Los Angeles is America’s movie set. It’s where the world is remade in Technicolor dreams. You can mummify yourself to it. Wrap yourself up in British cynicism. Stand downstream from the cameras and bright lights and tell yourself it’s a tinsel-thin town full of actors with plastered-on smiles. Or you can surrender to it. Immerse yourself in the unbridled optimism of a people who just want to make it big.
This is Hollywood. The blustering, beaming, brilliant town where the sun always shines and the tans never fade. So if you want to jump into the movies, here are the real life sets you have to see so you too can ride the silver screen.
1. Rodeo Drive (Pretty Woman)
Think Prada. Think Gucci. Think remortgaging your house for a cup of coffee. Think putting your kids down as collateral on a handbag. Think tourist trap and “how much?!” and “darling, we can’t afford to be here.” Think Julia Roberts ordering pizza to a clothes shop while Richard Gere picks up the cheque. Think Beverly Hills does Bond Steet. Think Pretty Woman. Think Rodeo Drive.
2. Every road between 3pm and 7pm (Traffic)
Los Angelinos spend 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours pretending to work and 8 hours in their cars. You haven’t experienced the real LA until you’ve spent 3 hours cruising down Sunset or Santa Monica Boulevard at a cool 3 miles an hour. Sit in your car and imagine you’re in a remake of Traffic or Rush Hour. Except with less action and more air conditioning.
3. Griffith Observatory (Rebel without a Cause)
Over in Griffith Park, you can either look down at the sprawling, spread-out, sun-drenched landscape of LA or go into the observatory and look up at the stars. Inside, you’ll sit back under a dome of television screens and watch our solar system flash above you, in arguably the greatest movie ever made. This was the set for the angst-ridden teenager played by none other than James Dean in the iconic Rebel without a Cause. A character of chaos and confusion and boundless wonder. Perhaps you’ll feel the same.
4. Venice Beach (White Men Can’t Jump)
A golden stretch of eternal summer. Sun worshippers grazing under an endless sky. An emerald ocean touching a horizon in crystal waves. The locals are snobbish about their coastline, preferring instead Malibu, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. But if you want to find out why White Men Can’t Jump or see the real life set where Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff ran in slow motion on shining sands, then Venice is the place to be.
5. Paramount Studios (The Godfather)
If it wasn’t for the iconic Bronson Gate brandishing the name Paramount Pictures and the skyscraper palm trees, you would think you were on any industrial estate in the world. The complex is a labyrinth of wrought-iron warehouses and parking lots. But take the studio tour and you’ll see something special. Within each warehouse is another world, just smaller than you know the world to be. These warehouses are the hinterland where the movies are made. And if you want to see how Hollywood history came to be, there’s no better place than the home of The Godfather.
6. The Troubadour (Rocketman)
It was the West Hollywood dive where Elton John blasted into superstardom. A staple of music history. This intimate club provides the stage for up-and-coming acts to showcase their talent to the music powerbrokers and, from there, to the great listening world beyond.
7. Chateau Marmont (A Star is Born)
If America is the New World then Chateau Marmont feels like it landed on the wrong continent. This historic restaurant and bar feels more like a Tuscan villa than an eatery off Sunset Boulevard. Dinner isn’t cheap – you may want to sell the family jewellery before ordering the wine. But some memories are priceless. Lady Gaga’s character in A Star is Born realised her life had changed when she saw a billboard of herself outside of the Chateau. And if it’s good enough for a Lady …
8. Hollywood Bowl (Beaches)
Rolling Stone named it one of the top ten music venues in the world. Row upon row of bleachers under a blanket of stars cascade down to the concave stage where music royalty serenade the masses. It’s a living, breathing amphitheatre, small enough to feel intimate and big enough to light the sky. It’s also where Bette Midler sang her heart out at the end of Beaches.
9. Santa Monica Pier (Forrest Gump)
Santa Monica technically isn’t in LA but Los Angelinos will still claim it as their own. This city-on-sea makes you want to apply for a visa or jump that wall. It’s also where Forrest Gump pauses during his mega-marathon before deciding to ‘turn around and keep going’.
10. The Last Bookstore (Gone Girl)
If you miss the grime of an urban city, try Downtown. It’s Manhattan in need of a wash. Somewhere in this urban sprawl you’ll find The Last Bookstore, a Narnia of second hand tomes that siren-calls to the better-read. It was also the scene of a flashback in the captivating thriller Gone Girl.
LA author AS Youngless said that everyone who comes to Hollywood is Number One in their own small town, but then they join the swarm of half a million Number Ones and have to vie for the top spot. So if you really want to see the movies, why not join them? Book your chance with the Casting Society of America in Burbank and see if you too can land your dream role. For this is Hollywood, baby, and anything can happen.
An edited version of this article was published by The Spectator