from iTunes, because it delivers the precise location of every star along with photos and a comprehensive biography of the recipient. Visit the Walk of Fame Calendar for premiers and other events and plan to be there — a great photo opp!

The Dolby Theatre is part of the lively Hollywood & Highland Center and is the new venue of the yearly Oscar show. Thirty-minute guided tours are available Monday to Sunday from 10:30am to 4pm — except during Oscar week.  This is the way to go for viewing an Oscar statuette, visiting the VIP Lounge and other exclusive celebrity hot spots, and viewing images from previous Academy Awards ceremonies. 

Paramount Pictures Studio Tour

Movie studio tours are available weekdays at Paramount Studios, the historic production home of the first Best Picture Academy Award-winner, “Wings” (1927). The two-hour tour is more popular with older movie buffs who recall the studio’s golden years, because Paramount has preserved its beautiful Mediterranean-style bungalows and old stucco soundstages. The bungalows (including Lucille Ball’s) are now offices and the 29 remaining stages primarily host TV shows. Nonetheless, the guides are knowledgeable and provide entertaining anecdotes about recent projects done on the lot. If you go, don’t miss a chance to take a selfie by the famous wrought iron Bronson Gates and the fountains just in front.

Movie Trivia: There is no Paramount Stage 13 because it was deemed an unlucky number.

Universal Studios Hollywood Tour

Just a few minutes North on US-101 is the exciting Universal Studios Hollywood. After a 2008 fire broke out on the lot and destroyed New York Street, the King Kong theme park attraction and a video vault, the entertainment community rallied together and assembled a world-renowned creative team to rebuild what had been lost. The theme park now offers a glitzier behind-the-scenes tram tour experience, with high-definition TV monitors in each tram car, new video content, and high-grade digital audio systems. Read more about our recent visit to the Universal Studios Hollywood here.

Movie Trivia: The animatronic shark in “Jaws” was named Bruce after Steven Spielberg’s attorney, who apparently still represents him as legal counsel.

 

Warner Bros Studio Tour

Don’t miss a visit to Warner Bros, the huge production facility in nearby Burbank where films — many of them — are still being made. This tram tour is our top pick for budding filmmakers. You’ll be thrilled by references to the Academy Award-winning “Casablanca” and “Gravity,” both shot here. Since film and TV production (“Big Bang Theory” and the “Ellen DeGeneres Show”) continue, everything visitors see is authentic, and going behind-the-scenes is a fascinating journey for ages 8+. Costumes and props from the eight Harry Potter films (Warner Bros. movies shot in London) are on display, as well as wild-looking fantasy Batmobiles from “The Dark Knight Rises” and other Batman films. During a visit to Stage 48, the interactive, multimedia how-things-work exhibit about sound and special effects, you can put yourself into the Central Perk set from “Friends” or mount a broomstick from “Harry Potter” in front of a green screen and have a photo or video made. Arrive early so you’ll have plenty of time for the self-guided Stage 48 visit after the two-hour tram tour.

Movie Trivia: Stage 7 is called Lucky 7 because three Oscar winners (including the 1964 “My Fair Lady” starring Audrey Hepburn) built sets on it.

Meeting the Stars Where They Live and Work… Sort of

While we respect the privacy of actors, it’s hard not to recommend Star Lines’ Movie Stars Homes Tour. Buses leave regularly from several locations and almost every hotel can arrange a pickup. Don’t expect to be invited in for coffee with Brad and Angelina, but the tours provide an interesting journey through the wealthier residential areas, with lots of gossip about the stars, and the occasional drive-by of a real star’s home or former home. Their new partnership with TMZ guarantees that guides are up-to-the-minute on the latest Hollywood buzz!

In addition to the stars’ homes tours, there is also a Movie Locations Tour which will take you by bus to some of the big hits listed above, plus a fun, hop-on hop-off Open-Top Double Decker City Tour of Los Angeles running on routes including Hollywood, Santa Monica and downtown LA.

There are also opportunities to be part of the audience for taping of TV shows and game shows. Tickets for these are best arranged in advance through commercial vendors, such as Audiences Unlimited, which feature sitcoms and talk shows. TV Tix is also a good resource for talk shows and game shows, and On Camera Audiences specializes in reality TV shows. If you can’t find tickets through any online vendors, check the show’s website. Some talk shows offer tickets directly through their sites. Peak production season runs August through March, so plan to come during this time frame.

That’s a wrap for now! Please share your star sightings in the comments field below.

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