Hollywood Behind the Wheel: A Self-Guided Tour of Tinseltown

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Hollywood Bowl

Concert Crowd at the Hollywood Bowl
Margaret Napier/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

2301 N. Highland

To start your tour, exit Hwy 101 at Highland Avenue and go south. The Hollywood Bowl will be on your right.

We can't think of a nicer way to pass a summer evening than going to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Although it's run by the Philharmonic, the music covers a wide range from classical to jazz and beyond. The crowd is laid-back and thanks to diligent work on the part of the property management, you can still bring a picnic and a bottle of wine with you.

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Hollywood Heritage Museum

Hollywood Heritage Museum
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

2100 North Highland

Continue south on Highland. The museum is the yellow-colored building on the left.

  • Cost: Admission fee
  • Open: Check current hours
  • Location: Highland Avenue, directions below
  • How Long: Allow an hour or two
  • Best Time to Visit: Any time

The Hollywood Heritage Museum is a tribute to Hollywood's infancy and stands as an oasis of history and preservation in a town that has long outgrown its rural beginnings. Filled with artifacts, photographs and trivia from the earliest days of Hollywood, the Hollywood Heritage Museum is a must-see for movie buffs and historians alike.

Located in the old Lasky-DeMille Barn where Jesse Lasky (producer) and Cecil B. DeMille (producer/director) made several of their collaborative pictures, the museum is mostly devoted to DeMille's illustrious career from the silent days of The Squaw Man (1914) to his epic 1956 production of The Ten Commandments.

The building itself has a long and interesting history starting in 1895 when the barn was erected on a Southern California citrus farm. It has been moved more than once, most recently from the studio to its current location.

Visitors can also view original artifacts and props from the silent era, not to mention other exhibits highlighting other early film legends such as D.W. Griffith.

Getting to Hollywood Heritage Museum

2100 North Highland
Hollywood, CA
Hollywood Heritage Museum website

From US Hwy 101, exit on Highland and go south. The museum will be on the left, just across from the Hollywood Bowl.

- This review was written by Sean Malone, a graduate film student at the University of Miami and native of Tucson, Arizona.

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Capitol Records Building

Capitol Records Building, Hollywood
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

1750 Vine Street

Turn left on Franklin Ave and continue to Vine Street. Shortly after you drive under a high overpass, turn right onto Vine and you'll be just across the street from Capitol Records Hollywood.

The Capitol Records Building is a Hollywood landmark, inspired by a stack of now-obsolete 45 rpm records, an appropriate theme for the first recording studio on the west coast. If you're visiting with kids and remember those 45's yourself, you'll have a chance to feel very old while you explain what they were. This unique structure was built in 1955, shortly after British company EMI acquired Capitol Records. At 13 stories tall, it was one of the tallest buildings allowed in Los Angeles and Hollywood at the time.

Even though it's so iconic and almost everyone who visits Hollywood points it out, it's still a working studio and there's nothing for visitors to see inside.

And we haven't verified this ourselves, but it's said that the blinking light on top spells the word "Hollywood" in Morse code. If you want to check it out, that would be:

(H) dot-dot-dot-dot
(o) dash-dash-dash
(l) dot-dash-dot-dot
(l) dot-dash-dot-dot
(y) dash-dot-dash-dash
(w) dot-dash-dash
(o) dash-dash-dash
(o) dash-dash-dash
(d) dash-dot-dot

If you want to know more about the fascinating history of this unusual structure, check it out at the Discover Los Angeles website.

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Hollywood Boulevard

Neon Lights on Hollywood Boulevard
©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Continue south on Vine to Hollywood Boulevard and turn right. Hollywood and Vine once had a reputation as the "in" place to be in Hollywood, but nowadays those honors go to Hollywood at Highland down the street. You'll start to see the sidewalks stars of the Walk of Fame right away, but this section of Hollywood Boulevard still wears some grunge and is lined with tattoo shops, scanty clothing boutiques and tacky souvenir stores, but those gradually disappear as you go along.

The "new" Hollywood you're driving toward was years in the making, but it seems as if it sprang up overnight, creating what is now one of my favorite Los Angeles stops. The cornerstone of remade Hollywood is the Hollywood at Highland Complex and the new Metro station.

