In recent years a growing travel trend has seen film and TV fans visit their favourite screen locations in person. This movement is so popular now that it has become better known by the trendy moniker of ‘setjetting’. Many destinations have claimed to be the best for cinephiles, but here’s why the glamour of Hollywood is still impossible to beat.
Los Angeles as an iconic destination remains the pinnacle for every setjetter. As someone who has explored the world to uncover the link between films and travel, Hollywood is still the one I get asked about the most.
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Those in the know will talk about the stone city of Matera as seen in No Time to Die (2021), or the Greek Islands featured in Mamma Mia! (2008), but for the general public cinema and Hollywood are inextricably connected.
Having visited Tinseltown a number of times before, I thought the thrill of it would have passed. It is a long flight afterall, and surely I’m too old now for giddy excitement at the sight of an old property advert up in the hills?
Clearly not, because as soon as I caught a glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign I was unlocking my phone and taking multiple snaps from afar. I shouldn’t have bothered this time however, as I was about to get a much closer look at the most celebrated nine letters in the world.
Travel to Los Angeles with British Airways. Prices from London Heathrow to LAX start from £392
A film lovers guide to Los Angeles
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Hollywood Sign. A series of events have been planned for 2023 and we also received the news that a new visitor centre dedicated to the icon will be opening soon.
Perched atop the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the City of Angels, the sign once read ‘Hollywoodland’ and was in place as a advertisement for real estate. It fell into disrepair and disrepute until Hugh Hefner (and some of his friends) decided to save the sign and preserve its legacy.
‘From the Golden Age of Hollywood to the beating heart of today’s entertainment industry, The Hollywood Sign has presided over a century of Los Angeles history and allure,’ said Adam Burke, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. ‘We are eager to welcome visitors from around the globe to come celebrate The Hollywood Sign in its 100th year and revel in all the exceptional experiences that can only be found in Los Angeles.’
As someone who has always been fascinated by the film industry and worked in Los Angeles in the past, I was delighted to get the chance to climb down the side of the sign thanks to an exclusive invite from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who look after the location. This isn’t something general members of the public can do, although in the past many people would head here to get some of the best views of the city.
You already know the letters of the sign are big, you can see them from all over the city, but this close you realise just how big they are. You also see how inspirational this spot is when looking down at a number of famous studios from the ‘Golden Age‘ of Hollywood, which is exactly where the next stage of my journey to the home of film took me.
The best Hollywood studio tours in Los Angeles
Celebrating their centennial anniversary in 2023 with new slogan “100 Years of Storytelling,” Warner Bros. is still one of the busiest working studios in Los Angeles. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour invites guests to get closer than ever to the films and shows they love at the studio that has been entertaining the world for a century. The tour allows guests to wander the Gilmore Girls’ hometown of Stars Hollow, the iconic Friends coffee shop Central Perk Café, or various locales where the film classic Casablanca was shot.
The Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour explores four acres of the sprawling studio lot, including the largest set construction project in studio history built with creative consultation from Steven Spielberg. The tour takes guests to see the locales that star on the screen, including the plane crash from War of the Worlds, Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane, the legendary Bates Motel of Psycho fame, and the set of Jaws.
The studio tour will also let you see what else the park has to offer. There’s a recreation of Hogwarts for Harry Potter fans but the newest attraction is Super Nintendo World, a hotly-anticipated addition that is as bonkers as it looks. There’s a new Super Mario film coming out in 2023, so its all perfectly-timed too.
Founded in May 1912, Paramount Pictures Studio is the longest operating studio in Hollywood. Cecil B. DeMille, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Gary Cooper, the Marx Brothers, and Elvis Presley have all filmed at the iconic studio lot. This location is probably the most accessible in Hollywood and the famous cemetery is one you can explore in your own time.
For a great overview of Hollywood, you can try the Bikes and Hikes Hollywood Tour where an expert guide will show you around and let you visit a number of film locations. If you’ve seen Babylon (2022), you’ll get a sense of ‘Old Hollywood’ depicted in that movie on the quieter streets and suburbs you take in on the tour.
The e-bike option is safe and stress-free. We spent three hours on the road stopping off at various locations we had already passed in cars and taxis. Exploring on two wheels actually highlighted how some of these destinations can be easier to reach than you might initially think. I had no idea my hotel was right on the doorstep of Hollywood Boulevard for example!
Speaking of which…
Where to stay in Los Angeles
Situated around the intersection of Selma and Wilcox just blocks away from Sunset Blvd., the emerging neighbourhood recently named the ‘Vinyl District’ – as a tribute to the area’s long history in the music industry with recording studios, record shops and entertainment labels – comes highly recommended.
Film and music are closely linked in Los Angeles and if you stay at the tommie Hollywood you’ll get a sense of both. The rooftop bar and pool is one of the coolest hangouts in the city and you’re also within easy reach of Grandmaster Records, a modern lounge and restaurant where some of the biggest artists of all time have recorded their most memorable works.
Rooms at tommie Hollywood start from $199 per night.
On the other side of town, you’ll find an utterly different vibe in Downtown. Going by the nickname DTLA, you’ll find a series of cool buildings that have become important film locations in their own right.
The Art Deco Bradbury Building was featured in Blade Runner (1982) and is one real-life film set you will want to add to your list. You can visit it for free even though it is a residential building with a few offices scattered around different floors. The staff here are happy to let you in and take a few quick snaps as long as you’re respectful to the environment. Probably not one for you if you are thinking of doing overly elaborate influencer type social media posts…
When I visited Downtown on my most recent visit, I stayed at the Conrad. Its in a great location that has some excellent high-rise views, superb dining options and one of the only pools in the area. From here you can take a walking tour to some famous attractions like the GRAMMY Museum and the main Los Angeles Public Library. You’ll see a number of other film locations here too, especially if you’ve seen La La Land recently.
Rooms at the Conrad Los Angeles start from $500 per night
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
La La Land might have earned its place in movie folklore thanks to an infamous gaff at the Oscars, but the only place to find out about all the highs and lows of the biggest awards ceremony in town is on Miracle Mile.
In 2019 when I was last in town on a work trip I saw this new museum approaching the final stages of construction. Its taken a few more years of development (for obvious reasons), but I was delighted to end my film-themed journey at the place many will now consider the home of cinema.
The ‘glass’ dome exterior has become a popular spot to meet friends and catch sunset views in Los Angeles. Its set to become one of those destinations you instantly think of when you think of the city, but that’s not to undermine the museum itself in any way. You can get a view of Hollywood here, and that’s where the annual ceremony is still held.
There are props, costumes and all types of movie paraphernalia on display, from Bruce the malfunctioning mechanical shark from Jaws (1975) to Warren Beatty’s original yellow trench coat from Dick Tracy (1990). The exhibits not only show you what goes on screen, but also the process behind the camera to give you a real insight into what the filmmaking process is all about.
There’s a chance to hold a real Oscar here, the team will remind you that other such experiences will never have an original statuette on offer, but the real prize for any film fan is the chance to be immersed in genuine movie magic. When I visited there was an entire section dedicated to The Godfather (1971), and this is part of a rotating exhibition which will feature different classics on a scheduled basis. All the more reason to come back for a repeat visit.
As a final bonus, a post-credit scene if you will, I got to spend the morning before my flight home in Venice Beach. This surprisingly quiet part of town (it was still winter but the sun was out) is a great spot to get some exercise and spy real-life Barbies and Kens before Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling take on the respective roles for an upcoming movie.
You’ll find little bits of film and TV heritage everywhere in Los Angeles, and its one of the reasons people keep coming back.
To find out more about LA, go to discoverlosangeles.com.
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