Hollywood, California is the epicenter of America’s entertainment industry, and has a ton of attractions that revolve around movies, television, and music. In this 1-day touring plan for Hollywood, we’ll share what you should do while visiting via an efficient step-by-step tour of Hollywood that won’t waste your time. For starters, determine whether it’s worth your time to do Hollywood in the first place. Consult our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles for an overview to get an idea of what you want to do, and then go from there.
I won’t sugarcoat this: I think parts of Hollywood are the most overrated places in Los Angeles. Tourists flock to Hollywood Boulevard because it’s the most iconic and recognizable place in L.A., but there’s a lot to dislike about that area of the neighborhood. Our previous Tips for Visiting Hollywood, California post focused heavily on what not to do in this touristy stretch of Hollywood.
That’s not entirely fair to Hollywood. While many (most?) of the popular things to do in Hollywood suck, there’s plenty that is great. In this 1-Day Hollywood Itinerary, we’ll focus instead on the (many) great things to do in Hollywood, and what we’d recommend if you have a day to spend exploring its highlights. A few notes before we get started…
This is an all-purpose itinerary for Hollywood that can be used whenever. It also contains recommendations for things that I, personally, either enjoy or think most tourists will enjoy. As such, it glosses over anything happening on a seasonal or sporadic basis, as well as some popular spots of which I’m not a fan.
I’d say don’t worry about the latter, but that is not entirely fair. Just because I think Madame Tussauds is cheesy and a waste of money for all but the selfie-obsessed, or I don’t want to give the Museum of Death additional business (gore for the sake of gore without anything to offer beyond shock value), or think the Dolby Theater Tour is a superficial waste of time and money does not mean that you will agree.
This is why consulting a variety of resources is always helpful–your interests and preferences may differ from mine, and that’s okay.
With that in mind, I think consulting various schedules to see what’s happening in Hollywood during your visit is particularly helpful. For example, seeing a show at the Hollywood Bowl on a summer weekend (or a free rehearsal of the LA Phil on Tuesday or Thursday mornings in summer) is a quintessential Hollywood experience. Likewise, the Cinespia summer movie series at Hollywood Forever is popular among locals.
Then there are the smaller arthouse theaters that might be playing films of interest during your visit, television show recordings (most of which are not in Hollywood, but same idea), and more. Some of the best things to do in Hollywood are limited engagement, so you should really spend some time Googling what might be available during your visit, and plug them into this itinerary as appropriate.
As always, transportation is a bit prickly with this itinerary. My recommendation would either be to park at Hollywood & Highland first thing or take the Metro Red Line to Hollywood/Vine to start out your day. (This itinerary assumes Hollywood & Highland parking, which is also the better starting point.) Regardless of which of these options you choose, you’re going to have to walk, use Lyft/Uber, and/or take public transportation to varying degrees. This is a mostly walkable itinerary arranged in a manner that is conducive to that, with only a couple of exceptions.
Okay, on with the itinerary…
Walking Hollywood: Part I
If you visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame during the middle of the day in the summer, you’re in for a miserable experience. Trust me–I’ve done it too many times when people have come to visit us. This stretch of Hollywood Boulevard is normally packed with confused tourists, street performers, and vendors trying hard to peddle junk. This scene makes Times Square look pleasant.
Despite my handwringing about this, everyone wants to see certain spots along Hollywood Boulevard. I can’t fault people for this, and there are definitely a number of spots that are worth seeing. While many of Hollywood’s most renowned buildings have fallen into disrepair, they are still nice to see. Beyond the famed locations that are still popular, there’s a lot of stunning architecture along this stretch, and it can be an enjoyable experience to walk.
Especially without crowds. That is why this is the first stop of the day. Your goal should be to get here by 9 a.m. Start by checking out the historic lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (also a posh place to stay with a cool pool if you’re looking for one), and continue to the courtyard of the TCL Chinese Theater, followed by the exterior of the Dolby Theater and exterior of El Capitan Theater.
You’ll also see the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is neat-enough and should be uncrowded at this time in the morning.
