I love LA! It’s a little too hip to hate on LA, focusing on the traffic (yeah, it’s bad – alert the media), while overlooking so much amazing history and a completely unique city, unlike anywhere else. As the second largest city in America, you’ll probably pass through the city of Angels from time to time. Here’s a quick at-a-glance collection of options to make the most of your time in LA.
Los Angeles is a big city, not just by measure of population, but also by distance. About 30 miles and a mountain range separate Venice Beach and Burbank. Also, while the distance from Culver City to Hollywood is only about 9 miles, there’s no good, direct route, so that traffic & stop sign-filled 9-mile journey will take you about an hour each way. So, it’s good to segment out what part of the city you’ll want to explore each day.
There are treasures to find throughout the city, but for this series, we’re gonna focus on the following areas (map below): 1) Hollywood 2) Downtown LA 3) Venice/Santa Monica 4) Culver City 5) Burbank. We will separately, talk about some locations, grouped together by activity (hiking, music, etc.). Note: As I’m writing this, the world is still dealing with the tail end (hopefully) of the COVID pandemic, so do call ahead to find out what kind of reduced hours or other restrictions these locations may be enforcing.
Part 1: Hollywood
If you’re in LA, you’ve just gotta check out Hollywood. It is unlike anywhere else in the world and its notoriety is well-earned. There’s a reason an entire industry is nicknamed after a town. Though other films had already been made in SoCal, it was upstart filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s arrival that helped cement Hollywood as a new movie capital (in addition to Chicago and New York). The reason he established his studio in California was that the weather was too bad on the day his train full of supplies arrived in Arizona. So, they just kept drifting west until they arrived in LA. The original studio building, known as the Lasky-DeMille Barn, still stands, but has been relocated to a site across from the Hollywood Bowl and currently houses the Hollywood Heritage Museum.
First off, just simply drive Hollywood Blvd and take in the sights and don’t forget to look down to check out some of the 2,000+ stars that make up the Walk of Fame. In a relatively short stretch of road, you will take in tons of historic and haunted sights. Traveling west and starting at the Pantages Theater you’ll pass the Frolic Room, iconic Capitol Records building, Vogue Theater & Supper Club, Musso & Frank Grill, Pig n’ Whistle, Egyptian Theater, El Capitan Theater, Avalon Nightclub, Knickerbocker Hotel (site of the famous rooftop Houdini seance), Warner Pacific Theater, Hollywood & Highland Center, the old Jane’s House, and former Max Factor building. Not white washing anything here, you’ll also be passing tons of vape shops, lingerie stores & crappy souvenir stands, but let’s focus on the exciting. Below, you’ll find my short list of the “must see” locations, but truly everything on the list above is significant. The best way to hear about everything is to check out the American Ghost Walks Haunted Hollywood Tour (full disclosure, I wrote that tour and am quite proud of it).
Hollywood & Highland Center
It’s kind of obvious, but it is truly is a great home base for spending a day exploring Hollywood. Central location, affordable all-day parking, if you are the shopper type, it is a mall on a grand scale, but it’s also got fantastic views of the Hollywood sign from elevated pedestrian bridges. Make your Hollywood visit a simple one by parking at the Hollywood and Highland complex. This massive structure is one part massive outdoor mall and one part theater that hosts the Oscars. Note the massive Babylonian wall and elephants. This is a TO SCALE reproduction of the set for D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic, “Intolerance.” back in the pre-CG days, filmmakers really did create worlds.
The elephants are a great nod to Hollywood History AND, the location itself has a link to Rudolph Valentino’s ghost. In the early 1900s, the corner of Hollywood and Highland was the location of the Hollywood Hotel. This is reportedly a hotel that Valentino frequented often and he continued returning to one particular room after death. It’s said that women inhabiting that room would be gifted a phantom kiss from the Latin lover as they lay on bed. Though it may seem more than a little creepy today, Valentino was such a beloved heartthrob in that era that that particular room was difficult to book as the demand was so high. There’s no word on whether or not Valentino’s been visiting this updated, modern location. Before leaving the grounds, be sure to walk down the hallway that leads to the Academy Awards theater, which is lined with pillars commemorating every Best Picture Winner in history. Once leaving this hall, look to your left to see the only mounted Walk of Fame star, which belongs to Muhammad Ali, who didn’t like the idea of people walking on his name.
Pro note: Be sure to check out the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s web site to be aware of any planned street and sidewalk closures that relate to a film premiere or a new Walk of Fame Star commemoration ceremony. Mind you, these are also exciting times to be in the area, but it can lead to much bigger crowds, so it’s good to plan ahead.
Warner Pacific Theater
I’m coming out swinging here as I believe this building is the most historically significant building in all of Hollywood. Yes, big claim. This building was constructed to celebrate the film that ushered in the era of ‘talkies,’ its grand opening was planned for the world premiere “The Jazz Singer.”
