Tips for Visiting Hollywood, California

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Hollywood. Tinseltown. Showbiz City. This post offers planning tips for visiting the neighborhood in Los Angeles that has a reputation as being the epicenter of the film business, a glamorous spot to rub elbows with celebrities. With the Oscars showcasing the glitz and splendor of Hollywood tonight, I thought this would be a perfect post to run today.

The biggest tip? Don’t go. Well…that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Go, but avoid the touristy spots. If you are thinking about visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame and many other spots on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, there’s strong potential for disappointment. The idealized Hollywood in your head is most certainly better than the real thing. It’s not the Hollywood you will see on television before the Oscars. That’s staged, and about as true-to-life as the giant robots in Transformers. That area is actually more like Times Square: West Coast Edition.

The real Hollywood–the parts many visitors see, at least–is a tourist trap, filled with shady businesses, crumby souvenir stands, and panhandling “entertainers” who will attempt to shake you down for a photo with them. Fortunately, there are some aspects of Hollywood (and beyond) that will give you a slice of the showbiz scene without the unpleasant side. We’ll cover both the good and bad sides of Hollywood in this post…

Note that I’m not intending to disparage Hollywood. I write all of this as someone with an immense amount of pride in my adopted home state. The State of California is like the Terminator (from Terminator 2), and could kick some serious ass in a head-to-head BattleBots style combat match against any country on earth.

The problem with Hollywood is that the most recognize aspects of it are the worst ones. Whenever we have guests, they want to see where the Oscars are filmed, go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and see some of the famous icons. These are the worst aspect of Hollywood, unfortunately.

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Hollywood, the touristy place, is best known for the Chinese Theater, Dolby Theater, El Capitan Theater, and Hollywood Walk of Fame. These are all spots you’ll see showcased during the Oscars, and are all located on Hollywood Boulevard, between Orange and Highland Drives.

To be sure, there are some compelling reasons to visit these spots. The TCL Chinese Theater and El Capitan Theater are both excellent places to watch movies (although I prefer the Cinema Dome, which is part of the ArcLight Hollywood over on Sunset). The Hollywood Walk of Fame and Dolby Theatre don’t do much for me. (Skip the Dolby Theatre Tour–it’s a waste of time.)

Moreover, there’s a lot more to the neighborhoods of Hollywood (and the neighborhoods outside of it, particularly WeHo), and these areas beyond the strip are worth exploring.

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If you’re visiting by car, you should know that parking in Hollywood (or just about anywhere in Los Angeles, for that matter), can be a challenge. By far the easiest option is to just head into the garage at Hollywood & Highland, which is a mall that includes Chinese and Dolby Theaters. With validation (available with a purchase at shops in the mall), you get 2 hours for $2 or 4 hours for $2 with validation from the Chinese Theater.

You’ll exit this parking through the front of the Dolby Theater, which is right next door to the Chinese Theater, so it’s a great location for a quick visit.

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If you don’t get validation, the cost for parking is $2 per 10 minutes, with a maximum daily rate of $15 (which isn’t that bad by L.A. standards). If you don’t plan to buy anything and aren’t going to spend a lot of time in Hollywood, we recommend looking for street parking at a meter to the east of the main draws.

It should be fairly easy to find an open meter even on Hollywood Boulevard (or a street or two over) within a 10 minute walk. This will end up being significantly cheaper–and offer an easier exit than the garage if you’re visiting during a busy time.

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If you do stop on this stretch of Hollywood Blvd, we’d recommend only spending a little time strolling the Walk of Fame (particularly the far ends away from the hordes of tourists), getting photos at the various theaters, and then heading elsewhere.

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Do not get photos with the street “entertainers.” They aren’t there posing out of the kindness of their hearts. They will expect money if you take a photo with or of them, and will sometimes be forceful about it.

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Another thing to skip is most of the museums. From celebrity wax museums to Ripley’s, there are several junk museums in this area (one of which recently earned the dubious distinction of “worst wax museum in America“).

I’ve done Madame Tussauds Hollywood, and while it’s a better wax figure museum, it’s still not anything I’d recommend to anyone unless you’re drunk or really love selfies. By contrast, the Hollywood Museum (pictured above) is actually a decent little spot, that feels like you’re stepping into the home of a passionate Hollywood aficionado. Now, neither of these spots would make my ‘Top 10 Things to Do in Los Angeles’ list, but if you’re set on spending a day in Hollywood, they’re good options.

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While spending valuable vacation time seeing a movie isn’t something I do, it’s worth noting that the Chinese Theater (now officially known as the TCL Chinese Theater) is actually a really cool place to watch a movie, and actually isn’t that expensive, especially during “bargain” matinee pricing. It’s reminiscent of being in an old Hollywood style theater, and worth considering. If you’re a cinefile looking for the best movie-going experience, head instead to ArcLight (home of the famed Cinerama Dome, which is beloved by filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino) or the outdoor Cinespia.