Continue on Hollywood Boulevard to Highland, where you could turn right, park and switch to our walking tour before proceeding - or just keep driving on Hollywood Boulevard all the way to La Brea, where you'll see the Gateway to Hollywood sculpture on your left, an arching structure supported by four beautiful leading ladies.

From here, you're going to take a drive around a rather large block to see a couple of sights before moving on. If you aren't interested in Magic Castle or Hollywood High School, turn left on La Brea and skip to Jim Henson Studios.

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Magic Castle

Magic Castle Magician's Club
©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

If you're following our driving tour, Turn right off Hollywood Boulevard onto La Brea Ave., then turn right onto Franklin. Magic Castle is on the left.

7001 Franklin Avenue

  • Cost: Admission fee
  • Reservations: See below for information about special requirements
  • Location: Hollywood, just a few blocks from Hollywood Boulevard, directions below
  • How Long: You will be there the entire evening

The Magic Castle, Los Angeles home of the Academy of Magical Arts is housed in a beautiful, ornate Victorian-style house at the base of the Hollywood Hills. Besides training new generations of magicians, the Magic Castle has also been the social club for Los Angeles-area magicians since 1963. Local magicians, professionals and serious amateurs gather at the Magic Castle to socialize and show off their latest tricks.

Magic Castle Review

Dinner is served at the Magic Castle in three seatings every evening, and they also serve Sunday brunch, but the real attractions at the Magic Castle are the magic shows. They offer five different shows in three showrooms, and magicians we've seen here in Los Angeles in the past have frequently turned up on television.

You must be over 21 years old to go to Magic Castle, except for Sunday brunch. Every member of your party must bring photo ID. The Magic Castle has a very strict dress code. Men must wear a coat and tie. Ladies should dress in a cocktail dress, skirt or pant suit with matching jacket. A nice shirt and dress slacks won't do. Neither will jeans, zippered jackets, sweaters, hooded sweaters or athletic shoes.

If you enjoy watching magicians, it will be worth your effort to pack dress clothes for a night at Magic Castle during your Hollywood visit. We've been twice (thanks to magician friends) and have enjoyed both visits very much.

Getting into the Magic Castle

Magic Castle is a membership-only club for professional magicians. Mere mortals can get in by getting a pass from a Magic Castle member like we did, but if you don't know one, don't despair. It's a little-known secret that guests at nearby Los Angeles hotels The Magic Hotel and Hollywood Hills Hotel also get admission to the Magic Castle.

Getting to the Magic Castle

Magic Castle
7001 Franklin Avenue
Hollywood, CA
Magic Castle website

The Magic Castle is a short distance from Hollywood Boulevard. From US Hwy 101 west of downtown LA, exit at Highland Avenue, go south to Franklin and turn right.

You can take the MTA Red Line to Hollywood and Highland and walk.

The only on-site parking at Magic Castle is by valet.

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Hollywood High

Mural at Hollywood High School
©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

1521 N. Highland

Turn right onto Highland and continue across Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood High School is on the right.

Hollywood High plays such a big part in Hollywood history that we think they ought to have a museum. Unfortunately they don't. They do have a mural outside, done in 2002 by artist Eloy Torrez, it's called "Portrait of Hollywood." It shows many stars who attended Hollywood High School and in the small section in this photo are Rudolph Valentino, Judy Garland and John Ritter, who was added after his untimely death in 2003.

It's only a block off Hollywood Boulevard south on Highland and worth a quick side trip while you're checking out the rest of Hollywood.

Other Hollywood High alumni include Laurence Fishburne, director John Huston and singer Ricky Nelson. Wikipedia has a longer list of notable Hollywood High School alumni.

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Henson Studios

Kermit the Frog Statue at Jim Henson Studios
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

1416 N. La Brea Avenue

After passing Hollywood High School, turn right on Sunset Boulevard, then turn left onto La Brea. Henson Studios is on the left.