Walking Hollywood: Part II
There are also a couple of cool buildings around the corner on Highland, as well. One of these is the Max Factor building, which is now home to the Hollywood Museum. Previously, I gave this spot a tepid endorsement in my review of it. If you’re into the history of Hollywood and want to see a museum packed with tons of artifacts but (ironically) with the production value of an amateur film, check it out.
Unfortunately, this is as good as it gets for museums in Hollywood. There are several other museums in the area, but exactly zero are worth your time. Except, perhaps, the Museum of Broken Relationships–haven’t done that one yet. Actually, I also have yet to audit the Scientology Museum. I assume that museum is terrific–increases knowingness, brings peace, and unites cultures. (Hey, I don’t want to upset the Galactic Confederacy gatekeepers–I want to be allowed onto Xenu when I pass!)
Once you’re done with that, you’ll continue on past Grauman’s Egyptian Theater, and Hollywood & Vine. You should also take a short detour down Vine St, to check out the Capitol Records building before passing the Pantages Theater.
Your stroll continues past the Fonda Theatre and down Gower Street towards the Hollywood Palladium. At this point, it might make sense to grab lunch. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles is a good, well-known option in the area, but really, there are no shortage of exceptional restaurants nearby.
No, this isn’t the part of the itinerary where a Jim Carrey look-alike dressed in spandex poses obnoxious questions while a caricature of Tommy Lee Jones stands idly by, looking like he’s just there to cash a paycheck (though this is Hollywood, so if you’re into that thing, it can probably be arranged). Rather, this is the cemetery of the stars.
Hollywood–both the place and the industry–has a way of feeling fake. There’s also a certain idolization of celebrity that can be off-putting. Hollywood Forever strikes a very different note, with everyday citizens and stars side-by-side, presenting stars at their most human. I know that’s an odd thing to write about a cemetery, but it is oddly humanizing and without pretense.
When you arrive at Hollywood Forever, stop at the gift shop to purchase a map, which lists the locations of the most notable celebrities if you’re so inclined. You can also just wander the loop, walking around to see what catches your eye. The Gardens of Legends (across from the lake) contains some of the most recognizable names, including Mickey Rooney, Toto, Cecil B. DeMille, and more. Across from that is Chris Cornell and Johnny Ramone.
Beyond being a total change of pace from the rest of Hollywood, this cemetery is also an (again, oddly) enjoyable place to visit. The grounds are impeccably maintained and the gravestones are sufficiently varied to keep them interesting. It’s a lovely public park in the heart of Hollywood that has sincere and humbling tributes to stars and ordinary people.
From Hollywood Forever, you’re presented with a choice: walk around the corner and do the Paramount Pictures Studio Tour, or head to North Hollywood to do the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. While costly, a studio tour is the best entertainment industry experience in Hollywood and a top 5 experience in all of Southern California. The only people who should even considering skipping it are those who are attending a taping on a studio lot (even then, an actual tour is totally different) and those who believe Hollywood is evil. (In which case, this whole itinerary might not be the right choice for you.)
The latter option is going to be more time consuming, and you cannot walk to get there. If you skipped the Hollywood Museum and don’t intend upon hiking to the Hollywood Sign later, you might have more time to kill.
The biggest difference between these two tours is that the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is more like a stand-alone theme park attraction; it’s slickly-produced, efficient, and entertaining. It’s very enjoyable, but definitely feels like a manufactured experience. By contrast, Paramount Pictures has studio pages take guests around the lot, and is a more intimate and real experience. While this adds to its authenticity, it also gives it more of a hit or miss quality.
Which is best for you really depends upon preference, but if you’re also visiting Universal Studios Hollywood (which I recommend) another day, consider the Paramount Pictures Studio Tour. Warner’s tour is somewhat similar to the Universal Studio Tour, so doing both is a bit redundant. By contrast, the Paramount and Universal tours are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Observatoring the Hollywood Sign
One way or another, I’m going to convince you to visit Griffith Observatory, which I maintain is the single-best thing to do in all of Los Angeles. It is the must-do for visitors to Hollywood, and it’s convenient to the rest of this itinerary. While not directly related to the entertainment industry, it does allow you to see the stars…just a different kind.
