Hollywood, CA
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Hollywood, CA

Thanks to a $1.5-billion facelift, the boulevard's looking mahhvelous.

Ready for Its Close-Up


Kodak Spotlight Theater, copyright Hollywood Entertainment Museum

What did Hollywood look like last time you saw her? An aging screen star still strutting her stuff when she should be packing it in? Well, look again! The country's most famous boulevard is all cleaned up and ready for its close-up.

Thanks to a $1.5 billion facelift, now in its final stages, Tinseltown is barely recognizable as its old self. Seediness and grime are gone. So is much of the crime; a private security force now patrols the district seven days a week.

Once-popular movie palaces -- the Pantages, Egyptian, and El Capitan theaters -- have been restored to their old glory. The massive $567 million Hollywood & Highland Entertainment & Retail Center opened next door to Grauman's Chinese Theatre with a four-star hotel, upscale shops, restaurants, and a performing arts center that will be the Academy Awards' new home.

That's not to say the souvenir shops, tattoo parlors, and hokey museums have disappeared completely -- and who'd want them to? A completely sanitized Hollywood would be boring. But the curtain has risen on a new Hollywood, and this one's restaged for family fun.

Walking the Walk

Most of the area's best-known attractions are located along a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, from La Brea Boulevard to Gower Street. Look down. You'll be stepping on hundreds of gold stars bearing names of celebrities. That's why it's The Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And keep an eye out for Old Hollywood's historic "monuments" -- all faithfully preserved. In "Walk the Walk," a free, self-guided walking tour, you'll find the locations of these famous "national register" buildings, as well as the sidewalk site of your favorite star's star.

Before its makeover, Hollywood looked like a movie set waiting to be struck -- plenty of decaying storefronts and drab parking lots. Thankfully, the lots still remain, providing ample parking, even on crowded days. A little-known free lot is located on Cherokee, just north of the boulevard. If that's full, check out the ones on side streets south of Hollywood Boulevard.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Your first stop should be the Janes House, a historic landmark building where you can pick up a Hollywood Visitor's Guide and Map. It's packed with tons of need-to-know stuff and includes plenty of discount coupons. If you're planning to visit other area attractions, buy the Hollywood CityPass. You'll get into selected attractions at half the regular price.

Walk North

Start your walking tour on the north and west side of Hollywood Boulevard. Here's what you'll see on this side of the famous street:


copyright Hollywood
Entertainment Museum

  • Hollywood Entertainment Museum. You'll be greeted in the lobby by a miniaturized version of Old Hollywood, complete with working streetlights and lighted signs. Pick up a lobby phone and "eavesdrop" on some big name directors -- Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, among them -- talking industry talk.
  • On Thursday nights, pull up a barstool on the original Cheers set for some good food and drink.

 

Grauman's Chinese Theatre, copyright
Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

  • Grauman's Chinese Theatre. In a town where image is everything, this theater screams show biz, with its 70-foot-high bronze roof and marquees shaped like red Chinese pagodas. But the coolest stuff is underfoot. That's where you'll find the hand and foot prints of Hollywood's biggest legends, including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and John Wayne. There's even a print of Jimmy Durante's nose. The cement prints began when owner Sid Grauman asked silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to make their marks in the concrete on opening day. These days, new prints are added three to four times a year. And while most tourists come just to see these "star fossils," there's a lot more here than meets the eye. The movie theater itself has one of the largest screens in southern California. It's a frequent venue for premieres -- which is about the only time you'll see real live stars in this part of town. Unfortunately, premieres aren't announced in advance. You'll have to play amateur sleuth to get the actual dates. But there are clues; before a premiere, police set up barricades. A word of advice: When visiting the theater, hang on to little ones -- if there's any place they'll lose their way, it's here. Year-round, elbow-to-elbow crowds make it easy to get separated while ogling the pavement.

 

  • Hollywood Wax Museum. This is the only place you'll actually see Hollywood stars -- or, at least, their clones. The museum isn't intended to be scary, but little ones may be spooked by the glassy-eyed, frozen stares of George C. Scott, John Lennon, Jerry Seinfeld, or one of 200 featured celebrities. Some of the wax figures are eerily real, while others are, well, pretty goofy -- but that's Hollywood. The Chamber of Horrors will be a favorite of your older set (probably too intense for the wee ones). Here you'll see Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, Lon Chaney, Jr. as Wolfman, and a host of other famous monsters.

 

Walk South

Once you've done the north walk, cross over Vine Street and follow the boulevard's south side. Here's what awaits:

  • American Cinematheque. Film buffs! Watch movies and videos not shown at your local movie house in the landmark 1922 Egyptian Theatre. Older kids will love Forever Hollywood, a 55-minute film celebrating Hollywood's history and glamour. Tip: You can only buy tickets at the box office so expect long lines 20 minutes before a screening. To avoid hassles and sold-out shows, pick up tickets as soon as you arrive.

 

  • Guinness World of Records Museum. If you like the book, you'll love the museum. It's a repository of completely useless, but entertaining facts -- who set the world's record for continuous sneezing, for example. You'll walk away an expert on trivial tidbits and possibly find inspiration for your own personal achievements.

