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Hooray For Hollywood.....Almost!
Hollywood Boulevard (Los Angeles, USA)
Member Name: savvyshopper6476
Hollywood Boulevard (Los Angeles, USA)
Date: 05/10/11, updated on 03/06/12 (126 review reads)
Advantages: Dozens of iconic attractions, great nightlife, good transportation links
Disadvantages: A bit seedy in places, not overly family friendly, not as glamorous as you might expect
~~~~ Hollywood Walk Of Fame ~~~~
It's hard to believe that the iconic landmark is a fairly recent addition to the boulevard. In 1960 Stanley Kramer was the first celebrity to be immortalised in the pavement and since then around two and a half thousand stars have been added, lining either side of the pavements of the boulevard between the intersections with La Brea Street to the west and Gower Street to the east but stars also spill over from Yukka Street to the north, travelling south along Vine Street as far as Sunset Boulevard. Made from a Terrazzo composite with a brass star bearing the celebrities name embedded in the top, the walk of fame is a chronological history of industry movers and shakers. A little under one and a half kilometres long, the route passes other popular attractions including the Hollywood Wax Works, Guinness Book Of Records Museum and Madame Tussuad's. Walking the entire route, in honesty was boring. I was unfamiliar with many names and a little disillusioned by the depressing reality of this once glamorous street. Some parts of the walk are notoriously sleazy and those who partake in unsavoury activities are well catered for. Windows of stores specialising in what I politely describe as "curb fashion" have prominent displays of PVC dresses, sex toys and x-rated movies within spitting distance of popular tourist haunts and they stand out from the landmarks as prominently as the people that frequent them do from the tourists. Personally, I think if you pick up a free map found at most vendors, hotels, hostels and stores you can easily pin point your celebrities of interest without doing the lengthy foot work, reassured you haven't really missed much as at the end of the day it's just a pavement bearing names and it's not that exciting despite all the fuss that's made when a new star is laid.
~~~~ Hollywood And Highland Centre ~~~~
Sitting at the junction of the Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue is the aptly named Hollywood and Highland centre, a huge shopping mall and entertainment complex with more than one hundred retail outlets and restaurants spanning five floors and consuming more than 387,000 square feet. The complex has been credited to raising the profile of the boulevard since it was built ten years ago, mainly because the Kodak Theatre, home to the Academy awards ceremony is located inside. Organised tours are available from booths inside the centre although I never bothered.
The entrance to the centre, up the large staircase from the boulevard to the first floor (known as the awards walk) is the very same entrance draped in red carpet that the celebrities walk on Oscar night. The grand open staircase sweeps you straight into the centre where plenty of variation in individual retail outlets means there's something for everyone so it's not just designer labels that can be found here, although it is the vast majority! The mall is light, bright and airy with walkways that provide visitors with their first (distant) view of those iconic nine white letters in the Hollywood Hills framed by a huge archway in the central courtyard. The Hollywood sign is faint, so to obtain the best pictures you may need a zoom lens. One of my biggest memories of the centre however was the background music and it's constant repetition of movie songs, particularly popular ones such as Indiana Jones and Back To The Future!. The Hollywood and Highland is definitely worth a visit even if it's just to grab a bite to eat and a quick perusal of shop windows although there is a bowling alley and bars inside as well.
~~~~ Grauman's Chinese Theatre ~~~~
The second of two theatres designed by Sid Grauman, the first being the Egyptian Theatre located a little further along the boulevard sits latched on to the Hollywood and Highland Centre and is one of the most iconic of all the attractions on the boulevard and indeed Hollywood. First opened in 1927, Grauman's is the site for almost all Hollywood movie premiers but it's greatest draw comes from the stone forecourt where the hand prints of more than 100 celebrities line it's pavement. The theatre's gaudy exterior stands out like a sore thumb on the boulevard, garish in comparison to almost every other building. Designed to resemble a Chinese pagoda, the building is bright red and actually quite a fun design, not much is conservative in Hollywood!. Two giant lions guard either side of the forecourt along with stone dragons climbing the main walls. The theatre is usually congested with tourists all vying to take photos of the paving slabs and there's usually several booths set up close by to sell Hollywood tours. Watch out for the folk dressed up as super heroes and movie characters ready to part you with a couple of dollars for photo opportunities.
