As the weather continues to cool down with the approach of gloomy winter, I often find my thoughts drifting to a summer trip I made to glorious, sunny Southern California this past August.
Finally, after wanting to visit this area since I was about 15 years old – I made it. At age 45. But it was well worth the wait. Admittedly, I am a movie and old Hollywood buff, so ‘Tinseltown’ itself offered lots of exciting attractions to me personally. But there is much more to check out, from the glittering, almost unreal perfection of stately Beverly Hills to the campy and quirky Hollywood Boulevard.
Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, located on Hollywood Blvd. is a must-see for anyone with even a tad of interest in the golden age of Hollywood.
Directly in front of the theatre movie stars have been placing their hands and/or feet and signatures in wet cement, immortalizing their visits to the famed site. It’s tough to check out every single set of prints with tourists scurrying all over the site, but it’s also worth the effort – from Hollywood legends like Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth, John Wayne and Shirley Temple to popular present day stars including Michael Caine, Meryl Streep and Hugh Jackman – it’s a challenge to think of a popular star who isn’t represented there.
Another highlight was taking one of the StarLine Bus Tours – I took the Grand Tour of Los Angeles which lasted more than five hours, but was well worth it. There is literally no other way to catch as many sites in so little time, plus it was all in the comfort of an air-conditioned, double decker bus with a tremendous guide and lots of time at each stop.
The tour included the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the famous corner of Hollywood and Highland, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Bowl, Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, and a stop for lunch at the famous Farmer’s Market and The Grove in downtown Los Angeles.
Even just driving around the area was incredibly interesting, with our guide sharing little gems of information – for example, ‘Here’s the corner where Brad Pitt used to wear a chicken suit when he worked for this chicken eatery in West Hollywood’ or ‘There’s a house where Frank Sinatra often spent time’ to ‘There’s Formosa Restaurant, where pretty much everyone who has ever hit the silver screen would grab a bite from time to time.’
Like I mentioned before, if you have evening an inkling of interest in Hollywood history, back in the golden age or even more recent eras, you will relish every aspect of a tour like this.
On my second day there, my friend and I decided to hit the trail ourselves and head to Venice Beach – one of the most fascinating places I think I have ever seen.
It’s beautiful, for one thing, with its palm trees, wide open stretches of sandy beaches and unique shops and eateries lining the busy walkway. It’s also a great place for people watching – even though it was extremely busy, there somehow manages to be a laid-back vibe to the place.
I found that to be the case throughout much of Hollywood and the places we visited in Los Angeles in general. Sure, rush hour can be dreadful (try to avoid the freeways and thoroughfares during the hectic times of the day), but overall, people seem quite relaxed and friendly.
Even the drive to Venice Beach was enjoyable – down the meandering Santa Monica Blvd. We made a quick stop at Westwood Memorial Park to check out a view final resting places of some famous folks, too. Marilyn Monroe, Merv Griffin, Farrah Fawcett, Jack Lemmon are just some of the stars buried in this small and very unassuming peaceful little place.
Another enjoyable highlight was a tour of Paramount Studios – one of the oldest and working studios remaining in Hollywood to this day.
It’s a hectic place that literally breathes with history – besides being shown all kinds of sound stages, sets and props, perhaps the little stories like being shown where stars would hang out in the old days awaiting their next filming stint was one of the most interesting things to me.
‘This is where Bing Crosby and Bob Hope would have barbecues during breaks in filming’. ‘This is where Alfred Hitchcock’s office was’. ‘This is where Charlton Heston as Moses parted the Red Sea in the Ten Commandments’. ‘This is where Jerry Seinfeld ran down the street after grabbing that loaf of marble rye from the old lady’. ‘This building was the exterior of the high school in Happy Days.’
The stories go on and on. The joy of Hollywood and Los Angeles in general is you can squeeze plenty into even just a few days. And you will head home with loads of memories that will make you want to head back – just one more time.