To wander Hollywood Boulevard while the skies are still in their pre-rush-hour film noir haze is to witness a city intent on transforming itself into something far more theatrical and out-of-this-world.
At the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, it comes to work dressed as Mickey Mouses, Marilyn Monroes and Pirates of the Caribbean. On other days, the crossing welcomes the arrival of 10ft-tall golden-yellow and cherry-red Transformers. Today, LA’s protagonists are Marvel superheroes, and there are at least a dozen of them – a padded collective of Captain Americas, Iron Mans, Hulks, Thors and Spidermans – preening and posing for selfies in ludicrous spandex (try not to be lured, as they charge you for each selfie).
Such workday activity would seem alien in any other city, but this is Los Angeles, and LA is home to Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, a love letter to the movies played out on concrete. It is a neighbourhood that hops between world-beating theme parks such as Disneyland (which needs no introduction) and Universal Studios (where you can get nose-to-snout with animatronic Jurassic dinosaurs, or step into King Kong’s lair) and the soaring Dolby Theatre, where every February you can find the world’s glitziest toilet queue (believe it or not, there are only two backstage restrooms on Oscars night).
Above this, high in the Hollywood Hills, you’ll spot the Griffith Observatory rotunda, celebrated in the multi-awardwinning song-and-dance homage to the golden era ’La La Land’, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Fittingly, the IMAX-sized panorama of Hollywood is framed by the crescendo of a 45ft-tall, whitewashed billboard
Since these days, Hollywood’s track record has been unimpeachable and the world has continued to fall madly in love with its sun-drenched boulevards and Technicolor romances. But while such movie moments imprint themselves on our memory, the city can be hard to fathom for first-timers and repeat visitors up-close. So where to start?
After a waltz around the Walk of Fame, stopping to delve into the 1920s-era splendour of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, take a car to West Hollywood. Here you’ll find the Tudor Revival manors, arcaded verandas and impenetrable security gates of Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Holmby Hills. In all likelihood, you’ll see little more than manicured lawns, lolling wisteria, unscalable walls and extra-thick hedgerows. To soak up some of the Tudor scale and style first-hand, wander the historic Doheny Greystone Estate, Beverly Hills.
Nearby Rodeo Drive is an unashamed street of bumper-to-bumper boutiques. It is as impressive for its four-wheeled superstar cars – Bugattis, Lamborghinis and Ferraris frequent the parking bays day and night – as it is for their glitzy drivers.
At the top of Rodeo Drive are the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire (the hotel in Pretty Woman) and the Beverly Hilton, which has hosted the Golden Globes for the past 50 years. In true Hollywood style, the hotel opened to great fanfare with red carpets, uniformed brass players and pink-painted elephants.
Drive along the Sunset Strip, past the Boa Steakhouse on the corner of Cory Avenue, and enter the musical heart of Hollywood. Famed nightclubs such as the Rainbow, Whisky A Go Go and The Viper Room have played host to generations of music legends. You’ll find more of the same laid-back attitudes all the way along Sunset Boulevard at the Old West-themed Sassafras Saloon on North Vine Street.
North from here, Hollywood’s leafy cul-de-sacs and lollipop trees begin to stretch out, climbing up and over Mulholland Drive, before cascading down into the San Fernando Valley. Prime Hollywood real estate, this area is a honeypot for the mega rich because of its privacy, space and gorgeous nightly views of the city as it twinkles and glows at dusk. Stargazing takes on a different meaning in Hollywood, but on Mulholland they arrive like constellations.
As night falls, park up above the Greek Theatre on Mount Hollywood Drive to see the sun drop west of Malibu into the Pacific Ocean like a coin into a slot. Your lungs full of fresh air, you may feel inclined to twirl and tap-dance like the stars of ’La La Land’. Or you may be content to soak up the cityscape and peer across to Downtown LA. A motherboard of skyscrapers, business headquarters and hotels, its streets are reminiscent of a colossal film set and it’ll feel like an old friend.
Perspective: that’s what a trip to Tinsel Town gives you. Sure, Hollywood is superficial, existing as a tangle of contradictions, but it’ll always lift you up with stardust and a happily-ever-after ending. “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul,” Marilyn Monroe once said. It’s a sentiment that seems just about right.