A First Timer’s Travel Guide to Hollywood

View over Los Angeles from behind the Hollywood Sign at sunset

An ultimate guide to all the best things to see and do in Hollywood, California

Hollywood is the most famous neighborhood in Los Angeles and one of the top tourist destinations in the world. The name alone evokes visions of movie-making magic, Golden Age glamor, and stars. Stars everywhere. Stars in everyone’s eyes! Stars on the sidewalk! Maybe even an A-list star sighting! 

Visitors to Hollywood – over 50 million of them each year – seek their own luminous experiences while sightseeing in the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” We highly recommend doing so equipped with an accurate idea of Hollywood, the destination, as distinct from Hollywood, the concept. 

Hollywood, the concept, is the LA entertainment industry in all its facets: its history, its importance to Los Angeles, the aura of celebrity, and the great allure of making art worthy of celebration. None of those characteristics are confined to the boundaries of Hollywood, the destination. 

Nowadays, not a lot of actual movie-making goes on in the neighborhood called Hollywood. You’re more likely to spot a celebrity in a San Fernando Valley deli than you are strolling down Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood, the neighborhood, isn’t even a very glamorous place. But, it is absolutely worth exploring. Experience your own Tinseltown magic by visiting the following top tourist attractions in Hollywood. 

People walking along Hollywood Boulevard with the Walk of Fame and El Capitan Theatre visible along with a red sightseeing bus
The Hollywood Walk of Fame and El Capitan Theatre (Photo by Oxana Melis on Unsplash)

Top 10 Hollywood Attractions

The best things to do in Hollywood are mostly, but not all, tourist-centric entertainment industry landmarks. Many are located closely enough to each other to make Hollywood a somewhat walkable destination. It’s even viable to explore most of these Hollywood sights in a single visit. 

Hollywood Walk of Fame

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a world-famous, must-visit attraction – an impressive feat for a grubby stretch of city sidewalk. Almost 3,000 terrazzo and brass stars, each bearing the name of an entertainment industry great, are concentrated along both sides of Hollywood Boulevard. 

The walk spans 18 city blocks and expands by approximately 30 stars each year. Consult the official star map for easier pilgrimage to your favorite celebrities’ stars. Also check the schedule for Walk of Fame ceremonies honoring new inductees. These events are open to the public and free to attend. 

The TCL Chinese Theatre, formerly Grauman's, a Chinese-inspired landmark in Hollywood, seen with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front
TCL Chinese Theatre and a stretch of the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Photo by BP Miller on Unsplash)

Hollywood TCL Chinese Theatre

It’s been Hollywood TCL Chinese Theatre since 2013, but the original name of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre captured the public imagination in 1927 and never let go. Showman Sid Grauman, in partnership with early Hollywood stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, opened the theater almost a century ago. Its Chinese-inspired architecture and adornments include a pagoda-like façade and genuine artifacts imported from China. Notable among them are two enormous Heaven Dogs guarding the entrance.

Related: The first of Grauman’s three Los Angeles movie palaces, the Million Dollar Theatre, is still standing in Downtown Los Angeles.

Overshadowing even this showiest of structures is the Forecourt of the Stars – a top Hollywood tourist attraction in its own right. Hand and footprints impressed in the concrete of the forecourt immortalize early Hollywood stars, starting with theater owners Pickford and Fairbanks. The couple’s 1927 prints are the earliest of some 310 honored actors, directors, producers, and even non-human stars such as Trigger the horse and Donald Duck. 

Inside, the theater boasts the world’s largest IMAX auditorium, blending contemporary movie magic with the Old Hollywood enchantment of its lavish interiors. You can experience it all by buying tickets to the latest blockbuster or taking a VIP guided tour of the theater.

Tip: The costumed characters outside the theater expect to be paid for photo opps. Engage with them, or not, at your discretion. Check out the documentary “Confessions of a Superhero” if you’re interested in these folks’ roles on the boulevard.

