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Travel: Going to the movies… A Hollywood holiday in Los Angeles

© Press Association ImagesCoffees on the Friends couch at Warner Bros Studios.
Coffees on the Friends couch at Warner Bros Studios.

The barrier keeping eager fans out of arguably the most exclusive spot in Los Angeles isn’t a red velvet rope.

It’s an unassuming metal gate on the side of a dirt road, which swings open with a screech to reveal a steep slope leading down to the world-famous Hollywood sign.

Clinging to a neon orange safety rope installed for my visit, I shuffle down the gravelly path, landing a few metres behind the giant “H” (just over 49ft tall) and edge round to the front of the iconic landmark.

Bathed in morning sunshine and silhouetted against a cloudless sky, the bright white letters – recently treated to their once-a-decade repainting – are beaming down on LA like a row of (slightly crooked) teeth.Erected by a real estate company sometime in 1923 (the exact date has been lost in the sands of time), the original wooden sign said “Hollywoodland” and was illuminated with bulbs like a dressing room mirror.

While the real estate firm went out of business within a decade, Hollywood was fast becoming a mecca for moviemakers, so the “land” was lopped off.

Rebuilt in metal in the 1970s, those nine pearly white letters remain Tinseltown’s most recognisable symbol.

Now Los Angeles is enjoying a year-long, citywide celebration to mark the sign’s centenary, so there’s no better time to soak up the LA sun and discover the behind-the-scenes history of Hollywood.

Opened at the end of 2021, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a movie buff’s heaven, with four floors packed with costumes, props and other memorabilia tracing the history of the film industry.

© Press Association Images
Katie Wright in front of the Hollywood sign.

In addition to the permanent collections, current exhibition Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971 (until July) puts the spotlight on pioneering African-American entertainers and filmmakers, while in September, a new exhibit will celebrate director John Waters.

Also marking a centenary this year, the Warner Bros Studio Tour is home to Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls, as well as the Friends fountain and couch, and is still a working studio.

Opt for the last tour of the day on weekends and you might get to walk through “live” sets when they’re not in use. More of a theme park than a studio, Universal Studios Hollywood has sections dedicated to Jurassic Park, the Simpsons and Harry Potter, plus a 60-minute studio tour which ferries you round sets – old and new – on trams, and includes three virtual rides.

New this year, Super Nintendo World is like stepping through your screen into Mario and Luigi’s technicoloured landscape.

Venture into Bowser’s Castle and you can ride a real-life version of Mario Kart, donning a VR headset so you can throw virtual shells to try and hit 100 points and defeat Team Bowser.

Proving that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a car to get around LA, the three-hour electric bike tour from Bikes and Hikes LA takes in La La landmarks like the Hollywood Forever cemetery, where the great and the good have been laid to rest, and theatre-lined Hollywood Boulevard, as well as the more upscale residential areas.

Stopping off at the Original Farmers Market, be sure to sample local favourites, such as a mac and cheese-filled Nonna’s Empanada or a glazed Bob’s doughnut. For a more sedate option, stroll with LA Walking Tours on the Downtown Architecture trail for a look at the city’s most stunning 1920s buildings, like the muralled rotunda of the Public Library and the ornate wrought iron staircases of the Bradbury Building, as seen in sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

The route winds up at bustling Grand Central Market, where you’ll find authentic Mexican pork tacos at Ana Maria, breakfast baps at Eggslut, and a whole menu of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at PBJ.LA.


Where to stay…Tommie Hollywood welcomes visitors with an art-filled lobby and is perfectly positioned for exploring LA. And Conrad Los Angeles sits among the skyscrapers of Downtown LA, providing five-star service to stars and – if you’re lucky – a room with a view of the Hollywood sign.


For more about LA, go to Direct economy return flights from Heathrow to LAX with British Airways from £392.