My expectations for the Hollywood Museum were not high. I had walked passed it many times while wandering around Hollywood & Highland to show visitors the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s, and other tourist-y spots that are on everyone’s bucket list. In this post, I’ll review the Hollywood Museum and offer some tips for visiting it.
The only reason I visited the Hollywood Museum was because it was included in the Go L.A. Card, and I had a bit of time to kill while Sarah and her sister were having lunch (which itself was to kill time until our Dolby Theater Tour). In our Tips for Visiting Hollywood, California post, I’m pretty hard on this area; there are a lot of sleazy vendors and tourist traps, and I expected the Hollywood Museum to be one of those. Wedged between Ripley’s and Mel’s Drive-In, it seemed like a reasonable assumption.
I won’t bury the lede here: the Hollywood Museum exceeded my expectations. Now, I realize I said the exact same thing in my Madame Tussauds Hollywood Review. Unlike in that review, though, this time that’s more than a backhanded compliment…
To my surprise, the Hollywood Museum has a wealth of movie memorabilia, and some ‘big ticket’ items you wouldn’t expect.
I think the best way to describe the Hollywood Museum is the personal collection of a wealthy and passionate movie buff. It’s like stepping into the house of an organized hoarder who focuses exclusively on film artifacts.
This is to say that while the Hollywood Museum lacks polish, it has a surplus of artifacts and memorabilia. It’s easy to miss specific things, in fact, because there’s simply so much to see, and in some cases, it’s crammed into relatively small displays.
While ‘eclectic collection’ could be a perceived as a negative, the big plus here is that there really is a lot to see. The Hollywood Museum spans four floors of exhibits, each with their own theme (from the Dungeon downstairs to re-created make-up rooms).
These exhibits house over 10,000 authentic showbiz artifacts, including props, costumes, photographs, scripts, picture cars, posters, personal items, and vintage memorabilia from films and TV shows.
Many artifacts contain multiple placards with paragraphs of information nearby to provide context, but other items are presented with minimal (or no) context. This means that you can learn quite a bit about some things, but in other cases, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, some displays will be lost on you.
This might be a problem for some younger people. If this were a ‘museum’ put together by one of the studios, you’d probably have displays skewing towards more current films as a synergy ploy.
However, the Hollywood Museum seems to skew more towards classic Hollywood (as it should, in my opinion). To that point, the Hollywood Museum is probably also the home of an older wealthy, quasi-hoarder film buff. 😉
Despite my belief that a lot of the displays in the Hollywood Museum feel like they were put together as an amateur production on a shoestring budget, there are some areas that have the exact opposite feeling.
For example, the hallway leading to Hannibal Lector’s jail cell is spot-on. As you walk this corridor, it’s like actually stepping into the film. It’s spooky, yet cool.
Then, you go around the corner and you’re gazing into a glass case over-stuffed with props and other collectibles that feel as if they are being displayed as part of a personal collection.
As I walked through the museum, I kept wondering, “where did all of this come from?!” I keep describing this as a place that feels like a “personal collection” of some passionate collector. Honestly, I don’t know how else to explain this museum’s existence.
The Hollywood Museum is otherwise unaffiliated (to my knowledge) with any major studio, doesn’t have the backing of trade organizations, etc. Instead, it seems like a place that has seen its collection amassed through personal connections, private estate purchases, and obsessive eBay purchases.
Perhaps I’m fixating too much on the how rather than the substance of the Hollywood Museum. Regardless of the explanation, it’s pretty cool to see so much on display in one place.
Unless you are a huge film and television buff, a lot of what’s in the Hollywood Museum simply will not appeal to you. It would take a really broad interest in Hollywood to care about all of this, especially when you have a diversity of exhibits ranging from Vampira and Elvira to Harry Potter.
I think this is perfectly fine, because if everything here interested you, you’d be here all day. To that point, you could spend as little as 45 minutes browsing the Hollywood Museum, or as many as three hours. It all depends on how much of this interests you.
The highlight for me was the aforementioned “Dungeon” exhibit downstairs, as I felt this was the best-produced display. There were plenty of other exhibits that were really cool.
The “TV Legends” display was also pretty engaging, and quite the eclectic selection, with shows ranging from Baywatch to Breaking Bad in it. (Although The Beverly Hillbillies truck was the coolest part.) It was also nice to see a tribute to Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, which was touching and timely.
In terms of tips, there’s not a ton you need to know. The Hollywood Museum is not open Mondays or Tuesdays, and has fairly limited hours even Wednesday through Sunday when it is open.
My visit was midday during spring break, and the museum was uncrowded. I’m guessing this is pretty much always the case, so it’s not like you need any tactical strategy to see the Hollywood Museum.
For other visit logistics, including parking and what else to do in the area, refer to our Tips for Visiting Hollywood California post. That covers what to do–and what not to do in the area.
Overall, even though the Hollywood Museum could use a bit of a refresh in some of its galleries and significantly more space (the museum should easily be double the size it is with more breathing room–and better placards–for each artifact), it’s hard to knock it too much. Whatever the backstory for how and why it has collected so many pieces, it’s quite clearly a passion project for someone. This is borne out in the vibe of the Hollywood Museum and in its displays. It’s very different from most museums you’ll encounter, but it’s well worth a visit if you’re into seeing and learning more about Hollywood.
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!
Have you visited the Hollywood Museum? If so, what did you think of experience? Did you find a lot to see that captivated your interest, or did it feel too amateur-ish and dated? Anyone know the backstory of this museum? Have a favorite exhibit? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Was it worth your time and money? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!