The more logical connection here is that the best hike to the Hollywood sign originates from near Griffith Observatory. You’ll want to park (or get dropped off) near the Charlie Turner Trailhead in Griffith Park, and from there, it’s a relatively easy 5-6 mile roundtrip hike over mostly-even terrain. The hike also offers gorgeous views of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the Valley (depending upon the path you take), but it can be easy to take a wrong turn and end up on a longer route. Just be mindful of your GPS.
This hike will take a little over 2 hours total; the route back is simple and easy to follow. While this is a popular hike, it is not too popular, and large paths with constant pretty views make the best hike in Los Angeles, of the ones I’ve done.
If you’re looking for something easier but potentially controversial, there is a hike that will take about 30 minutes each way from the 6000 block of Deronda Drive. I say this is controversial because residents of this area have grown understandably tired of the steady stream of tourists clogging the small road, parking illegally, etc. They’ve put up signs to discourage people from entering this area, but only the actual street signs (that pertain to parking) must be obeyed.
While I can empathize with the plight of these homeowners who have seen the area’s infrastructure–which was not meant to handle more than modest local traffic–overwhelmed, at the same time, this is a public path into Griffith Park. If you do choose this option, be respectful.
Both of these hikes will take you to the same location, behind the Hollywood Sign. You cannot go in front of the Hollywood Sign from this hike. It’s fenced off, and if you so much as approach the fence, you’ll be reprimanded via loudspeaker. If you keep going, you’ll have to answer to the police, who regularly have vehicles parked up at the Los Angeles Central Communications Facility. (Seriously, we’ve seen this more than once.)
Alternatively, if you just want a photo of the front of the Hollywood Sign, your best option is the 6100 block of Mulholland Highway (not Drive) for the closest view. Griffith Park is likewise a good option; while you won’t be as close, at least you’re near Griffith Observatory, which–again–is a must-do.
What better way to end a night in Hollywood than with dinner and a movie? While the museums in Hollywood mostly suck, the theaters do not. My personal favorite is the Pacific Cinerama Dome at ArcLight. Beyond the wonderful history of this location and the beautiful 70mm projection, the sound system here is unbelievable. The best I’ve ever experienced at any theater, anywhere. We recently watched Dunkirk at the Cinerama Dome, and have to admit that I hunched down in my seat a couple of times during the action. La La Land sounded exceptional here, too, but for (obviously) different reasons.
If you need it, you get 4 hours of parking at the ArcLight Hollywood with validation, which is more than enough time for dinner and a movie in most cases. Rather than eating at one of the trendy restaurants at the mall plaza right outside ArcLight, walk a couple of blocks down the street to Luv2Eat Thai Bistro. When you get there and see the seedy strip mall, you might be cursing my recommendation, but venture inside. You’ll find a cheap and incredible meal at one of LA’s under-the-radar dining spots.
One thing that this Hollywood Itinerary does not cover is nightlife. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be ready for bed after the movie. If you’re hip and fun (aka not like us), you might want to head out to WeHo, the Sunset Strip, or one of the chic hotel bars to keep the party going. We know next to nothing about this ‘scene’, but we’d recommend reading this List of Bars in Hollywood that Don’t Suck if that sort of thing interests you.
While this just hits some of the highlights, hopefully this 1-day Hollywood Itinerary convinces you to ignore our previous advice of avoiding Hollywood and instead visit the area, but with a plan that reduces the likelihood of getting burnt out or disillusioned by what can be a very touristy experience. We’ll have more itineraries for Los Angeles in the near future, so if you’re taking a Southern California vacation, stay tuned!
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!
What are your favorite things to do in Hollywood, California? Is there anything that’s a must-do that didn’t make this list? Anything you avoid like the plague? If you’re an Angeleno, do you have any insights into hidden gems, nightlife, or spots you think we missed? Anything you think should not be on this list? Other suggestions? Hearing from readers is both helpful and interesting, so if you have perspective from your own experiences, or questions, please share in the comments below!