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Southern California Close-Ups: Going Hollywood

There's much more than stars to check out in Hollywood, where nuns, horse trails, the Magic Castle and Cirque du Soleil await.

December 25, 2011|By Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

Pity the rubes. Those wayward tourists who dawdle in their cars and tour buses along Beachwood Drive, enraging the locals as they haltingly seek that perfect Hollywood sign photo op — they know not what they do. Maybe you're not from this neighborhood either, but you have savvier Hollywood plans.

They involve horse trails, hidden hotels, a magic castle, a monastery — and that's just a start. To close out our yearlong series of Southern California Close-Ups, here is a set of 10 Hollywood micro-itineraries, suitable for visitors from across town or across the planet. To see the previous 11 installments in our multimedia tour of Los Angeles and Orange counties, go to

1. Get thee to a nunnery

The Hollywood sign (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

More specifically, head for the Monastery of the Angels (1977 Carmen Ave., a mile from the Hollywood sign), where 17 cloistered nuns spend their days praying, eating, sleeping and making desserts. Hand $10 to the gift-shop volunteer for a hefty loaf of pumpkin bread — a fine souvenir, if it lasts that long. Then head two blocks east to Beachwood Drive, turn north toward the famous sign and keep going even after the road dwindles to dirt. There you'll find Sunset Ranch (3400 Beachwood Drive), where horses can be rented for guided rides (ages 8 and older). For $30 you get an hour. Start about 4 p.m. on a clear winter day and you'll get a different angle of the Hollywood sign, but better still, a Technicolor panorama with setting sun, a distant sliver of the Pacific, city lights at your feet and a whiff of horse manure to keep it real. The ranch is also the starting point for the Hollyridge Trail hike, which takes you near the fenced-off Hollywood sign, or you can explore the half-dozen public staircases threaded among the hillside homes. (Plot your route at or buy Charles Fleming's 2010 paperback "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles." And in the interest of full disclosure: Fleming is an L.A. Times editor.) When you're done, you'll want a thick slice of that pumpkin bread and maybe a nap in your room at the handy Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills Hotel (6141 Franklin Ave.). The hotel is a mid-range, retro-mod affair with signed glossies of Ray Charles and Marty Feldman on the lobby wall; the movie "Swingers" was written in the lobby-adjacent 101 Coffee Shop.

2. The Bowl, the Greek, the difference

The Hollywood Bowl (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

The Hollywood Bowl (2301 N. Highland Ave.) is such a prime city asset that it's a wonder nobody has proposed selling it to reduce municipal debt. It was carved into the hills in the 1920s and programmed by the L.A. Philharmonic, seats about 17,000 people and stages mostly jazz, classical works and show-tune performances, June through September. For newbies, the big surprise is that by long tradition, audiences can bring their own picnics, beer and wine. The city's other prime summer pop-concert option, the Greek Theatre, four miles east at 2700 Vermont Ave., is more intimate, with room for just 5,800 and a season that runs from late April through late October. The Greek will not let you bring in your own food or drink.

3. Hip strip

Oaks Gourmet Market (Elina Shatkin)

You're not in a hurry. So you patiently seek one of the rare parking spots off Franklin Avenue near Tamarind Avenue, then meander past the trendy row of shops and restaurants between Tamarind and Bronson avenues. Browse Counterpoint Records & Books (5911 Franklin Ave.), scan magazines at the Daily Planet (59311/2 Franklin Ave.). The casual Victor's restaurant (1917 N. Bronson Ave.) will seat you beneath old photos of the hills. The Oaks Gourmet Market (1915 N. Bronson Ave.) will sell you fancy wines and beers, make you a lunch to take away or feed you at the shop's one communal table.

4. Musso, Frank, Pantages, Frolic and Redbury

Pantages Theatre (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

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