The theatre does run as a normal cinema but if your vigilant you won't have to pay to enter to view a movie. There's usually people handing out tickets to movie premieres granting you free entry to watch the film and be part of a little Hollywood glam but don't expect to walk a red carpet as these premiers are not for big budget blockbusters more accurately straight to DVD. I managed to bag a couple of tickets, one of which was for a diabolical Val Kilmer film called Wonderland. Early evening the theatre was teeming with people and Kilmer did make an appearance along with a few other celebrities on the forecourt granting autographs and photo opportunities. Another evening, the boulevard was cordoned off for Quintin Tarantino's Kill Bill premiere. The red carpet was out, although the theatre was closed for the screening there were plenty of freebies in the form of signed posters and the like being handed out to those watching from behind the barriers.
Inside the theatre is just as opulent as it's exterior and on my visits packed full, so que for snacks for the cinema early and be prepared to pay over the odds for your popcorn and coke! The actual auditorium is a rich, vibrant red, again ornate and chintzy with gold beading, oriental style lamps and shades and a massive chandelier hanging in the centre of the ceiling. The theatre is a bit glam and far fetched but it's also fun and worth a visit. The theatre does run guided tours but I would stick to the freebie tickets and free pamphlets that document the history of the building.
~~~~ Dining ~~~~
One thing you find with America in general is you are never far from an eatery (no matter how remote your location first appears) and assuming you don't want to travel further afield there's plenty of varied tucker to be found on the boulevard or the numerous roads that spring from it ranging from typical American burgers to Italian and Mexican, some obviously better value than others. One eatery that is worth a visit is favourite haunt of Shirley Temple and host of her 16th birthday party the Pig 'n' Whistle which makes for a nice meal break with a reasonable sized menu selling traditional "pub fayre" consisting of burgers, club sandwiches, steaks and pizzas at a decent price in comparison to Hollywood prices. Founded in 1927, the Pig 'n' Whistle served a loyal list of celebrities before it's slow demise and eventual closure then in 1999, this once famed restaurant saw a million pound renovation to restore it to it's former glory with much of it's original character still remaining today. The interior is stunning with the bar and ceiling being constructed with ornately carved dark wood but the whole place feels bright and has a cheery atmosphere. It's a bustling little eatery next to the Egyptian theatre that caters for all family members for as little as around $20.00 per head for adults which includes drinks.
~~~~ The Boulevard And Beyond ~~~~
Definitely worth a visit is the Hollywood farmers market, located at Ivar and Selma Avenue just off Hollywood and Vine. The market gets very busy offering some of the best of Californian produce as well as plenty of stalls selling baked goods, cakes, deli items, hand crafts and flowers. It's a lovely market and most of the produce is reasonably priced. Along the market walk there are also craft work shops and street musicians amongst the tourists and shoppers. The market has a lovely vibrancy and is a world away from the bustle and grime of the boulevard and also little known to the majority of the tourists who visit.
The boulevard is also home to many television studios and tickets to the likes of Jimmy Kimmel live are free. Barriers are erected late afternoon and all that's required is to join the queue for free entry and then it's just a gamble as to who's on the shows as to who you will see. These talk shows are very popular and work on a first come, first served basis. I queued with a group of others for around thirty minutes to enter the studio and Jimmy's guests on my visit were Evander Holyfield, Daryl Hannah and Kermit the Frog! Shows are only a couple of hours of filming but are great fun and FREE!!!
If you have the time and energy to explore Griffith Park just north east of the boulevard it's worth a visit (and some peace away from the hoards of tourists). There are numerous trails and it's also where you will get the best vantage points for the Hollywood sign, located at Mount Lee. Access to the sign is prohibited but you do get a much better view and thus picture and the various trails provide some great views of Hollywood!
The Hollywood Boulevard is a stones throw from other famous landmarks and districts like Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Fairfax and the golden rule is the Hollywood Boulevard for the iconic landmarks, Sunset for the bars and nightlife including the famous Rainbow Bar, grubby Viper Room, once owned by Johnny Depp, Whisky Go Go Bar and Comedy Store as well as the plush hotels of Chateau Marmont and the Mondrian.
