12 Unexpected Things to do in Hollywood
To truly experience Hollywood you should try a little bit of everything. From off the beaten path to the most famous attractions, Hollywood is tons of fun.
Hollywood is always a fun place to visit and even exciting at times with the occasional movie premiere or star spotting. Although it is hard to imagine today, Hollywood had very humble beginnings. The history of Hollywood dates back to 1870 as a prospering agricultural community. The name “Hollywood” originated from real estate tycoon, Harvey Henderson Wilcox’s wife Daeida. Daeida chose to name their ranch Hollywood after hearing about the Dutch settlement of Hollywood in Ohio. In 1887 Wilcox had plans to make Hollywood into a city. Dividing his huge ranch into grids and submitting the plans to the Los Angeles County recorder’s office, Wilcox created Hollywood the city.
A little over a decade later, Hollywood had a population of 500. By 1902 the later famous Hollywood Hotel had been built (later added onto). There was also a trolley system connecting Hollywood to Los Angeles.
Soon filmmakers began to arrive from New Jersey. The film industry actually had its start in New Jersey because that is where most of the first technology of film making was invented. Thomas Edison held all of the patents on motion picture equipment and demanded payment for use of equipment based on his technology. Filmmakers fled New Jersey to avoid legal action from Edison and found Los Angeles to be ideal for film making.
The first film to be made in Hollywood was a 17 minute film called “In Old California”. Directed by D. W. Griffith and made for the Biograph Company. Oddly, Hollywood did not allow movie theaters due to a ban prior to the filmmakers arriving. Movies could however be seen in nearby Los Angeles. The first film shot by an actual Hollywood studio was made by Nestor Motion Picture Company. By the 1920’ there were four major film studios in Hollywood; Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO and Columbia, along with a number of smaller studios. Tinsletown was born.
Today Hollywood is known as the motion picture capital of the world. If you are a movie buff, there is no question Hollywood should be on your list of places to go. If you are a fan of the real history of Hollywood or an adventurer, the tips for places to visit in this article are for you.
Spending a day or a week in Hollywood you can keep yourself busy the whole time. You can typically count on beautiful weather and plenty of people and activity. It is like stepping into a movie set with the many iconic buildings and even the characters promoting the latest movie or business along Hollywood Blvd.
The Hollywood Sign
It might come as a surprise to many that the Hollywood sign was not constructed to commemorate the film making capital of the world, but was originally meant to advertise a housing development named Hollywoodland. Originally constructed in 1923, the 45 foot tall, white capital letters spelled out “Hollywoodland”.
Over the years the iconic sign has experienced its own history. In 1932 a young starlit from New York by the name of Peg Entwistle became the symbol of all that was not right about Hollywood. Though many young actresses came to Hollywood with dreams of becoming huge stars, the reality was very different. Few of the hundreds/thousands ever made it. Peg was also no exception to this rule. After spending a summer of blistering heat waiting for “the call”, Peg became despondent. One night that September, Peg told her uncle she was meeting some friends for a night out. Instead she hiked up the canyon to the Hollywoodland sign, climbed to the top of the giant “H” using a workman’s ladder and threw herself to the canyon below. Sadly, the day after Peg’s suicide a letter arrived from the Beverly Hills Play House offering her a lead role in a play.
In 1949 the Hollywoodland sign officially became part of Griffith Park. The sign had fallen under disrepair during the war years and was badly in need of restoration. Through a combined effort between the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation to rebuild the sign and remove the “land” portion of the sign. Creating what the world now knows as the greatest symbol of Hollywood itself.
In the 1960’s the Hollywood sign again started to fall into disrepair. Even as the sign was rusting and crumbling, it was given official landmark status in 1973. Continuing to crumble, portions of the sign including the third “O” fell down the side of Mt. Lee. Finally in 1977 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a campaign to raise the quarter million dollars needed to rebuild the sign. Through the efforts of some of the industry’s biggest stars, other well known celebrities and musicians, the money to rebuild the sign was raised. The old sign was demolished and for 3 months, Hollywood went without the famous sign. By 1978 the Hollywood sign that stands today was completed.
