Don't leave Hollywood without seeing these 10 historic spots

Tinseltown sparkles at these significant sites

By Wendy O'Dea,

A couple of young Brits recently crashed at my place while passing through Los Angeles on their around-the-world backpacking adventure. Here less than two full days, they had to prioritize what they would find most memorable. Not surprisingly, after an afternoon at the beach, their focus immediately turned to Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Despite the fact that they may not always meet visitors' expectations (your chances of spotting a celebrity are slim), the glitter of Hollywood and glamour of Beverly Hills never seem to wane. My friends wisely chose to squeeze in visits to some of the classic attractions and historic landmarks that continue to withstand the test of time.

The Beverly Hills Hotel

The Beverly Hills Hotel in 1914 — Photo courtesy of “The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows-The First 100 Years” by Robert S. Anderson

The Beverly Hills Hotel, now part of the exclusive Dorchester Collection and a historic landmark, has been one of the most sought-after properties in the country, if not the world, for over a century. The hotel’s famous guests include Elizabeth Taylor (and multiple husbands), Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and a bevy of royal families.

Rich recluse Howard Hughes also rented a number of the bungalows, many apparently occupied by lookalikes. Hughes is said to have directed staff to leave his room service trays in a nearby tree from which he would later retrieve privately.

Take a stroll through the perfectly landscaped grounds and, if you can afford it, indulge in a meal at the iconic Polo Lounge. If you don’t want to break the bank, pull up a stool at the casual retro Fountain Coffee Shop downstairs.

Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl illuminated — Photo courtesy of Wendy O'Dea

For Angelenos, a summer without a trip to the Hollywood Bowl is a summer lost. Tucked into a canyon in the Hollywood Hills, concerts first started here in 1916 and some of the world’s most famous performers have graced the stage since, including Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles (to name a few). It’s also the summer home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Bowl (as it's referred to by locals) emerges a bit more polished when its season opens each year and recent updates include upgrades to the picnic areas and a new food service vendor, Sodexo, that has launched a mobile app to have food delivered to your seat.

If you’ve got some extra cash, the Wine Bar, an upscale restaurant with notable Chefs Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne at the helm, is the perfect pre-show nosh.

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

The teddy bear wasn’t the only thing named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was as well. Originally founded by a group that included Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, it opened in 1927 and, only a few years later, played host to the very first Academy Awards ceremony.

Although the property has gone through ups and downs over the years, it has been restored to its Spanish glory in recent years and is still a favorite for Hollywood’s hottest parties, including season launch and wrap parties.

Conveniently located near many of Hollywood’s top attractions, grab a drink at the pool bar and you can snap some pictures of the bottom of the pool, which was painted by pop artist David Hockney.

Musso & Frank Grill

Further east, in the somewhat seedier part of Hollywood, Musso & Frank Grill is one of the few remaining “Grand Dames” of old Hollywood restaurants. Nearly 100 years after opening, it’s still the epitome of old Hollywood having been the hangout of writers like Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Chandler, Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker.

It’s a den of dark wood and worn leather booths that have seen their share of fame and infamy. If you chat up the maître d, he’ll happily share old Hollywood anecdotes about who sat where and what happened when. The menu is expansive, expensive and somewhat predictable, but who cares? This is HOLLYWOOD.

Chateau Marmont

The legendary (some say infamous), celebrity-studded Chateau Marmont has been the hotel and hangout of choice for many of Hollywood’s misbehaving young celebrities and plenty of respected ones, too. Not only were Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears once banned from the property (the former for racking up a bill in excess of $46,000), but Bungalow Three is also the site of John Belushi's overdose.

TCL Chinese Theatre

The iconic TCL Chinese Theatre — Photo courtesy of Discover Los Angeles

Although ownership has changed over the years, one of the most recognizable buildings in Hollywood will always be known to many as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. If you can fight your way through the crowds of tourists to the Forecourt of the Stars, you’ll find the handprints and footprints – and signatures – of celebrities from Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (two of the original owners) to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

If you’ve got time, transport yourself to 1927 (the year the theater opened) by catching a movie or stake out a spot to watch the stars come and go from one of the many movie premieres that take place here (you'll know if the street is closed to traffic).

Formosa Café

In Hollywood’s heyday, the action took place on the east side of the city where all the major movie studios operated. The Formosa Café is located not far from Paramount and right next to the old Samuel Goldwyn Studio (again, originally owned by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks who apparently ran this town).

It was the haunt of choice for studio movers and shakers – execs and celebs alike. The small red building with the neon Formosa sign conveys such a sense of place and time that it could’ve received featured billing in one of the city's most riveting films, L.A. Confidential.

Although currently closed, The Formosa is being restored and is scheduled to reopen sometime in 2018.

Griffith Observatory

Beautiful Griffith Observatory by night — Photo courtesy of Discover Los Angeles

Few people who visit expansive Griffith Park, one of the largest city parks in the country, realize that the person who made it possible by donating over 3,000 acres to the city was a paranoid alcoholic who attempted to murder his wife. After spending a few years in prison, Griffith J. Griffith (yes, really) also gifted a large sum to the city to build a public observatory.

That observatory, which was completed in 1935 and reopened in 2006 after major renovations, has been used as a filming location for a long list of movies, most notably James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause. It’s worth a visit not only for this notoriety, but also for its planetarium and stellar views overlooking the City of Angels. 

Bradbury Building

Bradbury Building's beautiful iron work — Photo courtesy of Discover Los Angeles

Although in Downtown L.A. and not Hollywood, the historic Bradbury Building is a star in and of itself due to the stunning center courtyard that is flooded with light from the glass ceiling. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back a hundred years (or more) when you step inside and see the detailed iron work and birdcage elevators.

Both the interior and exterior have been used for countless films and television shows, the most well-known being the science fiction thriller Blade Runner. Although it currently houses offices, visitors are welcome and tours may also be offered. Pop by downtown’s Grand Central Market – another popular location – for a bite to eat while you’re in the area.

Union Station

Historic Union Station — Photo courtesy of Discover Los Angeles

You may have passed through Union Station, the '30s-era train station, unaware that it has been dubbed one of "The Last of the Great Railway Stations." The gorgeous architecture (Mission Moderne) harkens back to the golden days when the station was used not just as a filming location (and still is), but also as the connection for many soldiers going off to war during World War II.

If you visit, swing by the birthplace of the city, nearby Olivera Street, also known as El Pueblo Historical Monument.