I was just reading Matt Long's blog post on Landlopers.com on what he loves about visiting "touristy" sights in Paris. This brought to mind comments I've heard from fellow "travelers" when I recommend that people visiting Los Angeles go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Forecourt of the Stars at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. "It's such a tourist trap! Why would anyone go there?"
Just as sitting in a café with a view of the Eiffel Tower is a quintessential Paris experience, standing in the footprints of some of Hollywood's greatest talents in the Forecourt of the Stars connects you to the hopes and dreams, successes and failures that define Hollywood and its movie making history. Since Mary Pickford accidentally made the first imprints in concrete, young hopefuls have come to Tinseltown and measured their footprints against their idols with dreams of someday seeing their name in lights and their movie poster plastered on the front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. This is Hollywood, after all. The stars of today still parade down the red carpet to their premieres and really do see their names and faces on the front of this grand movie palace.
During most of the day and into the night the Forecourt of the Stars and the Walk of Fame in front of Hollywood & Highland are crowded with busloads of visitors from around the world wanting to take their photo with Michael Jackson's or Bruce Lee's star, stand in Marilyn Monroe's heel marks or measure their hands against Sidney Poitier's or Frank Sinatra's hands. There are plenty of living stars immortalized here as well. Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Whoopie Goldberg and the stars of the Harry Potter movies are a few of the more modern additions. The costumed characters out front soliciting tips for posing for pictures can be overly aggressive at times, but are mostly good-natured. The chaos of the crowds is part of the experience.
But if you want to avoid the masses, go before 9 in the morning. Before the shops at Hollywood & Highland are open and before the tour buses arrive, it's quiet. Sometimes eerily so. The courtyard in front of the gilded doors and ornamental Chinese towers of the theatre seems more like a temple - a shrine to the ancestors, the forefathers and mothers of modern cinema. When you're there alone, you can feel the energy of the superstars who made it, and the many thousands who stood here with aspirations of fame whose dreams went unfulfilled. Even the most blasé travelers find themselves dipping a toe into the concrete impressions.
While it's quiet, take a stroll through the Hollywood & Highland Center along the terrazzo pathway called "The Road to Hollywood" to read some quotes from some lesser known characters from make-up artists to cinematographers to production assistants, each with a unique story of their road to show biz. It takes a lot of people behind the scenes to keep the Hollywood machine running.
You can certainly visit Los Angeles without ever setting foot in Hollywood, but you'd be missing a significant piece of the city's history and personality. Yes, everything about the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, from the Walk of Fame to Grauman's to Madame Tussauds, to the view of the Hollywood Sign from the back of the shopping center, to Disney's El Capitan Theatre and the numerous souvenir shops is absolutely unflinchingly touristy. So what? It's Hollywood. It's also pretty darned cool.
- Top Things to Do in Hollywood
- Hollywood & Highland Visitors Guide
- Grauman's Chinese Theatre
- Hollywood Walk of Fame
All photos © 2012 Kayte Deioma, used with permission