There are a number of vantage points that pictures of the Hollywood sign can be taken with a visitor in the shot. It is also not difficult to find your way up the hill to get closer with road signs marking the way and a number of tours that include views of the sign as well. No visit is complete to Hollywood without at least getting a picture of yourself with the world famed symbol of Hollywood, the Hollywood sign itself.
The Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl amphitheater has been home to many memorable concerts over the years. An open air band shell and concentric arches give the Hollywood Bowl an easily identifiable appearance. Built in 1929, the band shell was replaced in 2003 with a slightly larger version of the original. With an amazing back drop of the Hollywood Hills, including the Hollywood sign in the distance, it is hard not to imagine a romantic evening listening to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
Prior to the band shell being built, it was the natural shape of the bowl surrounding the site that drew the Theater Arts Alliance to the location. In the beginning simple wooden benches were built for audience members to sit on along with ground seating. Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s son) built the first and second band shells used on the site. Then in 1929 the shell that was replaced in 2003 was built.
The Hollywood Bowl has been host to many memorable acts, bands and performances. The venue has been home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic since opening and then later to another resident ensemble, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The Beatles played at the Bowl twice, making their U.S. debut in 1964. Later the Beatles returned in 1965, which resulted in the live album; "The Beatles live at the Hollywood Bowl". Every year, the “Playboy Jazz Festival” is held at the Bowl since its inception in 1979. The British comedic group Monty Python made a notable appearance in 1982, “Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl”. More recent performances include Kanye West, Linkin Park and Journey who performed with a youth orchestra.
There is also a Hollywood Bowl Museum, featuring artifacts and memorabilia from past performances. Within the museum is also the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. A more thorough history of this historic landmark can also be found in the museum. Including a list of films, television show and even video games the Hollywood Bowl has made appearances in.
Tours of the Hollywood Bowl are available through the museum. Otherwise, try to catch a show. Be sure to check the calendar and get your tickets in advance, as the Hollywood Bowl is usually a sell out for any show.
Hollywood Wax Museum
Built in 1965, the Hollywood Wax Museum quickly became a destination for visitors to Hollywood. After all, if you can’t see your favorite stars in person, the next best thing is their wax look alike. Sets and exhibits change on a regular basis, so what you see this time, may not be what you see next time. The most popular exhibit though is a constant. The Chamber of Horrors pay homage to the great horror movies of Hollywood past and present.
Taking a picture next to your favorite star is entirely possible in the Hollywood Wax Museum. With both current and classic movie stars featured, there is sure to be an interest for anyone that has ever seen a major motion picture. You can even sing along side your favorite pop star. The Hollywood Wax Museum is the longest running wax museum exhibit in the nation. Easily found along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, this is a must see attraction while visiting Hollywood.
Hollywood Heritage Museum
For a truly local experience the Hollywood Heritage Museum is the place to go. Not normally considered in the list of sights to see in Hollywood, the Hollywood Heritage Museum is a hidden gem. The history of Hollywood from the very beginning is preserved at this museum. The museum itself is housed in the California State Historic Landmark Lasky-Demille Barn that was built in 1901. The barn is the oldest preserved motion picture production building in Hollywood, at one time housing Cecil B. Demille’s office. In addition to being a historic landmark the museum offers extraordinary exhibits including the Universal City 100th Anniversary Celebration Exhibit. There is no question this little known destination will offer a one of a kind Hollywood experience.
For more information visit: http://www.hollywoodheritage.org/
Pink's Hot Dog Stand
Located near the corner of Melrose and Le Brea, Pink’s hotdog stand has been a landmark in Hollywood history since 1939. Originally a pushcart business, Pink’s has been in the same location for more than 73 years. Due to the close proximity to film studios and the famous homemade chili and natural casing hotdogs, Pink’s has been a favorite of many film stars over the years.