Lots of people who visit Hollywood may get a glimpse of this building and sharp-eyed fans for Kermit the Frog will probably notice him standing out front, wearing a tuxedo. It's not on most of the lists of top things to do in Hollywood because it's not generally open to the public. The only way we know to get inside is on Adventures by Disney's Backstage Magic Tour and the visit was more than fun indeed.

Fans of Hollywood history will want to stop by for sure, just to pay tribute to one of Hollywood's most popular and influental personalities: today's Henson Studios is the original home of Charlie Chaplin Studios. Look closer and you'll see that Kermit the Frog is dressed like The Little Tramp to honor that. This place is also a part of Hollywood musical history: "We Are the World" and many other hits were recorded here when it was A&M Records' sound studio.

If you stop by while you're in Hollywood, you can snap a picture of Kermit and peep through the gate at the English-style architecture.

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Pink's Hot Dogs

Pink's Hot Dogs in Hollywood
Sam Howzit/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

709 N. La Brea Blvd.

Continue on La Brea. Just before you reach the intersection with Santa Monica Boulevard, you'll see a blast from the past, Speed McDonald (the fast food chain's mascot before Ronald took over), which is especially cute at night when the neon is lit up.

Pink's is on the right just after Waring and before you reach Melrose. Just look for the giant pink hot dog sign in the air and a long line of people on the sidewalk.

  • Location: Near the intersection of Melrose Avenue and N. La Brea Boulevard, directions below
  • How Long: Depends on how much you eat
  • Best Time to Visit: Pink's is busy all day long, but it's a late-night phenomenon (open until 3:00 a.m.)

Founded by Paul and Betty Pink in 1939, Pink's Hot Dogs is a Hollywood landmark and possibly one of the country's most famous hot dog stands. So popular that it has its own parking lot attendant, Pink's Hot Dogs is busy from the time it opens until it closes in the wee hours.

It's not unusual to find a celebrity noshing a Pink's hot dog, and their website hosts pictures of the panoply of stars who have frequented the place. Rolls Royces and chauffeured limousines pull up regularly to procure chili dogs for their occupants.

Pink's Hot Dogs Review

So why all the fuss about a hot dog? Pink's Hot Dogs' specially-made, all-beef wieners have a natural casing that makes that makes them snap when you bite into them, and their chili recipe was specially developed by Betty Pink years ago. They offer 24 different combinations, many named after celebrities.

But it's not just about the hot dogs themselves. You could probably get a great hot dog at home and you may already have your favorites. The fun part is that there's a certain cachet to Pink's, with standing in line being part of the experience, and weekend club and concert-goers thronging the place late a night. We always enjoy all the autographed celebrity photos that line the walls inside, too.

Pink's Hot Dogs does not accept debit or credit cards, so it your wallet is empty, be sure you stop by an ATM on your way there.

Getting to Pink's Hot Dogs

Pink's Hot Dogs
709 N. La Brea Blvd.
Hollywood, CA
Pink's Hot Dogs website

From I-10, take the La Brea exit and go north to its intersection with Melrose. Pink's Hot Dogs is on the corner.

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CBS Television City

CBS Television City, Hollywood
Alan Light at Flickr under Attribution 2.0 Generic License

7800 Beverly Boulevard

After passing Pink's, turn right on Melrose, which is lined with fun clothing boutiques and shops, a good place to stop if shopping is your fancy. Turn left when you reach Fairfax Avenue. Along the way, you'll pass Canter's Deli at 419 North Fairfax, a little bit of New York City on the west coast, open 24 hours a day.

You'll see CBS Television Studios on the left just after you cross Beverly Blvd. and before you reach the Los Angeles Farmers Market.

There aren't any public tours of this Hollywood studio, so it's mostly a drive-by sight on your Hollywood itinerary. If you're interested in seeing a television show being recorded, you can get into a studio audience here. The Price is Right is filmed at CBS Hollywood, as are occasional sitcoms and late night talk shows. Use this guide to find out how to be in a studio audience.

If you're just curious how it all works and don't care which show you watch them film, walk up to the studio ticket office and you may be able to get tickets right away. It's on the side of the studio that faces Fairfax, beside the driveway closest to Beverly Blvd. The ticket window is open weekdays and on weekends if shows are being filmed then.