 

  • Ripley's Believe It or Not! You don't have to pay admission to see strange sights, even in the new and improved Hollywood. But, if you're looking for a heftier dose of the odd and unusual (as well as a safe place for kids to point and stare), take a peek inside this museum. (You'll know it instantly; it's the only building with a huge Godzilla sticking out of its street-facing exterior.)

    Inside, you'll see more than 300 exhibits, some of them real stomach turners, like the skeleton of a two-headed human baby and a shrunken human head. In the "unusual-but-cool" category, there's a picture of John Wayne made from laundry lint and a drag racer built with matchsticks.

 

  • El Capitan Theatre & Entertainment Centre. Hollywood's glory days are alive again at Disney's palatial El Capitan. Back in the old days, Will Rogers, Clark Gable, and Henry Fonda appeared in plays here. Today, the refurbished theater shows first-run movies from Walt Disney/Touchstone Studios. New Disney releases are accompanied by a live stage show before the movie. Ticket prices are steeper than most conventional theaters. But your little multiplex mongers will experience movie-going the way it used to be -- complete with a live, pre-show organ concert and ushers in gold-braided uniforms.

 

Dashboard

Type of trip: Urban entertainment

Best ages: 8 and up

Ideal trip length: Weekend

Distance: Palm Springs (114 miles); San Diego (126 miles); San Francisco (375 miles)

Best time to go: Fall, winter, and spring. You'll find the cleanest air during the winter, but fall and spring bring beautiful days, too -- and fewer crowds than summer.

Weather: Mild and dry year-round except rainy season January through March. Highs in the 60s, winter and spring; mid 70s, summer and fall. On occasion, summertime highs can exceed 100 degrees.

Lodging: Rates average $87.50 for a family of four at more than a dozen motels and two hotels in the historic district. Higher-end hotels are located along Sunset Strip in Hollywood and in downtown Los Angeles, about 15 minutes away.

Squirm factor: None

If You Go...

Janes House Visitor/Tourist Information 6541 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 213-624-7300

Hollywood Walk of Fame Hollywood Blvd. between La Brea Ave. on the west and Gower St. on the east and a portion of the Vine St. crossing

Hollywood Entertainment Museum 7021 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-465-7900

 

copyright Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman's Chinese Theatre 6925 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-464-8111

 

Hollywood Wax Museum 6767 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-462-8860

 

Egyptian Theatre,
copyright Margot
Gerber/American
Cinematheque

American Cinematheque At the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-466-3456

 

Guinness World of Records Museum 6764 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-463-6433

 

Ripley's Believe It or Not! 6780 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-466-6335

 

El Capitan Theatre 6838 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 800-DISNEY-6 Note: Admission may vary depending on production.

 
Lodging

  • Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
    7000 Hollywood Blvd.
    Phone: 323-466-7000

 

  • Liberty Hotel
    1770 Orchid Ave
    Phone: 323-962-1788

 

Side Trips

Griffith Observatory

If you love stars -- of the astronomical variety -- spend an evening at the Griffith Observatory, a major Los Angeles landmark since 1935. Located four miles from Hollywood's historic district, the observatory is perched on the southern slope of Mt. Hollywood, providing a panoramic view of the city and its famous Hollywood sign. On clear nights, the telescopes are open, and you can peer through them for free.

The Hall of Science museum is also free and includes six-foot diameter globes of earth and moon and a large collection of meteorites, computer games, a 1/5-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, and a working seismograph. There's an evening Lasarium show and Planetarium show for ages 6 and up. Children 5 and under are permitted only in "Voyage to the Planets," a kid-oriented, planetarium weekend show. Above Hollywood, 2800 East Observatory Rd., Los Angeles, 323-664-1191

 

For some light-hearted fun for the younger ones, check out these three family favorites, also located in Griffith Park, about 4 miles west of Hollywood's Historic District.

  • Merry-Go-Round. Located in the middle of the park between the Los Feliz entrance and the LA Zoo. Call 323-665-3051 for more information. Built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company, it features 68 finely carved jumping horses.

  • Pony Rides. Located at the Los Feliz entrance on Crystal Springs Dr. Call 323-664-3266 for more information. Set your little ones atop ponies that trot around an oval track; larger horses for bigger cowboys and cowgirls. Wagon rides for kids and adults.

  • Griffith Park Southern Railroad: Call 323-664-6788 for more information. Chug along more than a mile of track, past an old western town and through lush lawns on this miniature train.

The Inside Scoop

Favorite local spot: Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Dr., 323-644-6400. The 113-acre Los Angeles Zoo has added two highly acclaimed newcomers: the $6.5 million Red Ape Rain Forest and the Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains. Little ones will love the new children's zoo. The two-acre kid area allows children to touch and feed domestic farm animals like sheep and goats. Also, make sure to catch the "World of Birds Show" and the meercats that Disney artists studied when creating the character Timon in The Lion King.

 

Best souvenir: Movie blood -- the stuff they use in film and TV. Pick up a small bottle of the bright gory film goo at the Hollywood Magic Store, 6614 Hollywood Blvd., 323-464-5610

Annual events: Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade, downtown Hollywood, end of November

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