On any given day there is a line nearly a block long of people waiting to order any one of the famous combination hot dogs named after celebrities that frequent Pink’s. There is the Rosie O’Donnell Dog, 9” stretch dog topped with mustard, onions, chili and sauerkraut, the Giada Delaurentis Dog, 9” stretch dog topped with sautéed peppers, onions & mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, and shredded mozzarella and a number of other combination hot dogs to choose from.
Unique from any other hot dog stand of note, there is every possibility you might see a film star, director or executive waiting in line just like anyone else. Pink’s is also the only hot dog stand to boast its own parking lot attendant. Once you make it far enough in the line to be inside, you will have plenty to keep you occupied until you order. The walls are covered with pictures of grateful stars and autographs.
Pink’s has also become a part of pop culture via the number of films and tv the location has been featured in, most recently appearing in the movie The Muppets. In fact, Pink’s is so popular it was there that Bruce Willis proposed to Demi Moore. For a real taste of Hollywood, Pink’s is a must. Keep your eye on the line; you never know who you might see there!
The Griffith Observatory is located in Griffith Park. Opened in May of 1935, the observatory has been a popular tourist attraction ever since. The land and money to build the observatory were donated by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith in December of 1896. Built in what is now Griffith Park the Observatory not only commands a view of the cosmos, but the entire surrounding area. The famous landmarks of both Hollywood and Los Angeles are clearly visible from the grounds of the observatory.
There are a number of feature exhibits within the observatory; one of the more popular is Brandon’s coil. The Tesla coil was built in 1910. Once exhibited in Madison Square Garden for an electrical show, the coil would set off once every hour. Sparks would reach as far as 122 inches to a matching coil. Called the “Million Volt Oscillator”, the coil was later donated to the observatory in 1937. At the time there were some missing parts. With the assistance of Kenneth Strickfadden (best known for creating the special effects in the movie Frankenstein in 1931), and staff member Leon Hall restored the coil to operational use. A visit to the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater offers a number of films to enjoy, including The Once and Future Griffith Observatory, a past, current and future of the observatory.
The observatory is not only a famous planetarium, but has also been the backdrop to a number of television and movie scenes including Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. The observatory has also been shown in 2 of the Terminator movies and Paula Abdul’s 80’s video “Rush, Rush”.
It is important to note that it is free admission to visit the observatory and ticket prices vary for the planetarium. Visiting the Griffith Observatory is guaranteed to have something for everyone while having a good time in Hollywood.
For more information visit: http://griffithobservatory.org/
The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Another Hollywood must see attraction. If you are a true movie buff, you know the very first Academy Awards were held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Named after Theodore Roosevelt, the hotel opened in May of 1927 at a cost of $2.5 million to build. Investors included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Louis B. Mayer. Constructed to accommodate the newly born film making capital of the world and the stars of the film industry, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel did not fail to deliver. Built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and twelve stories tall, the hotel was the grandest of everything.
Some of the past residents include Charlie Chaplin, the couple Clark Gable and Carol Lombard (whom the penthouse is named after). Marilyn Monroe lived at the hotel for two years following the take off of her modeling career. The hotel is also rumored to be haunted by some of those past guests as well. Of note are Marilyn, Montgomery Clift, Errol Flynn and an unidentified little girl wearing a blue dress.
In 1988 a mural was painted at the bottom of the Tropicana pool by David Hockney. The mural, the pool and the hotel are considered architectural beauty’s and have been designated Historic Cultural Monuments by the City Cultural Heritage Commission. The hotel underwent a meticulous renovation in 2005 and is currently under management of Thompson Hotels. There are only 300 rooms in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, so be sure to book your room well in advance if you plan on staying there. Otherwise you could dine or have drinks at The Spare Room, the hotel’s gaming parlor and cocktail lounge. The Spare Room is without question an elegant experience in itself.
Sunset Ranch Horseback Riding
What would a trip to Hollywood be without seeing the world famous Hollywood sign? It doesn’t get much more unique than experiencing it while riding on horseback on Mt. Lee. Sunset Ranch actually pre-dates Hollywoodland (housing development that once surrounded it). Through the many years of change in Hollywood, Sunset Ranch has pretty much remained the same. Often used as a location for filming movies and also providing horses for movies, the ranch has remained in constant operation of one sort or another for close to 100 years.