If you want to watch a particular show being created, use this guide to find out how you can be in a studio audience in Los Angeles.

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Farmers Market

Farmers Market Los Angeles
©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Third Street at Fairfax Avenue

The Los Angeles Farmers Market is on the left just past CBS.

It started out as an informal Farmers Market and back in the 1930s, it was far outside the Los Angeles city limits. Today it's in the middle of town, a loosely-strung-together complex of food sellers, eateries and interesting shops.

During the day, the LA Farmers Market can be overrun by busloads of Los Angeles visitors and it's fun enough, but we think it's best in the evening, when the locals come out and you can enjoy a side dish of people-watching along with some of LA's best Zagat-rated food.

And just FYI - Purists might argue that the Farmers Market isn't really in Hollywood, but Hollywood is actually a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, rather than an independent municipality with defined limits. It's close enough to Hollywood for us and a fun addition to your Hollywood driving tour.

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Pay your respects to a who's who of old Hollywood here.
Javier Carcamo at Flickr under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

6000 Santa Monica Blvd.

Leaving the Farmers Market, turn right onto Fairfax, going back the way you came for a while. You'll be driving straight toward the Hollywood Hills and since everyone always seems to be interested in house prices, the big, round-shaped, white house up on the hill almost straight ahead has the only-in-Hollywood address of 1 Electra Court. It's a 9,204-square-foot house with 6 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms, valued at $3.7 million in August, 2011.

Turn right onto Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood Forever is on the right a few blocks past Vine Street.

Formerly called Hollywood Memorial Park, the cemetery is the last resting place of many of Hollywood's early stars, from Darla Hood of the Little Rascals to legendary director Cecil B. DeMille. It also boasts a nice view of the Hollywood sign from the entrance.

The florist shop near the entrance gate has maps that will show you where the celebrities' graves are located.

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Paramount Studios

Paramount Studios Melrose Gate
Vanessa Rose/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

5555 Melrose Ave.

Turn right when you leave Hollywood Forever (or just keep going on Santa Monica if you don't stop in). A little way down the street, you'll notice Bronson Avenue dead-ends into a strip mall that's right behind the cemetery. Turn right on Van Ness Avenue.

On this street, you can't help but notice a large, exuberantly-decorated, dark-pink-colored building with the words "Alexander Ruler of the World" emblazoned over the entry. It was built by Paramount in 1927 to house actors, or so the story goes. In 1992, a colorful Greek immigrant named George Pan-Andreas bought it, hiring artist Danny Doxton in 2007 to paint it as a tribute to Alexander the Great. After that, we wonder if it just took on a life of its own, now covered with all kinds of Greek-inspired decorations, mixed with paintings of Rudolph Valentino, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The LA Times has the whole story.

When you've stopped gawking, chortling and photographing, continue and turn right again onto Melrose. Paramount is on the right. Where Bronson Avenue starts up again on the left, look right and you'll see the original studio gate and fountain.

Paramount is the only studio still operating in Hollywood proper, and it has a long and interesting history. Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky made their first film The Squaw Man in an old horse barn near Sunset and Vine (which has now been moved to Highland Avenue and is the home of the Hollywood Heritage Museum). In 1916, they merged their company with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company and gained controlling interest in Paramount Pictures Corporation, a film distribution company.

Casual visitors are not allowed inside the studios, but that doesn't mean you can't visit this Hollywood landmark. In fact, you can take a guided tour if you have reservations and many Hollywood visitors say doing it was the highlight of their trip. Find out all about it in the Paramount Studio Tour Guide.

If you want to see a television program being filmed at Paramount, don't contact them directly. Instead, use this guide to find out how be in a studio audience in Los Angeles.

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Arclight Cinerama Dome

The Cinerama Theatre in Hollywood
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

6360 W. Sunset Blvd

After you pass Paramount, turn right on Gower. As you follow Gower to Sunset Boulevard, you'll get good views of the Hollywood Sign straight ahead. Turn right onto Sunset to reach the Arclight.

