Maybe you can't just walk onto a studio lot and settle down to watch the filming, but a piece of Hollywood is still available to civilians who don't mind a bit of a drive: the Paramount Ranch, in the Santa Monica Mountains above Agoura, a Western movie set that dates to the 1920s and is still active.
From the Ventura Freeway, take the Kanan Road exit south, then turn left on Cornell Road. Follow it until you see the gate on the right for Paramount Ranch, which is open all week, 8 a.m. until sunset. A sign directs you to Western Town.
11 a.m.: First stop, a small village of Indian tepees. Then enter the gates of the "town." This could be a dusty little Western burg, circa 1893, except for the rather late-20th-Century lighting equipment, catering truck and directors' chairs. On a recent weekday, the crew of the CBS series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" was at work, but since this is National Park Service property, members of the public are welcome to watch, as long as they don't disrupt filming or bother anybody (no autographs.)
You can certainly take pictures in front of the medical clinic, or the general store, or the livery stable, or any number of other authentic-looking structures. Across a small bridge lies a charming if \o7 faux \f7 schoolhouse or church, and behind it a make-believe cemetery providing the backdrop for picnic tables.
According to one guide to the Santa Monica Mountains, the ranch was the setting for the 1930s films "The Adventures of Marco Polo" and "Tom Sawyer," but mainly was used for Western movies and those classic 1950s TV staples "The Cisco Kid," "Bat Masterson" and "Have Gun Will Travel." The ranch, then a 4,000-acre spread, was bought by Paramount in 1921 when filming outgrew the studio's smaller Burbank ranch. Paramount sold the ranch in 1946, but the 300 acres that remained Paramount's continued to be used as a movie set. The Park Service bought the property in 1979.
Noon: Hikes up into the mountains above Western Town offer panoramic views. There is also a marked 5K run. Back at the parking area, there are restrooms and a pay phone. Back in the car and on to another ranch that has a link with Hollywood.
12:30 p.m.: Return to Kanan Road and continue south. Turn left on Troutdale Road. (There really is a trout-fishing park at the corner, but it was closed on a recent weekday--it's open Wednesdays through Sundays.) At the intersection with Mulholland Highway is the Peter Strauss Ranch, a quiet hiking area that was, in the 1950s, a popular recreation spot called "Lake Enchanto."
The man-made lake was unmade by Mother Nature, which flooded out the dam on Triunfo Creek in 1969. Actor Peter Strauss bought the property in 1977 after it caught his eye during filming of the miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man." He lived here until 1983 and sold the ranch to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory. The National Park Service later acquired it.
1:15 p.m.: At trail's end, a rustic wooden playground with a slide and a tire swing, and a company picnic-sized area overlook the site of the former lake, now bone dry.
1:45 p.m.: Back to the Strauss house, which is sometimes the site of art exhibits, but closed on this day. Behind the house are restrooms, a phone and a water fountain. Attention swimming pool historians: Behind the maintenance buildings sits an empty pool, notable, according to the Park Service brochure, for being the largest pool on the West Coast when it was built in 1939. It held 650,000 gallons of water and could accommodate up to 3,000 people. On a dry, dusty day when the ranch is deserted, this is a surreal image.
Both ranches beg for picnicking. Fires are not allowed in the dry mountains, although the Strauss picnic ground does have a couple of grills. Opt for takeout back on Agoura Road, south of the freeway and east of Kanan.