With one hour and two hour guided tours through Griffith Park, offered by Sunset Ranch you can experience some of the most amazing views Mt Lee has to offer. 360 degree views including L.A., San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valleys, the Pacific Ocean and the landmark Hollywood sign. For a romantic experience, Sunset Ranch also offers dinner rides. One can almost imagine the early days of Hollywood when western films were so popular and cowboy scenes were filmed in the same areas.
For more information visit: http://www.sunsetranchhollywood.com/
Starline City Sightseeing, Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour
This double decker bus tour is not strictly limited to Hollywood. On a beautiful day you can ride on the second level of the bus that is open air and truly see everything around you. There are a number of spots you can hop-off the bus and explore the sights in more depth and then hop back on a Starline bus at a designated time. You can even connect with other Starline sightseeing bus routes and spontaneously choose another part of town to explore. 24 hour, 48 hour or 72 hour bus passes are available and 70 stops to choose from. In addition to your many options of further exploration, while on the bus you have a narrated tour of the city as you travel through it. Starline hop-on, hop-off bus tours are truly a fantastic way to explore everything that is interesting about Hollywood.
For more information visit: http://www.starlinetours.com/
Musso & Frank Grill
Know by many as the genesis of Hollywood, Musso & Frank Grill opened in 1919 (originally named Francois, the name was changed in 1923). The original owners Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet modeled the grill in a classic New York style bar and restaurant. Changing owners in 1927 and also expanding twice, the restaurant has become embedded in Hollywood history as a gathering place for the eclectic and bohemian crowds.
Stanley Rose’s bookstore was located right next door to Musso & Frank Grill, many writers spent time in the back room of the grill. While literary topics and politics were heatedly discussed, the grill became a second home to many noted authors. Regulars included Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker and William Faulkner.
Famous for being a meeting place for movie executives while brokering deals and as a communist gathering place in the 50’s. Musso & Frank’s has maintained its distinct appearance, including the mahogany bar, it had the day they first opened their doors. A dinner of Roast Duck at Musso & Frank Grill is about as true Hollywood a visitor can get in their dining experience.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater Forecourt
Truly no trip to Hollywood is complete without exploring the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater where celebrities have been immortalized with their hand and footprints in cement since 1927. On any given day you can see tourists from all over the world walking all over the forecourt looking for and finding their favorite Hollywood stars and trying out their footprints and hand prints. There are more than 200 colorful blocks commemorating movie stars in the forecourt. A who’s who of Hollywood with more than eight decades of superstars handprints, ranging from such memorable actors as Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, the entire cast of the original Star Trek and even Darth Vader, C-3PO and R2D2. Pictures and memories of a stop at Graamen’s Chinese Theater are a must for any trip to Hollywood.
For more information visit: http://www.seeing-stars.com/Immortalized/ChineseTheatreForecourt.shtml
Forever Hollywood Cemetery
Located on the same block as Paramount studios at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a must see for the avid Hollywood fan. Originally founded in 1899 on 100 acres, a portion was later sold to Paramount Studios (no one was interned in the part sold). There is also a part of the cemetery that became the Beth Olam Cemetery, Jewish burial ground.
Jules Roth became 51% owner of the cemetery in 1939. Known for fraudulent activity, Roth used funds from the cemetery for personal gain and allowed the site and crematory to fall into serious disrepair. Roth is also known for denying Hattie McDowell, the first African American to win an Academy Award burial in the cemetery. At the time of her death the cemetery, like others was segregated. In 1959 it became desegregated. Later on the 47th anniversary of McDaniel’s death a cenotaph was dedicated to her honor near Sylvan Lake within the cemetery.