I’ve never dined at any of the restaurants in this area of Hollywood, and that’s because it’s almost entirely populated by tourist traps that, presumably, rest on the laurels of their “fame” while serving mediocre food. With such a rich and diverse culinary scene in Los Angeles, no one should consider rolling the dice on one of these restaurants. In a pinch, there’s an In-N-Out Burger a block over on Sunset Blvd, but you’re really better off heading to West Hollywood, where the dining scene is strong.

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With all of that said, one final thing you should know is that Hollywood isn’t actually the filmmaking capital of the world. Hollywood has become synonymous with showbiz, and has morphed into an abstract term encompassing the industry as a whole rather than a location. This much can be evidenced from the article title “Hollywood Continues to Flee California at Alarming Rate.” No, it’s not a story about a neighborhood trying to go rogue and secede from California. The article, like so many, uses Hollywood as a term for the film industry as a whole.

In turn, visitors to California conflate the use of the term Hollywood–in reference to the industry–as reference to Hollywood, the area around Sunset and Hollywood Blvd. That’s the reputation, and there certainly are some showbiz offices in Hollywood, but in actuality, most movie-making that occurs in California occurs north of Hollywood, in and around Burbank. If you want the “Hollywood experience” from a showbusiness perspective, head up to Burbank.

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There are a few Hollywood-esque things to do around Burbank, including the Universal Studios Hollywood‘s excellent Studio Tour, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, and Paramount Pictures Studio Tour. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour is really popular, and we highly recommend it. You can also get free tickets to see sitcoms, game shows, and talk shows filmed at these studios. That can be a lot of fun.

I’m a big fan of Universal Studios Hollywood because it offers the Studio Tour, plus traditional theme park attractions like the (new) Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I think the best way to experience Hollywood as an industry is by driving down Hollywood Blvd. first thing in the morning on your way to one of these studio tours, and spending the bulk of your time at the studios instead.

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Another thing you should do if you’re in this neck of the woods is visit the Griffith Observatory. On your way in, you can see the neighborhood of Los Feliz Hills, plus Hollywood Hills and West Hollywood on the way out. These are all lovely areas featuring stunning architecture and ritzy estates. You can read all about the observatory in our Griffith Observatory Review & Tips post. Suffice to say, it’s one of my absolute favorite things to do in Southern California–and it’s free! As an added bonus, you can hike to the Hollywood sign from Griffith Park.

Overall, this post is basically beseeching people not to visit Hollywood, followed by “tips” that include just as many things not to do as things to do. If you love Hollywood and totally disagree with my slams on it, I’m sorry. Not everything is everyone’s cup of tea, and Hollywood most definitely is not mine. Some people will probably like it. If it sounds like an interesting place to you despite all I’ve written, don’t substitute my preferences for yours. Trust your own judgment–maybe you’ll love it! Conversely, if you’re already on the fence about Hollywood, please heed my warnings, and stay far away.

If you’re planning a California vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to do. For Los Angeles-centric trips, we’ve found the most useful guidebook to be The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas, which is written by locals (and we use it even as locals!). If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!

Your Thoughts…

Have you been to the real Hollywood? What do you think of it? Do you have any recommendations for things to do in and around Hollywood that are less touristy, but will still give visitors a slice of the film and television industries? Are you still interested in visiting despite this? Share your thoughts on this or anything else, or questions you have in the comments!

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21 replies
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    Hi Tom!
    I always read your Disney Tourist Blog posts (as my family are WDW Annual Passholders/DVC Members and who doesn’t love reading Disney posts) but came over to this site as I recently moved to Southern California. I ventured over to Hollywood today and this post was very helpful, especially with the parking tip! I’m looking forward to visiting many of the other sites you mention and of course getting to see Disneyland for the first time!

    Reply
  2. Scott
    Scott says:

    I go repeatedly to Hollywood for one thing: Amoeba Records! I take the Red Line to avoid the parking nightmare there.

    I know this is probably an “Angeleno” thing to do. There are three cool buildings nearby though: The Arclight Theater, Capitol Records Building, and the ORIGINAL Hollywood Tower (not a hotel).

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Amoeba Music is a really cool store (I’d recommend it even to tourists) and given that it’s right next door to the Cinerama Dome (which is also ArcLight Hollywood), I think it’s an easy spot to visit. Cinerama Dome is actually my favorite theater in Hollywood. The rest of ArcLight is nice, too–it’s an incredibly technically advanced cinema–but I’d suggest visitors see a movie in Cinerama Dome for the uniqueness.

      Reply
  3. Peter Gogol
    Peter Gogol says:

    How I did “Hollywood” and LOVED IT: Book a room at a hotel in the area (stayed at the classiest Best Western ever), grab a dinner somewhere hip, then go see some live comedy at night. Live comedy is seriously one of the best things going in the area, and on a level hard to find anywhere else in the world. In the morning, see some of the sights listed above, get coffee and a snack at the Hollywood & Vine Starbucks to get your parking validated.

