So You've Decided to Visit Los Angeles: How to Avoid the Worst of the City (and Some Better Options) Part 1: Hollywood

This travel guide is inspired by this story by Devon Henry about how gods-damned-awful Hollywood is, and a request on this response by myself for things to do in Los Angeles instead.

I'm not exactly local to the City of Angels- I live just south of it, on the northern edge of Orange County, near Long Beach, but not in Long Beach. That said, I used to travel into the city at least weekly, and have decades of experience welcoming friends, families, and exchange students to our state.

But enough about me, you're here for the tips! Let’s begin with the beginning- the inspiration for the article. Today I’ll be covering Hollywood, and little-known places to experience the real essence of the city.

Avoid: Hollywood

Ahh, the Hollywood sign. You've seen it in every movie, and you want to see it in person. Don’t bother. Image:

Let me be clear, in case Devon’s article didn’t make it abundantly so for you: Hollywood is the absolute worst. It’s dirty, it’s expensive. The traffic is somehow worse than the rest of the city’s already-terrible congestion. It’s full of guys wearing terrible character suits asking for money. And, perhaps most importantly it doesn’t exist.

I mean, yes, there’s the rightfully famous series of studios and offices centered around film and television production, but the idea of Hollywood that you have built up in your head- the glamorous, constantly hustling and bustling metropolis filled with movie stars and would-be Spielbergs is not a place you can actually visit. And the sign is visible from the freeway, and only accessible via a tiny, steep, winding residential road.

When people think about Hollywood, what they really mean is a two-block stretch, around the streets of Hollywood and Vine, or Hollywood and Highland- it’s here that you can see the things you'd expect to see in Hollywood.

But those early-Hollywood-era elephants? They're just decorations at an upscale shopping mall (not even the best one around). The Chinese theater? It’s an ordinary movie theater, featuring the handprints of Mickey Mouse out front. That walk of fame? If you've seen one star you've seen them all, and half of them are vandalized in one way or another.

You might be saying to yourself at this point that those things are what you want to see- after all, it’s still a historical two blocks. You're not wrong, but trust me, you'll be disappointed. Instead, try these destinations…

Hollywood Alternatives

If you're looking to experience Hollywood, use the resources they've created to do so. Image:

Maybe I’m biased because of my background in Film Studies and preservation, but I feel like I’ve seen the best Hollywood has to offer, and I owe it all to the services of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences- known more widely as those guys who run the Oscars.

See, they run the Oscars because, at the end of the day, they're a series of film archives dedicated to the preservation of Hollywood’s best, most important cultural artifacts, and if you just fell asleep during this sentence, you accurately reflect the attitudes of most people. But the Oscars, an awards gala attended by the biggest stars in movies, is where they get the bulk of their funds.

Do yourself a favor and, instead of heading down to the tourist trap that is “Hollywood,” book a tour at one of these locations:

The Margaret Herrick Library: I know, you don't want to spend your vacation in a library, but this is probably the best collection of film ephemera in the world, and it’s completely open to the public. On the day I visited, I held an Oscar that had been in space, saw the original production photos from North by Northwest, and viewed the personal letters of Cary Grant. If there’s a movie, star, or director that you're interested in, you can be sure they have some material from their work. Their entire catalogue is searchable online, and if you want to see something specific, you'll have to call ahead and pull it from their archives a few days before your visit, but the staff is very helpful and will walk you through the process. Bonus fun fact: if you visit the Herrick, you'll be extremely close to LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits, two fun, cheap destinations surrounded by artsy stores and restaurants. Worth a visit as well!

The Academy Archives: For the real film buffs, there’s always the archive itself. Turns out, film is an incredibly volatile medium, and must be preserved under careful conditions. It takes a team of the world’s best archivists to keep the Academy’s archive in pristine condition, but their efforts are worth it. Take a tour of this facility, and you'll see why. Bonus: You'll be just a few minutes from UCLA’s beautiful campus at this location; the surrounding area of Westwood is a little upscale for my tastes, but the food and entertainment scenes down there are really impressive.

If you're looking to experience some of the glamour that you'd come to expect based on Hollywood’s self-portrayal, or want to see a classic film the way Angelenos do, try one of these instead of the Chinese Theater:

The Arclight Hollywood: Kind of too-close-for-comfort to the touristy end of things for my own taste, but damn it, this is how a movie theater should be. Its lobby is akin to that of an upscale hotel, its seats are plush and comfortable, and its ushers take the time to remind people of proper theater etiquette. The sound and picture are perfectly adjusted using the best available projection and speaker technology. In short, it’s the perfect moviegoing experience, presented with all of the care and attention one would expect of a Hollywood legend. Also, this is the home of the historic Cinerama Dome, a really cool (if a bit outdated) place to see a film. You'll pay a premium, but the experience is premium.

The Cinefamily: You’ve got weird tastes. You like silent french movies, midnight cult screenings, and audiences made up entirely of movie nerds. You want to visit the Cinefamily. This tiny theater screens about one film at a time, and has nightly special showings- check their website for the schedule- but you'll never attend a theater full of people more dedicated to the experience of watching and sharing a film. Regular special guest appearances, too! Insider tip: see a midnight show, and grab breakfast at Canter’s Deli immediately afterwards. You’ll sleep when your vacation is over!

The Nuart: Much like the Cinefamily, but slightly more refined. Again, checking the schedule is important, but the experience is awesome. Another tip: visit Alias Books before the show, it’s a tiny place with some real hidden gems, if you can find them. You can park over by Alias, too, saving yourself a bundle of trouble trying to find street parking.

The Egyptian: I caved on this one- it’s right around the friggin’ corner from the stuff I told you to avoid. Here’s my advice- check the calendar, find out if there’s a film playing there that you absolutely must see on the big screen (which they'll often be playing), and brace yourself for a terrible drive. See if you can see it on a weekday, sometime not around rush hour. Actually, don’t even drive yourself- take an Uber. Then, as soon as soon as you're done with the film, get out of there.

That all said, the venue is beautiful. Stadium seating, a balcony, amazingly detailed art-deco faux Egyptian design, and they regularly play films in 70mm- a format so impressive you'll have to see it to believe it. As for what makes it better than the Chinese Theater down the street- it’s the quality of the films. You don’t come to Hollywood to see the same movies you can see in your hometown, I assume. The entire calendar is full of rare and classic films, so you can be assured that your theater experience will be one you remember. There’s just absolutely no reason to stick around after the show, I assure you.

That’s really all there is to do, if you're looking for a real-life Hollywood experience, rather than the touristy stuff. There are plenty of other, smaller things to do around the places I've sent you, so keep those Yelp apps open on your phone- the next discovery is often just around the corner.

Next time I'll be covering the overrated beach destinations around Los Angeles and Orange County, and giving alternatives to the worst of them. Stay tuned! (Ninja Edit: Part 2 is live! Click here!)

If you enjoyed this article, I'd appreciate a click of the recommend button! It'll keep me writing these if I see that they're being viewed by a large audience. If you have any specific questions or comments, feel free to leave them on this article and I'll be sure to reply!

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