Tom Cruise on the Hollywood Walk of FameCredit: Marisa Lynch
On any given day you can meander past the Walk of Fame stars of Tom Cruise or Bruce Lee while costumed performers dressed as Elmo or Elvis or Darth Vader take pics with tourists for a dollar. The dichotomy can be striking when a red-carpet movie premiere is juxtaposed against a homeless encampment. But Hollywood Boulevard, warts and all, is one of the beating hearts of LA and if you want to find stereotypes mixed with history and authenticity, there’s no better place to stroll.
Though Hollywood Boulevard is the most famous road in all of Los Angeles, it’s relatively small in comparison to other LA thoroughfares. Measuring a scant 4.6 miles, the star-laden street stretches from the entrance to the Hollywood Hills to the edges of the ultra-hip Silver Lake neighborhood. While it is most well-known for entertainment-related trappings, the street also careens through ethnically diverse neighborhoods that include Thai Town and Little Armenia.
The Boulevard also represents the hopes and dreams of millions. Wannabe movie and TV actors, struggling screenwriters, musicians, and the next generation of directors and producers come to this historic part of the city with stars in their eyes knowing that most will fail but a lucky few will find their big breaks.
Wonderfully weird, filled with history, teeming with architectural knockouts, and littered with the ghosts of fame and fortune, this is Hollywood Boulevard, and all it has to offer.
What to See and Do
Barnsdall Art Park: On the eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard is a hidden park that packs a cultural punch. Since 1927, the Barnsdall Art Park has been open to the public and includes the Hollyhock House, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece built in 1921, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, and the Barnsdall Art Center & Junior Arts Center. During non-pandemic summer Fridays, the park hosts wine tasting nights with live jazz and food trucks.
Vista Theatre: At the very eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard is the independent Vista movie theatre that first opened in 1923 and plays host to classic films, indy film festivals, and first run screenings of today’s newest movies. Similar to the TCL Chinese Theatre, there are handprints in the concrete out front of celebrities like Danny Trejo, Tom Holland, Roger Corman, John C. Reilly, and many more.
Hollywood Walk of Fame: Everywhere you walk along Hollywood Boulevard, you’ll discover thousands of brass stars that feature the names of the world’s greatest actors, writers, producers, directors, and more from film, television, music, and theater. The stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame were first unveiled in the 1960s and today there are more than 2,600 with multiple stars being added every year.
Hollywood & Highland: The Times Square of Los Angeles, the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex is the tourist center of Hollywood. Here, gawking visitors will find the famous TCL Chinese Theatre, the Dolby Theatre (home to the Academy Awards), Madame Tussauds Hollywood wax museum, and dozens of retail outlets and restaurants.
Capitol Records Building: One of the most iconic architectural images in Los Angeles, the 13-story Capitol Records Building was erected in 1956 and the circular structure is meant to evoke a stack of records reaching into the sky. The famous landmark has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows like Mad Men, Independence Day, The Muppet Movie, and more.
Hollywood Pantages Theatre: The Art Deco Pantages Theatre was built in 1930 and is one of the most iconic theaters in the city. In its heyday, the theater hosted the Academy Awards and was home to major motion picture premieres. Today, it’s the highest profile theater for Broadway productions that make their touring stops out west.
What to Eat
Musso & Frank Grill: The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso & Frank opened in 1919 and has been slinging steaks to Hollywood royalty ever since. Because of its proximity to the classic theaters along Hollywood Boulevard, the steakhouse was a mainstay to luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo, and others. Most recently, the restaurant played a starring role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Jitlada: Nestled in the middle of Thai Town, Jitlada is the Bib Gourmand Michelin Thai restaurant that dreams are made of. The menu features more than 200 individual Thai specialties that range from spicy curries to soft shelled crab and so much more. Make sure to end any meal with the Mango and Sticky rice to put out the fire inside your mouth.
Miceli’s: Opened in 1949, Miceli’s claims to be the oldest Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. Whether that’s actually true is open to debate, but once inside this classic Italian American red sauce joint, you’ll be wined and dined and entertained by singing waiters and waitresses. Must-have dishes include Aunt Angie’s Original Lasagna and Miceli’s Specialty Pizza.
The Barish: Inside the tony Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is the latest creation by LA’s godmother of Italian food, Nancy Silverton. The Barish is an ode to old-school steak joints, only the cuts of beef here are grilled over an open flame. Other menu standouts include Silverton’s baked pastas, of which there are five different choices with gooey cheeses and succulent meats.
Jumbo’s Clown Room: Not technically a strip club, Jumbo’s Clown Room is a bikini bar that was first opened in 1970, but received its cabaret license a decade later. Since then, it’s been known for classic burlesque performances with a rock and roll twist. The bar has attracted countless celebrities, including Charles Bukowski who would drink here and David Lynch who wrote Blue Velvet inside the bar.
Frolic Room: Sitting next to the Pantages Theatre, the Frolic Room is the perfect pre- or post-show bar where you’ll often find the cast and crew of whichever Broadway production is being featured at the theater. The bar’s origins were during prohibition as a speakeasy, and it’s known as the last place Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia) was seen alive before her murder. Allegedly, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were regular drinkers.
Tabula Rasa Bar: Over in East Hollywood, Tabula Rasa is a neighborhood bar that is known for its eclectic wines and one of the best sake collections in the city. The bar prides itself on serving natural, organic, and biodynamic products from small producers and female winemakers. Go for their two-hour happy hour with inexpensive snacks, cheap(er) beer and wine, and a lively patio.
No Vacancy: One of the most innovative bars in the city, No Vacancy is a speakeasy that resides inside a restored Victorian mansion. The three-story bar is filled with sultry-lit hidden rooms that feature everything from live jazz to burlesque shows to tightrope walkers. The cocktail program is second-to-none with master bartenders concocting clever drinks that can’t be found anywhere else.