The Warner Brothers story is a fantastic one. The Warner parents had 11 (yes 11!) children & the robust family immigrated to America in the 1880s. Four of those kids, Sam, Jack, Harry, and Albert started the production company we still know today as Warner Bros. They started out doing theater productions, opening stage theaters across the country. Soon, their interest in innovation landed them in the world of film, taking a huge gamble in attempting to synchronize sound to motion film. At the time, the thinking was, If the audience wanted to hear an actor speak, they’ll go to the theater, not the movies. Soon it became apparent that “The Jazz Singer” would be ready to premiere before construction was finished on the theater. The next plan was to premiere the film at a different Warner Theater in New York. Sam would stay behind to oversee construction, but then fly out to New York to join his brother and usher in the era of synch sound film.
Unfortunately, none of the Warner Brothers were actually in attendance at the premiere because they were tending to the sudden, unexpected death of Sam, who died of causes stemming from a brain infection the day before “The Jazz Singer” premiered. He was not able to witness that their big gamble paid off more than anyone could’ve imagined – the revolutionized the entire film industry and the Warner name is still one of the most important in the industry.
Sam’s ghost has been seen in the lobby, sometimes with a number of people bearing witness at once. He appears, frantically marches across the room, calls the elevator. The doors open, his specter goes in, he hits a button on the inside and the elevator goes up to the floor where Sam kept his office. I always find this haunting interesting since it seems like a residual haunting (Sam’s apparently still on the job frantically getting work done with a deadline looming, unaware of the real life crowds), however, the apparition is apparently making physical contact with the surroundings, actually pressing elevator buttons, which the elevator reacts to as if a flesh and blood person pressed it.
In recent years, the building was structurally damaged during the Northridge earthquake of 1994. In recent years the lobby was the only part of the theater in use as the theater itself was too dangerous. Church services were held in the lobby on Sunday mornings. Today, even the church has left. With the building boarded up tight, who knows what kind of paranormal activity might be taking place just out of public view. To me this building would be an absolute ‘bucket list location’ I would love to investigate and just simply walk through. Hopefully the future of the building is a massively expensive renovation, but the other option would be the wrecking ball.
Old Max Factor Building/Hollywood Museum
This building is half a block south of Hollywood Blvd, on Highland. This beautiful art deco building was ground zero for style in Hollywood’s golden era. Max Factor was a polish immigrant who helped some of the most iconic Hollywood legends find their signature looks, from Lucille Ball to Joan Crawford. Today it’s a Hollywood history museum, celebrating iconic films, current and historical. The building is full of familiar and celebrated artifacts including famous props and costumes. However, the real highlight is in the basement which was the filming location for Hannibal Lecter’s prison. The hallway of maximum security cells, leading to Lecter’s plexiglass-fronted cell is marked by Clarice Darling’s folding chair still perched in front of it. (this is the actual set, though it was built and filmed on the east coast. So, while this was not the filming location for the film, this is the real deal.
Roosevelt Hotel’s poolside bar, the Tropicana Bar
Staying at the Roosevelt Hotel is out of most people’s price ranges (I know it’s out of mine), but something anyone can enjoy is my favorite bar in Hollywood (mind you, I’m more into the chill lounge vibe rather than clubs). First off, this is the most haunted building in all of Hollywood. Strange phenomena has been observed throughout the building, everywhere from the rooftop to out here by the pool. The pool, by the way, is the first place Marilyn Monroe was ever photographed as a blonde, which was for a print ad for sunscreen (image below). The Roosevelt was founded by a conglomeration of Hollywood luminaries including Sid Grauman (who’s Chinese Theater is right across the street), Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Louis B. Mayer.
On a fun side note, the Walk of Fame star immediately across from the Roosevelt is for one of the biggest legends in all pop culture history, Harry Houdini. And if you continue looking up Orange Drive, with the Roosevelt behind you, your gaze will finally land on the ultra exclusive and celebrated performance space, the Magic Castle.
Sip a mai tai while relaxing at a palm tree-lined pool, day or night, and forget where in the world you are. Though you’re still on Hollywood Blvd, you feel a million miles away as the hustle and bustle of the always kinetic city. Oh, but don’t be so relaxed that you don’t keep one eye out for the other, lesser seen visitors.
As the story goes, a guard, manning the bank of security monitors noticed that there was someone hanging out by the pool, but it was long after the area was closed. So, they dispatched another guard to eject the trespasser. When he got to the pool, he radio’d back, “Well, I guess I wasn’t fast enough. Whoever was here before must’ve left before I got here. The area’s clear now.”
I can’t imagine what that guard thought when he heard back from his superior, “I’m looking at the security camera. The intruder is still there. He’s standing right next to you.”
Whatever specter was seen, it’s only visible on infrared cameras… some sort of energy signature the human eye cannot see.
While conducting my LA Hauntings Tour, I ended up having an employee from the Roosevelt’s Cinegrill on the tour and he was able to confirm that security guards frequently see multiple entities on infrared camera at the same time. As I always say, I get it. If I could come back after death to enjoy places I loved in life, the Tropicana Bar is high on my list.
Final note: other locations from Hollywood will still appear in future installments of the series, namely Musso & Frank Grills (under top restaurants), the Hollywood sign (hiking expeditions) Jane House (best nightlife), and Hollywood Forever Cemetery (cemetery tour).