From the 1920s to the 1950s, Hollywood Boulevard was the most glamorous street in the world – a place where movie stars came to party, walk the red carpet to film premieres past search lights and popping flashbulbs, meet with their agents in Art Deco offices, cruise in convertibles with hair flying, palm trees overhead, or hobnob with writers and directors in long, cool dark bars like the Musso & Frank’s or the Cat & Fiddle.
But times change. In the 1960s, the street, like the movies, went into a steep decline. Hollywood Boulevard became a joke on Johnny Carson – a haven for drug users, prostitutes, bikers, and run-a-ways. It was here that Hugh Grant was arrested in his BMW for lewd conduct. Along its darker edges, Janis Joplin and John Belushi died of drug overdoses, while Charles Manson and his followers murdered a house full of strangers.
The New Hollywood
|Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center|
But today they share the same real estate with flashy clubs filled with black-skirted high heeled hipsters and high style restaurants, mixed in with wax museums, souvenir shops, tiki bars, and an assortment of gorgeous old Hollywood bars and theatres. It's a mish-mash alright, but an interesting one.
The movies have moved on and are made elsewhere, but Hollywood Boulevard has rebounded as the ground zero tourist center for the world’s largest entertainment industry. There are Hollywood walking tours, theme parks, studio tours, cemeteries...and 10 Hollywood museums.
|Look-a-likes pose for $1 by their star on Hollywood Blvd|
You can see the homes (or at least the front gates) of today’s stars by buying a map, or going on only slightly cheesy narrated bus tours. You can even fly over the star’s homes on a helicopter. You can buy daily production sheets to see where movies are being filmed on location, or hang out at popular industry eateries like Mr. Chow in hopes of seeing stars in person. Incredibly, there's a jogging tour of Hollywood, where to give you a taste of what it’s like to be a star, you are chased by running paparazzi.
Whether you dream of being a star -- or just seeing one – the first stop is Hollywood Boulevard. Marilyn Monroe knew the street well. She grew up in a orphanage just a few blocks away and wrote: “I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, ‘There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me dreaming of being a movie star.’ But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.”
Touring Hollywood by Foot
|Universal CityWalk is pedestrian (and neon) friendly|
Some Top Things to Do in Hollywood:
|Marilyn is everywhere|
Buy a map of the stars home's and you can see the site of Marilyn Monroe's elementary school, where she shared an apartment with actress Shelly Winters, where she spent her first honeymoon or the apartment where she lived with Joe Dimagio, where she posed for her famous nude photo and the house where she was found dead. There are murals, wax sculptures and look-a-likes of Marilyn up and down Hollywood Blvd.
Have a drink – There are three classic old Hollywood bars.
Here’s Chandler’s homage:
“I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.” Chandler’s drink was a gimlet – half gin, half Rose’s Lime juice.
Pig ‘n Whistle: When it opened in 1927, this was a concession stand for the Egyptian Theatre next door. Shirley Temple bought candy here, and Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant were regulars. Today, it’s a bar and restaurant known for the hand-painted decorative tiles of the Pig ‘N Whistle logo – a dancing, flute-playing pig -- and for the elaborate carved wood ceiling.
Snow White Café: The best beer bar in Hollywood just might also be the weirdest. Opened in 1946, it features Disney murals allegedly painted by real Disney artists. With a slogan like “Where your problems dwarf,” how could you not like it? Funky and 40s, but good beer selection.
Visit Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
This is the “Ground Zero” of Hollywood, the world’s most gaudy movie palace, and the spot where the crazies and tour buses gather. And why not? It’s fun, and there are never less than a dozen costumed characters posing for photos. Since 1927, stars have been setting their footprints and handprints in cement, and tourists have been walking around putting their own feet in the prints and snapping photos. Most popular appeared to be Michael Jackson, John Wayne and Judy Garland (who went to high school just down the block at Hollywood High). Most eerie? On a dry day, Natalie Wood’s footprints were filled with water.
|Red Line subway stop at Hollywood and Highland|
|There's explosions every minute at Universal Studios Hollywood|
Ride the Subway to Universal CityWalk HollywoodLA has an amazingly complex and beautiful subway system. Catch the Red Line at the Highland shopping center for a one stop ride to Universal CityWalk. Free outdoor trams meet each train and will whisk you up the hill to this incredible complex of restaurants, bars, shops and neon that serves as the fun entrance to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. CityWalk is huge, loud, and touristy, but it’s free to walk around, pedestrian friendly, there’s some amazing neon sculptures and it offers great people watching.
|You can feel the heat from the explosions at Universal Studios|
Tour a StudioUniversal Studios Hollywood is the studio tour de rigor. Part homage to movies like King Kong, Jaws, and Jurassic Park, it’s also a working studio where you can see sets for everything from Desperate Housewives to Psycho. But it’s also a movie-based theme park with indoor roller coasters, water thrill rides, 3-D movies, animal trick shows, stunt shows and explosions galore. Special effects are the specialty, and more than a few times you can actually feel the heat from an exploding gas tank or be drenched by the spray from power boats.
|Exploding gas tanks in the Jaws portion of the tram ride|
Stargaze in Beverly Hills
|Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills|
IF YOU GO: “Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” Marilyn Monroe Best overall site is Fodors. For a car free trip (yes, you can do it in LA!): www.discoverlosangeles.com/blog/discover-hollywood-car-freeEverything else in LA: www.discoverlosangeles.com