I don't often recommend that people go to a movie while on vacation. After all, it's something you could do just as easily at home. However, the ArcLight Hollywood is such a refreshing change from the ordinary that it's well worth a stop. You'll find a cafe and movie-themed shop in the lobby, gourmet sandwiches at the refreshment stand, assigned seats and ushers to help you find them. Projection and sound are said to be the best in the Los Angeles area.

The Cinerama Dome, a geodesic-domed theater was built in 1963 to show the then-new "Cinerama" movies, filmed using a wide screen process which projected images from three, synchronized 35 mm projectors to create a wider view than is possible otherwise. The original equipment is still in place, and the main auditorium can screen 70mm films as well as modern ones.

The theater also hosts exhibitions of Hollywood-themed photographs and art work, well worth getting there a few minutes early to check out.

If you want to see a movie at the Arclight Hollywood, you can check their schedule online.

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Hollyhock House

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

4800 Hollywood Boulevard

Leaving the Arclight, continue on Sunset to Vine. Turn left on Vine and then right on Hollywood Boulevard. Hollyhock House is on the right, up the hill.

Frank Lloyd Wright's first California commission was to be a an arts complex with theaters, residences and shops. Some structures were never built and only two houses survive. Hollyhock House, built as a private residence has been partly renovated and is open for tours. This Hollywood house has been listed among the architect's most important works and it's well worth a stop if you're visiting Hollywood and don't let all our fancy talk about it put you off. It's in a beautiful location with great views of Hollywood and the house is both gorgeous and interesting, even by modern standards.

Even if you aren't interested in touring the house or if you arrive when no tour is offered, you can see it from the outside. Its hilltop location also provides some of the best views in Los Angeles. Some of the landmarks sights you can see in the nearby Hollywood Hills include the Griffith Observatory (large white structure with black, dome-shaped roofs) and the Hollywood Sign. The large, mud-colored structure almost directly across the valley is the Ennis House, another Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Los Angeles home.

If you've seen enough, you can return to where you started at Hollywood and Highland by going west on Hollywood Boulevard (left turning out of the park) - but there's more to see. Take a side trip to see the Hollywood Sign and Warner Bros Studios or Sunset Strip.

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Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign
©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

If you want to get a closer look at the Hollywood sign on this tour, you'll have to go a little out of your way. 

The drive to it is a side trip on your way to Warner Bros. Studios. If you've seen enough of those famous 9 letters, just continue to Warner Bros.

Read more about visiting the Hollywood Sign and get directions to the closest place you can get to it by automobile.

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Warner Bros Studios

Warner Bros Studios
©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

3400 Riverside Drive

Burbank, CA

As noted in the address above, Warner Bros isn't in Hollywood proper, it's in Burbank, not far away and certainly Hollywood in spirit. You've already passed Paramount and could have toured it, but Warner is the only studio offering tours on the weekend - and we think it's a bit more fun. 

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour gives you a great chance to find out what goes on when a television show, commercial or movie are being made. They've been doing it for over 75 years now and they've got a lot of great heritage to share. Besides their extensive back lot, you may see movie or television sets on a sound stage, the costume department and some of their other sets and memorabilia.

You might even see a movie star on your tour, but probably not one of Warner Bros' most famous ones, shown here. Since this photo was taken, Warner changed the mural to a new one that includes the Marvel comics superheroes, but we like the old-fashioned WB cartoons better, so we're keeping this one instead. The mural is easily visible from the main street as you drive back toward the freeway from the studio tour rendezvous point.

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Sunset Strip

Evening on the Sunset Strip
©2015 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Sunset Boulevard between Crescent Heights and Doheny

The Sunset Strip is actually in West Hollywood, not Hollywood proper, but we figure most visitors don't really care about the distinction. The street named Sunset Boulevard runs straight (more or less) from downtown Los Angeles to Malibu, but the area you're looking for is "Sunset Strip," which is the section between Doheny Drive and N. Crescent Heights Blvd.

The first businesses were built in the 1920s, but the area remained outside the Los Angeles city limits until the 1980s, Sunset Strip wasn't governed by the city's stricter laws, making it a preferred location for nightclubs and other nightlife. Today, it's still a see- and be-seen spot and liveliest at night when the clubs are open.

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