Among the many notables buried in the cemetery is Rudolph Valentino, who is buried in a borrowed crypt. Originally the plan was that Valentino would stay in the mausoleum temporarily, until a memorial could be built for the actor. The crypt was owned by friends of Valentino Silvano Balboni and June Mathis. Not long after Valentino’s death, June died of a heart attack and was buried in the crypt beside Valentino. As years went by and the memorial crypt planned for Valentino was not built, Balboni sold the “temporary” crypt to members of Valentino’s family and his remains were never moved.
Associated with Valentino is the reported haunting of the cemetery by the Woman in Black. One of the most mysterious legends of Hollywood comes from the story of the “Woman in Black”. It is reported that each year since the first anniversary of Valentino’s death a woman dressed in black from head to toe, including a veil appears at his crypt to leave roses. The woman has never spoken with anyone and disappears as mysteriously as she appeared. There was a story that indicated just before his death, Valentino visited a little girl in the hospital that was gravely ill. On his visit he brought her a single red rose and told her she wasn’t going to die. The little girl miraculously got better. Many have come to believe that the mysterious woman in black that visits Valentino’s crypt is the same little girl grown through the years. At one point a Zeigfeld show girl came forward as the Woman in Black, claiming that Valentino had proposed to her just before his death. The truth came out later when Ditra Flame, the little girl in the hospital admitted to being the woman in black. She continued to place roses at Valentino’s crypt until 1954, when at that time the story had made the tradition a spectacle and many women in black were turning up each year.
Oddly, the occurrence of the “Woman in Black” became a tradition. The second noted woman to start appearing at the crypt on the anniversary was Estrellita del Regil. A Spanish born actress, she believed that her late mother was the one true love of Valentino. Estrellita started appearing at Valentino’s crypt in 1970, continuing her visits until 1993. In 1995 by coincidence another woman in black appeared. Vicki Callahan was caught by a local news crew leaving roses at the crypt and happened to be wearing black. She was quickly dubbed the third “Woman in Black”. Embracing the role, Vicki has continued to make yearly visits to the crypt to this day.
There are many more famous people and stories that come from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It is easy to see why it has become such an unlikely and yet highly popular destination for Hollywood visitors. It is not difficult to get a list of notable burials, on the Forever Hollywood Cemetery website there is a “Forever Tributes” page with much of the information. Embracing pop culture, Hollywood Forever Cemetery has also become home to cultural events that include live music performances and summer outdoor movie nights. Definitely topping the list of unique Hollywood attractions, there is no other cemetery in the world like Hollywood Forever Cemetery, an absolute must for the avid traveler with unique tastes.
Hollywood is like no other town you will ever visit. The amazing history and people make it so much more than just a sunny place to visit. Down each street is another place to explore or another incredible Hollywood character (and there are plenty of characters in Hollywood). Walk down the sidewalks that aspiring starlets of the past and present walk on in hopes of becoming the next big star in the next big blockbuster Hollywood makes.
Go back in time to the beginning of Hollywood by visiting the museums and places the founders of Tinseltown built. Put your hands in the hand prints of your favorite start in the Grauman’s Chinese Theater forecourt. Be sure to take a selfie with a star at the Hollywood Wax Museum. Maybe pay your respects to one of the many past motion picture stars buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Be sure to stop and have a hot dog at Pink’s along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for who might be in line and have your camera ready. Step out of the Hollywood norm and check out the world famous Griffith’s Observatory or go for a horseback ride at Sunset Ranch. Make sure you get the obligatory picture of yourself with the famed Hollywood sign in the background. Have dinner at the iconic Musso and Frank Grill and then spend the night at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, be sure to ask for the Marilyn Monroe Suite. Don’t forget to take a tour and check out the Hollywood Bowl. Make your trip to Hollywood like no other and see what others are probably missing.
Although there are many, many places and experiences in Hollywood that make Hollywood distinctive from any other city there is just no missing the sites included in this list of unique places if you are a true fan of Hollywood through and through. Take a few steps off the beaten path and experience more than just the hype of the big attractions. Visit places that only repeat visitors and locals know about. No matter where you choose to go, I am sure you will have a great time. Along the way you may even find more unique places that didn’t make it on this list.
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