Seeing Stars in LA: Stargazing and Celebrity Landmarks

There are two types of stars to watch for in LA: celebrities and, well, stars. For your fill of classic Hollywood stars, take a gander at these celebrity landmarks in Hollywood. If you’d like to sight some celestial bodies along with your celebrities, head to Griffith Observatory.


The world’s movie capital earned its reputation during the boom of the 1920s when the entertainment industry cast Hollywood in its own opulent image. Today, the only “real” movie businesses remaining are the blockbuster premieres at the major movie theaters here. Paramount Studios, at Melrose and Gower, is the last of the big five studios still active in Hollywood proper. But some of the old Tinseltown glitz remains. Fine restaurants draw glamorous crowds after dark, and celebrities still attend blockbuster premieres at the iconic movie theaters in Hollywood.

Hollywood Boulevard. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.
Hollywood Boulevard. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.

TCL Chinese Theatre

The most famous movie theater in the world literally made its mark with the handprints and footprints of silver-screen stars. Although official accounts say actress Norma Talmadge sparked a Hollywood tradition when she accidentally stepped into the wet concrete, the theater’s owner, Sid Grauman, took credit for the idea.

Today, millions of tourists visit TCL Chinese Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd., 323/464-8111) to ogle the 200 celebrity prints and autographs immortalized in concrete. The first footprints belong to Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (1927); more recent additions include Robert De Niro and Sandra Bullock.

The theater’s ornate architecture features a large dragon across the front, two stone Chinese guardian lions at the entrance, and etched shadow dragons along the copper roof. Inside, wall murals greet movie ticket holders. A glass case in the west wing displays three wax figures outfitted in authentic Chinese costumes.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Fame is what Hollywood is all about, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to the world’s most famous sidewalk. Each year 10 million people visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Hollywood Blvd. from La Brea Ave. to Vine St., 323/469-8311), a 1.3-mile stretch that commemorates the entertainment industry’s elite. Inspired by the handprints at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars are embedded into a charcoal background along Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street. To find a specific star, check the directory online map.

Though official groundbreaking did not occur until 1960, eight inaugural stars were temporarily planted on the northwest corner of Hollywood and Highland in 1958 to gain public attention. Contrary to popular belief, Joanne Woodward was not the first to be immortalized. The first permanent star is found at the intersection of Hollywood and Gower, and belongs to Stanley Kramer, director of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, among others.

Ms. Woodward, however, was the first to be photographed with her star. A circular, bronze emblem symbolizes one of five categories: motion pictures, broadcast television, music or audio recording, broadcast radio, and theater. Gene Autry is the only recipient with stars in all five categories.

Spencer Tracy's Hollywood Star. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.
Spencer Tracy’s Hollywood Star. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.

Who deems Walk of Fame hopefuls “worthy” enough to join the more than 2,500 deified legends? A special committee bound by rules, procedures, and financing selects the honoree. The price of a star is about $30,000 and is usually paid by the representing movie company or record label.

Sunset Strip

It’s been the playground of mobsters, Hollywood celebrities, and rock stars: The Sunset Strip has a long colorful history. The 1.5-mile portion of Sunset Boulevard stretches from Havenhurst Drive in West Hollywood to Sierra Drive near Beverly Hills. Infamous gangsters Bugsy Siegel, Micky Cohen (who was shot at what today is called the Key Club), Johnny Roselli, and Tony Comero were regulars at The Melody Room (a.k.a. The Viper), using it as a gambling den.

Nightclubs and upscale restaurants attracted stars such as Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Jean Harlowe, and Lana Turner. Famed writers Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald lived at the Garden of Allah apartments that once stood between Crescent Heights and Havenhurst. Howard Hughes lived in the penthouse of the Argyle Hotel (known as the Sunset Tower Hotel, 8358 Sunset Blvd.), as did John Wayne, who kept a cow on his apartment balcony.

Decades worth of up-and-coming rock acts first made their names on the Strip and lived at the “Riot Hyatt.” Today, you’ll still find many of the Strip’s legendary rock clubs here, such as The Roxy, the Whisky a Go Go, and The Rainbow Bar & Grill. At night, especially on weekends, no one is alone on the Strip. Don’t plan to drive quickly or park on the street after dark; the crowds get big, complete with celebrity hounds hoping for a glimpse of their favorite star out for a night on the town.

Griffith Park

The 4,210-acre Griffith Park (4730 Crystal Springs Dr., 323/913-4688, 6am-10pm daily) is the largest municipal park in the country, with numerous opportunities for mingling with nature while enjoying some of the city’s iconic sights. It’s also recognizable from its role as the backdrop for many films, including Rebel Without a Cause and Back to the Future.

The cosmos come alive at Griffith Observatory (2800 E. Observatory Rd., 213/473-0800, noon-10pm Tues.-Fri., 10am-10pm Sat.-Sun., free), the park’s most popular sight. Experienced stargazers help visitors explore the galaxies through demonstrations of powerful telescopes. At the entrance, a Foucault pendulum demonstrates the rotation of the Earth, while other displays focus on the moon and ocean tides. Planetarium shows ($7) occur daily.

Griffith Observatory. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.
Griffith Observatory. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.

The park has several fun activities for kids, including the L.A. Zoo and Botanical Gardens (5333 Zoo Dr., 10am-5pm daily, $19 adults, $14 children), the Travel Town Railroad (5200 Zoo Dr., 323/662-5874, 10am-4pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-6pm Sat.-Sun., $3), pony rides, and a swimming pool. Educational sights include the Autry National Center of the American West (4700 Western Heritage Way, 323/667-2000, 9am-4pm Tues.-Fri., 9am-5pm Sat.-Sun., $10 adults, $6 students, $4 children 3-12, free children under 3), which holds an impressive collection of more than 500,000 Western and Native American artworks and artifacts.

A 53-mile network of hiking trails offers chances to spot local wildlife such as deer, coyotes, wild quail, and foxes. Many trails lead to viewpoints that include the Hollywood Sign; the most spectacular is from the observatory parking lot to Mount Hollywood. In a wooded canyon, the Bird Sanctuary (323/666-5046, 2900 N. Vermont Ave., 10am-5pm daily) provides the perfect spot for bird-watching, while the Ferndell Nature Museum (Fern Dell Dr., at the Western Canyon entrance to the park, 6am-10pm daily), an outdoor exhibit, lets visitors explore native species of ferns, flowers, and plants. There is a snack stand and picnic area nearby to enjoy in the cool shade along a babbling brook.

map of Hollywood

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