A little further afield (20 mins by bus) is Rodeo Drive, a visit to which can incorporate a walking tour of Beverly Hills with views of the "stars" homes and popular movie locations. Despite all the hype my visit provided me with the worlds most famous shopping street being "under construction" looking a world away from the elegant street I was expecting. A little window shopping was as close to the stores as I ever got as most stores wouldn't entertain a scruffy backpacker and even if they did I certainly could not afford anything they sold!. At the bottom of Rodeo Drive is the Regent Beverly Wiltshire Hotel, brought to the worlds attention for being Richard Gere's accommodation of choice in pretty Woman. You can enter and wander around (plenty of tourists do) and staff are very accommodating to tourists, the hotel happy to provide souvenir leaflets and the like. The hotel had a major face lift a few years after the film was released so the interior is unrecognisable to that depicted in the film although there is plenty of Pretty Women memorabilia on the walls, including signed scripts and photos.
Of course, by far the biggest attraction is Universal Studios, located in Burbank which can be easily reached by the subway in around ten to fifteen minutes. The park requires a good day, preferably two but deals are to be had to save money. There is usually people handing out two for one discounts and group vouchers along the boulevard and at the tour booths so it's always worth checking before you reach the park and pay full price.
~~~~ Places To Stay And Getting Away ~~~~
Despite being told by Hollywood residents that everyone in LA has a car and public transport is pretty poor I found that the boulevard has pretty good bus and train links to just about every place I wanted to visit. A ten minute walk to Sunset Strip and there were plenty of buses running the entire Strip, dropping off near the famous clubs and bars and heading straight into Beverly Hills frequently day and late into the evening. The boulevard has numerous subway stops, probably the most convenient being at Hollywood and Highland and Hollywood and Vine. Universal Studios was incredibly easy to reach, just a ten minute ride on the metro red line to Universal City and from there you can board a free studio shuttle to the park entrance so for those not on a fly drive holiday, public transportation is no problem in west Hollywood. Metro cards offer savings if you plan several trips away from the boulevard, otherwise for under $4.00 for a return to Universal and around the same by bus into Beverly Hills, Burbank and the surrounding areas.
At the time of my visit I was a backpacker so my budget restricted me to staying in cheap hotels and hostels. I opted for the USA Hollywood Hostel on Schrader Street just one block from the boulevard. Simple, cheap and clean accommodation. My dorm room slept six people and had an en-suite bathroom. The hostel has a cafeteria, lounge and video room, WiFi and plenty of other facilities and also offered group excursions and tours to the outlaying neighbourhoods as well as free breakfast for all backpackers. If your after more premium accommodation the choice is endless with options from mid range to exclusive all within a stones throw of the boulevard.
I arrived from San Diego via Greyhound to down town LA, the price of my ticket included a transfer to Hollywood although fed up with the over crowded bus station and sheer confusion I took a taxi to the hostel at a cost of around $25.00 which saved me a cramped journey and hour waiting time for my transfer.
~~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~~
The Hollywood boulevard can be daunting on a first visit, particularly if you don't arrive with an open mind or keep your wits about you, although it's fairly obvious if you stray into an iffy area. A couple of hours on a fleeting visit will be long enough for a quick tour of the iconic landmarks and some good photo opportunities but a week or more is adequate for a full exploration of the boulevard, outlying districts and attractions.
Personally I like to take the road less travelled and in Hollywood this is just not an option as just about everything is commercialised and just about every attraction, shop, bar or restaurant that isn't worth it's weight and populated by tourists or residents it's not worth the visit. it is a fun place to be with something for everyone, although I wouldn't want to spend too much time with small children here as I don't think there's much they would understand or to keep them interested. Los Angeles has a warm year round climate, averaging around 60 odd degrees so a visit any time of year will usually provide good weather.
It's sad to think that with the inevitable demise of the starlets that I associate from Hollywood's golden era (Monroe, Garbo, Hepburn and the like) also seemed to signify the downward spiral of the Hollywood Boulevard. The road that once bore the expensive heels of the graceful Gods of the big screen now carries the weight of in excess of five million tourists cheap trainers annually. The Hollywood Boulevard became a place where more dreams were broken than they were made but today much is being done to clean up the street and move on the beggars and prostitutes and it's better for it. Despite many visitors moaning about the boulevard I actually had a fabulous time in Hollywood and personally think a trip to Hollywood wouldn't be complete without a visit to it's still famous boulevard.
(This review also appears on Ciao with accompanying photos)
Summary: More sham than glam, a trip to LA wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Hollywood Boulevard!