Although I’d been to Los Angeles plenty of times, I’d never visited the spot that draws so many visitors every year – Hollywood. I think, to be honest, I was probably avoiding it but that’s why I decided to make it the focus to my most recent trip. I felt as if I needed to see this star-filled land and to finally discover what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did too, because the experience was a lot more fun that I would have ever guessed. I was in Hollywood working on a project with Marriott International to share some of my favorite weekend getaway destinations around the country, including La-La Land.
Where to start
While Hollywood is fairly well defined, as a tourist – at least for me – it was a challenge to know how to approach it. I didn’t just want to wander down the street, look at a few buildings and leave. No, I wanted to have a deeper understanding of this neighborhood. The first step, in all honesty, was picking where to spend the night and I couldn’t have been in a better hotel for my star-studded wanderings than the W Hollywood. Reflecting the glitz and glam of the area, I felt like a star as soon as I walked through the doors.
With an enviable position on Hollywood Boulevard, it was an easy walk to all of those touristy sites I most wanted to visit. Even better, it’s a W so I knew that my experience there would certainly be memorable. I started my experience at their rooftop pool, a decidedly funky space with incredible views. There are also plenty of options if you’re peckish or meeting friends for a drink, including the Delphine Eatery & Bar, The Living Room or outside at the vibrant Station Hollywood.
Since my time in Hollywood was short and I knew I wouldn’t truly appreciate it without some help, I did some quick online research and found a short 1-hour walking tour for $20 that seemed perfect. It promised to share the history of the glamorous days of the city, as well as point out those hidden aspects I knew I wanted to discover. Walking down Hollywood Boulevard from my hotel to the meeting place was just as much fun though. Past an improbable number of souvenir shops and convenience stores, I quickly found myself walking on the Hollywood Walk of Fame itself. I’m not sure what I expected those famous stars in the sidewalk to be like, but many of them are quietly honoring people far from the lights of the theaters, sharing stories long forgotten about people many of us may not know. But it was a great way to warm up to my day spent learning more about our celluloid royalty.
I met my guide inside the Hard Rock Café, which seemed an inauspicious start, but I soon understood why. Its location is amongst the most famous theaters in Hollywood and we quickly left the Café to learn all about them. The restaurant is located in a mall with the normal shops and kiosks, but it’s also home to the Dolby Theater where the Oscars are held. Yes, that’s right, the Oscars and the incredible red carpet event are held in a mall. That may have been my biggest shock of the day, as was learning that the mall was built on a former (and massive) movie lot and that the design of the entire complex was an homage to that history. That’s what I mean by finding the hidden history of Hollywood. I could have, and did, walk through that mall and not understand this incredible history. I needed a guide to help me better understand my surroundings and the afternoon only got better from there.
Leaving modern times behind, we went back to the early days of Hollywood going inside the famed Egyptian Theater built by Sid Grauman and of course spending some time admiring the Chinese Theater with its many hand and footprints adorning the sidewalk in front. It was a fun hour and one that made me appreciate Hollywood well beyond the touristy kitsch and camera-toting visitors. It made me appreciate the rich history of Hollywood and the impact it has had on all of us.
Sure, the center of Hollywood is a mass of people, all with cameras and all there to catch their own glimpse of cinematic royalty. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about appreciating those old theaters from the ‘30s and ‘40s that have hosted more major events than any of us will know. It’s about taking a left instead of a right and discovering a colorful mural dedicated to the neighborhood. It’s about finding small restaurants and cafes that have been around far too long, somehow surviving the mass commercialization of Hollywood. It’s about looking up and seeing, really seeing, the fine art deco embellishments on buildings whose original purposes are long forgotten. In other words, one has to treat Hollywood just like any other place we visit, with respect and our time.
I enjoyed spending time in Hollywood and I’m thrilled I decided to make it the focus of my last trip to Los Angeles. I think it’s yet another reason why L.A. is indeed a city that deserves our time, a city that is ideal for a getaway, be it lengthy or just a weekend. There’s so much to appreciate and even love about Los Angeles and its many small neighborhoods and towns that comprise it, especially the flashy and often misunderstood starlet, Hollywood.