    Swing by a studio to pick up your free tickets to a show taping (that you requested a couple weeks ahead of time), take a chance on star-spotting at a lunch spot in Burbank, poke around Griffith Observatory, then back to get into your show taping around. Going to see Conan or Corden or whoever is the best way for a cheap-o studio “tour.” Heck, Ellen gives away so much stuff you might come out ahead. Pro-tip: stick to seeing talk shows. According to two stand-ins I chatted w/ on the WB lot, having to hang out for the same take after take after take for of a sitcom scene gets old, really fast.

    After the show grab dinner at a LA vegan restaurant and get interrogated by Pauly Shore passing by your table asking about what you ordered b/c it looks soooooo good, buddy. Spy on the way out that he took you up on your rec of the Comfort Bowl, and you’ve got a memory for life. Can’t guarantee the last part on every trip.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      That’s actually a really good itinerary, and a great way to see bits of the local side of Hollywood, as well as the tourist-y side, but without any of the unpleasant parts. Great tips–thanks for sharing! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Jodi
    Jodi says:

    We will be revisiting so the parking tip was helpful. It was under construction last time we were there & crazy busy. Thanks for your help!

    Reply
  5. Corrie
    Corrie says:

    We are heading to LA in May, this post was very enlightning… i do plan on spending a day in West Hollywood, it seems to have some amazing stores and lots of vegan food…

    Reply
  6. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I have to say I’ve enjoyed Hollywood, however, not for looking at stars and old buildings. Pantages is fantastic. My husband and I always go to musicals there. The history is always interesting. If you are willing to park out there, there are some spots that are $12-15 flat rate, which is not bad if you may spend half a day there. We also enjoy going to events at the Hollywood Bowl (parking is a nightmare for that too, but there are buses that take you from Hollywood garages).

    I have also really enjoyed hiking to the Hollywood sign, so not all Hollywood is bad, however, if you are going just to see a famed walkway, you might as well fly to Disneyworld…that way you get the Brown Derby and the awesome salad. In Hollywood, you can only see where the building once stood by Starbucks:(

    Nice review Tom, one thing I have to add is technically Paramount Pictures is still in Hollywood, not Burbank. They pride themselves for being the last studio tour that you can see that Hollywood sign!

    Reply
  7. Paul
    Paul says:

    I feel the same way about New Orleans as you do about Hollywood. The area i would have loved to been during its heyday is Sunset Blvd. at the Roxy Theatre or Whisky a Go Go. I was in the area visiting in the early 80’s and didn’t know until after the fact that such iconic venues were right down the street. The Comedy Store is another, have you been to any of these?

    Reply
  8. Rachelle
    Rachelle says:

    I agree Tom, Hollywood sucks! We visited on our first trip to LA because we were tourists and it’s what you do – we quickly realised we were stupid, left, and didn’t visit on any of our subsequent trips, instead looking for other interesting things to do in LA (my two favourites were the Warner Brothers Studio Tour and visiting Greystone Mansion)

    Reply
  9. Kimberley
    Kimberley says:

    Thank you soooo much for this post. I saw the link in your Disney Tourist Blog newsletter. I’m staying at the Sheraton Universal after going to Disneyland for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in May and (not being from the US) I had no idea about what else to do besides visiting the parks. This post really helped. I am looking at doing the Warner Bros Studio tour, and think I’ll look into the other tours as well.

    Reply
  10. Isabel
    Isabel says:

    My biggest tip is to have a purpose for going to Hollywood, whether it’s seeing a show at the Pantages (highly recommend this), movie at the Arclight (also recommend), or just dinner or a club. Most of the big draws are all within walking distance of each other. You can quickly sight see before or after you do whatever you were there to do, and by having something planned, there’s less of the “I came all the way over here just for this?!” feeling. Other tip, depending on where you’re coming from, might be worth looking into the Metro Red Line to save on parking and road rage.

    Reply
  11. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    that mirrored my thoughts on Hollywood from our trip to LA a couple years ago. We parked at the mall, saw the Chinese theater, put a mental checkmark on our list, and drove elsewhere. I’d rather visit the Chinese Theater at Walt Disney World!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, that was how we felt after the first time we visited. Since, we’ve had multiple people visit us who want to go to Hollywood, and it’s become an “ugh…again” type of thing.

      Maybe we will start telling our family up front that they can come visit us, but Hollywood is “closed for refurbishments.” That’ll work!

      Reply
  12. Spencer
    Spencer says:

    Hollywood is one of the places I visited in college while in a touring music group. We had just a day there, but that was more than enough. It is a place I’m glad I’ve seen to “check it off” the list, but I’m with you that I don’t recommend visiting. I’ve been back to southern California many times since then and have had no desire to return to that part of the area. The one highlight I remember is that somewhere near there we had awesome pizza that still to this day sticks in my memory as some of the best pizza I’ve eaten. I have no idea where or the name or the restaurant though, so this is definitely not a helpful tip for anyone who may decide to visit. 🙂

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I dunno…seems pretty helpful to me. Now I’m going to go to every pizza place in Hollywood and ask, “hey, do you know if Spencer ate here while he was in college?” I’m sure that will get to the bottom of this! 😉

      Reply

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