The icon of Los Angeles


By: The Independent

Hollywood is a district in Los Angeles, California, US situated west-northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Due to its fame and cultural identity as the historical centre of movie studios and movie stars, the word Hollywood is often used as a metonym of American cinema.

Bordered by Franklin and Melrose Avenues north and south and seeping into West Hollywood, Hollywood's main arteries are Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, all running east to west towards the Pacific.

Los Angeles was built around the motor car, and its sheer size and lack of a coherent public transport network make hire cars valuable even for fleeting visits. If you are unable to drive, bring good walking shoes and an endless supply of patience. Buses will get you from A-B, eventually, and a Metro rail service (metro.net) connects some, but by no means all, of central LA with its eastern suburbs.

Take a hike
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a photo of the Hollywood sign. But precious few tourists bother with the moderately strenuous hike that will leave you standing right next to it, enjoying sweeping views over the LA basin and Griffith Observatory, where James Dean twice ended up in Rebel Without a Cause.

As with most journeys in LA, this hike starts with a drive. Set off from the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood Boulevard. The tourist office is next door in the Hollywood & Highland Centre open 10am-10pm daily; until 7pm on Sundays.

From here, drive east along Hollywood Boulevard with its pavements laden with Walk of Fame stars. Take a left at Hollywood/Vine on to Vine Street, a right on Franklin Avenue, and then left again on Beachwood Drive. Follow this small road uphill for 15 minutes, and park your car outside the Sunset Ranch Stables.

The Hollyridge trailhead is signposted from the car park. After half a mile, you'll hit a T-junction. Head left, and continue until you hit the paved Mount Lee Drive. Take a right here and as you climb roughly a mile further, you will enjoy views east towards the San Gabriel mountains. Finally, the road will curve sharply left. Continue until it ends. The Hollywood sign is about 100 yards below you.

Lunch on the run
There are burgers, and then there are Umami burgers. Redefine your relationship with the US's national dish at Umami Burger, 1520 North Cahuenga Boulevard which has achieved something approaching cult status among local foodies. The burgers extend to crab-meat, Peking duck or tuna, but the pièce de résistance is the SoCal Burger, recently reviewed by GQ magazine's drooling restaurant critic as "half beef, half beyond belief".

Window shopping
For the Pretty Woman experience, head to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, scene of Julia Roberts' famous shopping spree and home to everything from Agent Provocateur to Versace.

Complete a circuit east along Santa Monica Boulevard and Burton Way, south down Robertson Boulevard, and back west along Wilshire.

Ogle supercars and supermodels, marvel at the cost of designer fripperies and try to spot a celebrity from behind their sunglasses. (They tend to be pursued by paparazzi.)

An aperitif
Scrub yourself up, splash on some cologne and adjourn to the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Boulevard (beverlyhillshotel.com), where movie moguls and the A-list spend cocktail hour.

Dining with the locals
Continue the day's Pretty Woman theme by heading to the Beverly Wilshire hotel, 9500 Wilshire Boulevard, where Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse Cut (wolfgangpuck.com) sears some of the finest rib-eyes on the West Coast, from a kitchen equipped with a wood-burning barbecue. "Locals" at other tables could include David Beckham, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Go to church
Leave Hollywood and head west on Sunset Boulevard for about half an hour, until you hit the genteel, seaside suburb of Pacific Palisades. Here you will find St Matthew's Parish Church at 1031 Bienveneda Avenue where your Anglican eucharist at 9am comes with lashings of Californian friendliness.

Out to brunch
Follow Sunset Boulevard to the ocean. You are now on the Pacific Coast Highway. Take a left and head south for a couple of miles to Santa Monica's Hungry Cat, 100 West Channel Road (weekend brunch 10am-3pm). The cocktails are magisterial, the crab eggs Benedict to die for and the oysters among the best in town.

A walk on the beach
Drive to Santa Monica pier, the landmark that signifies the end of the historic Route 66 and has jollified everything from Baywatch to Forrest Gump. Take a turn on the carousel and then wander south along the path to Venice, replete with artists, street performers and a resident community of eccentrics.

Be sure to visit Muscle Beach, the open-air gymnasium where Arnold Schwarzenegger trained (and where wannabe Arnies pump iron). Watch talented youths hit "big air" in the outrageously dangerous skate park, and take in a pick-up game of basketball in the outdoor courts where White Men Can't Jump was filmed.

Cultural afternoon
The fortune of oil gazillion-heir John Paul Getty helped create the world's wealthiest museum trust. Today it has two of America's most extravagant cultural attractions. Head back north to The Getty Villa at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway (getty.edu; 10am-5pm Weds-Mon; booking advised), devoted to antiquities.

Then pick up Sunset Boulevard to reach the hilltop Getty Centre at 1200 Getty Centre Drive (10.30am-5.30pm Tues-Sun), which has a vast collection of Western art, from the Middle Ages to the present, along with breathtaking views from its well-manicured gardens. Entry is free.

Take a ride

Back in Hollywood, round off your day by peering over the privet hedges of the rich and famous. Starline Tours (starlinetours.com) takes prurient punters on bus tours past the dozens of celebrity homes in LA's most exclusive postcodes. Two-hour tours, leaves from Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, daily from 9.30am-sunset.

The icing on the cake
For a note-perfect taste of Americana, with its cheerleaders, junk food, jumbo-tron screens and endless renditions of The Star Spangled Banner, join the crowd at one of the city's sports matches.

Baseball's LA Dodgers play at the Dodger Stadium (ladodgers.com) while winter makes this a basketball town (to the end of April). The Clippers (clippers.com) and glamorous Lakers (lakers.com) play at the Staples Centre. If they don't float your boat, then David Beckham's LA Galaxy play at the Home Depot Centre about 45 minutes' drive south into Orange County.

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