Concrete tiles embedded with celebrity hand and footprints outside TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood
The Forecourt of the Stars in front of the Hollywood TCL Chinese Theatre (Image by Imeime from Pixabay)

Dolby Theatre

Another historic and storied Hollywood theater open for guided tours is the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak Theatre). The landmark is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right next door to the Hollywood TCL Chinese Theater, so it’s a no-brainer to combine the trio of top attractions into one visit. 

The Dolby Theatre is famous for hosting the annual Academy Award Ceremony, along with major TV shows, concerts and events. Check out the Awards Walk featuring plaques for every Best Picture Oscar winning film, plus photographs capturing every era of Hollywood history. 

El Capitan Theatre

El Capitan Theatre opened to great fanfare in 1926 as the largest playhouse in Hollywood. Disney aficionados know it as the host venue for all Disney premieres, and you can head inside to watch Disney classics on the big screen all year around. This is an incomparable moviegoing experience augmented by the sounds of a restored “Mighty Wurlitzer,” one of the last of its kind.

The Hollywood Museum

Hollywood Museum is a two-for-one Hollywood tourist attraction. Its exhibits comprise more than 10,000 items from over a century of Hollywood history. Plus, the museum is housed inside the historic Max Factor Building, a glorious landmark inside and out. Admire the Art Deco elegance of its white and gold lobby, all adorned with marble, gold leaf and chandeliers. Visit the makeup studio rooms where Max Factor glamorized the world’s most famous faces as far back as 1928. 

Throughout four floors of exhibits, the museum presents props, costumes, posters, and endless movie artifacts. Browse a gallery of over 1,000 black and white photos and the world’s largest collection of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. The lower level is dedicated to the spooky and scary ephemera of horror films. See if you can spot some of the highlights of the Hollywood Museum such as Rocky’s boxing gloves, the Batmobile, a “Back to the Future” DeLorean, and Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding dress from “Father of the Bride (1950).”

Ovation Hollywood

Ovation Hollywood (formerly the Hollywood and Highland Center) earns a spot among the top things to do in Hollywood for its exceptional views of the Hollywood Sign. The shopping center and entertainment complex is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, adjacent to the Dolby Theater and TCL Chinese Theater. Head up to the observation deck to take in a sweeping panorama of the Hollywood Hills, Santa Monica Mountains and downtown Los Angeles. 

You can explore more than 70 shops and dining options at Ovation Hollywood. The complex also features a bowling alley and the Japan House LA: Gallery, a showcase of Japanese art, culture and craft. There’s also a Starlight Tours office where you can get tickets for sightseeing tours of Hollywood, movie star homes, and other Los Angeles landmarks.

The frontage of Paramount Studios in Hollywood with an entrance of gold arches and columns under a sign reading Paramount Pictures. A fountain is in the foreground.
The entrance to Paramount Studios in Hollywood (Photo by Hannah Wernecke on Unsplash)

Paramount Studio Tour

Paramount Studio is the only major film studio actually located in Hollywood. Its HQ and 65-acre studio lot on Melrose Avenue is open to the public via the Paramount Studio Tour. Choose the two-hour Studio Tour, available daily, or upgrade to the weekday-only, 4.5-hour VIP Tour, which adds behind-the-scenes insider experiences. 

All tours feature a guided journey around the movie studio including the prop warehouse, soundstages and New York Backlot. Visitors learn about the long history of Paramount Studio dating back to 1912 and get to see where many beloved TV shows and movies were – and are currently – made. 

The Hollywood Bowl

There’s no venue on Earth quite like the Hollywood Bowl, a celebrated landmark whose annals encompass over a century of musical and theatrical history. This is “the world’s largest natural amphitheater” with its elliptical shell tucked into a canyon in the Hollywood Hills. The setting offers views of the Hollywood Sign and serene surroundings of chaparral, sage, and live oak trees. It’s a certified Audubon sanctuary where you can watch red-tailed hawks circle overhead while waiting for the biggest names in entertainment to take to the stage.

