I’ve been to LA probably a dozen times, but most of my visits have been business trips to downtown, which is not much of a tourist area. My favorite LA trips, however, were a couple of “father daughter” trips I took with my dad. He is an even bigger TV and movie geek than I am, and we have always had a blast packing as much entertainment industry-related sightseeing as possible into each trip. If you’re similarly inclined, here are some places and activities I recommend.
Yes, it’s incredibly touristy and not the cleanest or nicest part of town, but if you’re coming to LA to see Hollywood stuff, you have to see, well, Hollywood. From the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, to the handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (which has a different name now but will always be Grauman’s Chinese to me), to the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre where the Academy Awards are held, this is the symbolic heart of show business.
If you’re angling for free tickets to a screening or talk show, this is also the right area to hang out in. On our first trip to LA, someone handed us free tickets to an advance screening of the Matthew McConaughey movie Sahara (we went, making us the only two people in America who saw that movie) and on our most recent trip, my father saw a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live. The talk shows allow you to request tickets in advance and I recommend doing that if you have a specific one in mind, but it’s hard to walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard a few times without getting offered tickets to something.
I won’t profess much knowledge of celeb-spotting (if that’s your goal, there are plenty of online lists of restaurants and bars that stars are known to frequent), and I’m pretty sure the tourist mecca that is Hollywood is not the right neighborhood for seeing celebs in their natural habitat anyway. But there are premieres and other events happening around here pretty regularly and if you’re lucky you may stumble upon one. We happened upon the premiere of Miss Congeniality 2 right in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
We waited patiently (from across the street, behind a barricade) for the stars to start arriving. All of them walked the red carpet and then headed straight inside the theatre, until Miss Congeniality herself arrived, and, unlike everyone else, headed over to us plebes to sign autographs and take pictures until her “people” pulled her away. It was such a thrill to me and all the other fans who had lined up to see her, and I find it hard to believe there is a nicer actress in Hollywood.
If you’re looking for a place to eat dinner in the area, I recommend Musso and Frank, an old school steakhouse that is a part of Hollywood history. The food isn’t trendy by any means, but their takes on the classics are reliably good. I especially recommend the trout meuniere and the Lyonniase potatoes.
The Paley Center for Media
I’m not a big museum person in general, but I really enjoyed this one. In addition to exhibits about the history of television (including the patent on the TV), they have a rotating (free!) special exhibit. When I visited, they had collaborated with Warner Brothers to display costumes and props from classic 90s and 00s TV shows, like Friends, Seinfeld, ER, The West Wing, Gilmore Girls and Gossip Girl.
They probably had more Friends stuff than anything, which was totally fine by this superfan. It was such a thrill to see props like the Geller Cup and Joey’s Soap Opera Digest cover.
The highlight by far though, was having the chance to sit on one of the famous Central Perk couches. I say “one of” because as we learned later during our Warner Bros studio tour – where we saw another orange couch that professed to be “the Friends couch” – there were actually four different couches used during filming.
While you’re in Beverly Hills, you must pay a visit to the flagship Sprinkles Cupcakes, which started America’s cupcake craze with the most delicious cupcakes of all time. It’s also supposed to be a favorite of celebrities (or at least a favorite of celebs to pose with – I’m skeptical that anyone who makes their living in entertainment is actually consuming these 500 calorie cupcakes).
You can also check out posh Rodeo Drive and the super fancy Beverly Wilshire, which is now a Four Seasons property, but will forever be known to me and other Pretty Woman fans as “Reg. Bev. Wil.” (Fun fact! This hotel has the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. They are unreal.)
A Studio Tour
If you come to LA looking to experience Hollywood, you absolutely can’t miss touring one of the major studios. I’ve done a couple and my favorite is definitely the Warner Bros tour. After viewing a short film highlighting major WB projects, we were boarded onto trams and driven around the lots. The first stop was the “New York” streets, sets that double as NYC for movies and shows set there but filmed in LA.
After that, we saw more exterior sets, including Bluebell, Alabama from Hart of Dixie and a generic small town set that has been a lot of places, including Stars Hollow (can you spot Doose’s Market?)
I expected the tour to be TV-heavy, since that’s what I associate WB with the most, but there was a lot of stuff related to movies too, including a car museum that houses famous cars used in WB movies. I’m about as far from a “car person” as one can be, but even I had to admit it was pretty cool to see various Batmobiles and the flying car from Harry Potter.
We were then led through the WB’s prop department, which had memorabilia from even more movies, including Casablanca and Argo.
The props department also had the set of Central Perk fully intact, exactly as it was left on the last day of filming…squee!
Finally, we wrapped up the tour by visiting working soundstages for shows like The Big Bang Theory. No photos are allowed on this part of the tour, but it was fun to get a behind-the-scenes look into the filming process. Note that if you go on a weekend, like we did, you have basically no chance of seeing actors (the closest we got was seeing the outside of Ashton Kutcher’s trailer), but you’ll also get more backstage access. During the week it’s difficult for them to show you the working soundstages, but you also have a chance of bumping into an actor or actress, so it’s a trade-off. (Tapings of these shows are also free and tickets are available to the general public, but the process is much more competitive than for the talk shows, probably because they happen once a week instead of four or five times a week. We tried to get Big Bang Theory tickets, to no avail.)
Griffith Park and Observatory
This one admittedly doesn’t have that much to do with Hollywood, except for the fact that it’s been used as a filming location for many LA-set TV shows and movies, and there are nice views of the Hollywood sign from here.
Even if you don’t have much interest in it as a filming site, it’s still a lovely place to pass some time, and the (free!) exhibits inside the observatory are well worth a visit. There’s also a nice view of downtown from the observatory, at least to the extent that the famous LA smog doesn’t interfere.