Since the earliest production at the site in 1916 (Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”), the Hollywood Bowl has hosted the biggest names in entertainment across all genres. From Stravinsky and Bernstein to Hendrix, Dylan and the Beatles, audiences at the Bowl have witnessed the greatest of the greats at the peaks of their careers. Catching a contemporary show at the Hollywood Bowl could be the highlight of any visit to Los Angeles. 

Even without tickets to a show, you can visit the landmark and learn about its history at the Hollywood Bowl Museum. Admission is free. Visitors may also take a self-guided tour of the venue.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery 

It’s unusual for a cemetery and funeral home to be a top tourist attraction, but many visitors embrace the Hollyweird with a visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The expansive and solemn green space is historic, founded in 1899 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the final resting place for countless entertainment industry greats. Pay your respects to such Hollywood legends as Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, Judy Garland and Mel Blanc, whose epitaph reads “That’s All Folks.”

Hollywood Forever Cemetery also hosts a vibrant, year-round cultural events program. Check out the calendar of concerts, lectures, classic film screenings and other celebrations at this totally unique Hollywood venue.  

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, an architectural landmark in white stone with green lawns, a Hollywood landmark
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House (Photo by Arch Stop on Unsplash)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Hollywood. It’s also notable as a National Historic Landmark and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Los Angeles. Completed in 1921, the architectural masterpiece was commissioned by oil heiress and philanthropist Aline Barnsdall. Frank Lloyd Wright took inspiration from Barnsdall’s favorite plant, the hollyhock, featuring the motif in art glass, textiles and furniture throughout the property. 

Just five years after its completion, Barnsdall gifted Hollyhock House and its surrounding 12 acres to the City of Los Angeles. It’s now the Barnsdall Art Park. Along with self-guided tours of Hollyhock House, park visitors can explore a 130-year-old olive grove, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and Barnsdall Gallery Theatre. 

Iconic Eats in Hollywood

At these iconic Hollywood dining destinations, you can combine eating and drinking with even more sightseeing. 

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, a circa-1927 beauty on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is the oldest continuously running hotel in Los Angeles. Its vintage-chic aura is the real deal – Marilyn Monroe lived in the hotel for two years and the first-ever Academy Awards were held in the ballroom. Virtually all the Old Hollywood greats have featured on the guest list, among them Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple. Of course there are ghost stories aplenty. 

The Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, a tall white building with many windows, a spire, and white letters on the rooftop reading Roosevelt Hotel
The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash)

You don’t need to book one of the 300 guest rooms to experience the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Score a table or bar stool at one of its six bars, restaurants and lounges. They include the Shirley Brasserie for farm-to-table French-Californian cuisine; the classic American burger joint, 25 Degrees; and the prohibition era-inspired craft cocktail bar, Spare Room. 

Musso & Frank Grill

The oldest eatery in Hollywood, Musso & Frank Grill opened its doors in 1919. Its decor, ambiance and menu have barely changed in over 100 years, so today’s diners get to experience a genuine glimpse into Old Hollywood. Dress for fine dining, sip a signature martini, and order one of the old-school entrees like lobster thermidor, veal schnitzel or the original fettuccine alfredo. 

Mel’s Drive-In Hollywood

Mel’s Drive-In Hollywood, a retro American diner, shares the Max Factor Building with the Hollywood Museum. Visiting the museum and dining at Mel’s are an obvious pairing, but the diner is a big draw for tourists and locals alike. Head there for diner classics like pancakes, the famous Melburger and super-thick milkshakes. Mel’s is open 24 hours on weekends and hosts a regular happy hour among the headshots in the Celebrity Bar. 

Wait, Did We Forget Some Top Hollywood Attractions?

Want to hike to the Hollywood Sign? It’s visible from many amazing sites in Hollywood, but not actually located in the neighborhood. The sign is on the southern slope of Mount Lee in Griffith Park, and there are trails that will take you as close as is legally allowable. 

Wondering about Universal Studios Hollywood? Hollywood’s in the name, but the theme park is actually in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.